Frequently Asked Questions

BSc Programs in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta

There are two undergraduate BSc programs in Biochemistry at the University of Alberta, an honors and a specialization program. Both programs are designed to provide students with a solid background in biology, chemistry, biochemical theory, application, research and technical expertise while also being flexible so that students can tailor courses to their own interests. The honors and specialization programs both provide excellent preparation for future careers in research, technology, education and professional studies but differ in terms of specific class requirements, expectations of course load, and grade point averages (GPA). These questions are designed to cover the basics of navigating through the programs; if you have further questions that are not covered here, please contact the Department of Biochemistry student advisors.

Do I have to do an honors or specialization degree if I want to get into a professional program like Medicine, Dentistry, or Pharmacy?
Not at all. Requirements for entry into professional programs vary from institution to institution but most do not require a specific degree. While a biochemistry degree can provide excellent preparation-and many of our students do enter into professional programs-many other programs also provide excellent preparation for entry into professional programs. In general, consult program entry requirements at the universities where you intend to apply to see what requirements they specify.
Do I have to do an honors or specialization degree if I want to get into Graduate Studies?
Not generally. Requirements vary from institution to institution and many students who hold different degrees will be eligible for enrolment in graduate studies programs, so it is best to check with the appropriate department or institution to see what their enrolment requirements are.
What courses do I have to take as part of my program?
Course requirements depend on which program you are following; the honors program requires more specific classes than the specialization program. Some of the largest differences are that honors students are required to take 5 400-level BIOCH lecture classes and complete a two-term research project (BIOCH 499) in their final year while specialization students only have to take 4 400-level BIOCH lecture classes and 3 credits in a research course (BIOCH 497, 498, 499). Most students are encouraged to take BIOCH 499 during their last year. Specific listings of course requirements can be found in the University of Alberta calendar or from your advisor. Changes sometimes occur in course requirements and eligible options so check with the advisors each year for any current or upcoming changes that might apply.
Do I have to take the courses in the exact order that they are outlined in the calendar?

You don't have to do the courses exactly as they are outlined; however, you should be careful to ensure you are getting all the required prerequisites in order to not delay your graduation. As an example, the calendar lists the following courses for first year honors as:

BIOL 107, CHEM 101, CHEM 102, CHEM 261, 2 ENGL 1XX (6 Units), PHYS 124, PHYS 126, MATH 113, MATH/STATS option (3 Units)

Some students may delay taking specific courses until their second year (or in Spring/Summer terms) and choose to take a science or arts option instead, possibly because they are interested in different programs or they want to ensure they are prepared for a class. CHEM 101, 102 and 261 are critical for the program, so they should be taken in first year, but some of the other courses are more flexible.

What does Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer mean in the university year?

The Fall term runs from September to December and Winter term from January to April. These two terms are typically most important for courses (honors and specialization students are expected to take a minimum of 8 regular courses (★24) in these two terms). The GPA calculation for continuing in the program is determined from the courses taken in these two terms.

Spring term is in May and June, while Summer session is in July and August. Spring and Summer terms are often used by students to catch up on missing classes or to take specialized courses that are not offered during the regular terms (some research courses and study abroad opportunities are only available in Spring and Summer terms).

What do units or the star (★) mean when talking about courses?
The star refers to the number of credits associated with a course. A three credit course is referred to as ★3, while a six credit course is ★6.
What are the different options I can take as part of the programs?

Overall, there are five different types of options: Science, Arts, Group A, Group B, and Approved options. Note, this does not apply to the programs beginning in Fall, 2024

Science options - students in the specialization program must take a minimum of 2 science options (6 units) while those in the honors program must take a minimum of 1 science option (3 units) in addition to the Group A and B options listed below..

Arts options - students in both the specialization and honors program must take a minimum of 4 arts options (12 units) in addition to the 6 units in English (ENGL) or writing (WRS) courses.

Group A options are science options that are restricted to courses that are 200-level or higher selected from chemistry (CHEM), physics (PHYS), mathematics (MATH), statistics (STAT), computing science (CMPUT) or from 400-level biochemistry classes (BIOCH 4XX, including BIOCH 482, BIOCH 497, BIOCH 498, BIOCH 499). Specialization students are required to take a minimum of one of these courses while honors students are required to take two.

Group B options are science options that are restricted to courses selected from either the Group A courses (above) or that are 200-level or higher from bioinformatics (BIOINF), cell biology (CELL), genetics (GENET), immunology and infection (IMIN), microbiology (MICRB), physiology (PHYSL), or pharmacology (PMCOL). Specialization students are required to take a minimum of one of these courses while honors students are required to take two.

Approved options are open options, and may come from Arts or Science (above) or from other faculties like Medicine and Dentistry or Agriculture, Life and Environmental Sciences (ALES). Specialization students can take nine (27 units) approved options while honors students can take four (12 units) approved options.

It should be noted that while the Group A and B science options must be 200 level or higher (not junior-level courses), Science, Arts and Approved options may 100-level. There is a limit of 14 100-level courses (42 units) overall in any BSc program. Since required courses in the program include 9 100-level classes, that leaves only 5 1XX-level classes available as options (or 4 if CHEM 164 is taken in place of CHEM 261). Any extra courses over 14 that are junior-level will not be included in the 120 units required to graduate from the program (and are referred to as "extra to degree").

How many credits are there in a degree and how long will it take to complete?
An undergraduate degree program consists of 120 units of credit, usually designed to be completed in 4 years with 30 units of credit in each year (10 courses, each 3 units, is generally considered a full course load).
What happens if I don't meet the GPA requirements for the program?
GPA calculations are done on the basis of all courses taken in the Fall and Winter terms, courses taken in Spring and Summer terms are not included. The honors program requires a 3.0 GPA overall while the specialization program requires a 2.7 GPA overall. The Faculty of Science reviews transcripts after Winter term final grades are posted, if you do not meet the GPA requirements for your program you will be sent a letter indicating that you may not continue in the program. This letter will list your options, which might include transferring to a new program where you do meet the requirements or appealing the decision. Make sure you read this letter carefully if you receive it, if you have questions about your options then you can speak to a program advisor or to the Faculty of Science office.
What kind of research can I do in a biochemistry degree program?
There are numerous opportunities to gain real, practical research experience during an undergraduate degree. The first few years include many courses with laboratory components and in the third year of a biochemistry degree the Biochemistry Laboratory course (BIOCH 401) is an extensive introduction to biochemical techniques.
Other specific opportunities (listed below) offer experiences doing research in established labs.
BIOCH 299 is offered during Fall and Winter terms and is designed to give introductory research experience for students in their second year. BIOCH 299 is not graded and is designed to be undertaken in addition to a full course load.
BIOCH 398 is offered during Spring and Summer sessions and is designed to give introductory research experience for students who have completed at least one 300-level biochemistry class. The projects in these courses are designed to be completed during the shorter (5-6 week) terms.
BIOCH 497 is a research abroad course. Students who have completed BIOCH 401 are eligible to take this course, which runs in both Spring and Summer terms and involves working in labs in Europe. This course has been expanded to include Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden and Spain.
BIOCH 498 and 499 are both directed-research projects that are carried out in labs that perform biochemical research at the University of Alberta and they are available to senior students who have completed BIOCH 401. BIOCH 498 is a one term course (3 units) while BIOCH 499 is a two term course (6 units). BIOCH 499 is required for all honors students, but taking at least one of these courses is recommended for specialization students.
An embedded research certificate exists for students who have met certain requirements in their program, as it is designed to be completed during the program it does not extend the length of the program but it does require specific research-based options be taken as part of the program. Consult with the advisors if you have questions about this certificate.
Can I get paid to do research?

Many students receive summer studentships in order to carry out research in laboratories during the months of May through August. Students interested in seeking out summer studentships should consult with listings that are posted in November. Studentship applications are usually submitted in January so it is helpful to seek out potential lab positions in November.

Students enrolled in Faculty of Science programs are also eligible to participate in the Student Internship Program which adds from 4 to 16 months of paid work into the program between third and fourth years.

Are there any student groups for Biochemistry?
The Biochemistry Students Association (BCSA) is an active group that is run by undergraduate students in the biochemistry programs and is open to any students taking biochemistry classes at the University of Alberta. They can be contacted by email at and also on Facebook (as Biochemistry Students' Association)
Who do I speak to if I have questions?
There are two primary advisors in the Department of Biochemistry, listed on this page. If you are uncertain of who to contact, you can contact either of us and we can redirect you if necessary.
Useful Resources
Advisor Surname A - M
Dr. A. Wright
581C Medical Sciences

Advisor Surname N - Z
Dr. J. Parrish
581A Medical Sciences


Sharee Kuny
Student Administrator
5-81 Medical Sciences Building
780.492.5006 (phone)


University Calendar

Undergraduate Summer Students' Research Program (Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry)

Science Internship Program