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Biochemistry & Biophysics

Program Website
Image of liver microvasculature stained for hepatocytes (green), platelets (blue), and P-selectin (red). P-selectin is an adhesion receptor that is translocated to the platelet surface and can assist in recruiting leukocytes. Image courtesy of Wolfgang Bergmeier’s lab.
Director of Graduate Studies: Wolfgang Bergmeier, PhD
Director of Biophysics Program: Brian Kuhlman, PhD
Student Services Specialist: Holly Shephard

Program Overview

Welcome to the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The primary mission of any academic department is education. Here PhD students and post-doctoral fellows train in more than 40 different laboratories engaged in cutting-edge biomedical research. Training in research comes at a time of tremendous change, as new tools are uncovering the molecular causes of human disease, revealing new drug targets, and fostering the development of innovative new therapies. With a PhD degree in Biochemistry & Biophysics, the next generation of scientists will be well equipped to solve some the most vexing and complex health problems of the day.


The curriculum is designed to emphasize basic skills and principles, and yet be sufficiently flexible to allow students to focus on different research areas. Students in the Biochemistry track currently take BIOC 701 – Research Topics in Biochemistry, a course that is linked to the Department’s extramural Seminar series. Likewise, students in the Biophysics track participate in BIOC 704 -Seminars in Biophysics, where they attend the Biophysics Seminars as part of the course. Through presentation and discussion of the upcoming speakers’ publications in both seminar courses, students are not only better prepared for talks given by outside speakers, but are also better equipped to give their own departmental research presentations. Another required course, Biochemistry 712, is designed to help students with the art of grant writing, and specifically preparation of the grant-style qualifying examinations.


Our Department believes that teaching is an invaluable part of graduate education, as well as a benefit to the University. Hence, Ph.D. students are asked to serve as assistants in one semester of a course. These are typically courses for professional students in the Schools of Dentistry, Nursing, or Medicine. Most students satisfy their teaching requirements during their first year of study.


The comprehensive written exam is an open-book exam to test your knowledge, comprehension, and analytical ability. Passing is required to remain in the program. It is suggested that students take the written comprehensive exam in their second year. Several weeks prior to the exam, relevant reading materials are provided to students by the faculty exam committee. The combination of these readings plus the core course requirements is sufficient to prepare students to succeed in the exam requirements for their chosen track (Biochemistry or Biophysics). Students typically have one week to complete the exam.

Oral Exam

The oral component of the exam should be taken before the end of the second academic year. Students are expected to submit a 6 page written proposal in the form of a NIH fellowship application to their thesis committee describing their dissertation research project, and defend this proposal after an oral presentation. Additional details on this process can be found here.