Info for Students and Course of Study

Information for Applicants

The Graduate Program in Biochemistry and Structural Biology is an interdepartmental graduate training program that stresses biochemical, structural, and computational approaches to solving complex biological problems.

Modern biochemistry encompasses a wide variety of molecular experimental methods. These include classical biochemical techniques ranging from organic synthesis to enzyme kinetics, modern proteomic and molecular biological techniques, cell biological techniques, such as advanced imaging with light and electron microscopes, and biophysical techniques such as fluorescence, Raman, infrared, circular dichroism, and absorption spectroscopy. Structural biology techniques include Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, X-ray crystallography, and computational biology. Stony Brook is recognized internationally in NMR for the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which is widely used in medicine. The high-resolution structures derived from these approaches represent the blueprints for understanding enzyme catalysis, cell signaling and transport, gene expression and regulation, and numerous other cellular processes. Advances in instrumentation and computational analysis have laid the groundwork for structure determination of proteins discovered through genome sequencing efforts, and have opened up structural studies of membrane proteins and large complexes of proteins and nucleic acids.

Generally, students applying to the BSB program have undergraduate majors in biochemistry, chemistry, biology, physics, or related areas, but students also come from other disciplines. The faculty has trained a number of graduate and postdoctoral students who are members of minority groups.

The program includes faculty members from a number of departments at Stony Brook University and from Brookhaven National Laboratory. Together with the Graduate Program in Molecular and Cell Biology, the Graduate Program in Biochemistry and Structural Biology broadly covers graduate research in the biochemical sciences at Stony Brook. Only candidates working toward the Ph.D. degree are admitted.

The BSB program was too new to be ranked in the 2010 National Research Council (NRC) survey, the most authoritative survey of graduate programs. However, the sister Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) program, which has many of the same faculty, was rated very highly. Only 17 out of 85 universities rated had programs with higher average R ratings, and only 6 universities had better rankings in the Northeast.

Course of Study

The First Year

Entering graduate students arrive on campus a week before classes begin in the fall to enroll in classes and attend orientation. During the first year at Stony Brook, graduate students take Graduate Biochemistry, Membrane Biochemistry, Structural Biology and Spectroscopy, and Computational Methods in Biochemistry and Structural Biology. One of the most important courses that the graduate students take during this period is the research oriented Experimental Biochemistry and Structural Biology, where students complete rotations in which they participate in ongoing research in the laboratories of three different faculty members. From these rotations, each graduate student will select a laboratory in which to conduct thesis research and fulfill the requirements for the Ph.D. degree.

The Second Year and Beyond

During the second year the graduate students generally complete their formal course requirements with two elective courses they find to be of most interest. A written qualifying examination is taken in January of the second year between the fall and spring semesters. During the second year, the student’s own research becomes the primary focus, since he or she will have chosen a laboratory and permanent advisor. Under the guidance of the faculty advisor, the student will write a formal research proposal, and choose an advisory committee that includes at least three additional faculty members. Students present their proposals to this advisory committee (and continue to meet with the advisory committee on a yearly basis to discuss their research progress toward the completion of their degree). The student advances to candidacy after satisfactory completion of the research proposal. The student then works virtually full-time on thesis research that culminates in the submission and defense of a written Ph.D. dissertation.

Departmental Seminars and Journal Clubs

Students attend weekly departmental seminars in biochemistry and structural biology. The seminars feature the current research of internationally recognized speakers from outside the University. In addition students attend a BSB journal club/student seminar series each spring.

Teaching

Graduate students are also required to complete two semesters as teaching assistants. This experience provides an opportunity to develop crucial presentation skills and refine teaching techniques that students will need in their future careers.

Facilities

The biological sciences complex at Stony Brook is formed by three adjacent facilities. The Life Sciences Building is a large, modern facility containing 110 research and teaching laboratories, as well as the offices for the Graduate Program in Biochemistry and Structural Biology. Connected to the Life Sciences Building via two skywalks is the Centers for Molecular Medicine, a state-of-the-art research facility that houses interdepartmental programs in structural biology, infectious diseases, developmental genetics, and neurobiology. Several members of the program are located in the adjacent Health Sciences Center, a modern, high-rise complex that houses a large research facility and the University Hospital.

State-of-the-art facilities are available for biochemistry and structural biology. The Center for Structural Biology has several high-field NMR instruments and facilities for X-ray crystallography. With close ties to the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Stony Brook students can take advantage of the high-energy beam lines for diffraction studies. The center also has a large computational core facility, with several multiprocessor computers for structure refinement and analysis, and numerous molecular graphics workstations. Throughout the program, there is state-of-the-art equipment for protein purification and analysis, including Raman, infrared, fluorescence, and circular dichroism spectrophotometers and mass spectrometers. Mass spectroscopy and peptide synthesis are also carried out in the Proteomics Center. The biological sciences complex also has tissue-culture facilities and a centralized Drosophila facility. These facilities are supported by a wide range of instrumentation for cell and molecular biology, including transmission and scanning electron microscopes, confocal microscopes, and phosphorimagers. For more details, see “Research Facilities

 


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