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Best Synthetic Biology Graduate Programs

Nov 21, 2019

This article provides a breakdown of some of the best graduate degree programs for synthetic biology. It also highlights some of the basic requirements for graduate degrees in this field.

Synthetic biology involves the engineering of biological components, such as genes, to create new products or treatments. With an advanced synthetic biology degree, you could find careers in the medical, pharmaceutical and health care fields as well as in renewable energy creation. Synthetic biology programs are rigorous, and applicants should be well versed in chemistry, genetics, biology and engineering principles. Read on to discover a few of the best graduate programs currently offering research centers and funding opportunities in synthetic biology.

Schools with Highly Regarded Synthetic Biology Programs

University of California, Berkeley

At the University of California, Berkeley you can study synthetic biology through a concentration in the Master of Engineering in Bioengineering program. In total, this degree requires you to complete 25 credits, a final exam and a capstone project. The program takes around one year to complete.

Most importantly, what makes this program stand out is the contribution of 39 million dollars from the National Science Foundation for the creation of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (also called the Synberc). The retention of this research center allows students to tap into resources which might not be available to them elsewhere.

Duke University

At Duke, the study of synthetic biology is offered through a concentration in synthetic and systems biology in the biomedical engineering master's degree programs. Within the program you can focus your path by choosing to earn a biomedical engineering Master of Science (BME MS) or a biomedical engineering Master of Engineering (BME MEng). Duke's MS degree requires a thesis or final project, while the MEng path focuses on application of the learned principles through an industry internship. Both degrees take about one and a half to two years to complete.

Students in these biomedical engineering programs can take advantage of research partnerships with Duke's medical school and compete for the Duke BME Startup Prize, which is designed for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Cornell University

A degree in synthetic biology at Cornell can be obtained through three different programs. The Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering (BEE) offers a Master of Engineering in Molecular Engineering (Synthetic Biology, Nucleic Acid, Health and Medicine) that is highly customizable and takes about a year to complete, requiring 24 credits and a final research project. This MEng program focuses on the use of synthetic biology to explore biological processes and how to use or manipulate these processes to create new biological systems.

In contrast, the Meining School of Biomedical Engineering offers a 30-credit MEng program with a systems and synthetic biology research focus. Compared to the BEE option, this program lends its focus to a wider variety of applications that involve engineering and synthetic biology as a whole. This school also offers a PhD in with a systems and synthetic biology research focus.

Finally, what sets Cornell apart is its customization factor. Cornell graduate students have the ability to attend classes for a short period of time at the commencement of their first semester to see what classes work best. After testing out some classes, they can make final selections for their course schedules.

Rice University

At Rice University, you can study synthetic biology through a concentration in the Master of Bioengineering program. This program requires 30 credit hours to complete, and you can choose between two different tracks. The applied bioengineering track allows students to develop their own curriculum, while the global medical innovation track is focused on engineering new medical technologies

The university also offers a PhD program in systems, synthetic and physical biology, which requires a minimum of 90 semester hours and can take three or more years to complete.

Most notably, Rice's closeness to the Texas Medical Center allows graduate students to work on research projects with both the medical center and its industry partners.

University of Wisconsin

At the University of Wisconsin, you can study synthetic biology through training programs run by faculty. However, you must choose a PhD program in which to pursue your study of synthetic biology. The university recommends choosing programs in such areas as biomedical engineering, genetics or microbiology.

What sets the University of Wisconsin apart is the plethora of grants and funding available for students interested in research projects. Due to outside funding, the school offers training grants to those in its graduate programs that can cover tuition and other costs.

PhD programs in the areas mentioned above can require a minimum of 60 credit hours of coursework, 30 of which fulfill the master's degree and 30 of which fulfill the PhD track requirements. As with most other PhD programs, a final dissertation is a required component.

General Synthetic Biology Program Admission Requirements

As a general rule, these programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field for admission. Each program also requires letters of recommendation from prior teachers or faculty members at your undergraduate school. Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are also generally expected by all of the schools mentioned above. Moreover, a statement of purpose is commonly asked for and should thoroughly explain your research interests and program goals. Finally, other tests or information that may be required include resumes and TOEFL scores, which is a test for international students that determines one's ability to complete the degree in the English language.

If you are interested in the growing field of synthetic biology, the schools discussed above are at the top of the list when it comes to master's degree and PhD programs. Through their ample research opportunities, a graduate program from any of these schools can prepare you for jobs in the medical and health care fields.

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