Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program provides a broad scientific background along with research specialization that together equip students for outstanding careers. Current areas of research include structural biology, protein biochemistry, enzyme reaction mechanisms, molecular genetics, signal transduction, neurobiology, and cell and developmental biology, along with cooperative research between laboratories or departments. Our Ph.D. graduates include two Nobel Prize winners and numerous others holding major academic positions or responsible positions in research institutes or research-oriented companies.

Biological Chemistry faculty pursue research in diverse areas of Biochemistry, Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology, Chemical and Structural Biology, and Neurobiology. The common theme in our research is an interest in understanding biological phenomena at the molecular and mechanistic level.

For academic advising in the graduate programs, contact Dr. Anne Vojtek (avojtek@umich.edu or (734) 647-6794), the Director of our Graduate Programs, and Dr. Mike Uhler (muhler@umich.edu or (734) 647-3188). Beth Goodwin (egoodwin@umich.edu or (734) 764-8594) is a full time program administrator devoted to helping our graduate students meet their career goals.

*Students interested in attending the Student Research Chalk Talks will find them on the department Events Calendar.

Admission & Application

Biological Chemistry applications are through the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS), which allows you access to most of the bioscience PhD programs at the University of Michigan during your first year, including Biological Chemistry. You need only apply to PIBS, and specify Biological Chemistry as a PhD program of interest. This will allow you to either focus primarily on Biological Chemistry as soon as you enter, or test your research interests more broadly during your first year as you decide on your final PhD program.

A complete description of the PIBS gateway program can be found at PIBS.

Ph.D. Program Requirements

Graduate work in the Department of Biological Chemistry combines the rigor of advanced study with the flexibility for students to design their own optimum curriculum. Coursework consists of required and advanced electives in biochemistry, courses in critical analysis and scientific writing, graduate seminars, and elective courses for breadth. Graduate students present a research seminar to the department in their fourth year and informally present their research in poster sessions and at the annual retreat. Students are welcome and encouraged to actively engage in departmental service activities, including the graduate curriculum committee, graduate recruitment, career development, and seminar committees.

Course Requirements

  • Biolchem 660 (Molecules of Life: Protein, Structure, Function and Dynamics) or Biolchem 501 (Chemical Biology)
  • Biolchem 597 (Critical Analysis)
  • Biolchem 711 (Graduate Seminar)
  • Biolchem 712 (Department Seminar Series)
  • PIBS 503 (Research Responsibility and Ethics)
  • Graduate Writing Course
  • Biological Chemistry Advanced Electives (two courses), including Eukaryotic Gene Transcription, Regulatory RNA and Control of Gene Expression, Enzyme Kinetics, Signal Transduction, Protein Crystallography, and others
  • Electives for breadth, including Introduction to Bioinformatics, Cell Biology, Molecular Genetics, Developmental Genetics, Techniques in Biophysical Chemistry, Cellular Biotechnology and others

Teaching

Ph.D. students in Biological Chemistry receive teaching experience by serving as teaching assistants for one semester.  Students interested in developing teaching skills can also participate in CRLT workshops, such as “preparing future faculty” and teaching certificate programs.

Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

During the fall semester of their second year, students in Biological Chemistry write and defend orally an in-depth original research proposal. The written and oral components of the exam assess the student’s mastery of the required course content for the department and the student’s ability to reason analytically and to independently develop ideas and experimental approaches. A faculty preliminary examination committee works closely with the student in a step-by-step process from selection of a topic to the definition of specific aims and production of the final written proposal. Through this mechanism, students gain valuable experience in the preparation of a competitive research proposal and in the development of independence in scientific reasoning.

Outcomes

Students in the Ph.D. program in Biological Chemistry typically receive their Ph.D. within 5 to 6 years (the average is less than 6 years, which is also the average for Ph.D. programs in biological sciences at the University).  Over 543 of our graduates have pursued scientific careers in major academic, government and industrial positions.  From 2006-2015, 71 students received their Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry.  Of these, thirteen currently hold faculty positions, twenty are conducting postdoctoral work, fourteen are research scientists in industry, and six went on to earn medical or dental degrees.   Additionally, some of our students have pursued careers in scientific public policy, public health, patent law, and clinical or scientific editing.  Two graduates of the Department, Stanley Cohen, who discovered epidermal growth factor, and Marshall Nirenberg, who cracked the genetic code, are Nobel Laureates.

Mentorship