model of molecular structure

PhD Program in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Program Expectations & Forms


Year 1

During the first year, students complete a comprehensive core curriculum offered by the College of Graduate Studies (CGS) that lays the groundwork for advanced coursework and research training in their selected PhD program. Students also complete three 9-week laboratory rotations before selecting a Mentor who will oversee their dissertation research. Students should discuss the Student-Advisor Compact with their prospective Mentor.

By the end of the first year, students should meet with their Mentors to develop a personalized program of study based on their research project, scientific interests, and career goals. As part of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology program, students are required to attend and present annually at the Departmental Research and Methods seminar series and attend at least two thirds of the MCBP seminar series.

Year 2

In the second year, students complete additional coursework and conduct research that will establish the basis of their dissertation. Starting in the spring, students also prepare for the Admission to Candidacy Exam, which is designed to test whether a student understands the principles of their chosen field, can read and comprehend relevant literature, and can construct convincing hypotheses and a cogent experimental plan.

Admission to Candidacy

To qualify for admission to Candidacy, PhD students must pass both a written and oral examination administered by their Committee. The Examination Committee consists of the Mentor and at least four additional faculty members (with two members from the Department and two members whose primary appointment is outside the Department). CGS also requires that a faculty member from an approved list be included for the exam. If someone from the list is not a member of the Committee, they must be added for the exam.

For the written exam, students will write a 6-page NIH-style research proposal based on their dissertation project. The proposal should be submitted to the Committee at least 2 weeks before the oral exam. For the closed-door oral exam, students first give a 20-30 minute presentation of their proposal to the Committee, followed by an oral defense that covers both the proposal and any underlying concepts from the core curriculum. After passing all components of the exam, a student qualifies as a Candidate for the PhD degree. Please refer to the Guidelines below for more information.

Major Deadlines

January: Establish an Examination Committee

April 1: Deadline to submit a Specific Aims page to the Committee Chairman

June 30: Deadline to complete the Candidacy Exam

Year 3 & Beyond

After admission to Candidacy, a student’s primary effort is devoted to the completion of their research dissertation. Typically, the Examination Committee continues to serve as the student’s Dissertation Committee, though changes may be made to address specific aspects of student training and/or project development. Students are required to meet with their Dissertation Committee at least once a year and complete a summary of recent progress as part of the Committee Evaluation form.

Dissertation Defense

Students should consult with their Mentor and Committee to establish an appropriate timeline for completing all Program requirements and scheduling the Defense. Students are required to publish at least one first-author research article in a peer-reviewed journal prior to graduation. A signed Notification of Defense Form must be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies at least three weeks in advance of the proposed Defense date. In common with all PhD students at MUSC, the dissertation research is presented at a public seminar, followed by a closed-door Defense administered by the Dissertation Committee. All requirements must be complete and submitted by the last day of class for the degree to be conferred that term. Please refer to the College of Graduate Studies website for more information about the Defense Guidelines and Commencement.