Program goal

The Ph.D. program in biochemistry prepares students for research-oriented careers as independent scientists in academia, government and biotechnology. The core of this degree program is an original independent research project under the supervision of a faculty adviser. The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has research efforts of international stature in several areas, including cellular and molecular signaling, tumor biology, structural biology, eukaryotic molecular biology, lipid and membrane biochemistry and molecular genetics, using state-of-the-art approaches in enzymology, genomics, proteomics and lipidomics.

While emphasizing independent research in biochemistry and molecular biology and training in the responsible conduct of research, the program also provides a background of courses designed to match the needs and interests of each student. The program is designed to provide students with the skills required to advance to positions as bioscience researchers/trainers in a broad spectrum of positions. The program provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the current state of the subject matter of biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, an ability to synthesize this information and apply this foundation to the identification of key areas of investigation and experimentation in bioscience.

The program relates the above framework to the development of the ability to design, implement and interpret experimental approaches which address the questions identified. In addition, the program will develop skills in the various means of communicating both the core of bioscience knowledge and the expression of experimental design, results and interpretation to a variety of potential audiences.

Student learning outcomes

  1. Oral communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of oral communication skills with respect to the content, organization, logical flow, presentation and appropriate use of language incorporating the use of visual aids.
  2. Written communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of written communication skill with respect to grammar, syntax, spelling and use of vocabulary to effectively present information including the use of figures, tables and citations.
  3. Experimental design: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of competence in the ability to appraise, modify and/or create, and implement experimental protocols and to design and develop experiments.
  4. Problem-solving skills: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of skill in the identification and selection of meaningful problems to be addressed in bioscience research, including the ability to defend said identifications and to design and develop appropriate methods to solve said problems.
  5. General knowledge of science: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge of the current elements of the biosciences as related to disciplinary specialization and a more detailed understanding of the individual area of scholarship, including an appropriate familiarity with the research literature and the ability to evaluate and critique publications.

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university. These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

Visit the academic regulations section for additional information on academic regulations for graduate students.

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Visit the academic regulations section for additional information on degree candidacy requirements.

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Visit the academic regulations section for additional information on graduation requirements.

Other information

School of Medicine graduate program policies

The School of Medicine provides policies applicable to all programs administratively housed in the school. Information on doctoral programs is available elsewhere in this chapter of the Graduate Bulletin.

Apply online at

Admission requirements

Degree: Semester(s) of entry: Deadline dates: Test requirements:
Ph.D. Fall Applications received prior to Jan 15 given priority consideration GRE, MCAT or DAT

Special requirements

  • MCAT or DAT acceptable in lieu of GRE for combined professional/academic degree programs.
  • Applications for the program must be submitted to the Biomedical Sciences Doctoral Portal – School of Medicine – Ph.D. selected from the drop-down menu of programs on the VCU online application form.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, successful applicants will typically have the following credentials:

  1. A baccalaureate degree or its equivalent at the time of enrollment, with an undergraduate GPA of 3.5
  2. Current GRE scores (taken within the past five years), with scores at the 75th percentile or greater preferred
  3. TOEFL scores of 600 (pBT), 250 (cBT) or 100 (iBT) for individuals for whom English is a second language; or 6.5 on the IELTS (To report GRE or TOEFL score, use VCU Code 5570.)
  4. A personal statement that includes: long-term career goals to assess reasons behind the application; how a Ph.D. in biomedical science helps achieve those goals; the factors motivating a career in research; research experience, including dates, places and duration
  5. Three letters of recommendation that speak to the scientific competency and experience of the applicant
  6. The equivalent of two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry and two semesters of upper-level biology courses (e.g. cell biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, neuroscience, physiology, biophysics, etc.)

Students who plan to eventually work toward the Ph.D. degree in biochemistry at VCU should apply directly to the Ph.D. program and forego the master’s degree. However, applicants who are unsure if they want to earn a Ph.D. and desire experience in biomedical research before making this decision will be well-served by the M.S. program. Outstanding performance in the M.S. program can help students gain admittance to a doctoral program at VCU or elsewhere. Master’s students who wish to gain admission to the Ph.D. program should submit the following documents to the graduate program director: (1) a letter making this request, which should include justification for the request, career goals, the name of a proposed Ph.D. adviser and a brief description of proposed Ph.D. research project, (2) VCU graduate transcript and (3) a letter of support from proposed Ph.D. adviser. Additional admissions requirements include (1) a grade of A in BIOC 691 (section 904: Critical Scientific Thinking), (2) a grade of A in BIOC 505 (laboratory rotation), (3) a final score in the top 50 percent of scores in BIOC 503 and BIOC 504 and (4) minimum GRE scores of 158 (verbal), 158 (quantitative) and 4.0 analytical.

Degree requirements

In addition to the general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students must complete a minimum of 60 graduate credit hours.

Ph.D. students are expected to enroll as full-time graduate students. During the first year, students pursue research rotations, take formal course work and become familiar with current research topics through seminars, discussion groups and lectures by distinguished scientists. By the end of the first year, students choose a faculty adviser and begin dissertation research. Following completion of the research project and defense of the doctoral dissertation, graduates are equipped to participate in virtually any area of current biomedical research in the most prestigious laboratories.

Training in the responsible conduct of research

All Ph.D. students are required to complete the following training in the responsible conduct of research:

  1. OVPR 601OVPR 602 or OVPR 603
  2. Collaborative Investigator Training Initiative: an online course that provides training in human subjects research. The course must be completed during the fall semester of year two. Students must submit the certificate of completion before starting the spring semester of year two. Consult the following link to access the course:
  3. Animal research training: Students are required to complete an online training course for the conduct of animal subjects research. The training must be completed during the fall semester of year two. Students must submit the certificate of completion before starting the spring semester of year two. Access and guidance for the course is available through the “Animal Research” link on the Office of Research and Innovation website.

Curriculum requirements

Required courses

Course Title Hours
BIOC 503Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology1-5
BIOC 504Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology1-5
IBMS 600Laboratory Safety1
IBMS 610Laboratory Opportunities0.5
IBMS 620Laboratory/Clinical Rotations (repeat for four credits)4
IBMS 635Cellular Signalling3
IBMS 680Proposal Preparation1
OVPR 601Scientific Integrity1
or OVPR 602 Responsible Scientific Conduct
or OVPR 603 Responsible Conduct of Research
Take one or both of the following for a total of two credits.2
Critical Thinking
Critical Thinking
Take the following courses each fall and spring throughout the program.
BIOC 651Biochemistry Journal Club 1, 3variable
BIOC 690Biochemistry Seminar 3variable
BIOC 695Biochemistry Student Seminar 31

Directed research2

Course Title Hours
BIOC 697Directed Research in Biochemistry (to be taken each fall and spring semester) 3variable


Course Title Hours
Select a minimum of two elective courses drawn from the list of recommended electives below.variable

After year four, students may select a journal club offered by any department in the School of Medicine.


Students register for a combination of directed research and elective credit hours to amass a minimum of 60 total credit hours.


A minimum of 4 credits for all variable courses

The minimum total of graduate credit hours required for this degree is 60.

Recommended electives

Students select courses from this list, with guidance from their advisers and committees. Ph.D. students must enroll full-time (minimum nine credits) to be eligible for a stipend. Some graduate courses listed above may be taken after the comprehensive examination. Most of this course work should be taken during the first two years of the program. Students are encouraged to take additional courses that relate to their personal research projects.

Course Title Hours
ANAT 615Techniques in Neuroscience and Cell Biology3
BIOC 601Membranes and Lipids3
BIOC 602Physical Properties of Macromolecules1-4
BIOC 604Enzymology1-3
BIOC 605Molecular Biology2
HGEN 501/BIOL 530Introduction to Human Genetics3
MICR 505Immunobiology3
MICR 605Prokaryotic Molecular Genetics3
MICR 607Techniques in Molecular Biology and Genetics2
MICR/BNFO 653Advanced Molecular Genetics: Bioinformatics3
PHTX 691Special Topics in Pharmacology1-4

Typical plan of study

Many students often take more than the minimum number of hours required for a degree program. The total number of hours may vary depending upon the program, nature of research being conducted by a student or in the enrollment or funding status of the student. Students should refer to their program websites and talk with their graduate program directors and advisers for information about typical plans of study and registration requirements.

Graduate program director
Tomasz K. Kordula, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
(804) 828-0771

Program website: