With the diversity of incoming students it is important to ensure that we provide high quality education in the multiple areas of biophysics without overwhelming the students and, at the same time, that we ensure students are on track to completing their Ph.D. At present, the average time to graduation for Biophysics students is 5.6 years.
The Biophysics Graduate Program addresses this challenge by offering a curriculum that aims to accomplish two goals: (a) provide a common academic base; and (b) accommodate the different backgrounds of the students. Consistent with our interest in broadening our student body, we have worked to increase the program's flexibility while enhancing the student's exposure to the core concepts in biophysics.
We require coursework in three areas: the physical sciences, the biological sciences, and biophysics. The physical science requirements are designed to give students at least an advanced undergraduate understanding of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. The biological sciences requirements ensure that the students are conversant in biochemistry, cell biology, and protein structure and function. All Biophysics students take four core courses in biophysics: Biophysical Chemistry (theory/methods and techniques), Intro to the Biophysics Lab and Professional Development, as well as a research ethics course plus two additional cognates/electives. Often these are chosen from other courses offered by the unit, including Dynamical Processes in Biophysics, X-ray Crystallography of Macromolecules, Biophysical Principles of Microscopy, and Multi-dimensional NMR spectroscopy. A typical student is required to take seven or eight courses, typically finishing their coursework sometime in their second year.
To custom-fit the curriculum to the specific needs of each student, faculty advisors consult with them to design a list of courses that both meet the curriculum guidelines and satisfy their specific goals. Cognates and electives are chosen to assure that each student attains competence in the broad areas of physics/physical chemistry, biophysics, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology. For students with a background in chemistry or physics, typically at least two cognates are chosen from the biochemistry/cell and molecular biology group and one from the molecular biophysics group. For students with degrees in the biological sciences, two cognates are selected from physics/chemistry and at least one from molecular biophysics or cell and molecular biology.