Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Ph.D. Program

The BMB Department Ph.D. degree provides students with the knowledge and technical expertise necessary to establish careers in diverse fields including academia, biotechnology, the pharmaceutical industry, and science communication. We provide active research opportunities in the fields of Molecular Genetics, Cellular Biochemistry, and Structural Biology, and these areas are highly interactive and collaborative. The curriculum provides students with foundational knowledge in the areas of biochemistry, cell biology and molecular genetics, trains students in higher level critical thinking skills and in diverse experimental approaches, and trains students in both oral and written communication. Graduate policies and procedures are overseen by the Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC), which is comprised of the Associate Chair for Graduate Students (GAC chairperson), the Chairperson of the Graduate Recruitment Committee (GRC), the Chairperson of the Graduate Admissions Committee (GAdC), the first-year PhD student advisor, the former Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, and the graduate student representative.


  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with an overall grade point average of B or above
  • Official transcripts/credential and certified translations (Int’l.) from all undergraduate and graduate institutions attended are required (Colorado State University transcripts are not required)
  • At least one semester of organic chemistry, physics, and calculus will have been completed.
  • At least one semester of Biochemistry with grade(s) of B or better.
  • At least two upper-level courses in biochemistry and molecular biology, such as biochemistry, molecular genetics, cell biology, structural biology, etc.
  • Minimum two letters of recommendation
  • The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) (*note this is no longer a requisite for admission into our program)
  • A written “statement of purpose” that contains the following:
    • a summary of professional/personal goals
    • statement regarding educational goals
    • statement explaining how this program will contribute to the applicant’s long-term goals
    • the factors affecting your choice of the CSU BMB program for graduate study. Points 1-4 should be limited to 2 single-spaced pages.
    • statement that describes a research project that you have completed or contributed to that includes: (a) background/hypothesis, (b) experimental design, and (c) outcome/impact. This need to be limited to 1 single-spaced page.
  • A completed resume or curriculum vitae (CV) that contains the following:
    • collegiate work (institutions, dates attended, degrees earned)
    • professional employment with dates of service (including military)
    • special skills or competencies (including certifications or licensures)
    • publications, exhibitions, prizes, awards, or other recognition
    • service activities (including community and charitable)


Registration policies

Departmental policy requires all students to register for 18 credits per semester to complete their degree in a timely manner. After 72 credits (4 semesters), all graduate students will register for 1-5 credits dependent on health insurance needs. College regulations require that students who are being supported by a graduate assistantship may not register for CR (continuous registration), but must be registered for at least 1 credit.

Performance in Required courses

Scholastic Standards must meet the Graduate School’s requirements, Students must: (1) achieve a C or better in required courses, and (2) maintain a GPA of 3.0. At the close of each semester, the Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC) will evaluate the performance of each new student. A student with a grade point average below 3.0 in formal course work will be placed on academic probation or may be dismissed. In the event the student must repeat a course to improve their academic standing, the cost of registering for the repeated course will be the responsibility of the student. At the end of the first year of residence, the GAC will review the student’s entire record at CSU and then make recommendations to the faculty on the status of the student in the graduate program of the department. Courses in which an incomplete grade was received must be made up within one year, and a grade of at least C achieved.

University and Departmental Course Requirements

Total number of credits required

The Ph.D. degree requires a total of 72 academic credits in addition to extensive laboratory research training and is generally completed in five-to-six years. Most of the required credits are earned during a student’s first two years in the program with a combination of course work and teaching duties, and the remaining years are devoted to full-time research. The departmental requirements include three core courses in molecular genetics, cellular biology, and molecular structure that are taken by all students, followed by elective courses that the students take that are tailored to their particular scientific interests.

Students who have not had a full semester of biochemistry may be required to take fundamental courses in this area during the first year (e.g., BC401 & BC403 – Biochemistry I & II).

BC 511 – Structural Biology I (4 cr)
BC 512 – Principles of Macromolecular Structure (1 cr)
BC 563 – Molecular Genetics (4 cr)
BC 565 – Molecular Regulation of Cell Function (4 cr)
BC 601 – Responsible Conduct in Biochemistry (1 cr)
BC 701 – Grant Writing and Reviewing (1 cr)


Students must also complete a minimum of two additional didactic (classes ending in X81 or lower) elective credits at the 400-level or above. Courses will be selected in consultation with the student’s Graduate Advisor and student’s Student Advisory Committee (SAC) and are often chosen from the following list of suggested courses that span a wide range of departments and scientific fields. Additional courses may be acceptable, but must be approved by the first year advisor or the student’s SAC.


Per university requirements, a minimum of 32 credits toward the Ph.D. must be earned at Colorado State University and at least 21 credits must be in courses numbered 500 or above. A master’s degree from an accredited college or university may be accepted for a maximum of 30 credits. The First Year Advisor will review requests for waivers of the core course requirements based on prior coursework. Requests must be accompanied by a transcript and course description and may require an oral and/or written exam to demonstrate proficiency. The student will be responsible for the waived course material during the Comprehensive Oral Examination, which is administered to all Ph.D. students at the end of their first year. Note that the prior course credits need not be transferred to CSU as the waiver is merely an exemption from having to take the core courses, allowing the student the opportunity to take alternative courses to fulfill their credit requirements as noted above.


Participation in BC 793 is required during each semester that a student is enrolled in the Ph.D. program. Students who have not completed 72 credits must register for BC 793. Students who have completed 72 credits do not register for BC 793, but are still required to participate fully in the course. The Fall semester seminar course will consist of research progress reports from all students in their second year and beyond, except for those who will defend their dissertation during the semester. The Spring semester seminar course will consist of journal article presentations by students in their third and fourth year.


In courses such as BC 793, 795, and 798, for which there are no formal evaluative procedures, grades will be assigned by the faculty member responsible on the following basis: a satisfactory level performance will be graded as S and performance that is unsatisfactory will be graded as U.


As part of their training, every student in the Ph.D. degree program in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is obliged to teach the equivalent of two semesters at a half-time level in the field of biochemistry and molecular biology. Usually this obligation is fulfilled in the student’s second year in residence by assisting in the teaching of undergraduate and/or graduate-level courses. For each semester the student teaches, they must register for an appropriate number of credits in BC 784 (Supervised College Teaching).


BC 401 (recommended): Comprehensive Biochemistry I (3 cr)
BC 511: Structural Biology I (4 cr)
BC 512: Principles of Macromolecular Structure (1 cr)
BC 563: Molecular Genetics (4 cr)
BC 793: Seminar (1 cr)
BC 795: Independent Study (to bring the total to 18 credits)

BC 565: Molecular Regulation of Cell Function (4 cr)
BC 601: Responsible Conduct in Research (1 cr)
BC 793: Seminar (1 cr)
Elective course(s) (X cr)
BC 795: Independent Study (to bring the total to 18 credits)


BC 701: Grant Writing (1 cr)
BC 784 Supervised College Teaching (1-2 cr)
BC 793: Seminar (1 cr)
Elective course(s) (X cr)
BC 798: Research (to bring the total to 18 credits)
BC 784 Supervised College Teaching (1-2 cr)
BC 793: Seminar (1 cr)
Elective course(s) (X cr)
BC 798: Research (to bring the total to 18 credits)




Specific information about the current level of available support is provided to each student when they begin graduate work in the department. The current stipend (2023-2024) is $30,500/yr. First-year students may receive additional financial support. The student is expected to devote all of their time to the pursuit of a degree and outside jobs are discouraged. Support by University funds may be limited to six years.


Tuition charges for graduate students vary from year to year, and there is considerable differential between tuition charges to Colorado residents and nonresidents. In most instances, tuition is paid for all Ph.D. students. Domestic students who are not Colorado residents are obligated to follow guidelines for obtaining in-state residency status by the beginning of their 3rd semester in residence. Failure to do so will result in the student paying the considerable differential between in- and out-of-state tuition themselves in their second year and beyond.


New graduate students will be advised by the First Year Advisor until their dissertation advisor is selected.


During their first year, all Ph.D. students are required to carry out rotations in three different laboratories. Each student needs to register for a sufficient number of credits of BC 795 during their first two semesters to reach 18 total credits (see Sample Curriculum above). Graduate education is a full-time activity and involves a high degree of experiential practical learning. It is expected that students will devote at least 40 hours per week, minus the hours spent in class, to their laboratory rotations, and will participate fully in the efforts of the laboratory to which they are assigned. The student’s motivation and research aptitude are critical factors in the performance evaluations conducted at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters of the first year, and student participation in research is a major criterion faculty use in this evaluation.

The approximate schedule for the three rotations for Fall entry students is as follows: 1st rotation, beginning of fall semester through mid-November; 2nd rotation, mid-November through mid-February; 3rd rotation, mid-February through mid-May. Students will select a laboratory for the first rotation following the departmental retreat, which occurs during the week preceding start of classes in the Fall term. Sometime during the Fall semester, members of the faculty will give presentations to the new students on research opportunities in their laboratory to aid students in selecting the second and third rotations.

Rotation assignments are determined based on each student’s preferences (by giving a prioritized list of choices for each rotation to the First Year Advisor) and by the availability of each faculty member.


All first-year students will be evaluated using the criteria described in this section.


All first-year students in the Ph.D. program are required to take a comprehensive Oral Examination at the end of their second semester. The purpose of the exam is to test each student’s knowledge of biochemistry and molecular biology and their ability to use this information when solving problems. The exam is approximately one-hour long, and is conducted by three faculty members who examine all students in a given semester. The exam utilizes two research articles as starting points for questions, which are provided to the students one week prior to the exam. The examination committee uses the articles to devise a set of questions, which will be asked of each student. The committee will assess each student’s responses and determine whether the student passes or fails the examination. If a student fails the exam, the committee will provide a set of recommendations to the student to prepare for a re-take of the exam, which must occur prior to the start of the student’s third semester in the program (typically by mid-August after their first year). If a student does not pass the exam re-take, they will be dismissed from the program.


The overall performance of each first-year student is evaluated by the entire faculty at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters. This evaluation will include a review of the student’s academic record, their performance during their laboratory rotations, and their performance on the comprehensive oral examination. Possible outcomes are: a) clear or conditional approval to continue in the Ph.D. program, b) transfer to the M.S. program, c) academic probation (less than a 3.0 GPA), which is accompanied by loss of GTA or GRA support, or d) dismissal from the graduate program if it is determined that the student is making unsatisfactory progress toward the degree and that satisfactory progress cannot reasonably be anticipated (per graduate school policies).

A student who is placed on academic probation must be re-evaluated by the entire faculty at the end of the following semester for a decision as to his/her continuation in the program. Students transferred to the M.S. program may reapply to the Ph.D. program upon satisfactory completion of the M.S. degree but acceptance is likely only with a strong recommendation from their M.S. advisory committee.


The selection of a dissertation advisor will be made at the end of the third laboratory rotation. Students are required to familiarize themselves with the research programs of the faculty throughout their first year. Before substantial discussions between potential mentors and students takes place, students will submit a prioritized list of three mentors to the First Year Advisor. The First Year Advisor, in consultation with the faculty, will facilitate the distribution of students to their thesis laboratories.



The SAC will be composed of at least four members: the student’s dissertation advisor, who will serve as chair; at least two additional departmental faculty members; and at least one faculty member from outside the department. The student, after consultation with their advisor, will submit the list of committee members to the GAC chair. The SAC must be formed within three months after selection of the dissertation advisor. If circumstances so warrant, later changes in the composition of the SAC are allowable.


The student, after consultation with his/her advisor, will submit the departmental Student Advisory Committee form to the Graduate Coordinator and the GAC Chair. The SAC must be formed within three months after selection of the advisor. If circumstances so warrant, later changes in the composition of the SAC can be made.


The SAC is responsible for providing advice on the student’s coursework plan and evaluating the student’s progress for the remainder of the student’s graduate career. The committee will advise, counsel, and guide the student in the planning and execution of a research project. The first meeting of the student and members of their SAC should be held promptly after the SAC is formed, and before the end of the Fall semester of the student’s second year. During this meeting, the student will familiarize the committee with their research project, and the committee will advise the student on any remaining elective courses that need to be taken, which will be submitted to the Graduate School through the GS-6 form. This form should be filed with the Graduate School no later than registration for the fourth semester in graduate school.


To assist the SAC in its evaluation of the student’s progress in research, each student will meet annually with their SAC. The SAC meeting must be scheduled within two weeks after the student’s BC793 seminar to discuss both the progress report and the seminar, and for soliciting guidance and suggestions from the SAC concerning the goals, methods, and evaluation of the research. It is highly encouraged that students schedule the SAC meeting on the afternoon of their talk if possible. The dissertation advisor, with input from the other SAC members, prepares a written evaluation after each SAC meeting, and this is provided to the student. The advisor, student, and the chair of the GAC sign the evaluation form, which is documented in the student’s file. The three areas that are evaluated are:

  1. 1.  A written progress report. The report should briefly summarize the goals of the research as described in the “Guidelines for the Progress Report.” Progress report guideline reminders are distributed before the start of fall semester. The progress report must be sent electronically to all SAC members at least one week before the student’s research seminar in BC793. An announcement of the date, time and title of the research seminar should be included with this report, and the student should send a copy of the seminar notice to the external members of the SAC. Students failing to provide their SAC members with a written progress report 7 days prior to their seminar and/or failing to meet with their SAC within two weeks following their seminar each Fall semester will receive an unsatisfactory evaluation. Exceptions to this policy will be given in unusual circumstances and must be approved in writing by the GAC.
  2.  A research seminar in BC793 followed by a meeting with the student’s SAC. During the Fall semester, all Ph.D. students in their third year and beyond are required to present a ~45 minute seminar that summarizes their research progress during the past year. Second-year Ph.D.. students are required to present a 20 minute seminar describing their progress and the proposed goals of their research project. All Ph.D. students are required to attend BC793 seminars. Students attending the seminar provide feedback to the speaker through an anonymous evaluation form. Students must email a title and abstract of their seminar to the Graduate Program Coordinator by 12:00 noon on the Friday before the seminar. Students must inform their SAC members of the date of the seminar.
  3.  Evaluation of performance in course work and research (BC798). The SAC and dissertation advisor will determine the appropriate grade for BC798. The results of the evaluations, as well as the committee’s recommendations for furthering the student’s progress, will be submitted by the SAC electronically to the GAC to be included in the student’s file.


The Preliminary Examination is administered by the Preliminary Examination committee. This committee consists of the student’s SAC (see above), with the exclusion of the student’s research advisor. A Preliminary Examination chairperson will be substituted for the research advisor for the examination only. This individual will be assigned by the GAC. The chairperson will oversee the examination, and after the exam is completed, they will write a memo to the student and the research advisor outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the written proposal and the student’s performance on the oral examination. The examination consists of two parts: 1) a written proposal describing the student’s dissertation research, and 2) an oral examination. The written research proposal must follow specific guidelines determined by the GAC (proposal guidelines will be distributed to students early in the Spring semester). It must be completed and submitted in final form to the student’s SAC during the second semester of the second year. The due date for the proposal and the chairperson for the exam are announced during the first week of Spring semester classes. The oral examination focuses on defense of the student’s research proposal and related areas, but also includes general questions related to biochemical and molecular areas of the life sciences. Successful completion of this examination qualifies the student as a candidate for the Ph.D. degree. The due date for the written Preliminary Examination proposal is the Friday of the second full week in February of the second year. The oral Preliminary Examination must be scheduled between the last week of February and the second week of April. If a student fails the Preliminary Examination, a re-take of the exam must be completed by the first day of classes of the following Fall semester. In this case, the committee provides guidance in preparing for the re-take examination. If a student fails the re-examination, they will be dismissed from the Ph.D. program.


After completion of all requisite coursework (as described above), and upon making sufficient progress on a research project, students write a dissertation that thoroughly documents all of their research work. The decision to begin the process of thesis writing is made in consultation with the student’s SAC. Their decision is based largely on the body of work produced by the student throughout their Ph.D. work. Due to the nature of scientific research, the decision is somewhat subjective, but is based in part on whether the student has made a significant contribution to their chosen field of study. The dissertation is written entirely by the student, and is meant to be the culmination of their Ph.D. work. The document is provided to the SAC no less than 14 days prior to the thesis defense, during which the student presents a 1 hour presentation to the department, and subsequently orally defends their work in a closed-door meeting with their SAC and research advisor. If the majority of the SAC members agree that the student has successfully defended their thesis, the degree of Ph.D. is bestowed upon the student. If any aspect of the defense is deemed unsatisfactory, the SAC members will establish criteria for reevaluation.


Any exceptions to the guidelines must be requested in writing to the GAC to be evaluated and approved by the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology faculty.


The dates listed above apply to fall entry students.

See the Graduate School website for their complete list of required forms and procedures: