Ph.D. in Biochemistry

A professor's point of view

by Stephanie Small - Updated June 2017


Thinking of pursuing a Ph.D. in biochemistry? Below, Dr. Diane Merry, Director of the Ph.D. program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Thomas Jefferson University, shares her input on this compelling academic path.
 

What types of classes can students take?

 “There are a few courses that students in all of the Ph.D. programs take,” explains Dr. Merry. “Foundations in Biomedical Sciences, a 10-credit course, is a required course for all students in their first trimester. It covers biochemistry, genetics and cell biology. Other coursework includes:

- Research ethics

- Statistics

- Grant writing

- Genetic information transfer

- Advanced topics in metabolism

- Macromolecular structure

- Macromolecular function

Who is the typical student?

Applicants to Ph.D. biochemistry programs are highly qualified and have been immersed in the sciences for many years. If you haven’t done your undergraduate degree in one of the sciences, you’ll need to go back and take some prerequisites before applying to a graduate program. Further coursework will also expose you to more biochemistry so you can determine whether graduate study in biochemistry is truly the right move for you.
 
“Typical students come from undergraduate schools with a strong science curriculum.  Many, but not all, are biochemistry majors.  Some are chemistry majors, some biology or molecular biology majors.  Some have worked for a year or two after college.  All have completed some research experience, either during college or after college. Some, but not all, have presented their work at conferences and even some have been coauthors on scientific papers,” explains Dr. Merry.

What do graduates do with their degree?
“Most Ph.D. graduates from our program go on to do academic postdoctoral fellowships,” says Dr. Merry. “A small percentage of graduates opt for a postdoctoral fellowship in industry.  Those doing academic postdoctoral fellowships go on to faculty positions, although some go to industry.”

What advice would you give to a student contemplating a graduate degree in biochemistry?
“Having a strong undergraduate science background is essential,” Dr. Merry emphasizes. “Research experience is a must. We want to be sure that anyone that we accept knows that this is what they want to do because we are making a significant commitment, both financial and time and effort of teaching and mentoring, to the student, so we look during our interviews for the “spark” of interest or passion for doing scientific research.”
 
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