Graduate School

Graduate Programs in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Molecular biology and biochemistry hold the promise of describing evolution, life and disease in atomic, molecular and chemical terms. Throughout the coming century, a generation of new wealth in agriculture, pharmaceuticals and the chemical industry will depend heavily on novel research in biochemistry. There has never been a more exciting time to enter graduate school in the modern biological sciences.

Is graduate school right for you?

A Ph.D. program in Biochemistry or a related subject requires 4-6 years to complete. During that time, a graduate student must create a novel thesis project under the supervision of a faculty mentor. If you do not like to stretch yourself and to work independently and if you do not like to work in a laboratory, this kind of a graduate program is not for you. If you like laboratory work and you like to discover new knowledge and new opportunities, graduate school can be richly rewarding. Working in a laboratory as an undergraduate will help you to determine your level of interest in research as a career and future way of life. It is essential to obtain this experience before beginning a rigorous graduate program.

Preparation for graduate school

An application to graduate school will be judged on the basis of a student’s grades, research experience, accomplishments, letters of recommendation, GRE (graduate record exam) scores and statement of purpose. Graduate programs will be looking to determine whether a student is academically prepared for graduate studies and whether a student realizes what they will encounter in graduate school. Students must achieve grades of 3.0 or better in all graduate courses, so your undergraduate GPA and GRE scores must reflect this level of ability. Undergraduate research experience is essential for your graduate application. Without sufficient practical laboratory experience a student cannot know what graduate studies will be like or even whether that student will like graduate school. Working in a laboratory will also enhance a graduate school application because a student’s faculty mentor will be able to write a credible account of that student’s ability and accomplishments. Having favorable letters of recommendation from faculty who know you well will strengthen your graduate application and may be a decisive factor in your acceptance. If you are intending to apply to graduate school in the future, begin thinking several years in advance about how you can best develop your future credentials for admission.

Undergraduate research experience

Undergraduate research experience is essential for a strong graduate application. The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology provides many opportunities for doing independent research with a faculty mentor.

What admissions committees look for in a graduate school application

Admission committees look at grades, research experience, accomplishments, letters of recommendation, GRE (graduate record exam) scores and statement of purpose.

Letters of recommendation

You will need three strong, favorable letters of recommendation from faculty who know you well. Develop these contacts with a faculty research mentor and at least two other professors. Make sure that your references know you, your abilities and your accomplishments.

Statement of purpose

A clearly written and compelling statement of purpose strongly supports a graduate school application. A statement should be about four paragraphs long and should include the following information:

  • Personal information about you, your character, your interests and why you want to go to graduate school.
  • What fascinates you about biochemistry and what you want to learn and accomplish.
  • A coherent description of your research project: what you did, why you did it, and what you learned (mention any abstracts, presentations, publications and awards.)
  • Open the website of the university that you wish to attend and identify 3-4 faculty with whom you would like to work. Explain why these professors and their areas of research match your interests.

A well-written statement indicates your seriousness and preparedness to undertake graduate studies. It also indicates your level of involvement in and understanding of your undergraduate research project. Feel free to obtain advice and help with the editing of your statement of purpose. Your research mentor, academic advisor and friends may be able to help you write a more effective statement.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

Applicants should take the Verbal and Quantitative General tests and one Advanced Subject test in Chemistry, Biology or Biochemistry. These exams should be completed in Fall Semester prior to the year in which you wish to begin graduate studies.

Link to MSU testing center: