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How do I Earn a PhD in Biochemistry?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Those students who want to earn a PhD in biochemistry can expect some hard work. Ideally, this work should begin at the high school level, but for those who daydreamed their days away in high school, it’s certainly not too late. What people need most is a strong aptitude for the sciences, because especially at the PhD level, students will need to teach, research and be able to grasp difficult concepts quickly.

In high school, the student who would like to earn a PhD in biochemistry can being by taking as many math and science courses as possible. If feasible, students should try to study in Advanced Placement courses, since these award college credits which can mean not having to retake basic science classes the first few years at a university. Clearly, focus on biology and chemistry is important, but classes in physics may also be of value. Math should be studied up to the calculus level and studying statistical math is advised.

Once in college, students may have several choices in major. Some students that earn a PhD in biochemistry do so while earning an MD degree. Clearly, pre-med would be an attractive major to these students. Many schools offer BS degrees in biochemistry and this could be an excellent field to choose too.

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During junior year, it’s time to start searching for the perfect school in which to earn a PhD in biochemistry. There are many programs available and they each might have slightly different requirements. Some require or prefer students to take subject Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) tests in fields like biochemistry, biochemical informatics, structural biology, molecular biology or others. When selecting schools to apply to, note the requirements for each so these can be fulfilled prior to senior year. Moreover, students who take the PhD/MD will need to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

While some career paths are well suited to online studies, students who want to earn a PhD in biochemistry will probably not have this choice. There can be too much hands on work and lab time for doctorate level work to be conducted with ease online. Most students are better off choosing brick and mortar universities for their studies, and are likely to get more academic support in these environments.

One of the most important parts about graduate school applications is having solid letters or recommendation. Great grades are valuable, but demonstration of a student’s value to a school with glowing recommendations is vital. To procure these letters, students should begin in freshman year by volunteering to work for professors, having appropriate respect in the classroom setting, and taking every opportunity to get known by the school faculty. Though it may be challenging, taking on extra projects or even just cleaning a lab may help professors be interested in seeing a student’s career advance.

Professors can also be a vital resource when selecting schools, since many of them have a good sense of student’s talents and know enough about academia to determine where a student is likely to be accepted. Grad students who may teach courses can be valuable in this respect too. A good reputation must be matched by excellent grades in core courses and excellent scores on any GREs.

Once accepted by a school to earn a PhD in biochemistry, students can expect extensive studies. Though it is technically possible to finish a doctorate in three years, this scenario is unlikely for most people. Most students can expect a minimum of four years to complete studies and dissertation, and some require several more than that.

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