PhD Programs in Molecular Biology

This article discusses the expectations of a doctoral student interested in molecular biology and other related fields. Take a look at how these degrees can be obtained and the possible career paths that can be explored.

Comparing Different Doctorate Degrees in Molecular Biology

Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biology

Doctorate programs in molecular biology introduce students to basic and applied approaches to solving biomedical and chemical problems at the molecular level, with the aid of research principles and techniques. Students are taught about the relationship among genes and proteins and their function through courses on topics like genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology. Degree requirements usually include 20 to 40 units of coursework, laboratory rotations, a teacher assistantship, written and oral qualifying exams, and a dissertation, to be completed within five years. To qualify for such programs, applicants must have a bachelor's degree in any related field and a specific GPA (which varies according to the school) Students who have finished the course work in these programs must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 to complete the program. Positions in academia are sought-after among molecular biology graduates, but they may also venture into research in pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biochemistry

Students seeking a more fundamental approach to studying molecular biology can enroll in a Ph.D. in Biochemistry program, in which the principles of chemistry reinforce those of biology. These programs may span 4 to 5 years, during which students earn 30 to 70 credits of coursework related to the structure-function relationship found in proteins, metabolism, macromolecular assemblies, molecular biophysics and genetics, and bioinformatics. To apply for a Ph.D. in Biochemistry program, a bachelor's or master's degree in the cognate sciences is needed, as well as a competitive GPA. Once accepted, students are expected to comply with the following: maintaining a minimum grade, applying for teacher assistantship, laboratory rotations, qualifying exams, and the dissertation. Once they complete these and obtain their degrees, they may build careers in academia or pharmaceutical and medical research.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering

Graduate students who want to combine the principles of medical science, molecular biology, and engineering may pursue a doctorate in biomedical engineering. They will be trained to view biology, chemistry, and medicine through a quantitative perspective with courses on computation and mathematics, cell and human physiology, specific types of engineering (neuro-engineering, tissue engineering, etc.), and medical topics such as immunology and infectious diseases. Some schools combine the PhD program with an MD program (MD-PhD) for students who also aspire to be physicians. Interested applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in engineering or a cognate science, but are preferred to already possess a master's degree in a related field. After complying with the program requirements, which may include 50 to 70 credit units, a written comprehensive exam, oral candidacy exam, and dissertation, Ph.D. graduates may explore careers in research, medicine, and product development.

Doctor of Philosophy in Genetics

The field of genetics is largely interwoven into molecular biology as they both study genes, and doctorate programs in genetics aim to produce scientists and medical professionals who have deep understanding of genetic mechanisms and their coordination with the environment, can apply research methodologies to address issues in genetics, and can handle bioinformatics resources to interpret clinical findings. Interested applicants should have performed well during their undergraduate education as admission to a Ph.D. in Genetics program is normally competitive. Students are required to complete 30 to 70 units of coursework during their first year (or first two years) in the program and typically must maintain a grade of B (or a grade numerically equivalent to B) to continue their studies. Among the many sub-fields of genetics that students must develop a foundation in are statistical genetics, developmental genetics, complex trait analysis, and genetic epidemiology. After complying with the requirements, which typically include qualifying exams and a dissertation, PhD in Genetics graduates may work in academia or genetic counseling.

Degree ProgramProgram LengthProgram RequirementsRelated Careers
Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biology5 years* Related Undergraduate Degree
* GPA of 3.0 or higher
* Professor
* Researcher
Doctor of Philosophy in Biochemistry4-5 years* Related Undergraduate or Master's Degree
* GPA of 3.0 or higher
* Professor
* Pharmaceutical researcher
Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Engineering3.5-5 years* Related Undergraduate or Master's Degree * Researcher
* Product Engineer or Developer
Doctor of Philosophy in Genetics4-5 years* Undergraduate Degree
* GPA of 3.5 or higher
* Professor
* Genetic Counselor

Doctoral programs in molecular biology and similar fields typically take several years to complete and consist of coursework often relating to genetics, immunology, and cell biology. Students in these programs are trained to be competent in both theory and application in preparation for careers in academia, research, or the pharmaceutical industry.