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Biochemistry Program Overview

For students who matriculated into the former Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program prior to 2012 please click here.

About the PhD Program - Learning Goals

The Graduate Program in Biochemistry is part of a large, diverse, and highly interactive community of biological scientists that form the consortium of the Graduate Programs in Molecular BioSciences at the Rutgers University and UMDNJ- Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. The consortium currently is made up of seven graduate programs from the two Universities. It functions to coordinate the recruitment, admissions, and 1st year core curriculum offering of Ph. D. students, as well as to give our students maximum flexibility in pursuing their studies and research interests and in selecting Ph. D. research advisors from among the more than 200 faculty members.

The Biochemistry program currently includes more than 100 faculty members from a number of departments in the two universities. Faculty research span the fields of biochemistry, biological chemistry, biophysics, molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, as well as genetics, genomics and proteomics.

The Biochemistry program offers advanced studies leading to the Ph.D. degree. All Ph.D. students are expected to complete a set of core courses during their first two semesters in the Program that includes biochemistry and molecular biology, cell biology, microbial and molecular genetics, quantitative problems in biological sciences, seminars and lab rotations. The overall requirements for the Ph.D. include completing a series of core/elective courses and laboratory research (totaling a minimum of 72 credits), passing parts I and II of the qualifying examination, and writing and defending a research dissertation.

You may also address Joint Biochemistry program specific questions to:

Abram Gabriel, Co-Director
Kiran Madura, Co-Director
Graduate Program in Biochemistry
Center for Advanced Biotechnology & Medicine
679 Hoes Lane
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Tel: (732) 235-4197
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Entrance Requirements

A Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent with at least a grade point average of 3.0 (on a scale of 4.0) is required. The most appropriate preparation is an undergraduate major in biology (molecular, cellular, developmental, or microbiology), biochemistry, or chemistry. Applicants are also expected to have an adequate background in calculus and physics.

Admission is competitive and is based on academic work, letters of recommendation, and scores on the GRE General Test and Subject Test. TOEFL scores are required of students from countries on which English is not the native language.

Course Requirements

Satisfactory completion of a minimum of 72 credits is required for the Ph.D. degree. This is to include a minimum of 35 credits of course work and at least 37 credits of research (115:701, 702).

Transfer of Credit

Credit may not be transferred until 12 credits of graduate courses with grades of B or better have been completed in the Graduate School, New Brunswick. Forms for transfer credit may be obtained from either the program Office of the Graduate School. The request for transfer of credits must be approved by the Director of the Graduate Program. A maximum of 24 course credits is transferable. Transfer of credit will be allowed only for those courses relevant to the student’s program. For transfer, courses must have been taken within the past 6 years and passed with a grade of B or better.

Graduate Advisor

The Molecular BioSciences Graduate Programs has a Faculty Committee of Advisors for the first year Ph.D. Students in the Molecular BioSciences Programs. Contact Ms. Carolyn Ambrose or Diane Murano for specifics.


Qualifying Examinations for the Ph.D. The qualifying examination is divided into two parts: (I) a comprehensive written examination of the student’s general knowledge in cell and molecular biology, biochemistry and cognate disciplines, and (II) evaluation of the student’s research potential and dissertation potential. All Ph.D. students are required to take part I of the examination upon completion of the core curriculum.

After passing the written Qualifying Examination, each student is required to prepare and defend a proposition by the end of the second year in the Program. A proposition is an assertion concerning some current question in biochemistry and molecular biology. The student proposes an original mechanism or theory which could serve to explain a biological phenomenon in molecular terms. In connection with the proposition, the student also devises hypothetical experiments designed to test the proposal. The proposition may be in any area of biochemistry and molecular biology which interests the student, including the areas of the Ph.D. thesis.

Part I of Qualifying Examination

To be held in June of the first year or after completion of the set of 4 core courses. The students will be given a selection of journal articles at least 14 days prior to the exam. There will be a two-day written exam related to these articles to test basic knowledge, comprehension of the papers, and experimental design. The questions can be specific as well as wide-ranging.

The examination will be prepared and graded on a pass/fail basis by a committee of faculty members. A student must have a GPA of at least 3.0. to sit for the examination and must pass the examination to remain in the Ph. D. program.

If the performance of a student on the examination is unsatisfactory, the student may be given another chance. If that examination is still unsatisfactory the student will be required to terminate from the program.

Part II of Qualifying Examination

The proposition is submitted to an Oral Examination Committee, which consists of four members of the Biochemistry Graduate Program. This committee is typically chosen by the student in consultation with the Thesis Advisor who has the option of serving as one of the four committee members. When present, the Thesis Advisor is expected to act as an observer. In the absence of the Thesis Advisor, Examination Committee members are chosen by the student in consultation with the Program Director or his/her designee.

The student presents to this Committee a detailed write-up of the background and logic of the proposition, as well as the experiments to test the proposed hypotheses. Although the format of the proposal is flexible, it is typically based on the research topic that will form the foundation of the student's thesis. At the discretion of the Thesis Advisor, the student's proposal may address a topic not directly related to the student's research. In this case, the chairperson of the Oral Examination Committee will assist the student in developing a proposal distinct from the student's research. The oral examination explores the proposal in depth, along with other areas related to the subject matter of the proposition. The committee chairperson is to submit a written report to the Program Director describing the result of this examination (pass/fail). Part II of the Qualifying Examination must be completed by August 31 of the student's second year in the Program. Failure to complete Part II by this deadline is grounds for termination by the Graduate School due to non-compliance with Program requirements.

Requirements for admission to Ph.D. Candidacy are: (i) completion of the core curriculum, (ii) carrying a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or above, and (iii) satisfactory completion of Parts I and II of the qualifying examination. After the successful completion of both written and oral qualifying examinations, a thesis committee must be formed to review the student's proposal and subsequent progress. The committee shall consist of at least four members, of whom at least three are members of the Program (including the student’s advisor). One member should be "outside the Program," i.e., either from outside the University or have a primary program affiliation other than Biochemistry. This thesis committee must meet formally with the student once a year to discuss his/her progress. A form documenting each meeting (available on the Biochemistry website) must be completed and submitted to the Program office. During the last semester of registration, the Ph.D. student is to give a public seminar. This may be held as part of the thesis defense.

Policy on the “Outside Member”

The Graduate School requires that one member of a Ph.D. dissertation committee be an individual who is not a member of the student’s degree program. This individual may be a Rutgers faculty member or someone from outside the university. Outside members are intended to bring a fresh perspective to the supervision of a student’s research and also to bring an unbiased look at the quality of the work. Therefore, they must be people with no conflict of interest with regard to assessment of the student’s work.

In some fields, especially the biomedical sciences, there is such a broad inclusion of relevant individuals on program faculties that it has become quite difficult to find a Rutgers faculty member to appoint as an outside member of a dissertation committee who is not already a member of the program faculty. At the same time, the membership of these programs is drawn from a wide range of units within Rutgers and UMDNJ, such that there can easily be faculty members of a program who have little professional contact.

It is therefore permissible, in such situations, that the “outside” member be drawn from within the program faculty when it can be shown that that individual has no personal or professional ties to the student, the adviser and other members of the committee. In these cases the outside member may not be a member of a department already represented on the committee. In addition, the “outside” member may not serve as dissertation committee chair. Requests for these exceptions will have to demonstrate that this is the case and will require approval by the Graduate School.

The outside examiner can be either outside the Program or the University. For appointments of “outside examiners” who do not hold any membership in the graduate faculty, approval of the Program Director and the Graduate School is necessary. The student and/or the advisor is to make the request to the Program Director, who in turn will forward to the Office of the Graduate School a letter requesting the appointment of this individual to the committee.

Contact Us

Division of Life Sciences Graduate Program Office
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Nelson Lab-604 Allison Rd
Piscataway, NJ 08854
Phone: 848.445.9517