Biochemistry arose from the fields of biology and chemistry to investigate biological molecules and understand how their interactions result in living systems. In today's society, understanding in this discipline is essential for informed, critical thinking about many significant issues in science, health and public policy. Biochemistry is an ideal interdisciplinary major for students who want to get a broad scientific foundation, pursue a career in biochemistry or enter the health professions. Smith's biochemistry program has been awarded full acreditation by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)—one of approximately 60 colleges and universities in the country to receive this accreditation, and the only biochemistry program in the Five Colleges to have this distinction.
Student Research Leads to Success
Biochemistry lab partners Emily Morris ’19 and Maggie Pacheco ’19 have been working on research studying the effect of diet and aging on muscle physiology. Read the Gate article.
Biochemistry Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary!
Congratulations to the biochemistry department on its 60th anniversary, which the department celebrated in late November with a roundtable discussion with alumnae and a keynote address by Erin O’Shea ’88.
All graduating biochemistry majors should be able to:
- Summarize, explain and critically evaluate published scientific literature. This includes being able to identify the “big picture” ideas, what was known in the field prior to the work being described, and what new information the experiments contribute to the field.
- Write and orally present biochemical content clearly.
- Interpret and analyze data, employing rigorous quantitative skills when necessary.
- Describe the process of scientific research. Be able to recognize and implement critical elements of experimental design (such as proper control experiments), recognize what conclusions can (and cannot) be reasonably be drawn from a given set of experimental results, and understand how to conduct research responsibly.
- Locate and use valid, peer-reviewed sources when doing research.
- Demonstrate a command of essential biochemistry content including knowledge of:
- The structure and function of proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids
- Enzyme kinetics and inhibition
- Metabolic pathways, including their chemical reactions, regulation and energetic driving forces
- Replication, transcription, translation, gene expression and DNA repair mechanisms
- The different levels of biological organization from single cells to whole organisms
- How to carry out and explain the basis of important biochemical techniques
Because biochemistry builds on the fundamentals of both biology and chemistry, students who major in biochemistry begin by taking introductory courses in both of these fields. Biochemistry follows in either your second or third year, along with additional courses in cell biology, physiology, molecular biology and physical chemistry. More specialized courses can be selected according to students' individual interests.
- BIO 132/133 Cells, Physiology and Development*
- BIO 202/203 Cell Biology
- BIO 230/231 Genomes and Genetic Analysis
*Exemption from BIO 132/133 may be obtained if you received advanced placement on your Smith College transcript for biology (e.g. AP, International Baccalaureate, A levels).
- CHM 111 Chemistry I: General Chemistry*
- CHM 222 Chemistry II: Organic Chemistry
- CHM 223 Chemistry III: Organic Chemistry
- CHM 224 (Chemistry IV: Introduction to Inorganic and Physical Chemistry)
Note: An equivalent sequence would be CHM 118 (Advanced General Chemistry), CHM 222 (Chemistry II: Organic Chemistry) and CHM 223 (Chemistry III: Organic Chemistry)
*If you received advanced placement on your Smith College transcript for chemistry, you are strongly encouraged to start the introductory chemistry courses with CHM 118.
- BCH 252/253
- BCH 352/353
- BCH 335 or CHM 332
- BIO 200/201 Animal Physiology
- BIO 204/205 Microbiology
- BIO 206/207 Plant Physiology
- BCH 380 Seminar: Topics in Biochemistry
- BCH 390 Biochemical Research Using Advanced Techniques
- BIO 306 Immunology
- BIO 310 Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- BIO 322 Topics in Cell Biology
- BIO 332 Molecular Biology of Eukaryotes
- CHM 328 Bioorganic Chemistry
- CHM 338 Bio-NMR Spectroscopy and Imaging
- CHM 357 Selected Topics in Biochemistry
- CHM 369 Bioinorganic Chemistry
The S/U grading option is not allowed for courses counting toward the biochemistry major.
You are advised to complete all the following foundational courses before your junior year: BIO 132/133, 202/203, CHM 111, 222, 223, and 224 or 118, 222, and 223, BCH 252/253.
Majors are encouraged to include research in the form of a special studies (BCH 400, 400D) or honors project (BCH 430D, 432D) in their course of study.
Because the biochemistry major requires a sequence of courses with various prerequisites, it is recommended that you start the introductory chemistry sequence your first semester. Entering students are encouraged to see one of the biochemistry advisers with any questions they have about the major. You are encouraged to attend the Presentation of the Major, scheduled in the fall, where you can meet current majors and the biochemistry faculty.
There are many ways to complete the major. All majors are strongly encouraged to complete the following foundation courses in the first two years:
|FIRST YEAR||SECOND YEAR|
|CHM 111 or CHM 118||CHM 222||CHM 223||CHM 224|
|BIO 132/133 (or in spring)||BIO 132/133 (or in fall)||BIO 202/203||BCH 252/253|
How you complete the remaining requirements depends on your individual goals. Discuss with a biochemistry adviser the best pathway to choose if you are interested in studying abroad, planning graduate study or planning to fulfill prehealth requirements.
Biochemistry majors frequently spend either a year or semester abroad. Consult early with your academic adviser to plan ahead for this experience.
If you are considering study abroad, be sure to contact advisers in the Office for International Study to review additional details and credit requirements.
The biochemistry major offers a strong academic and experimental background for entrance into graduate school. The major will prepare students to enter molecular and cellular biology graduate programs. Students interested in graduate programs in biological chemistry will find it also advantageous to choose the biochemistry major. Students planning graduate study in biochemistry or molecular biology are advised to include a year of calculus and a year of physics in their program of study. Independent research is also highly recommended in preparation for graduate school.
The biochemistry major includes several of the requirements for entrance into the health professions, including two years of chemistry and one year of biology. The biochemistry course is also a requirement for several health professions (veterinary medicine and pharmacology) and is strongly recommended by the majority of medical schools. The microbiology course is required by nursing and veterinary medicine programs.
Director: David Bickar
You can choose to complete an honors thesis during your senior year. An honors student receives 8 to 12 credits for completing a substantial research project in the laboratory of a faculty member.
You will write a thesis and are required to give a formal oral presentation of your honors research. In addition, you will present and discuss your thesis in a closed meeting with the program faculty. This oral examination includes a short presentation on the project, followed by a discussion of your thesis and related material with the biochemistry faculty.
In order to enter the honors program, you must have a GPA of 3.3 in the major and GPA of 3.0 outside of the major. You may apply no earlier than the end of your second semester junior year and no later than the beginning of the first semester of your senior year. Application guideline and forms are available on the class dean's website and should be submitted to the biochemistry honors director for approval by the program committee.
The final honors designation (highest honors, high honors, honors, pass or fail) will be based upon evaluation of the written thesis (50 percent), honors examination (20 percent) and the GPA in the major (30 percent).
Preparing for a career in the health professions allows you to pursue a liberal arts education—majoring in any area of study—while also taking a subset of important courses.
Health profession schools (e.g., schools of human and veterinary medicine, dentistry, optometry, nursing and public health) are interested in the overall quality and scope of your undergraduate work. All health profession schools require certain undergraduate courses, which can be taken within a liberal arts program.
The biochemistry major includes several of the requirements for entrance into the health professions including basic chemistry and biology courses. The biochemistry course is also a requirement for certain health professions (veterinary medicine) and is strongly recommended by the majority of medical schools. The microbiology course is required by nursing and veterinary medicine programs.
For more information visit the prehealth website.
Schools of human, veterinary medicine and dentistry all require two semesters each of:
- biology (and labs)
- general chemistry (and labs)
- organic chemistry (and labs)
- physics (and labs)
Some of these schools also require or recommend additional courses in:
- mathematics (statistics and calculus)
- a foreign language
- social sciences
- public speaking
*Nursing schools and schools of public health do not require all of the laboratory courses listed above. Instead, they require statistics, some laboratory courses and specific social science courses.
Preparing for a career in a health profession varies from individual to individual, so we urge you to make use of the many resources available, including your premajor or major adviser, members of the Board of Prehealth Advisers and the staff at the Lazarus Center for Career Development.
The board hosts regular lunchbag seminars focused on a variety of prehealth and health professions topics.
We are an energetic community dedicated to the promotion and advancement of biochemical and molecular biology education. You will find in the program a diverse number of curricular offerings ranging from proteomics and genomics to enzymology, pharmacology and bioinformatics.
Smith College Catalog
Smith's online course catalog includes course listings (description, instructor and offered terms), department data, information on majors and minors, honors programs and cross-listed and interdepartmental courses. A search function allows you to find courses by course number, department, keywords in the title, term offered, number of credits, fields of knowledge and professor.
Five College Course Guide
The Five College consortium increases your choices. Four liberal arts colleges—Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and Mount Holyoke—along with the University of Massachusetts, offer joint courses of study as well as certificate programs in interdisciplinary fields. Courses are available at no extra cost to Smith students.
You can receive academic credit by completing a special studies with a biochemistry faculty member or a biochemistry-related project with a faculty member outside the program (subject to approval).
Students who elect to do special studies can receive from one to five hours of course credit in a given semester for completion of an independent research project that is performed in a faculty member's lab. Culmination of the research is marked by a written report, usually in the form of a manuscript draft, a laboratory report or as a scientific poster. For some students, their research has formed the basis of a publication in a peer-reviewed journal or has been presented at a national meeting. Contact a faculty member directly to specifically discuss the opportunities.
The faculty in biochemistry offer research opportunities in their specific fields of interest. To learn about the research interests of our faculty, read each professor's bio and contact them directly for more information about current opportunities. Check out a sample of theses/dissertations done by students in the biochemistry program at ScholarsWorks.
Student involvement in independent research is a critically important component of undergraduate education at Smith College. Independent research allows students to develop and investigate a defined hypothesis. In doing this, our biochemistry majors truly learn about how science is completed—from experimental design to troubleshooting to writing and critical review of their research. Through these experiences, our students gain valuable skills that help them in their careers beyond Smith College, either for entrance into graduate or professional schools or in acquiring their first entry-level position.
The faculty in biochemistry offer research opportunities in their specific fields of interest. To learn about the research interests of our faculty, read about each professor's research in their personal faculty pages (above) and contact them directly for more information about current opportunities.
AEMES & STRIDE Programs
The AEMES (Achieving Excellence in Mathematics, Engineering and Science) program serves students interested in biochemistry and other STEM areas to promote the success of students from social groups historically underrepresented in those fields. Core components of AEMES programs include research with a member of the STEM faculty, enrollment in a seminar that enhances skills for achieving academic goals, participation in a Peer Mentoring Program, leadership opportunities and community building.
Smith's STRIDE program focuses on the finest incoming first-year students and offers scholarships that include a paid research position with a STEM faculty member. Biochemistry faculty participate in both the AEMES and STRIDE programs.
Special Studies & Honors
Students can receive academic credit by completing a special studies or honors research project with a biochemistry faculty member or a biochemistry-related project with a faculty member outside the program (subject to approval).
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program (Smith SURF)
The Smith SURF program sponsors approximately 100–120 students each summer to complete a 10-week, full-time research paid project in the labs of science faculty. Attend departmental lunchbags to learn about the various research projects and get a chance to talk to the members of the program. These research opportunities are often continued during the school year for academic credit.
Research and Teaching Assistants
Opportunities for paid positions as a research or teaching assistant are sometimes offered by faculty in biochemistry. Contact each faculty member directly or check JobX for postings.
Interterm Science Teaching Internship
Biochemistry and other life science majors can be involved in the Interterm Science Teaching Internship to experience teaching in a high school classroom. In this program, Smith students teach a laboratory on the molecular genetics of taste perception to ninth-grade biology students at the nearby Northampton High School. The interns teach the students at the high school for the first two days of the experiment, then host the NHS students at Smith, where they complete the experiment and tour the college's life science centers: the Center for Molecular Biology (CMB), the Center for Microscopy (CMI) and the Center for Proteomics (CFP). This internship is a great opportunity for Smith undergraduates to explore teaching and see if it might be a future career for them. More information is available on the Center for Molecular Biology website.
Symposia & Scientific Meetings
Biochemistry students present their projects at the campus-wide, daylong event Celebrating Collaborations: Students and Faculty Working Together, where the entire Smith College community of undergraduate researchers presents their independent work. Students present their research in a poster format identical to that at national scientific meetings.
National and Regional Scientific Meetings
In addition to on-campus events, research students frequently attend regional and local scientific meetings with their faculty advisers at which they present their work through talks or poster presentations. In recent years, students in the life sciences have presented their research at the national meetings for the American Society for Microbiology; American Chemical Society; American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; American Society for Cell Biology, Society for Neuroscience; American Association for the Advancement of Science; American Physiological Society; and the Keystone Symposium on Molecular and Cellular Biology, among others.
Center for Molecular Biology
The Center for Molecular Biology (CMB) has state-of-the-art molecular biology instrumentation and provides first-class support for molecular biology research, training and education of all interested faculty, staff and students at Smith College, and supports educational outreach in local schools.
Center for Proteomics
The Center for Proteomics (CFP) provides educational workshops and seminars on various topics in proteomics, bioinformatics and biological mass spectrometry with a focus on the state-of-the-art high-performance, tandem mass spectrometry and two-dimensional gel electrophoresis instrumentation.
Center for Microscopy and Imaging
The Center for Microscopy and Imaging (CMI) maintains and provides access to multiple light and electron microscopes. They provide training and access and offer consul on experimental design, data acquisition and data analysis.
Smith College Resources
Online journals, publications and search engines
Smith Science Center Safety Handbook & Environmental Health and Safety Office
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Resources
American Chemical Society resources
Search for, or compare sequences of, proteins or DNA for similarity
Database of enzymes, searchable by name, number, function, co-factors, etc.
Find enzymatic pathways by enzymes or metabolites
A great collection of tools for protein modelling and sequence/structure analysis
Source to download free protein structure display and manipulation software
ExPASy Swiss-Prot and TreMBL
One of the best databases of protein sequence/structural analysis
Entrez Protein Query
Search protein sequence and structure databases
National Center for Biochemical Information
A collection of useful links
Programs to align and compare multiple protein sequences (excellent), predict secondary structure (no worse than any other), and other useful functions
The collection of protein structures
A powerful, yet easy-to-use molecular visualization program.
Search engine for Medline literature database