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Biochemistry Program Goals and Objectives

Biochemistry is the study of biological phenomena at the molecular level. Its aim is to understand the fundamental chemical principles that govern complex biological systems. The program is an interdepartmental major between biology and chemistry that emphasizes the importance of a solid foundation in the natural sciences, including mathematics and physics. The major focuses, however, on disciplines within biology and chemistry, ranging from cell biology and molecular biology to analytical chemistry and physical chemistry. The program seeks to graduate biochemists who are conversant in concepts ranging from biological evolution to quantum chemistry. Understanding the molecular logic of life and being able to participate in the acquisition of this knowledge is integral to the liberal education.Our required courses come from the existing offerings in biology and chemistry. We rely on the goodwill of both to fulfill these general education responsibilities. We also rely on those departmental courses to develop our students' cognitive and technical skills, skills that will make them scientifically literate and able to contribute to the discipline during their Vassar careers and after graduation. There is no introductory biochemistry offering; consequently, we do not see non-majors in our one capstone course. However, our majors do achieve scientifically literacy and leave Vassar ready to engage in advanced research in graduate and professional programs ranging from biochemistry to health policy, medicine, and law. Further, many of our students have contributed to society directly after graduation by joining the Peace Corps or the Teach for America program.The primary objectives of the major are 1) to give students a solid foundation in biology and chemistry; 2) to develop analytical and critical-thinking skills that allow independent exploration of biological phenomena through the scientific method); and 3) to introduce students to modern methods of biochemical experimentation within the disciplines of biology and chemistry.

To achieve these goals, the program has crafted a curriculum out of courses already offered in each participating department that cover the essential material in the disciplines identified above. These courses prepare students to participate in independent research. Depending on his/her background, a student can be required to complete as many as 18 units to satisfy the major. In their senior year, majors must conduct an independent research project or participate in a capstone laboratory experience, on which they then base a thesis. Later, students present and defend their work to biochemistry faculty. Each year, we evaluate the success of our program according to the quality of the work that majors present at the end of the capstone experience.

We also evaluate the program according to our students' success in obtaining post-graduate opportunities and external recognition. That success has been remarkable. In the last three years, biochemistry graduates have matriculated at the top national biochemistry programs, including those of Columbia, Stanford, and Yale. Our graduates have also gained admission to highly regarded medical and veterinary programs, such as those at Northwestern, UC-San Diego, and Cornell.