The Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics graduate option has been established as an interdisciplinary program at the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics that seeks to understand the chemistry of life. Thus, biochemists and biophysicists study the atomic structure and folding of biopolymers; their interactions with each other and with small molecules; and the roles of particular biopolymers and biopolymer assemblies in cellular physiology. The basic building block of life is the cell and the intellectual focus of modern biochemistry and biophysics is to understand how individual parts interact to give cells their wide spectrum of functions. In particular, biochemistry and molecular biophysics addresses the principles through which the individual components of cells combine in an orderly self-association to produce their form, their function, and their dynamic behavior.
An integrated approach to graduate study in biochemistry and molecular biophysics has been organized primarily by the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. The curriculum is designed to provide a broad background in biochemistry and biophysics of macromolecules and molecular assemblies, in addition to an appropriate depth of knowledge in the field selected for the Ph.D. thesis research. The goal of the doctoral program is to prepare students to become leading scientists in academia and industry. By graduation time, our students are expected not only to be highly competent in their chosen area of research, but to have also acquired a broad knowledge foundation in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, independently planned and conducted research experiments in their chosen area, and successfully defended their thesis work in an open forum.
First Year – Selecting an Advisor and Laboratory Rotations
During the first year of graduate study, students are required to participate in the BMB 202 seminar course and BMB 174. Additionally, students are required to take five advanced courses of nine or more units for a grade (not Pass/Fail) that are appropriate for their particular research interests (as approved by the Option Representative).
In consultation with the Option Representative and individual professors, students will choose three laboratories in which to do short (10-12 week) research projects during their first year of residence. These laboratory rotations are designed to provide the student with an introduction to different areas of biochemistry. Research advisors are normally selected at the end of the first year. It is possible to waive one of the rotations by petitioning the Option Representative. All first-year students will discuss their projects during the Rotation Research Presentations symposium held at the end of each quarter.
Second Year – Candidacy Examination
By the end of the sixth term of residency (spring term of the second year), the student will take an oral examination to assess mastery of the field of biochemistry and to evaluate research progress. As part of this examination, each student will submit a written research report summarizing the progress in their research, and an original research proposition in a field outside the student’s chosen field of research. A candidacy examination committee will be assembled by the student in consultation with his/her thesis advisor (the student is responsible for finding a date, time and location for the exam). The committee should consist of the student’s thesis advisor and three or four BMB faculty members (faculty outside of the BMB option may also be members of the committee), and is chaired by a faculty member other than the student’s advisor. When the student advances to candidacy upon successful completion of the exam, the exam committee will become the thesis advisory committee and will meet with the student once a year to evaluate research progress. This committee will also serve as the PhD thesis advisory committee.
Please see the Candidacy Guidelines for more information.
Third Year and up to Ph.D. defense – Annual Thesis Advisory Committee Meetings
Students are required to meet annually with their Thesis Advisory Committee to evaluate research progress and to get feedback on their experiments and future plans.
Ph.D. Thesis Defense
All Ph.D. candidates must present their work in a thesis seminar.
Students have the opportunity to attend a wide range of seminars, from weekly informal group seminars to named lectureships. BMB graduate students actively participate in the regularly scheduled BMB seminars by attending BMB202. Graduate students actively participate in the regularly scheduled seminars. These seminars are organized and operated by graduate students who select and invite the speakers as well as arrange appointment schedules. There are also seminar series in physics, biology, and chemistry that may interest BMB graduate students.
Please click here for a list of seminars.
All students are to serve as teaching assistants for two quarters with the first in the first year of residence and the second by the end of the fourth year. In addition to serving an educational purpose, funds for the TA assignments are a component of the stipend. Outside factors, such as previous TA positions prior to starting the Ph.D. program, may be considered as satisfying the requirement upon approval by the Option Representative.
The BMB Handbook is a compilation of information about various aspects of the graduate program for the Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics (BMB) at Caltech, providing more detail than the Institute Catalog. It is intended as a reference source that can be used whenever questions arise about policies and practices relevant to the program. Please note, though, that the official policies and requirements are as specified in the Catalog. Should you have any questions, check with the BMB administration.