Education


If you are searching for outstanding training in biochemistry and molecular biology, you should explore what we have to offer....

Ph.D. program
Program Description

The Ph.D. program is designed to prepare students for a research-oriented career in academia or the private sector. The core of this degree program is an original independent research project under the supervision of a faculty advisor. While emphasizing independent research in biochemistry and molecular biology, the program also provides a background of courses designed to match the needs and interests of each student. A recommended schedule of courses is shown below. Selection of an independent research project, leading to a final thesis and dissertation, is facilitated by a series of "rotations." PhD students are expected to enroll as full-time graduate students.


Comprehensive Examinations

By three (3) months prior to taking written comprehensive exams, a Graduate Student Advisory Committee and Course Plan form must be submitted through GradTrak and approved by the advisor, graduate program director, and Associate Dean for Graduate Education.

The comprehensive examinations and all other requirements for admission to candidacy should be completed prior to the end of the third year in the Program.

The comprehensive examination will consist of two parts: a written examination consisting of a research proposal and an oral examination consisting of a defense of the proposal. The grant proposal is prepared in the format of an NIH predoctoral fellowship by the student in an independent manner. In the case where a similar proposal is being sent to a granting agency as part of a pre-doctoral fellowship application, the proposal submitted for the written comprehensive examination must be a version that has been written by the student with only minor input from her/his advisor. No part of the student’s proposal should come from a grant proposal written by the advisor. The student’s advisor will certify to the student’s advisory committee, in the form of a letter, that the student has been the primary and only writer of the proposal and that no part of the proposal has been taken from her/his grant applications. Students are subject to the VCU Honor code when preparing the grant proposal(consult the following link for details http://www.provost.vcu.edu/pdfs/Honor_system_policy.pdf ).

The student’s advisory committee will score the proposal on a 5 point NIH scale (1-1.5= outstanding; 1.5-2= excellent; 2-2.5=very good; 2.5-3=good; 3-3.5= marginal; below 3.5=poor). Students must achieve an average score or 3 or better to pass the proposal. Students with scores between 3-3.5 are allowed one opportunity to revise the grant proposal based on the comments and criticisms of the committee. The revision must be completed within one month of receiving a non-passing grade. Failure to pass the proposal the second time will result in termination from the program. A student must pass the proposal before scheduling the oral examination. A Documentation of Completion of Written Exam form (http://www.biochemistry.vcu.edu/Education/forms.html) should be submitted to the graduate program director once the exam is completed.

The oral comprehensive must be completed within 6 months of completing the written examination. Thus, students should take the oral comprehensive exam no later than the third year. The oral examination uses a grant proposal, prepared independently by the student in the format of an NIH predoctoral fellowship (or other comparable) application. The proposal is viewed as a departure point for questioning by the examining committee. The examination tests knowledge related to the grant proposal as well as general knowledge of biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology. The School requires that the Office of Graduate Education schedule this examination no later than 10 days before the exam date. The student should schedule the exam using an Exam Scheduling Form (available on GradTrak ).

A Dean’s representative must be present at the examination. This individual should be a member of the graduate faculty who does not hold a primary appointment in the Department of Biochemistry. The Dean’s representative manages the examination. The student’s advisor may attend the examination but does not ask questions or contribute to the examination in any way. The oral comprehensive examination is open to all members of the faculty. The time and place of the examination shall be posted at least 10 working days in advance. Faculty members in attendance may ask questions of the candidate, but their questions shall not be presented until after the Student’s Examining Committee has completed its questions. Faculty members other than those on the examining committee shall not vote on the success or failure of the candidate. A favorable vote of the student’s Examining Committee with no more than one negative vote is required to pass. Upon passing the oral comprehensive examination, the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee will review the progress of the student and recommend to the Graduate Program Director that the student be admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. This documentation requires signatures on a form at that will be obtained from the Dean’s Representative. A copy of the signed form should be delivered to the graduate program director as documentation that the oral comprehensive examination has been completed. If failed, this exam must be retaken within 30 days following approval of the Graduate Program Director and the MCV Graduate Committee. If the exam is failed a second time the student will be dismissed from the Ph.D. Program.

The written proposal should be submitted to the Graduate Advisory Committee by January 1st of the second year in the program and both comprehensive examinations must be completed by the end of the third year in the program. Students who do not complete the examinations within this timeframe will be administratively terminated from the program for noncompliance..


Dissertation

Upon completion of their research project, the student writes and defends a dissertation which is reviewed by the Graduate Advisory Committee. The Graduate Advisory Committee must meet during the semester in which the student intends to defend and approve the student’s request to file a graduation application. In addition, the committee must approve of the dissertation before the final exam scheduling form can be submitted and approved by the Program Director. The student should schedule the exam using an Exam Scheduling Form (available on GradTrak. The student must submit the dissertation to his/ her Committee at least 10 working days before submission of the final exam scheduling form which, in turn, must be submitted at least 10 working days before the defense. As such, students should allow approximately 20 working days between submission of the dissertation and the date of the final defense. Departmental permission forms for filing of the graduation application and final exam scheduling form are available at http://www.biochemistry.vcu.edu/Education/forms.html. The dissertation is then defended in a final oral examination which is open to the public, but only the student's Graduate Advisory Committee votes on passage of the exam. It is expected that students will present reports of their work at scientific meetings and publish their findings in scientific journals.


Teaching

Students will have the opportunity to assist in the teaching of courses offered by the Department.


Biochemistry; Molecular Biology PhD Program Support/Stipends

All applicants who are selected for admission to the Ph.D. graduate program in Biochemistry are eligible for financial support. Assistantships and fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis. Tuition and fees are also paid for students receiving fellowships and assistantships. Currently, all of our doctoral students receive a yearly stipend ($23,100 as of fall 2010). No special application for financial aid is necessary. Details of the financial arrangements are communicated directly to the students at the time of acceptance into the graduate program.


PhD Curriculum in Biochemistry Molecular Biology

Ph.D. students in Biochemistry take courses designed for graduate students with an emphasis on research design and experimentation. Usually, a student will have earned about 30 semester hour credits before taking the written examination. For students holding the MD, DDS, or other professional degrees, successful completion of biochemistry / cell biology is equivalent to the BIOC 503-504 series.

The following graduate courses are required:

  • a. BIOC 690.901: Biochemistry Seminar (each semester)
  • b. BIOC 690.902: Biochemistry Student Seminar (each semester)
  • c. BIOC 691.901: Special Topics in Biochemistry/Student Journal Club (each semester years 02-04 in the program)

The following graduate courses are recommended:

  • a. Laboratory rotation (typically year 01, arranged through the BSDP admissions portal)
  • b. BIOC 503: Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology I (typically year 01)
  • c. BIOC 504: Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology II (typically year 01)
  • d. BIOC 602: Physical Properties of Macromolecules (1-4 modules, typically year 01)*
  • e. BIOC 604: Enzymology (1-3 modules, typically year 02)*
  • f. BIOC 605: Advanced Topics in Molecular Biology (typically year 02)
  • g. MICR 507: Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics (typically year 02)
  • h. BIOC 691.904: Special Topics in Biochemistry: Critical Thinking (typically year 01)
  • i. MICR 512: Laboratory Safety (typically year 01)
  • j. MICR 510: Scientific Integrity (typically year 02)
  • k. BIOC 697: Directed research in Biochemistry (each semester)
  • o. BIOC 606, Control Processes & Signal Transduction
  • p. BIOC 601, Lipids & Membranes
  • q. MICR 605, Prokaryotic Molecular Genetics
  • r. ANAT 615, Techniques in Neuroscience and Cell Biology
  • s. MICR 653, Adv. Molecular Genetics: Bioinformatics
  • t. GEN 501, Human Genetics
  • u. MICR 505, Immunology
  • v. PHTX 691.803, Research Design Analysis (statistics)

Students select courses from this panel, with guidance from their advisors and committees. While there is no minimum credit requirement for graduation, PhD students must enroll full-time (minimum 9 credits) to be eligible for a stipend. Some graduate courses listed above may be taken after the comprehensive examination. Most of this course work should be taken during the first two years of the program. Students are encouraged to take additional courses that relate to their personal research project.

A typical course plan for the full-time Ph.D. student.

Credit Hours
First Fall Semester

BIOC 503 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology I

5.0

MICR 512 Laboratory Safety

1.0

BIOC 690.901 Biochemistry Seminar

1.0

BIOC 690.902 Biochemistry Student Seminar

1.0

BIOC 691.904 Critical Scientific Thinking

1.0

BIOC 505 Experimental Biochemistry (Laboratory Rotation)

2.0

   
First Spring Semester

BIOC 504 Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology II

5.0

BIOC 602 Physical Properties of Macromolecules

1-4.0

BIOC 690.901 Biochemistry Seminar

1.0

BIOC 690.902 Biochemistry Student Seminar

1.0

ANAT 691 Scientific Writing

2.0

BIOC 691.904 Critical Scientific Thinking

1.0

BIOC 505 Experimental Biochemistry (Laboratory Rotation)

2.0

   
Second Fall Semester

BIOC 605 Advanced Topics in Molecular Biology

3.0

BIOC 604 Enzymology

1-3.0

MICR 507 Techniques in Molecular Biology & Genetics

2.0

OVPR 601: Scientific Integrity, OVPR 602: Responsible Scientific Conduct, or OVPR 603: Responsible Conduct of Research

1.0

BIOC 690.901 Biochemistry Seminar

1.0

BIOC 690.902 Biochemistry Student Seminar

1.0

BIOC 691.901 Student Journal Club

1.0

BIOC 697 Directed Research in Biochemistry

variable

   
Second Spring Semester

BIOC 690.901 Biochemistry Research Seminar

1.0

BIOC 690.902 Biochemistry Student Seminar

1.0

BIOC 691.901 Student Journal Club

1.0

BIOC 697 Directed Research in Biochemistry
Optional Course

variable


Approximately 30 credit hours exclusive of research credit is generally required to complete the PhD.


PhD Student Goals

Train Biochemistry researchers/educators
The program is designed to provide students with the skills required to advance to positions as bioscience researchers/trainers in a broad spectrum of positions. The provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter of biochemistry, cell, and molecular biology, an ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation/experimentation in bioscience. The program relates the above framework to the development of the ability to design, implement, and interpret experimental approaches which address the questions identified. In addition, program will develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of bioscience knowledge and the expression of experimental design, results and interpretation to a variety of potential audiences.


MS Student Learning Outcomes

Oral Communication Skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of oral communication skills with respect to the content, organization, logical flow, presentation and appropriate use of language incorporating the use of visual aids.

Written Communication Skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of written communication skill with respect to grammar, syntax, spelling and use of vocabulary to effectively present information including the use of figures, tables and citations.

Experimental Design:The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of competence in the ability to appraise, modify and / or create and implement experimental protocols and to design and develop experiments.

Problem Solving Skills:The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of skill in the identification and selection of meaningful problems to be addressed in bioscience research, including the ability to defend said identifications and to design and develop appropriate methods to solve said problems.

General Knowledge of Science:The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge of the current elements of the biosciences as related to disciplinary specialization and a more detailed understanding of the individual area of scholarship, including an appropriate familiarity with the research literature and the ability to evaluate and critique publications.


Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research

All PhD students are required to complete the following training in the responsible conduct of research:

  1. OVPR 601 (Scientific Integrity) or OVPR 602 (Responsible Scientific Conduct) or OVPR 603 (Responsible Conduct of Research), 1 CR, Fall Semester, year 02

  2. Collaborative Investigator Training Initiative (CITI) : this is an on-line course that provides training in Human Subjects Research. The course must be completed during the Fall Semester of year 02. Students should submit the “Certificate of Completion” before starting the Spring Semester of year 02. Consult the following link to access the course: http://www.research.vcu.edu/irb/education.htm

  3. Research Training. Org: this is an on-line course that provides training in Animal Subjects Research. The course must be completed during the Fall Semester of year 02. Students should submit the “Certificate of Completion” before starting the Spring Semester of year 02. Consult the following link to access the course: http://www.research.vcu.edu/iacuc/lata.htm