Doing a PhD in Biochemistry

Doing a PhD in Biochemistry

A PhD in biochemistry aims to train students in the fundamentals of biochemical research and equip them with skills that will help them analyse data and develop new research ideas.

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The basics of a PhD in Biochemistry

Biochemistry involves the study of the chemical processes and structures that occur in living organisms, from bacteria to humans. Biochemical methods are often used in medical research to better understand the causes of diseases such as cancer, AIDS and heart disease, and in related areas such as pharmacology, drug discovery and toxicology, research into the effects of toxins.

A doctorate in biochemistry is an advanced qualification designed to train students in their chosen subject. It involves carrying out original research on a specific topic under the supervision of an academic supervisor.

Daily activities of a Biochemistry doctorate student

As a PhD student in biochemistry, your typical daily activities will vary depending on the stage of the program you are in, but can include attending laboratory seminars, meeting with supervisors to discuss the progress of your research project or thesis, designing and conducting experiments in the laboratory, analysing biochemical data using specialist software packages, and creating scientific journals.

Lines of Research

Biochemistry is one of the most diverse scientific disciplines, but there are many areas in which you can specialise to develop more specific knowledge. Possible research topics include:

  • Biochemistry of single-celled organisms
  • Biochemistry of prokaryotes
  • Biochemistry of eukaryotes
  • Bioinformatics and computer biology
  • Molecular structural biology
  • Bioactive molecules
  • Genomics and systems biology
  • Systems medicine and human health
  • Synthetic biology, synthetic therapeutics, clinically relevant therapeutic design
  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Biology

Due to the broad range of topics within the discipline, your research project may see you performing research on the structure of proteins, investigating cell metabolism, bioenergetics, cellular stress and biochemical factors within the nervous system. You may perform research in functional genomics, viral biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, or better understanding the immune processes.

Research Proposal

Besides pre-defined projects, your doctoral supervisor may recommend that you propose your own specific topic that comes closest to your personal interests, or they may simply suggest a broad topic as a starting point, such as Alzheimer’s, bioinformatics, proteins or human diseases. In both cases, you will need to produce a research proposal to explain your proposed research objectives and ensure that it is scientifically sound.

How long does it take to get a PhD in Biochemistry?

In the UK, a full-time doctoral student will usually take 3 years to complete their PhD in Biochemistry. Part-time PhD students should expect to take closer to 6 years to complete their research project.

Most Biochemistry PhD students will first register as MPhil students, typically completing an upgrade viva after 18 months, before officially becoming registered as a PhD student. Whilst your supervisor will provide mentorship, it’s ultimately the responsibility of postgraduate students to ensure their project and studies run on time and that they meet the deadlines expected of them.

What are the typical entry requirements for a Biochemistry PhD Programme?

In terms of applications, most UK universities require at least a 2:1 undergraduate degree or the equivalent grade from a university outside of the UK. Further, your degree will need to be in a field relevant to Biochemistry.

If English is not your first language, you will have to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application. Usually, this is a minimum IELTS test score of 6.5 for research programmes however this may be higher from one university to another, and from one programme of study to another.

How much does a Biochemistry PhD cost?

UK based postgraduate research students will pay annual tuition fees of around £4,500/year. Part-time students should expect to pay lower fees, with some variability between institutions about how this is calculated.

For international students (including now EU students), the annual tuition fee is approximately £23,500/year, equating to £70,500 over 3 years.

As with every PhD degree, potential students will need to consider additional costs such as living costs and any bench fees that may be expected by their particular project or graduate school. It’s a good idea to discuss these, along with any potential scholarships or funding opportunities, with your potential supervisors before starting your postgraduate degree.

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Career options for Biochemistry PhD graduates

Upon completing a PhD in biochemistry, you may be wondering what comes next? Well, there is a wide range of choices because a doctorate in biochemistry allows you to work in many fields, including pharmaceutical and agricultural research, academia as a university lecturer, industry as a senior scientist, researcher or manager, as well as in research or at government institutes.

Academia

A PhD in biochemistry can open the door to many career opportunities in the academic world, such as lecturing and researching at universities. An academic career need not be limited to teaching – if you want to continue your research in a university environment, a PostDoctoral Research Fellowship (PDF) is ideal. It allows you to work on a research project in your field of interest, secure a salary and build on your research skills and experience.

Industry

This is perhaps the most popular area for PhD biochemists. The industry is constantly looking for people who can contribute their knowledge of biochemistry in combination with laboratory science. Companies looking for biochemists include pharmaceutical companies, agricultural research organisations, animal testing laboratories and analytical laboratories.

Government and research institutes

Government and health institutes, such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA) or the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC), often require people with a PhD in biochemistry. As a biochemist in a government agency, you can test food samples for contamination or monitor and test new vaccines and drugs. Alternatively, you could be the perfect candidate for working in a forensic laboratory because of your ability to analyse chemical reactions.

Research charities

Charities are one of the primary employers of PhD biochemists. They provide much-needed information about biological research, which is not always available. Charities such as Cancer Research UK (CRUK), Diabetes UK and Alzheimer’s Research UK (ARUK) attach great importance to a PhD and consider it an invaluable asset to their research teams.

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