Biochemistry Ph.D. approved

As demand for a biochemistry degree offered at SDSU grew, a proposal was ultimately formed and presented on Oct. 9 to the South Dakota Board of Regents. Leading the nation in the biosciences creation of jobs, a call of action was finally taken to prepare SDSU biochemistry undergraduate students and address the ongoing pitfall they faced after graduation.

The school now offers a Ph.D. degree, not just a pathway, for its biochemistry majors. With the addition of new courses, the new doctoral degree is expected to attract students by next year, as well as new faculty. 

“Adding a Ph.D. in biochemistry will strengthen the university’s ability to attract the best faculty, and talented students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Head of the Chemistry Department and Biochemistry James Rice. “It will enhance the quality and scope of teaching and expand the breadth, depth and economic impact of the institution’s research.”

The degree was added in order to attract more undergraduate students to the schools program, as well as keep graduates here for a doctoral degree. As a result of this transformation of the department, it will make SDSU competition for any other school worldwide that also offers a Ph.D. in biochemistry. 

“Students who came to SDSU previously for doctoral studies earned a Ph.D. in chemistry with an emphasis area, biochemistry among them. Now that we have the ability to offer a biochemistry doctoral degree, our ability to recruit graduate students and other research scientists is strengthened,” said Associate Professor and Assistant Department Head David Cartrette. “Altogether the new Ph.D. program will be of great benefit to students at all educational levels, and will promote unprecedented growth in research and education within our department.”

The degree was added after an eight-year period consisting of only a biochemistry pathway. The BOR recognized a need for a biochemistry Ph.D. in the state, and, for economic development, made an effort to meet the growing biochemistry’s foretold growth. 

“I suspect that SDSU’s request for the new Ph.D. in biochemistry was granted so that we could begin advertising and recruiting as soon as possible,” Cartrette said.

This opportunity for South Dakota also means opportunities for its students. Many new research firms and bioscience companies have “established a presence” in the state, including: Hermatech, Monsanto, Alphagenix, Chronix BioMedial, OmegaQuant, Permara, and pharmaCline. These new companies correlate to the predicted increase in biochemistry job professions, and a degree offered here in the state makes it that much easier for the state’s residents to fill these job needs. 

“Providing well-trained graduates is critical to the companies and strong university research infrastructure will also strengthen the ability of the state to grow the targeted bioscience economic development sectors,” Rice said. “Both Sanford Research and the Avera Research Institute are increasing their research efforts.”

With most of the program already existing at SDSU, only a small number of classes must be added to the curriculum in order to convert it into a doctoral program. 

“We anticipate adding a few classes to our graduate course offerings to highlight the strengths of the research faculty in biochemistry. The specific number of courses added will depend largely on whether new faculty members are hired to support the anticipated growth in the Biochemistry program,” Cartrette said. 

The three existing biochemists that the department has are Chakravarty, Hoppe, and Robinson: each, reportedly, having “room in their respective laboratories.” 

“The department will eventually need new biochemistry faculty members and additional laboratory space for them, in order to keep pace with the anticipated growth the new Ph.D. will bring,” Cartrette said. 

The department expects to receive as much as a dozen graduate students next year in the class of Fall 2014, and plans on advertising with a main focus on recruiting students into the new doctoral program.