Graduate Program in Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics

Graduate Admissions | Course List | Academic Calendar

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 molecular 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; the intellectual focus of modern biochemistry and molecular 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.

Learn more about the BMB program:

For links to other important information for graduate students, view the student resources page.

Program Requirements

Selecting an Advisor and Laboratory Rotations - First Year

The Option Graduate Study Committee will counsel and oversee the student's progress upon admission to the graduate program. In the first year of graduate study, the course requirement consists of a sequence of three core courses covering the biochemistry and biophysics of macromolecules and molecular assemblies (BMB 170 abc). These courses will expose the student to contemporary issues in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, and to the tools and methods that are essential for research in this area. Research advisors are normally selected at the end of the first year. In consultation with their advisor, students are expected to take three additional advanced courses of 9 or more units in the first and second years that are appropriate for their particular research interests.

In consultation with the Option Graduate Study Committee and individual professors, students will choose three laboratories in which to do short 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. It is possible to waive some or all of the rotations by petitioning the Option Graduate Study Committee.

Candidacy Examination - Second Year

By the end of the sixth term of residency (spring term of the second year), 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 proposition in a field outside the student's chosen field of research. A candidacy examination committee will be assembled by the student in consultation with his/her thesis advisor (the student is responsible for finding a date, time and location for the exam). The committee should consist of the student's thesis advisor and three or four BMB faculty members (faculty outside of the BMB option may also be members of the committee), and is chaired by a faculty member other than the student's advisor. When the student advances to candidacy upon successful completion of the exam, the exam committee will become the thesis advisory committee and will meet with the student once a year to evaluate research progress. This committee will also serve as the PhD thesis advisory committee.

Annual Thesis Advisory Committee Meetings - Third Year and up to Ph.D. defense

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.

Ph.D. Thesis Defense

All Ph.D. candidates must present their work in a thesis seminar.

Master's Degree in Biochemistry

Students are not normally admitted to work toward the M.S. degree. In special circumstances, the M.S. degree may be awarded, provided Institute requirements are met. In general, the degree is not conferred until 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. These seminars are organized and operated by graduate students who select and invite the speakers as well as arrange appointment schedules. There are also seminar series in physics, biology, and chemistry that may interest BMB graduate students.


All students are expected to serve as a graduate teaching assistant for one quarter a year through their fourth year of residence. Assignments may consist of leading a recitation section in an undergraduate course or acting as an assistant in an undergraduate laboratory course. Advanced graduate students often help with graduate level courses. Class sizes at Caltech are small thus enhancing the teaching experience.


Giulia Pellegrino
BMB Graduate Program Administrator
Phone: (626) 395-6446
Office: 127 Gates Annex
         Bil Clemons
Option Representative
Phone: (626) 395-1796
Office: 157 Broad Center
Shu-ou Shan 
Executive Officer
Phone: (626) 395-3879
Office: 109 Braun 
          Jacqueline Barton
          Division Chair
          Phone: (626) 395-3646
          Office: 164 Crellin