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Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics PhD Degree Requirements

Programs of study are tailored to the needs of individual students, based on their prior training and research interests. Progress to degree is generally similar for all students. During the first year, students take courses, begin their teaching apprenticeships, choose research advisors, and embark on their thesis research. Beginning the first summer, the emphasis is on research, although courses of special interest may be taken throughout a student's tenure. In the second year, there is a Departmental Examination, which includes a written research proposal and an oral defense of the research proposal. In the third year, students advance to candidacy for the doctorate by defending the topic, preliminary findings, and future research plans for their dissertation. Subsequent years focus on thesis research and writing the dissertation.

Definition of Good Academic Standing

Good department and academic standing is a requirement to remain eligible for financial support. Graduate students who are not in good standing for any reason are subject to probation and/or disqualification from further graduate study.

  • GPA of 3.0 or above (and no more than 8 units of “F” or “U” grades)
  • Must have an approved Thesis Advisor, no later than spring quarter of the first year
  • Satisfactory spring evaluation by Thesis Advisor
  • Fulfillment of all program requirements, according to department deadlines (i.e., coursework, research progress, Department Exam, Qualifying Exam)

Time Limits

Campus policy has established maximum time limits for advancement to candidacy, for financial support, and for the total quarters registered.  The UCSD Dean of Graduate Studies enforces these limits.  The Department  of Chemistry and Biochemistry has set earlier time limits for advancement to candidacy and financial support as outlined below.

Advancement to candidacy              3 years

Financial support                              4-5 years


An individualized course program is designed for each student in conjunction with the advisor. Course work may be prescribed by the First-Year or Thesis Advisor based on the student's background and desired research concentration. All students will be required to enroll in Chem 219A (Fall quarter seminar course), Chem 500 (Teaching Apprenticeship) each quarter assigned to TA, and CHEM 509 (Teaching Methods in Chemistry and Biochemistry) during the first quarter as a TA (Fall).

  • Students should take into account their teaching schedule and duties when planning their course program. Likewise, those opting to earn a M.S. while studying for the Ph.D. should be aware of the requirements for that degree and should plan accordingly.
    • See Coursework Map for PhD students planning to get an MS along the way
  • All students must enroll in a minimum of 12 units each quarter to qualify for financial support and to be in good academic standing. If courses or units are dropped, others must be added to maintain the minimum 12 units required to remain in good academic standing. Graduate courses (200 and 500 series) are usually taken. Lower- division courses (numbered 1-99) do NOT count toward the 12 unit minimum, however upper division (numbered 100-199) can be taken if desired.
  • To meet the unit requirements, first-year students must follow these guidelines:
    • Students normally enroll for 4 courses of 4 units each in Fall quarter.
    • Chemistry 500 (Teaching Apprenticeship, 4 units) counts toward the unit requirement.
    • Chemistry 509 (Teaching Training Seminar, 2 units) counts towards the unit requirement
    • CHEM 250 / Responsible Conduct of Research training (RCR, 4 units). First year doctoral students are required to complete CHEM 250 in Spring quarter of Year 1. This seminar will cover RCR, and other valuable training on scientific communication and creating your Individual Development Plan.  CHEM 250 will also fulfill the RCR training requirement from NSF and NIH funding agencies. For doctoral students who entered before FA14, you will be required to fulfill the RCR training through any of the following campus course offerings: SOMI 226 (Fall/Spring), COGS 241 (Winter), SIO 273 (Winter), SIO 232 (Spring). Once you fulfill this requirement, please provide Student Affairs ( with your certificate of completion for your academic file.
    • Students are encouraged to enroll in the seminar courses (e.g., Chemistry 227, 251, 293, 294, 295, or 296). However, these courses do not count toward the 12- unit per quarter minimum in the first year.
    • All students should enroll in Chemistry 298 (Rotation) during Fall quarter (and Winter quarter for those students still participating in lab rotations). Students should not enroll in Chemistry 299 (Research) until a Thesis Advisor has been approved.
    • First Year Advisors must approve any changes to course enrollment, including adds, drops, unit changes, and grading option changes.
    • Courses from other departments (e.g., Biology, Physics, Mathematics, School of Medicine, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography) may be taken. This may be particularly valuable in making contacts with faculty outside the Department for the Doctoral Committee.


Graduate level courses at UCSD have two grading options: letter (e.g., A, B, C, D, and F) and S/U (satisfactory and unsatisfactory). First year students must take all courses for a letter grade unless the course is offered S/U only. Students who have not advanced to candidacy for the doctorate must take all courses within the Department for a letter grade, with the exceptions of Chemistry 500, Chemistry 299 (or thesis research) and courses that are offered S/U only.


Incoming PhD students are typically required to complete four (4) quarters as a Teaching Assistant (TA) as part of the academic requirements of the PhD program. Three (3) quarters of teaching are completed in the first year, while the fourth quarter may be completed in the second year in the program. Students typically must TA at least two (2) labs as part of the 4 quarter teaching requirement. For more information regarding TA applications and responsibilities, please visit:

Master's Degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics

The Comprehensive Exam (Coursework) M.S. in Chemistry is optional, and interested students must apply for it. Students who wish to pursue this degree normally take the bulk of the required coursework during their first year and receive the degree after passing the Departmental Examination in the second year.See Coursework Map for Plan II MS along the way. Students will be given the needed paperwork and status report of M.S. units at the time of their Departmental Examination. The latest we recommend a student earn the Master's degree is the quarter in which they advance to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Students who already have a Master's degree from UCSD or who already have a Master's degree in Chemistry, Biochemistry, or a related field from another institution are not eligible. Transfer units are acceptable as outlined in the UCSD General Catalog and as approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee.

The deadline to file the paperwork to Advance to Candidacy for the M.S Degree along the way to a Ph.D. is the end of the third week of the same quarter of the MS degree conferral. The final units needed to advance may be in-progress while the paperwork is filed. These are the unit and grade requirements for advancing:

  • REQUIRED: Complete a minimum of 36 units.
  • REQUIRED: Achieve a minimum overall GPA of 3.0.
  • REQUIRED: Successfully complete the Departmental Examination.
  • Lower-division courses may not be applied towards the degree.
  • A maximum of 12 units of upper-division coursework may be applied.
  • Complete a minimum of 24 units of graduate-level coursework.
  • A minimum of 14 units of Chemistry & Biochemistry graduate level courses required. Courses taken outside of the department must be approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee.
  • A maximum of 4 units of non-thesis research (298) may be applied.
  • A maximum of 4 units of Teaching Apprenticeship (Chem 500) may be applied. Students should enroll in more than 4 units of Chem 500, but a maximum of 4 units may be applied toward their MS degree.
  • A maximum of 2 units of Teaching Training Seminar (Chem 509) may be applied.
  • Chem 250 is the ONLY seminar that may be applied. However, students are strongly encouraged to also enroll in seminars in their field. A maximum of 4 units of Chem 250 may be applied.
  • A maximum of 2 units of Chem 291 may be applied.
  • Chem 251 and Chem 299 may not be applied.
  • All courses must be taken for a letter grade unless offered S/U only.
  • Complete a minimum of 16 units of letter-graded (A, B, etc.) courses.