Biochemistry/molecular biology is a scientific discipline under-going a revolution. Over the last two decades, our understanding of the molecular basis of life has grown at a breathtaking pace. We are unraveling how molecules like DNA and proteins determine how cells function, and how cells affect and control the function of whole organisms. The recent release of the entire human genome sequence has put an enormous database of information at our fingertips. What we will do with this data raises moral and ethical issues that will require thoughtful and well-informed discussion.
At Lewis & Clark College, the interdisciplinary Biochemistry/Molecular Biology Program provides a rigorous foundation of coursework in physics, chemistry, and biology. In addition, students complete work in mathematics to ensure that they develop the quantitative skills necessary to solve real-world problems. In keeping with the liberal arts tradition, we also prepare our students by discussing the ethical issues that emerge from this branch of science, such as questions about genetic engineering, cloning, and gene therapy.
But perhaps what we do best is engage students in the excitement of discovery by involving them, from their earliest years, in the process of doing science—posing hypotheses and designing experiments to test them. This commitment to “teaching what we do” extends into our upperclass courses as well, where the molecular biology lab and the biochemistry lab form a one-year, projects-based lab experience for juniors. As seniors, many biochemistry students pursue collaborative research projects with faculty members. Senior research has been one of our most powerful teaching tools, enabling students to receive one-on-one mentoring in the practice of the discipline and in the process of data analysis and experimental design. Our students often attend professional meetings to present their results, or publish with faculty in professional journals.
A biochemistry/molecular chemistry major can serve as a foundation for a variety of careers. Students who plan to do research and teach at the college or university level enter PhD programs in such areas as biophysics, biochemistry, and cell and molecular biology. Others choose careers in medicine, veterinary work, dentistry, or other health-related fields after further study at the appropriate professional schools. Still others use their undergraduate biochemistry degrees to find jobs in biotechnology, food science, pharmaceuticals, or to pursue opportunities with nonprofit research organizations or government agencies. Whether they continue in science or not, students have found the biochemistry major to be an excellent pathway for developing critical thinking skills, as well as oral and written communication skills.
Biochemistry/molecular biology is a rigorous and quantitative science. Lewis & Clark faculty recommend that students considering the major take at least three years of high school science courses, including chemistry and physics, and four years of mathematics, at least through the level of precalculus.