Program of study
The department offers a master's degree (MS) and a doctorate (Ph.D.) in biochemistry; a Ph.D./MD cooperative degree in biochemistry; and interdisciplinary program degrees including a Ph.D. in the nutrition area program and Ph.D. in the genetics area program.
Timeline for the Ph.D. program
The average graduation time in the Ph.D. program is approximately five years.
Along with courses and seminars, students embark on lab rotations, dissertation research, qualifying and comprehensive exams and committee meetings, cumulating in the dissertation defense.
Coursework: Years 1-2
Lab rotations: Year 1
Qualifying exam: Year 1
Dissertation research and committee meetings: Years 1-5
Seminars: Years 1-5
Comprehensive exam: Year 2
Dissertation defense: Year 5
Prior to successfully completing the comprehensive examination, a student must complete nine credit hours per semester, or four per summer, to remain a full-time graduate student. Following successful completion of both parts of the comprehensive exam, the student should register for a minimum of two hours of dissertation research per semester (one in summer) to maintain continuous enrollment. More than the minimum may be needed to obtain the 72 credit hours required by the Graduate School for completion of the PhD.
Starting in the fall semester of the first year, each student completes three laboratory rotations with the aim of identifying a lab in which to conduct PhD thesis research. By the end of the second semester, most students have chosen their labs. Each rotation should be conducted for a period of at least eight weeks. Two rotations are performed in the first semester, with the second rotation ending Dec. 31. The third rotation begins Jan. 1 or soon after. One-half of the student's time and effort should be directed toward the rotation project and the other half toward course work. The rotation laboratory should serve as an academic home, and the student should participate in all usual laboratory activities, including weekly group meetings.
Dissertation adviser and doctoral program committee
By the end of the third rotation each student should identify a dissertation adviser, choosing from doctoral faculty with financial support for students. An important early task for the student is to assemble a doctoral program committee (DPC), in consultation with his/her adviser, by the summer after the second semester. The DPC membership is selected by the student’s adviser in consultation with the student and appointed by the dean of the Graduate School by the end of the second semester. The DPC is composed of at least four members of the MU graduate faculty: at least three from biochemistry and an outside member from a different MU program. At least two must be MU doctoral faculty. Additional faculty may serve on doctoral committees as a fifth or sixth members.
Students who have earned grades of B or better in the required courses of Graduate Biochemistry I and II and are in good standing academically (cumulative GPA 3.0) should take the oral qualifying exam in May after their second semester. Failure to complete the oral qualifying exam by June of the second year will result in dismissal from the PhD program. Students who have received a C in a core course must retake the course and receive a grade of B or better to remain in the PhD program, even after passing the oral qualifying exam.
Regular reviews to acknowledge progress
The first doctoral program committee (DPC) meeting between committee members and the student is designed to provide an opportunity for the DPC to approve the planned program of study. This meeting should occur no later than the summer after the student's second semester of graduate study. The student should prepare a brief written document, to be distributed to the committee members at least one week in advance, outlining the student’s program of study. This document consists of two parts: a list of the formal coursework and a two- to three-page description of the proposed research project.
An important part of graduate education is learning to communicate effectively as a teacher. Two semesters enrolled in Biochem 9001 helps prepare the students for their teaching assistant experience which consists of one semester in an undergraduate laboratory or lecture venue. This is a required component of both the MS and PhD degrees and typically is performed in the second year of graduate study. Students must satisfy this teaching experience requirement with a grade of B or better to remain in good standing as a graduate student in Biochemistry. This teaching experience usually involves assisting a faculty member in one of several courses and interacting with the students fairly extensively. The Biochemistry Department also offers a Zahler Fellowship for graduate students interested in teaching as a career. Missouri requires that students whose first language is not English demonstrate adequate oral proficiency before assisting in teaching.
Comprehensive examination (oral and written components)
Students who have passed the qualifying exam should complete the written comprehensive exam within the next one to two semesters (by May of their second year). This examination involves writing a proposal for doctoral research in the format of a federal postdoctoral fellowship application. The student must then orally defend the proposal before his/her doctoral program committee plus a member of the graduate education committee. This is designed to assess the student’s ability to think critically about science and to communicate effectively both in writing and in an oral presentation.