The Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics graduate option has been established as an interdisciplinary program at the interface of biology, chemistry, and physics that seeks to understand the chemistry of life. Thus, biochemists and biophysicists study the atomic structure and folding of biopolymers; their interactions with each other and with small molecules; and the roles of particular biopolymers and biopolymer assemblies in cellular physiology. The basic building block of life is the cell and the intellectual focus of modern biochemistry and biophysics is to understand how individual parts interact to give cells their wide spectrum of functions. In particular, biochemistry and molecular biophysics addresses the principles through which the individual components of cells combine in an orderly self-association to produce their form, their function, and their dynamic behavior.
An integrated approach to graduate study in biochemistry and molecular biophysics has been organized primarily by the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering and the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. The curriculum is designed to provide a broad background in biochemistry and biophysics of macromolecules and molecular assemblies, in addition to an appropriate depth of knowledge in the field selected for the Ph.D. thesis research. The goal of the doctoral program is to prepare students to become leading scientists in academia and industry. By graduation time, our students are expected not only to be highly competent in their chosen area of research, but to have also acquired a broad knowledge foundation in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, independently planned and conducted research experiments in their chosen area, and successfully defended their thesis work in an open forum.
During the first year of graduate study, students are required to participate in the BMB 202 seminar course and BMB 174. Additionally, students are required to take five advanced courses of nine or more units for a grade (not Pass/Fail) that are appropriate for their particular research interests (as approved by the Option Representative).
In consultation with the Option Representative and individual professors, students will choose three laboratories in which to do short (10-12 week) research projects during their first year of residence. These laboratory rotations are designed to provide the student with an introduction to different areas of biochemistry. Research advisors are normally selected at the end of the first year. It is possible to waive one of the rotations by petitioning the Option Representative. All first-year students will discuss their projects during the Rotation Research Presentations symposium held at the end of each quarter.
By the end of the sixth term of residency, the student will take an oral examination to assess mastery of the field of biochemistry and to evaluate research progress. As part of this examination, each student will submit a written research report summarizing the progress in their research, and an original research proposal in a field outside the student's chosen field of research. A candidacy examination committee of four to five faculty (including the advisor) will be assembled by the student in consultation with their advisor and approved by the Option Representative. The chair of the committee should be identified at the time the committee is chosen and must be a member of the BMB option who is not the thesis advisor. In addition to satisfactory completion of the Candidacy exam, admission to Candidacy requires satisfactory completion of BMB 174 and five additional advanced courses of nine or more units (numbered 100 or above). Upon admission to candidacy, the faculty committee will become the thesis advisory committee. Students are required to meet annually with their thesis advisory committee to evaluate research progress. This committee will also serve as the Ph.D. thesis examination committee. A fifth member may be added at this time. After Candidacy, a student will meet annually with the thesis committee to assess progress.
Please see the Candidacy Guidelines for more information.
Students are required to meet annually with their Thesis Advisory Committee to evaluate research progress and to get feedback on their experiments and future plans.
All Ph.D. candidates must present their work in a thesis seminar.
Students are not admitted to work toward the M.S. degree. A terminal M.S. degree may be awarded only in special circumstances. In addition to meeting Institute requirements, a student must have formed a committee of four Caltech faculty, typically the Ph.D. candidacy committee, who must approve the request to obtain a M.S. in consultation with the Option Representative, typically conferred after the end of the second year of residence.
Students have the opportunity to attend a wide range of seminars, from weekly informal group seminars to named lectureships. BMB graduate students actively participate in the regularly scheduled BMB seminars by attending BMB202. Graduate students actively participate in the regularly scheduled seminars. There are also seminar series in physics, biology, and chemistry that may interest BMB graduate students.
Please click here for a list of seminars.
All students are to serve as teaching assistants for two quarters with the first in the first year of residence and the second by the end of the fourth year. In addition to serving an educational purpose, funds for the TA assignments are a component of the stipend. Outside factors, such as previous TA positions prior to starting the Ph.D. program, may be considered as satisfying the requirement upon approval by the Option Representative.
The BMB Handbook is a compilation of information about various aspects of the graduate program for the Ph.D. in Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics (BMB) at Caltech, providing more detail than the Institute Catalog. It is intended as a reference source that can be used whenever questions arise about policies and practices relevant to the program. Please note, though, that the official policies and requirements are as specified in the Catalog. Should you have any questions, check with the BMB administration.
BMB Graduate Option Manager
Phone: (626) 395-6446
Office: 162 Crellin
Phone: (626) 395-1796
Office: 157 Broad Center
Phone: (626) 395-3879
Office: 109 Braun