Overview of Chemical Biology Programs
Chemical biology is an emerging field based on recent, rapid growth in biotechnology and biomedicine. Bachelor's degree programs in chemical biology focus on understanding topics within biology by employing chemical analysis methods and quantitative tools. You will gain a strong knowledge base in both chemistry and biology to prepare you for a career as a chemical researcher or developer. This article discusses the admission requirements and typical coursework for these programs, as well as guidance on choosing the right program and some career options to explore.
Admission Requirements for Chemical Biology Programs
Chemical biology programs tend to be offered by technological universities or top-tier liberal arts schools. They can therefore be competitive, and seek out students with excellent high school academic standing. It may be required or recommended that you have completed basic chemistry, biology, physics and math prerequisites before applying to a chemical biology program. As part of the admissions process, some schools may ask for just general SAT or ACT scores and some may further request SAT subject test scores. You should also be prepared to convince the admissions committee of your interest in chemical biology, either through an interview or essay.
Chemical Biology Coursework
Chemical biology programs are a blend of advanced topics in biology and chemistry based in both the classroom and laboratory. Some courses you can expect to take are described below.
Quantitative Analytical Chemistry
This course introduces the different analytical methods of chemistry, such as electrochemical, spectrometric and chromatographic. It is a traditional chemistry course, but within a chemical biology program it may also cover some advanced bioanalytical topics like the use of assays and enzyme sensors. Finally, this course is also concerned with the statistical analysis of the data produced using these methods.
The difference between chemical biology and biochemistry is subtle. While the purpose of chemical biology programs as a whole is to seek solutions to functions of biological systems using the tools of chemistry, biochemistry is the study of the chemistry of biological molecules. These molecules include lipids, proteins, nucleic acids and carbohydrates. This course and its accompanying laboratory course look at how to isolate and characterize these molecules.
Cell and Molecular Biology
Cell and molecular biology is an advanced biology course that serves to build your knowledge base in the biological sciences. You will learn about the structure and function of cells and cell organelles. A wide variety of topics are covered, including enzymatic processes, cell motility, synthesis of proteins and other structures, and membrane transport. In lab you may practice techniques to visualize or manipulate biological processes.
Principles of Physical Chemistry
After completing a number of general and organic chemistry courses in the first two years of the program, you will progress to more advanced chemical subjects like physical chemistry. Physical chemistry is the study of the physics of chemical substances. In this course you will learn about electron behavior, chemical bonding, thermodynamics and kinetics.
Special Topics Seminar in Chemical Biology
The biotechnology and biomedical industries are rapidly advancing, and it can be difficult to keep up with the advances. This course is designed as a lecture or seminar series to discuss topics of current interest in the field. It might also serve as a way for students to help develop themselves professionally, by learning how to present research, network or search for opportunities outside of the classroom.
How to Choose a Chemical Biology Program
There are a couple of factors to consider when deciding on a chemical biology program. One is the primary career path for which each program prepares its students. Some are focused on training students for a career in research, others to apply to professional programs like medical school. You should also look into the capstone or independent research requirements of each program, and, if rigorous, be sure there are opportunities available that interest you. For example, if you will be required to complete an off-campus internship, research which companies exist in the area and whether their work matches your career goals.
Career Options for a Degree in Chemical Biology
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for biochemists and biophysicists working in research and development was $88,120 in May 2016. The projected job growth for all biochemists and biophysicists is faster than average at 11% between 2016 and 2026. While some may require more education, other careers you could consider with a chemical biology degree are listed below.