Biological Chemistry


The Biological Chemistry Graduate Program at UT Southwestern offers state-of-the-art training in biochemistry and molecular biology with the goal of preparing students to make significant research contributions at the interface of chemistry and biology. Faculty within the Program are actively engaged in researching a wide range of topics, including enzymology, RNA-mediated cellular processes, hormone receptors, metabolism, small-molecule control of cellular function, and drug discovery.

A characteristic of UTSW’s scientific environment is the close proximity of basic science and clinical departments. The extensive collaborations of the Program faculty with faculty of clinical departments provide additional opportunities for students to contribute significantly to research with direct patient and medical relevance. Faculty members of the Program are also well recognized in their fields and maintain a lively communication with colleagues around the world. Numerous seminars by outstanding visiting scientists also are offered and are a vital component of the educational experience.

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Special Requirements for Admission

Students wishing to join the Biological Chemistry Graduate Program must be enrolled in the Division of Basic Science and be in good standing academically. It is not necessary for a student within the Program to choose a mentor who is a faculty member of the Program, provided that the student has sound reasons for this choice. Students ordinarily will apply for formal admission to the Program after completing the first-year curriculum but may participate in the Program informally at any time after successful admission into the Division of Basic Science.

The Biological Chemistry Program is designed to train students in theory and techniques related to the molecular mechanisms that control cellular activities. Topics encompassed within the Program include gene regulation, RNA-mediated processes, protein interactions, enzyme functions, cellular metabolism, and drug discovery.

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Students in the Biological Chemistry Graduate Program must satisfactorily complete the core curriculum offered in the fall term and two laboratory rotations. In the rest of the first year, students are expected to complete 7.5 credit hours of advanced course work, which require a grade average of B or better. Three credit hours consist of two required courses; the additional 4.5 hours may be selected from offerings by other Programs within the Division of Basic Science. For exceptional reasons, these course requirements may be altered with permission of the Program Chair. In addition, students participate in a student seminar and Journal Club each semester.

Near the end of the second year, students take a qualifying examination that consists of an oral defense of an original written research proposal. Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree requires satisfactory performance in the core and advanced courses, the qualifying examination, and research.

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Advanced Courses

Course requirements and descriptions are listed on the Course Description page.

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Student Research Seminar

Weekly Works-In-Progress seminars provide a format in which students are encouraged to think critically about their own research and how it relates to related topics in biochemistry. Students receive critical feedback and suggestions from students and faculty with a range of biochemical expertise as well as gaining experience with formal presentations, a critical skill for a successful scientist. Several faculty mentors attend regularly and assist in facilitating discussion of the research presented. All track students are required to attend the WIP series weekly and to actively participate in the discussions, in addition to presenting their ongoing research once each year.

WIPs are designed to generate feedback and suggestions for students regarding their research from a diverse audience and to provide experience with formal presentations, a critical skill for successful scientists. Faculty mentors attend regularly and facilitate discussion of the research presented.

Journal Club presentations provide a forum for students to learn and describe an area of chemistry not directly related to their thesis topics. This forum aims to broaden students’ knowledge and sophistication regarding important areas in synthetic chemistry. Topics are chosen by students in consultation with thesis advisers. Postdoctoral fellows also have an opportunity to present Journal Clubs.

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Dissertation Committee

The Dissertation Committee oversees the scientific progress of students toward the completion of their degrees. Faculty members on the Committee are selected for expertise in the thesis area so they can contribute substantial intellectual insight in direction of the project. The Committee must have at least four members, including the thesis advisor, and at least two must be Program faculty. The Committee meets at least once a year to provide guidance and advice and to ensure a student’s satisfactory progression toward a degree.

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Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination evaluates the student’s ability to develop a hypothesis-based research proposal that addresses a specific question in modern biochemistry. The proposal must be presented in written and oral forms. To distinguish the student’s abilities from those of the dissertation advisor, the student may not prepare a proposal related to his or her dissertation research or to research being carried out by other members of the student’s laboratory. The examination tests the student’s ability to defend work described in the proposal and to demonstrate an understanding of the underlying concepts, experimental approaches and designs, and their limitations. Advancement to Ph.D. candidacy depends on successful completion of the oral proposal examination. The qualifying examination process takes place during the late spring of the first year in the Program after course work is completed.

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