PhD in Chemistry and Biochemistry

Frequently Asked Questions – PhD Program

What is Medicinal Biochemistry

Medicinal biochemistry is the study of biochemical processes related to human health and disease. Students in our program gain a solid foundation in basic chemistry and biochemistry principles, and in the application of these principles to medically related scientific research.

How does the Medicinal Biochemistry PhD program differ from a Chemistry or Biochemistry PhD program

The research projects pursued by our students are comparable to those at other research focused academic institutions that offer PhDs in Chemistry or Biochemistry. However, our program has the unique characteristic that all of our investigators are engaged in the development of new strategies for the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of diseases. Our program benefits from a collegial environment and common research theme, and our students regularly participate in projects that bridge multiple research areas. For example, when researchers in the Oberlies group identify new molecules with promising anticancer activity, they collaborate with the Croatt group to synthesize these compounds in sufficient quantities for biological evaluation. Similar collaborations exist among the other researchers in our department, and students that join our program have the unusual opportunity to acquire research expertise across multiple sub-disciplines, including chemical analysis, synthesis, molecular modeling, biological assays, and natural products isolation

How does the Medicinal Biochemistry PhD program differ from a Medicinal Chemistry PhD program?

The research projects and ultimate careers pursued by our graduates do not differ significantly from those of students who obtain degrees in Medicinal Chemistry programs. Pragmatically, however, there are some differences in our structure. Many Medicinal Chemistry PhD programs are housed in schools of pharmacy. Our Medicinal Biochemistry PhD program is housed in a Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Our research and coursework curriculum emphasizes basic chemistry training as it pertains to medicinally relevant research. We also have access to an undergraduate population of chemistry majors, which gives our graduate students the opportunity to participate in teaching undergraduate chemistry courses (as a source of training and assistantship support).

What are the areas of specialization for this PhD program? 

Our program offers a great deal of flexibility in specific area of specialization for our students, and specific research projects are chosen based on student interest, available funding, and likelihood to lead to high impact publications. Most of the research projects currently being pursued by our PhD students fit within the broad categories of Natural Products and Integrative Medicine Research, Synthetic Organic Chemistry, Biophysical Chemistry, Bioanalytical Chemistry, and Computational Chemistry. More details about possible research areas can be found on individual faculty web pages.

Can I specialize in one of the traditional areas of chemistry (synthetic organic, analytical, physical, biochemistry, inorganic, natural products) and get a PhD in Medicinal Biochemistry?

Yes. We have a number of specific areas of specialization for our PhD program, including Natural Products and Integrative Medicine, Synthetic Organic, Bioanalytical, and Computational. It is also possible to pursue a dissertation topic outside one of these specific areas, as long as it is tied to the medicinal chemistry theme.

How do I apply?

Applications are submitted directly to the UNCG graduate school. If you have general questions about your application, please contact our Graduate Director, Dr. Liam Duffy ( For specific questions about individual research groups, please feel free to contact any of our faculty members directly.

Can I visit the department?

We welcome visits from prospective students throughout the year, and will be glad to show you around our facility and introduce you to our students and faculty. If you are interested in arranging a visit, please contact our Director of Graduate Studies, Dr. Liam Duffy ( You may also wish to communicate directly with faculty members whose research interests you. Each year we also arrange an expenses-paid visit for the top applicants to our PhD program. Applicants who are selected for this visit will be directly contacted by the director of graduate studies in early February, after all applications have been reviewed.

How do I select a research advisor?

Students are accepted into the graduate program without assignment to a particular mentor, and select a research advisor within their first semester. Pairings between student and research advisor are made based on mutually agreed upon shared research interest and availability of space in the advisor’s laboratory. To learn about research opportunities in our department, students attend presentations by all prospective research advisors, and meet individually with advisors whose research is of particular interest.

What are the coursework requirements for completion of the degree program?

Our program requires a series of courses designed to supplement the mentored laboratory research aspects of the medicinal biochemistry PhD program. The majority of this coursework (with the exception of seminars, dissertation, and laboratory research credit) can be completed within the first 3-4 semesters of the program (1.5 – 2 years). Please see the following link for details on required coursework.

What are my career options with a PhD in Medicinal Biochemistry?

We offer individualized training and support to students in our program, helping them to select and prepare for careers that fit with their unique strengths and interests. Graduates from our program are employed in both the academic and private sectors, as teachers, researchers and facility managers. The stories here illustrate some examples of the diverse career paths that have been pursued by our graduates.