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Department of biochemistry and Molecular biology

PhD Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Program of Study
A typical course of study for the Ph.D. in Biochemistry is as follows:

First Year
Biomedical Sciences First-Year Curriculum: The First Year Curriculum is offered by the College of Graduate Studies and lays the groundwork for the student’s later advanced coursework and research training in a specific Ph.D. program. There are two main elements: a common curriculum and laboratory rotations. The common curriculum (Foundations of Biomedical Sciences - CGS 701/702) is classroom based and provides essential core knowledge in molecular and cell biology. Laboratory rotations (CGS 720/721) introduce students to potential areas of research and provide training in experimental methods and techniques.

Other elements of the First-Year Curriculum are Essentials of Scientific Practices (CGS 710/711/712), Important Unanswered Questions in the Biomedical Sciences (CGS 760), and program-specific Spring Selectives (BMB 705).

At the end of the first year, students choose their mentor and laboratory for the research project that will be the foundation of their Ph.D. dissertation.

More information about the First-Year Curriculum can be found here:

Second Year
In the second year, a student begins to define and refine their research project, while always remaining cognizant of the ultimate goal of publishing peer-reviewed papers and defending a thesis. Students also select their Dissertation Advisory Committee, comprising their advisor and four additional faculty members (one from outside the department). In tandem, students accumulate course credits in areas that will complement their laboratory research.

At the end of the year, students take the Written Qualifying Exam, which is administered by the Graduate Training Committee during the first or second week of June. The objective of the examination is to determine whether a student understands the principles of biochemistry and molecular biology, can read and comprehend relevant literature, and can construct convincing hypotheses and a cogent experimental plan. Such skills are essential for a successful career in research.

Third Year
The third year is a continuation of laboratory research and some additional course work. Before the end of the third year and within one year of passing the Written Qualifying Exam, students take the Oral Qualifying Exam, administered by their Dissertation Advisory Committee. For this exam, students develop a written research proposal in an NIH-grant format on his/her research topic. There is then an oral defense of the proposal, comprising a public presentation of the research project, followed by more detailed examination by the Dissertation Advisory Committee. After passing the Oral Qualifying Exam, the student is certified as a candidate for the PhD degree. Admission to the candidacy must occur at least one year prior to completing all requirements for PhD.

Fourth/Fifth Year
During the fourth and subsequent years of graduate study in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the primary effort is the research project. The culmination of this endeavor is a dissertation that is based on the research conducted and which shows evidence of mature scholarship and critical judgment. In common with all Ph.D. students at MUSC, the candidate presents his/her work at a public seminar, followed by a closed session with the Dissertation Advisory Committee. This committee has primary responsibility for evaluating the student’s research, including the written dissertation, the formal oral presentation, and handling of questions.

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Ph.D. Program Requirements

  • Successful completion of the First-Year Common Curriculum.
  • Successful completion of a total of 12 credit hours of course work, including a statistics course (see below) and Biochemistry & Molecular Biology’s Selective, Advanced Biochemistry (BMB-735).
  • Statistics requirement: The College of Graduate Studies requires that students demonstrate a predetermined level of statistical competence. This may be achieved by completing MCR 700 in the second or subsequent years of graduate study, or by providing transcript evidence of satisfactory completion of previously-taken statistical course(s) that fulfill the College requirement.
  • Attendance at all Research and Methods seminars and present a seminar in this series at least once per year. 
  • Attendance at a minimum of two thirds of MCBP seminars in an academic year.
  • Successful completion of the Written Qualifying Examination at the end of 2nd year.
  • Successful completion of the Oral Qualifying Examination within 12 months of passing the Written Qualifier.
  • Publication as first author of at least one original research article in a peer-reviewed journal.
  • 15 credit hours of laboratory research in each semester in the 2nd year and beyond.
  • Successful completion of dissertation proposal and its defense.

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Ph.D. students in the Biomedical Sciences apply to the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) and take a common curriculum in the first year. General information about the College can be found here:

Admissions are handled centrally by the Office of Enrollment:
Please select “Biochemistry” if you are interested in our Program of Study.

Ideally, students who select the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for their graduate studies should have a strong background in biological sciences: undergraduate training in organic chemistry and biology are advantageous.

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