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Why Biochemistry is in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)

Two students working in a lab

In the Fall of 2020, the Biochemistry majors from both the College of Science (BIOC) and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (BCHM) will be consolidated into a single college at Virginia Tech. 

We feel all majors will be better served by being a part of a single unit on campus, housed within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).  For over 50 years, the Department of Biochemistry has been educating students in two colleges, however, during the last decade the curricula, coursework, advising, and mentoring programs have merged into one identical experience for students.

Why is Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

Moving forward we will continue to offer a single Biochemistry major within CALS. We do not expect anything in the student experience will change, including, importantly, future opportunities for our graduates. For students who might wonder how this impacts their degree, the following facts might be helpful:

  • We believe that CALS can better serve our majors, especially as they become members of one community, instead of two.
  • CALS has more students who get accepted to Med Schools than any other College at VT.
  • We are not aligned exclusively subject-wise with Agriculture; our faculty and students study many different organisms, pathways, molecules, diseases, etc.
  • VT diplomas do not list colleges, they contain your degree ( a B.S. in Biochemistry)
  • Graduate, medical, professional schools and employers do not care or usually even notice which college your degree is from. Many of our alumni do not realize which college they graduated from, but they know they are a biochemist!
  • Current BIOC students can choose to remain and graduate as BIOC students, or they can switch to the BCHM major. As there are no curricular differences, switching will not affect time to degree.

History of the Department of Biochemistry

Biochemistry explores the details of the molecular processes underpinning all life. Consequently, a degree in biochemistry prepares you to contribute to a variety of life science and engineering disciplines including human or veterinary medicine, pharmacy, agriculture and sustainability, metabolic engineering, and synthetic biology. At Virginia Tech, we are proud to be a land-grant university like our counterparts in other states, including Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, University of Florida, Texas A&M University, Cornell University, and others. Biochemistry is usually found in the College of Agriculture at land-grants as the field of biochemistry grew out of research on agricultural problems. In our case, the first department head of Biochemistry at Virginia Tech, Charlie Engel, was hired in 1952 to bring analytical and biochemical research and expertise to significant animal nutrition issues. This predates the formation of the College of Arts and Sciences (1963) and the subsequent College of Science (2003) at Virginia Tech.

In universities with medical schools, biochemistry is almost always a part of the College of Medicine, since it is a key part of the basic medical science curricula that all first-year medical students take. It is rare for an independent department of biochemistry to be housed in the College of Science in any university. Instead, a "division" of biochemistry is often part of a larger chemistry or biology department rather than an independent department. The subject matter, no matter where the department is located, is the same: humans, animals, plants, and microbes share the majority of their biochemical pathways, and a well-educated biochemist is prepared to deal with research in any life science field. In fact, most faculty in biochemistry have research collaborations with engineers, biologists, ecologists, and other types of scientists to solve complex problems.

At Virginia Tech, we are fortunate to have a stand-alone Department of Biochemistry that offers students a chance to earn a certified Bachelor of Science degree from our professional society, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Our program has been ranked as the fourth top land-grant BS in biochemistry program by College Factual. In 2020, we are celebrating 50 years of graduating students with a BS in biochemistry, and we look forward to continuing to engage the best and brightest students at Virginia Tech.

What is the benefit of being in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

Our students benefit from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ strong tradition of faculty and staff working closely with students to help them succeed. CALS was instrumental in hiring the first academic advisors with advanced degrees on campus to enhance student success. Our college has one of the highest rates of scholarship funding to students, for which our students are very competitive.

In addition, CALS prepares more students who are accepted to medical school than any other college at Virginia Tech.

It is worthwhile to note that even though ​we are part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, no agricultural experience or interest in agriculture is necessary to succeed in our program, and no agricultural coursework is required for a degree in biochemistry.​​