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Biological Chemistry Graduate Student Guidelines & Requirements

Below are the guidelines and requirements for Biological Chemistry Program Students.

  1. First Year of Graduate Study
  2. Selecting a Thesis Advisor
  3. Following Years
  4. Additional Information and Resources

The Biological Chemistry Program at the University of Utah is designed to equip students with a strong foundation of biology and chemistry. The program provides students with high-quality, graduate-level education on the chemical or physical approaches to biological problems in support of their transition into laboratory research environments for the remainder of their graduate education.

The program spans between seven basic science departments: Biochemistry, Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, Molecular Pharmaceutics, Oncological Sciences, Pharmacology & Toxicology, and School of Biological Sciences.

All PhD students admitted to the Biological Chemistry Program who remain in good standing will receive financial support including a fellowship/living stipend, tuition waiver through the Tuition Benefit Program, and health insurance throughout the entirety of their graduate student tenure.

I. First Year of Graduate Study

First year studies begin in the Fall semester. During their first year, students in the Biological Chemistry Program will complete the core curriculum, three lab rotations, and the Capstone exam as described below.  

Prior to arrival, each student is assigned a faculty advisor, who will provide guidance on first-year curriculum and laboratory rotation choices. The student and faculty advisor will meet at least twice each semester to plan coursework and discuss rotations. Students are responsible to keep their faculty advisor informed of their progress and status. The faculty advisor serves as an advocate for the students.

In addition to coursework and rotations, students will attend Orientation Week, the Annual Bioscience Symposium, and peer mentoring events organized by advanced students. Students are also expected to participate in recruiting efforts for prospective students in the Spring.

Core Curriculum

Biological Chemistry Program students enroll in a standardized curriculum that has been designed to provide a solid background in key areas of biological chemistry; to provide options in tailoring coursework to specific interests; and to teach independent, critical thinking skills, and grant writing.

Fall Core Curriculum
All Biological Chemistry students will enroll in BLCHM 6500 - Foundations of Biological Chemistry during the first half of Fall semester to begin their first year of graduate school. This class will offer all students a solid foundation in nucleic acid biochemistry, protein structure and function, bioorganic, and biophysical chemistry.
During the second half of Fall semester, students will self-select two (2) Selective courses that match their existing research interests and/or explore the range of disciplines and research emphasis areas of potential interest.

The Selective courses available may vary by year – please see the Curriculum page for recent examples.

Case Studies in Research Ethics (MBIOL 7570) is taken in the Fall semester of the first year of graduate study. In this class, students discuss current ethical issues of scientific research and integrity. Specific topics include scientific fraud, conflicts of interest, plagiarism, authorship designation, and the role of science in formulating social policy
Spring Core Curriculum
Critical Thinking in Research:
In order to teach the skills required to be a successful independent scientist, this course (BLCHM 6200) will instruct students on how to digest and analyze papers and problem solve - both of which involve reviewing and applying material from previous core courses. The instructors develop and refine the specific course content, with topics such as: How to read a paper (read at home, discuss in class); Survey of the University’s Research Core Services; and Problem solving of open-ended problems posed on real-life or made-up situations. A focused effort will be made to help students identify topics that they can develop into grants in the Spring term. Grading will be based on participation and individual work.


Guided Proposal Preparation:
To prepare students for their thesis research, and departmental preliminary, and qualifying exams, students will enroll in a guided proposal preparation course (BLCHM 6300) in the second half of the Spring semester that builds on their experience earlier in the semester (including critical reading of primary literature and problem solving). The guided grant writing course will provide an opportunity for students to create an original research proposal through critical review of other grants, and training in hypothesis generation, scientific writing, and experimental design under guidance of small group faculty facilitators. Each student’s written original grant proposal will be assessed and used as the basis of their oral Capstone examination by a faculty committee.


Introduction to Biostatistics and Probability for Biosciences (MBIOL 6490) is taken in the Spring semester of the first year of graduate study. This class focuses on a broad introduction to methods for statistical analysis of biological and biomedical data with emphasis on the fundamental concepts of probability analysis and statistical inference and the practical application of these concepts to experimental design and data analysis.


In the Spring semester, students will self-select two (2) Elective courses. These are didactic courses designed to help students gain proficiency in specialized areas of interest.

For the purposes of this requirement, a half-semester course is defined as up to two (2) credits, and a full semester course is defined ≥ two-point-five (2.5) credits.

Elective courses vary by year - please see the Curriculum page for recent examples

Fall Semester
BLCHM 6500 Foundations of Biological Chemistry  (3 credits, half semester)
MBIOL 7570 Research Ethics (1 credit, full semester)
Selectives (choose 2) Choose 2 different Selectives during the semester (1.5-3 credits each)
BLCHM 7960 Graduate Research (2-3 credits, full semester)
Spring Semester
BLCHM 6200 Critical Thinking in Research (2 credits, half semester)
MBIOL 6490 Intro to Biostatistics and Probability (2 credits, half semester)
BLCHM 6300 Guided Proposal Preparation (2 credits, half semester)
BLCHM 7960 Graduate Research (2-3 credits, full semester)

Electives (choose 2)

Choose 2 different Electives during the semester (1.5 - 3 credits each)


Individual student exceptions to these general requirements for the PhD must have written approval from the faculty advisor and Program Director.

Curriculum completion is a priority and students must obtain faculty advisor written approval for all adjustments to the described curriculum and student expectations including: extensions, leaves/absences and changes to lab rotations and schedules, recruitment duties, and other responsibilities. The course directors for the core curriculum can often provide additional resources and guidance for classwork.

If specific deficiencies in a student’s academic background are identified, the Program Director may advise a student to register for appropriate courses at the undergraduate level and to delay taking a core course until the second year. Absent an approved written extension, all students are expected to have fulfilled the Program's core requirements including any delayed or retaken course(s) by the end of the second year of study.

The Bioscience Programs and the University of Utah are committed to equity of student access. Students are encouraged to request appropriate ADA accommodations through the Center for Disability & Access.  Accommodations should not be sought directly from the Program or from individual faculty members.

Laboratory Rotations

Biological Chemistry Program students complete three (3) laboratory rotations with different faculty members in their first year of graduate study. A summer research experience is available before they begin classes, or an additional rotation can be done at the end of the first year if needed. Neither can substitute for one (1) of the three (3) rotations during the regular academic year.

Laboratory rotations are essential for identifying an appropriate thesis mentor and lab. In addition, laboratory rotations may provide valuable exposure to areas of research the student might not otherwise experience; familiarize the student with research in different groups and departments through research seminars; and help them develop contacts and learn experimental techniques that may prove helpful in their subsequent thesis research.

To assist students in identifying productive and exciting laboratory rotation experiences, program faculty present about their research in the Faculty Research Interest Sessions (FRIS). Through FRIS, faculty inform students about the diversity of possible thesis topics and the variety of experimental approaches employed in the different program laboratories.

General guidelines for a student choosing and successfully completing a lab rotation are outlined below:

  1. A student should choose a rotation lab only after careful thought and discussions with their faculty advisor.
  2. The primary goal of the rotation system is for the student to find a well-matched lab in which to pursue thesis research.
  3. A student may only rotate through a lab belonging to the Molecular Biology or Biological Chemistry Programs.
    • Given that these programs cover the majority of PhD degree-granting laboratories in the life sciences at the University of Utah, exceptions to this rule will only be permitted after consultation with the student's faculty advisor and with written permission by the Program Director.
    • BC students are required to complete at least two (2) of the three (3) required rotations in BC faculty labs.
    • Note: If a student elects to join a thesis lab outside the Biological Chemistry Program all program guarantees, such as the stipend assurance, are no longer binding. Please see guidelines about selecting a thesis advisor below.  
  4. Students are encouraged to rotate in at least two (2) different departments throughout the year.
  5. At the outset of the rotation project, students are asked to discuss conceptual and methodological details with the rotation advisor. It is the rotation advisor’s responsibility to ensure that students understand rotation expectations, such as attendance at group research meetings and the format of the end-of-rotation report/presentation.
  6. Before the end of the rotation, students must submit a Rotation Report in the format of either a PowerPoint presentation and/or a written 2-4-page document to the rotation advisor. This report will also be submitted to the Program Office as evidence of the completed rotation.
    • The content of the Rotation Report should be discussed beforehand with the rotation advisor and should reflect the student’s understanding of the basic principles involved in the project. A rotation report/presentation includes:
      • A description of the basic background of the research area
      • A statement of the specific problem to be addressed in the project
      • A description of the experimental approach to the problem
      • A summary and analysis of experimental results and/or challenges
        • Note: The emphasis should be on the explanation of the scientific problem and experimental approach rather than on obtaining a large body of data, per se.
  7. Approximately one week before the end of the rotation, the Program Office will give each student a Rotation Verification Form. The student should:
    • Meet with rotation advisor to review the Rotation Report and obtain a signature on the Rotation Verification Form indicating completion and satisfactory performance during the rotation and approval of the Rotation Report.
    • Return the signed Rotation Verification Form and the Rotation Report to the Program Office in order to receive a “CREDIT” grade.
      • Note: Students will be given a “NO CREDIT” grade until both documents have been submitted. ALL rotation documents need to be submitted before a student can officially transfer to a thesis lab. Stipend coverage will not be extended for late submission.
  8. Faculty are encouraged to only host one (1) or two (2) rotation students at one time. Faculty should email the Program Director if they intend to have more than two (2) rotation students at a time.
  9. In principle, students and faculty should be talking during the rotation about the possibility of joining the lab. However, this commitment should not be finalized until signing day. The faculty member has sole discretion whether or not to accept a student into their lab.

Rotation Schedule for 2023-24

(Please note: these dates do not correlate with the academic quarters.)

Fall 2023 Semester

1st Rotation: Monday, August 28, 2023 – Friday, October 20, 2023

2nd Rotation: Monday, October 23, 2023 – Friday, December 8, 2023

Spring 2024 Semester

3rd Rotation: Monday, January 8, 2024 – Friday, March 1, 2024

Verbal Lab Commitments Begin: Monday, March 4, 2024


Recruiting Involvement

All students are expected as part of their fellowship/living stipend to participate in official student recruiting efforts during their first year. This will include hosting prospective students during the recruiting weekends.


Graduate school is both an individual educational experience and a collaborative workplace environment, and students are expected to maintain professional and collegial behavior. Key components of professionalism in graduate school include:

  • Attending classes and lab rotations ready to participate and contribute
  • Notifying mentors/peers/advisors of absences
  • Robust participation in group learning
  • Prioritizing lab safety for self and others
  • Keeping a detailed and accurate lab notebook
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Respectful treatment of mentors and peers

Evaluation of First Year Academic Performance

Every effort will be made to help students succeed during the first year, including consultation with their faculty advisor. Students will be alerted promptly of any academic deficiency, so that they have the opportunity to correct course. However, an unsatisfactory Biological Chemistry Program academic and/or research performance can result in dismissal.

Satisfactory academic performance includes, but is not limited to:

  • Students must earn a B- or better in all graded core courses.
  • Students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0
  • Students must be eligible for the Tuition Benefit Program tuition waiver
  • Satisfactory completion of laboratory rotations
  • Passing the written and oral Capstone exam

The University of Utah, the Graduate School, and the Biological Chemistry Program have a variety of resources available to help students succeed.

Academic Standards

Biological Chemistry Program students are required to comply with the Policy Statement on Academic Standards outlined here.

Every student is required to sign a statement regarding the University of Utah Honor Code. Some university courses have take-home exams. Cheating, plagiarism, or collusion on examinations is not permissible. Academic dishonesty will likely result in revocation of stipend and tuition benefits and a recommendation for dismissal from graduate school. Collaboration on certain problem sets may be permitted as specified by the course instructor. If any doubts exist, the student should ask the instructor for clarification. The University of Utah Honor Code should be read carefully, and students should contact their faculty advisor, the Director, or the Program Office with any questions.

A student may be dismissed from the program for behavioral, academic, or scientific misconduct.

Unsatisfactory Performance and Dismissal

Students must remain in good academic standing in order to remain in the program. Students who are determined to be in unsatisfactory academic standing will be placed on probation and must meet with the student’s faculty advisor and the Program Director to develop a remediation plan. Absent extraordinary circumstances, failure to successfully remediate an academic deficiency will result in dismissal from the Program. The Director will make a final decision about continuation in the Biological Chemistry Program after consultation with the student, faculty advisor, and relevant parties such as course directors.

Circumstances that will place the student in unsatisfactory academic standing include, but are not limited to:

  • Failure to pass each course (grade of B- or better)
    • Students who earn a C or lower in a graded core course may retake it during the second year after they transfer to a thesis department
      • Only one (1) retake is allowed. Failure of a course twice is grounds for dismissal from the program. By the end of the second year of study, all students are expected to have fulfilled the program's core requirements
  • GPA (either cumulatively or in a particular semester) of less than 3.0
    • Students with a GPA less than 3.0 have one (1) semester to bring their GPA back up. Two semesters of a GPA below 3.0 is grounds for dismissal from the program.
  • Unsatisfactory completion of a laboratory rotation or unsatisfactory research performance
  • Failure to identify a suitable dissertation lab after completing laboratory rotations requirements. It is the student’s responsibility to identify a lab and obtain permission from the PI to join the lab.
  • Failure to pass the Capstone Exam.

Capstone Exam

The written original grant proposal prepared in the Guided Proposal Preparation course (BLCHM 6300) will be used as a basis for an oral Capstone examination by a faculty committee. This exam ensures that students satisfactorily review material from the core courses and meet our standards for thesis work before they join a department and lab. Specifically, students will prepare an R21-style grant proposal (~ six (6) single-spaced pages, covering two (2) years of proposed work) to be submitted before the exam as outlined by the syllabus for MBIOL 6300. They will present and defend the proposal in front of a three (3) -member Capstone exam committee.

If a student does not pass both the written and oral components on the first attempt, they have one (1) chance for a revision. Students have two (2) weeks to remediate a failed exam with a revised written and/or oral component as indicated by the Capstone exam committee. Revisions and iterative attempts to improve are a normal part of life in science and revisions of the Capstone exam are common. A pass in either component does not indicate a perfect performance.

The student will receive a written rubric from the exam committee either confirming the passing of the oral and written components or provide an opportunity to note areas that require improvement.

Students must pass this exam in order to join a lab and department. Two failures of the written or oral component of the exam are grounds for dismissal from the Program.

Program Benefits

All PhD students admitted to the Biological Chemistry Program who remain in good standing will receive financial support including a fellowship/living stipend, tuition waiver through the Tuition Benefit Program, and health insurance throughout the entirety of their graduate student tenure.

The student is expected to devote full effort toward graduate studies while enrolled in the Program. It is not permissible for a student to work at another job nor to be enrolled in another educational program.

Fellowship/Living Stipend
  • Fellowship/living stipend funds will be distributed through a monthly traineeship disbursement through Accounts Payable
  • A one-time $1,000 starting allocation will be included with the August disbursement
  • Domestic students who participate in a summer rotation will receive one (1) additional monthly disbursement for July. All other financial benefits including student insurance and tuition coverage are not applicable/available until classes begin in August
  • Students in the Biological Chemistry Program are considered Graduate Fellows (GF)
  • No employer-employee relationship exists in a fellowship
  • Scholarship, Fellowship and Traineeship payments may be taxable income to the recipient. It is the recipient’s responsibility to track and document the amounts received and determine whether those amounts are taxable. No tax amount will be withheld from the payments and no tax reporting, i.e., 1099 MISC, W-2, etc. will be generated/provided
  • Students that are not US residents may have payments reduced by the tax amount paid in accordance with tax treaties with the recipient’s country of residence. Recipients are encouraged to contact a tax consultant or accountant for tax advice
  • Students that are not US residents will need to complete several steps with the International Student & Scholar Services Office, including obtaining a Social Security Number (SSN), prior to receiving payment/disbursement funds
Tuition Benefit Program

The Biological Chemistry Program participates in the Tuition Benefit Program.  The Tuition Benefit Program covers tuition and mandatory fees for graduate students for a limited number of semesters. Students are required to remain eligible for this tuition waiver including full-time, matriculated status in good standing and maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.0.  Detailed guidelines can be found here:

The Biological Chemistry Program uses two (2) semesters of eligibility for tuition and fees during the first year of graduate study. Thesis advisors and departments will continue to provide tuition waivers and coverage through the remaining eligible semesters of Tuition Benefit, extended tuition benefit (XTBP), and other funding sources, provided the student remains in good standing and eligible according to their guidelines.

Health Insurance

The Biological Chemistry Program will pay the annual premium for students and eligible dependents for student health insurance and the optional dental/vision plan offered by the Student Health Center of the University of Utah.

Students are encouraged to consider whether the student health plan will meet their individual needs. Students who have access to other health insurance through parents, spouses, or the healthcare exchanges on can decline the student health insurance plan.

II. Selecting a Thesis Advisor

Each student chooses a thesis advisor at the end of Spring semester of the first graduate school year. Arrangements are made by mutual agreement between mentor and student, and automatically admit the student to the degree program of the advisor's department (Biochemistry, Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, Molecular Pharmaceutics, Oncological Sciences, Pharmacology & Toxicology, and School of Biological Sciences).

In order to allow fair access to thesis labs, students and faculty should not make firm commitments regarding choice of a thesis lab until the Monday after the end of the last rotation (early March). Students should discuss their interest in working in the lab of the potential thesis advisor during the year and learn whether space will be available and whether a faculty member “in principle” will direct their thesis. When a choice has been made, submit this information to the Program office.

A Thesis Agreement Form will be signed by the student, PI, and Department Chair after final grades have posted. This form states the student's progress (grades, rotations, and overall status) of the first year.

The Biological Chemistry Program is responsible for students only during their first year. Financial support beyond the first academic year is a departmental responsibility. Every effort will be made to assist students in finding an advisor, but ultimately, each student is responsible for making appropriate arrangements. Only in exceptional circumstances, and with approval of the Program Director, will the Program continue financial support beyond one (1) year.

Faculty are urged to accept only one (1) student from each year's class. Mentors wishing to take more than two (2) thesis students from the Molecular Biology and Biological Chemistry Programs at the end of Spring semester should discuss their plans with the Program Directors.

A student may elect to join a thesis lab outside the Biological Chemistry Program. However, the Program cannot guarantee stipend support for students in labs outside the Bioscience PhD Programs. Additional coursework may be required.

The Program recommends each participating department maintain the current stipend amount, but departments may vary on other support, e.g., insurance benefits. Please consult the individual department and potential thesis advisor about support.

III. Following Years

After the first year, each student's training and graduate education will be conducted under the policies of the department of the thesis advisor. This requires satisfactory completion of the standard first year program, including any courses that have been deferred or that must be repeated. In addition, requirements of the graduate school must be met, including a cumulative grade point average above 3.0 and the writing and defending of a PhD Thesis.

Additional requirements for award of degree that are common to all departments include the following:

  1. A Preliminary Examination / Qualifying Examination / Advancement to Candidacy must be passed. The name, form and content of the exam may differ slightly from department to department. In general, the departmental exam will not be undertaken (and in no case shall be considered to have been passed) until the Biological Chemistry Program Core Curriculum including the Capstone examination has been satisfactorily completed. The departmental exam should be taken before the end of the second year.
  2. Upper-level graduate students are required to take a minimum totaling three half semesters (1 1/2 semesters) of additional graduate level courses. This could be a mix of didactic and journal clubs or discussion courses centered around primary literature. Please check the individual department requirements. Some non-graduate level courses may also be accepted.
  3. Each of the participating departments have weekly journal clubs and research-in-progress seminars and participation is considered a continuing and vital part of the students' graduate education.
  4. Graduate students admitted to the Biological Chemistry Program are required to obtain a minimum of one (1) full semester of teaching experience in their second or later years. Teaching opportunities include but are not limited to assisting instructors in graduate level courses, leading discussion sections in undergraduate lecture courses, supervising undergraduates in laboratory courses, and serving as a teaching assistant in local public schools. There is no teaching obligation in the first-year curriculum, thereby enabling students to concentrate on laboratory rotations and first-year academics.
  5. A student transferring from one department to another after the first year will be subject to the specific guidelines of their new department. There is no guarantee that a Preliminary Examination or Advancement to Candidacy in one department will be sufficient to satisfy another department’s requirements.

IV. Additional Information and Resources

The Graduate School Policies

The Biological Chemistry Program follows all policies of the Graduate School (

Guidelines for formal Leaves of Absence are detailed in Registration Policies. In general, a 1–2-week informal leave of absence can be arranged for a personal emergency or illness. Students considering a leave of absence should discuss in advance with their faculty advisor.

Student Diversity

It is the Biological Chemistry Program intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served in this Program, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that the diversity the students bring to this Program be viewed as a strength and resource for continued excellence. It is the intent of the Biological Chemistry Program to present materials and activities that are respectful of diversity: gender, sexuality, disability, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, and culture. Student suggestions relevant to equity, diversity, and inclusion are encouraged and appreciated. In addition, if students have any conflict with religious observances, please inform the faculty advisor and appropriate parties.

Non-Discrimination Statement

The University of Utah does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, status as a disabled individual, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, genetic information or protected veteran's status, in employment, treatment, admission, access to educational programs and activities, or other University benefits or services.

Americans with Disabilities Act Statement

The University of Utah seeks to provide equal access to its programs, services, and activities for people with disabilities. If students will need accommodations in classes, students must consult with and obtain accommodations from the Center for Disability Services, 162 Olpin Union Building, (801) 581-‐5020. Accommodations should be sought and obtained prior to the commencement of coursework. CDS will work with the student and instructor to make arrangements for accommodations.

Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination, and Related Retaliation

The University of Utah is committed to fostering a positive and welcoming learning, working, and living environment. Sexual Misconduct, Discrimination and Retaliation are prohibited by University Policy.

Title IX makes it clear that violence and harassment based on sex and gender (which includes sexual orientation and gender identity/expression) is a civil rights offense subject to the same kinds of accountability and the same kinds of support applied to offenses against other protected categories such as race, national origin, color, religion, age, status as a person with a disability, veteran’s status, or genetic information.

Faculty and staff, including the Biological Chemistry Programs have a responsibility to inform the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (OEO/AA) when made aware of incidents of sexual misconduct, discrimination, and related retaliation, to ensure that individuals impacted receive information about options for reporting and supportive resources. Incidents may come to the attention of faculty and staff in any way, including through face-to-face conversations, admissions or scholarship applications or essays, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. This obligation applies regardless of where or when an incident occurred, including if it occurred off campus and/or before they were a member of the campus community.

Students are encouraged to report any harassments or assaults to the Title IX Coordinator in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, 383 South University Street Level 1 OEO Suite, 801-581-8365, or the Office of the Dean of Students, 270 Union Building, 801-581-7066. For support and confidential consultation, contact the Center for Student Wellness, SSB 328, 801-581-7776. To report to the police, contact the Department of Public Safety, 801-585-2677(COPS).

Report Discrimination, Harassment or Sexual Misconduct 


The University of Utah values the safety of all campus community members. To report suspicious activity, call campus police at 801-585-COPS (801-585-2677). Students will receive important emergency alerts and safety messages regarding campus safety via text message. For more information regarding safety and to view available training resources, including helpful videos, visit 

If at any time, a student would like to be escorted by a security officer to or from areas on campus, please call Main Campus: 801-585-2677 | University Hospital: 801-581-2294

A detailed listing of University Resources for campus safety can be found at: 

Campus Alerts: 


Personal concerns such as stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties, depression, cross-cultural differences, etc., can interfere with a student’s ability to succeed and thrive at the University of Utah. For helpful resources contact the Center for Student Wellness at www.wellness.utah.eduor 801‐581‐7776.

If students are in crisis, call the crisis line at 800-273-8255; help is close. The University of Utah seeks to provide a safe and healthy experience for students, employees, and others who make use of campus facilities. In support of this goal, the University has established confidential resources and support services to assist students who may have been affected by harassment, abusive relationships, or sexual misconduct.

Wellness Center (

Counselors and advocates in these centers can help guide students to other resources to address a range of issues including substance abuse and addiction.

A detailed listing of University Resources for campus safety can be found at 

Last Updated: 1/10/24