WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The biochemistry department at Purdue
University prepares students for careers in molecular biology, medicine and
other life sciences.
The department includes 120 students, making it one of the
smaller programs in the College of Agriculture. This provides a small academic
community within the context of a large university.
“We offer one major: biochemistry,” explained Joe Ogas,
biochemistry professor. “Partly what makes us unique is we’re a very basic
science. We’re a blend of biology and chemistry. We train our students to do a
variety of different things.
“Everything we do relates to life. We have people working on
biofuels, people working on plant regeneration, cancer — which is relevant to
any animal. So we work on a lot basic things that are going to be of direct
relevance to anyone.”
Students graduating from the program go to medical school,
graduate school or go directly into industry.
The department has strong relations with companies, such as
Dow AgroSciences. Students are encouraged to participate in at least one
Ogas is glad that the department is located in the College
“In land-grant institutions, all of the biochemistry
departments are in the College of Agriculture because that’s where there was
interest in biochemistry — related to agriculture,” he said. “It’s a natural
outgrowth of where it was being done. We’re very happy to be here.”
All undergraduates in the program are required to do
research, distinguishing the department from other programs across the country.
“You learn science by doing it, not by reading about it in a
book,” Ogas said. “(Research) creates a story that’s useful in interview
situations. No matter where they go, that research experience is a really strong
Coursework focuses on a mix of lectures, labs and
Although the focus is heavily on science, students also take
classes on communication, professional development and reading scientific
Professors, including Ogas, encourage students to
participate in clubs and study abroad programs during their time in college.
Coursework is designed to accommodate students who want to
spend a few weeks, or semester, abroad.
“We have a Biochemistry Club that’s really interested in
outreach and promoting science as an activity for elementary school kids,” Ogas
“We also have a huge presence in Bug Bowl. We get several
hundred students come to our exhibit. The club also brings in professionals from
different career paths so they can learn what it’s like to have that
Ogas described the atmosphere in the department as
supportive and community-based.
If a student likes chemistry and biology, and wants a small
community feeling with the opportunities of a big school, the biochemistry
department may be the place for them, he said.
“If they are coming from a smaller school and worried about
a big place, we do our best to make Purdue seem small,” he said.
“We’re a basic science department, but our goal is not that
our students end up doing basic science. Our goal is they understand basic
science and are successful at whatever they want to afterward. We’re happy to
help them reach their goals.”