College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics > Department of Biology and Biochemistry > Biochemistry, PhD
The Department of Biology and Biochemistry offers a program of research and study leading to a PhD degree in Biochemistry.
For more information, please view the Graduate Programs Overview page.
Minimum credit hours required for the degree: 54.0
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree will be awarded after students have successfully completed the following requirements. Students may satisfy the degree requirements by completing at least 54 approved credit hours; satisfactorily completing the laboratory rotations and formal graduate level course requirements including seminars; enrolling in at least six semester hours of dissertation courses; and completing and defending a dissertation acceptable to the dissertation committee. All students must be continuously enrolled full time until the degree requirements are complete.
Major Professor and Thesis, Study, or Dissertation Committee
- Selection of Major Professor
Each student is required to select, by mutual agreement, a primary, secondary or jointly appointed member of the faculty of the Division of Biochemistry as a dissertation advisor (major professor) who, with the dissertation (PhD) committee, will supervise the student’s graduate studies. This faculty member will chair the committee. A faculty advisor should be selected by the end of the first long semester (Fall or Spring) but in no case later than the end of the 2nd long semester of residence in the program. The Chair of the student’s committee shall be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member with primary or secondary appointment or voting privileges in the Biochemistry Division of the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. A student may also choose a faculty member from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry who does not hold any appointment in the Division of Biochemistry provided that, as with any Biochemistry candidate, the student meets all the requirements of the Biochemistry graduate program, including those on committee composition, course work and the biochemistry comprehensive and oral qualifying examinations.
- Selection of Committee
In consultation with the major professor, the student shall select, by mutual agreement, faculty members to serve on the thesis, study, or dissertation committee. The committee should be chosen within the 30 day period following selection of the advisor, but in no case after the end of the 2nd long semester of residence. Failure to meet this requirement may result in dismissal from the program. The membership of this committee is subject to approval by the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs, the Chair of the Department and Dean of the College. The major functions of this committee are to approve a program of studies for the student, to administer the necessary oral qualifying examinations and final examinations, and to evaluate the student’s progress. In the event that a member of the committee leaves the University or is not available for an examination or thesis/dissertation defense, the committee and student can recommend a suitable substitute. The appointment to committees of faculty members from other institutions as the outside member is encouraged.
- Composition of Committee
A doctoral dissertation committee shall consist of at least four members. These shall include the major professor, one other member of the Division including emeritus faculty, one member who may belong to any Division within the Department, and one member who shall be from outside the Department of Biology & Biochemistry. At least one-half of the committee must be composed of tenured or tenure-track faculty members with primary appointments in the Division of Biochemistry. Research faculty may serve on the committee in addition to the core of four committee members who must be tenured or tenure-track faculty. For the purpose of establishing a thesis, study, or dissertation committee, a Biology and Biochemistry faculty member holding a secondary appointment in the Division of Biochemistry shall be considered to be from outside the Division. Further details on committee composition can be found here .
- Research Faculty
Research faculty with primary appointments in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry will be allowed to serve on thesis and dissertation committees and participate in all committee activities. However, they will not be allowed to chair the committee or vote on questions regarding student progress. For purposes of committee structure, their Division affiliation will not be considered. No more than one research faculty member can serve on a thesis or dissertation committee.
Program of Studies
The student should prepare and submit a program of studies to the Graduate Advisor and his/her dissertation committee within 60 days after choosing an advisor but in no case later than the end of the 2nd long semester of residence. Failure to do so may result in dismissal from the program. The program of studies must be approved at a meeting of the student’s dissertation committee. Details about the composition of the Program of Studies can be found here.
Specific Course Requirements
All students must fulfill the PhD core course requirements (20 hours) as described below.
Course Limitations for All Graduate Degrees in Biochemistry
For the purpose of fulfilling the above core course requirements, the following courses are not acceptable:
- BCHS 6113 - Graduate Biochemistry Seminar
- BCHS 6125 - Seminar in Nucleic Acids
- BCHS 6X98 - Special Problems
- BCHS 6X99 - Masters Thesis
- BCHS 8X98 - Doctoral Research
- BCHS 8X99 - Doctoral Dissertation
Graduate students are required to enroll in BCHS 6113 - Graduate Biochemistry Seminar every long semester until they pass the oral qualifying examination. Thereafter, they are required to enroll in a seminar course at least once per academic year beginning with the long semester after the oral qualifying examination is passed. Any one credit hour seminar course offered by the Department of Biology and Biochemistry, subject to approval by the student’s Major Advisor, will meet this requirement.
Doctoral Dissertation Courses
All students should avoid enrolling in Doctoral Dissertation courses until the semester in which they will graduate. Instead they should enroll in the appropriate number of Doctoral Research hours needed to meet enrollment requirements.
In general, a maximum of eight approved credit hours for the PhD degree may be transferred from another institution with an acceptable academic ranking. The student must have received a grade of B or better in any course for which transfer credit is requested; the transferred course must not have been taken in the context of an earned degree and should not be older than 10 years by the time of graduation at UH. In addition, a Master’s degree with thesis can be used to waive up to 2 credit hours of non-BCHS elective courses. Transfer credit will typically not be given for the required courses; BCHS 6226, 6227, 6228 and 6229.
Coursework Performance Requirements
Per University regulations, graduate students must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.00 in all course work attempted for graduate credit to be considered in good standing. Students not in good standing cannot receive a graduate degree, are ineligible for support with a graduate assistantship (TA, RA/TE or RA), and will be ineligible for the Graduate Tuition Fellowship. Graduate students who receive grades of C+ or lower in 12 or more semester hours of course work attempted for graduate credit are ineligible for any advanced degree at this institution. Semester hours of “U” grades in S/U-graded courses apply toward the above 12 hour total.
Graduate students are required to enroll in two laboratory rotation courses during their first year of study.
- The first rotation must be with a tenured or tenure track faculty member whose primary appointment is in the Biochemistry Division.
- The first rotation should begin at the beginning of the student’s first long semester in the program.
- The second rotation can be with any tenured or tenure track faculty member in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry. The second rotation can also be done with tenured or tenure track faculty from other Departments that have a joint appointment in the Biochemistry Division.
- The second rotation should be started no later than the first week of the student’s 2nd semester in the program and preferably beginning in the eighth week of the first semester.
- Rotations with research faculty will not satisfy the rotation course requirement.
- Each rotation course is to last seven weeks.
- The student will submit a short report describing the purpose and experimental findings at the end of each course. This report and the student’s participation will be evaluated by the faculty member with whom the laboratory rotation was conducted. The head of the laboratory where the rotation was done will then forward a grade to the instructor of record who will coordinate the course.
- Any exceptions to the rotation policy must be approved by the faculty member who is coordinating the course.
Courses Taken Outside the Department
Courses that do not promote the student’s academic development in Biology & Biochemistry, or do not contribute directly to the current research program of the student, will not count towards the student’s course requirements. Students who wish to take courses outside the Department need the approval of their thesis or dissertation committee and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs in order to receive credit in their degree program. Students may not pursue another degree program concurrently with a PhD in Biology and Biochemistry. Students taking approved courses at other institutions need to notify the Graduate Advisor prior to the start of the semester in order for the appropriate paperwork to be processed in time by the Registrar’s office and the Graduate School.
Each student is required to take a comprehensive written examination, which is intended to test mastery of the principles which underlie the biochemical sciences. The examination will be offered within three weeks of the end of the student’s second long semester. The examination will be prepared and administered by a member of the Division of Biochemistry core faculty designated by the Biochemistry Policy Leader. A grade of 70% or better will be considered passing. Students that fail the examination will be offered a single second chance. Depending on circumstances this may be a completely new examination or a selection of topics. A PhD degree student who has completed all other requirements (rotations, selection of committee, program of studies) and has passed this examination will be considered to have advanced to candidacy.
Initial Research Meeting
Before the end of their second year in the program each student pursuing a PhD degree will present their research plan and progress to their committee in detail. Based on the results of this meeting, students pursuing the PhD will be either approved to prepare their research proposal for the oral qualifying examination or required to hold a second research meeting within six months for reconsideration.
Evaluation of Progress Prior to Advancement to Candidacy
At the end of each long semester, the progress of all students enrolled in the Biochemistry graduate programs that have not yet advanced to candidacy will be evaluated. A positive evaluation must be received for a student to remain in good standing. Students that are not in good standing may lose eligibility for tuition fellowships, fee waivers, and/or teaching assistantships. In addition, they will face possible dismissal from the program.
The evaluation will consider the student’s progress based upon:
- Courses taken and grades;
- Performance as a TA (when information is provided by teaching faculty);
- Grades from rotation advisors and reports if any;
- The student’s acceptance into a research laboratory (major professor chosen);
- The formation of a thesis, study, or dissertation committee as consistent with the student’s program;
- Passing score on the comprehensive examination;
- Results of Initial Research Meeting with their committee;
- The timeliness of completion of the various requirements;
- Other information as may be required.
The evaluation committee will consist of the Division of Biochemistry Policy Leader and the Biochemistry Division’s members of the Graduate Committee. At the committee’s discretion, students whose performance is in question may be asked to meet with the committee in person. Students that are found to not be in good standing will be reported to the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs and the Departmental Chair for possible punitive action.
Advancement to Candidacy: Oral Qualifying Examination
- General Considerations
The Division of Biochemistry shall consider a student to be a candidate for the PhD degree after successful completion of oral qualifying examination. In order to be eligible to take the oral examination the student must have completed all prior requirements. This includes selection of a committee, completion of a program of studies, completion of all required courses, passing of the written comprehensive examination and favorable recommendation from their most recent research meeting with their committee.
- Oral Qualifying Examination
Each PhD student in the program must take the oral qualifying examination prior to the end of their second full year in residency. Failure to do so will result in automatic dismissal from the PhD program. The qualifying examination shall be administered by the student’s dissertation committee. The examination shall consist of a written research proposal followed by an oral examination. Prior to scheduling of the oral examination, the student will prepare a written proposal directly related to the research they are conducting. This proposal will be circulated in hard and electronic copy to each committee member at least one month before the planned meeting. Based on response from the committee members the advisor will determine if the proposal is ready for oral presentation or requires revision prior to scheduling of the oral examination.
During the oral examination, students will be asked to present and defend their proposal as well as to demonstrate a broad-based understanding of their field. If a student does not pass the examination he/she may, at the discretion of the dissertation committee, be allowed to retake the examination before the end of their 5th long semester. Advancement to candidacy for the PhD shall not occur until a student has written a research proposal and successfully defended it before his/her dissertation committee. Details of the proposal format and expectations are provided here.
- Examination Evaluation
In order for a student to pass the examination, an affirmative vote by the major professor and no more than one negative vote by the other committee members must be recorded.
If the student fails either part of the examination (fails to submit a satisfactory written proposal or fails the oral examination), his/her dissertation committee shall recommend a future course of action. This may include: remedial course work, repetition of the examination or termination of the student from the PhD degree program. Such recommendation shall be given verbally, normally by the major professor, immediately after the examination and followed by a written notification within one week. Any recommended action must be completed before the end of the student’s 5th semester in the program. Failure to do this shall result in mandatory dismissal from the PhD program.
Additional Committee Meetings
Following successful completion of the qualifying examination, all students should meet periodically with their Dissertation Committee to discuss research progress.
Each doctoral student must submit and defend the dissertation when it is in final form. Although any member of the University community may attend the final examination, the dissertation committee has sole responsibility in deciding whether or not the examination is passed. In order for a student to pass the examination, an affirmative vote by the major professor and no more than one negative vote by other committee members must be recorded. If the committee includes a research faculty member he/she can participate in the discussion but will not be allowed to vote. The examination will emphasize research achievements. In addition, competence in the candidate’s field of research and the biochemical sciences, in general, will be expected.