Biochemistry is the "chemistry of life," an interdisciplinary but specialized branch of science whose methods span the physical and life sciences. Biochemists study the chemistry of physiology - how living things and their cells work in terms of their chemical components. Biochemistry is a rapidly growing field, with many opportunities in areas such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and cancer research.
The biochemistry major is designed to provide a curriculum directly geared to the expectations of biochemistry PhD programs. The major is a strong fit for students who want to prepare for research, continued biotechnology studies, or eventual leadership positions in biotechnology companies. The skills developed through the program are also in close alignment with those measured by the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT); with judicious choices of electives, the major can prepare you for further studies in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry or veterinary science.
Through the biochemistry program, you'll develop a solid academic foundation in biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. For the program's first two years, you'll take required coursework across the biology, chemistry and biochemistry majors. This gives you time to find your passions within any of these three areas before deciding in which field (or fields) to complete your major. Biochemistry is an inclusive discipline; for example, there are opportunities to develop computer science skills by building digital models to process data about protein structures and genes, to test reaction rates, and to analyze DNA sequences.
The upper levels of the program focus on biochemistry itself. Two required advanced biochemistry lecture courses divide a single semester of graduate-level studies into two undergraduate semesters, providing students with the time to master difficult material in a collaborative, supportive environment. The program also offers a biochemistry laboratory class in which students engage in a semester-long project purifying and characterizing enzymes from mammalian organs.
Similar in concept to the biology program's research project, each biochemistry student conducts a major research project and presents his or her findings at an academic conference. These projects can connect biochemistry to other applicable areas of the sciences, including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science. For students majoring in both biology and biochemistry, the research project can also serve as the required biology research project.
Students can also conduct their required research projects over the summer at a major research institution. These programs are both paid and competitive. Since 2007, students studying biochemistry have completed summer-long paid research internships at the Mayo Clinic, the University of Iowa, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, and the Shanghai Institutes of Biological Sciences.
In my own biochemical research, I strive to understand what causes genetic instability. Why does a normal cell become a cancer cell – and how can we learn from that process to prevent it? In my teaching, I frequently employ biomedical scenarios to illustrate different concepts. It's often easier to understand complex material if you can see connections to the real world – in this case, human health.