M.S. Degree in Biochemistry or Biophysics

The M.S. degree programs in biochemistry and biophysics are designed to train students in the ability to perform original research in the modern biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular biology disciplines. The program is useful for students who prefer to undertake research training without the longer-term commitment required for the Ph.D. degree. M.S. programs also are useful for students who are interested more in technical aspects of research than in careers as research directors.

Successful defense of an independent research dissertation is required for the M.S. degree. The program requires, on average, about three years of graduate level study. About half of the total time is devoted to research, and half to advanced coursework and professional seminars. The dissertation research project is undertaken in the laboratory of a faculty mentor, under her or his close supervision. The program also offers training in teaching of biochemistry to undergraduate students. Financial support is available to M.S. students in the form of a graduate or teaching assistantship.

General Timeline

M.S. degree students typically determine which faculty member will be his or her research mentor in advance of enrolling in the program. In the first year students typically spend about half of their time in formal coursework and the other half of their time working on their M.S. dissertation research. Subsequently the time commitment to courses declines, and research increases. By the end of the first year a dissertation advisory committee is formed, which comprises the mentor and two or more additional faculty members. This committee advises the student throughout the course of his or her graduate studies. When the dissertation is complete, the student defends the project in an oral examination given by the advisory committee. There is no requirement for an oral qualifying examination, in contrast to the Ph.D. program.

Teaching Requirements

M.S. students are required to serve as teaching assistants during one semester, under the guidance of a faculty instructor who has overall responsibility for the course. This assignment may be either as a half-time teaching assistant (20 hours per week), or a quarter-time teaching assistant (10 hours per week).

Career Opportunities

One common career course beyond the M.S. degree is to work in a high level technical position as part of a research team, either in industry or in academic laboratories. Another common track is to complete an M.S. degree at one institution, and then enter a Ph.D. program either at the same institution or a different one. In such instances the Ph.D. degree should take less time because the student already is well trained in how to perform independent research and also has taken many of the courses that would be required for the Ph.D. Other possible careers for students who complete the M.S. degree is to enter other fields, like administration, regulations or sales, in industries that involve biomedical research.

Necessary Undergraduate Training

Most students that enter the graduate program will hold a B.S. degree in biochemistry, biological sciences, chemistry, or physics. All graduate students entering the Department of BBMB will be expected to have taken one semester of analytical chemistry, one year of organic chemistry and, in most instances, one year of physical chemistry. Students lacking any of these courses will be required to take them as soon as feasible after entering the program, preferably in the first year of study.

Note: Students are encouraged to take the Ph.D. track.

Program and Course Requirements

The major difference in the biochemistry and biophysics M.S. degree is that the eight-credit sequence, BBMB 504, 505, 506, 507, is required of biochemistry majors and the six-credit sequence BBMB 404, 405, can be taken instead by the biophysics major.  This reduction in required credits is intended to accommodate additional coursework required in physics by the biophysics major.

A minimum of 30 graduate credits are required to earn an M.S. degree.  The minimum grade required by the department for all core courses is a B minus (B-).  If a grade below B minus (B-) is earned, the core course must be retaken.

See the BBMB Graduate Handbook for more information about both graduate programs.

For Biochemistry Majors:

BBMB 504, 505, 506, 507  (2 credits each) - Comprehensive Biochemistry
Each BBMB 504 through 507 course can be taken independently of the other, but are all four courses (total 8 credits) are required for the BS/MS, MS, PhD and graduate certificate programs in biochemistry.
Each course is a comprehensive treatment of biochemistry with emphasis on fundamental chemical and physical principles. BBMB 504 focuses on amino acids and proteins, BBMB 505 on bioenergetics and metabolism, BBMB 506 on membrane biochemistry and BBMB 507 on biochemistry of nucleic acids.

For Biophysics Majors:

BBMB 404 and BBMB 405 (3 credits each) - General Biochemistry
Fundamental, rigorous treatment of biochemistry. Structure of amino acids, structure and function of proteins, enzyme kinetics, enzyme mechanisms, structure of carbohydrates, structure of lipids, structure of nucleic acids, metabolism of carbohydrates, metabolism of lipids, metabolism of amino acids, biosynthesis of DNA and replication, the genetic code, translation and protein biosynthesis, and hormone action.

For both the Biochemistry and Biophysics majors:

BBMB 561 and 561L

(2 credits each) - Molecular Biophysics Lecture and Laboratory

Physical methods for the study of molecular structure and organization of biological materials. X-ray diffraction, nuclear magnetic resonance, hydrodynamics and fluorescence spectroscopy. Registration for the graduate credit commits the student to graduate-level examinations, which differ from undergraduate-level examinations in the number and/or difficulty of questions.
Specialty Courses (at least 2 credits).  At least two different advanced courses in specialized topics in biochemistry or biophysics are required. Generally these are courses offered by the Department of BBMB.  See BBMB Courses in the ISU catalog for the selection of courses offered. The ISU catalog lists all available courses.
BBMB 681. Advanced Seminar (1 credit per offering).  Exploration of research literature, involving oral presentations by students and class discussion and participation. Required one semester per academic year, except in the first and last year.
BBMB 682. Departmental Seminar (Registration credit, or R-credit, only).  Formal research presentations by staff, students, and invited speakers. Registration and attendance at the seminars is required each fall and spring semester.
BBMB 699. Research (variable credit).  Independent research towards the M.S. dissertation.
GR ST 565. Responsible Conduct of Research Training.  NSF, USDA NIFA, and certain NIH awards require that graduate students be trained in the responsible conduct of research (RCR).  We ask all graduate students in the biochemistry and biophysics graduate programs to take this course as early as possible during their degree program.
MyIDP.  myIDP is a career assessment tool developed by the NSF and Science to help determine which of 20 scientific career paths best fits your skills and interests.  All graduate students are asked to do this assessment during the first semester in their degree program and, with the assistance of their major professor and the BBMB GLC, to explore and set goals for their career path.  See the BBMB Graduate Learning Community web pages for more information about the My IDP.