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Department of Biochemistry


Structure of the Part III Biochemistry course

The course aims to build on Part II Biochemistry to deepen and extend your knowledge and understanding of  further specialised aspects by means of lecture courses, and to develop your research skills and knowledge of research techniques and instrumentation by means of group supervisions, colloquia, seminars, lectures and a two-term research project.


Teaching arrangements for 2020-2021

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and government guidance, we have had to make changes to some course components in order to mitigate against risks to health and to give you the best possible academic experience in the circumstances. Nevertheless, the learning outcomes of the course are unchanged. We will continue to monitor and respond to the changing public health situation, and the following planned changes may therefore need to be altered at short notice.

The planned changes are:

  • Lectures will generally be delivered online via Moodle.
  • We hope to host Departmental seminars on Zoom, and students will be invited to these and the weekly Friday Faculty talks (also on Zoom).
  • Group supervisions will still be provided, although the weekly format will be variable and some weeks will run via Teams/Zoom.
  • Specialist supervisions will be delivered to small groups via Teams/Zoom.
  • The seminars on Scientific Method and Experimental Design will be provided, although the weekly format will be variable and will sometimes run via Teams/Zoom.
  • Other sessions will be delivered using variable formats.
  • As previously explained, research projects will run, although there are likely to be restrictions on time spent in the lab.

More details of how the course will be delivered, including induction events, will be provided later.


General plan of the course

There are four main strands to the teaching: lectures, seminar series, research work and supervisions. There are no lectures or research work during the Easter Term, i.e. after the Easter Vacation: the early part of that term is available for general reading and revision.


In Michaelmas Term, choose either:

  • Molecular Recognition and Interaction: Lectures present case studies in precisely understood contexts, within broad themes of protein-protein recognition (e.g. in molecular signalling), protein-nucleic acid recognition (e.g. in the RNA degradosome and DNA repair) and protein-small molecule recognition (e.g. in molecular assembly lines and drug screening). (12-lecture module), or
  • Cell Fate: How the developmental paths of cells (from cradle to grave) are determined, regulated and manipulated.  Our current biochemical understanding of stem cells, differentiation, neurodegeneration, cell death and ageing. The experimental approaches and models used to study cell fate. (12-lecture module).

In Lent Term, choose either:

  • The Biochemistry and Biophysics of Neuronal and Metabolic Disorders: This module will show how molecular and systems approaches can further understanding of diseases that perturb metabolic integration, cardiovascular function and neurotransmitter and hormonal signalling. Contexts will include circadian and cardiac rhythm disturbance, neuronal disorders, obesity, and thrombotic disease (6 x 2 hour lecture module), or

  • Contemporary Cancer Studies: This module will look at a series of recent advances in our molecular understanding of cancer, with a combination of lectures and workshop-style discussions (7-8-workshop module).

You are welcome to attend the Part II Methods and Skills lectures as a refresher (which may also be of interest to those joining us from other Part II subjects). For example,  “How to write a scientific report” and  “Basic statistics”.

Seminar Series on Scientific Method and Experimental Design


The overall aim is to develop your understanding of scientific method and process - the development of hypotheses, the choice of experimental systems and the design of experimental tests of the hypotheses. There will be two complementary approaches: looking at deployment of methodological resources and discussion of landmark papers.  The sessions will run on Tuesday afternoons throughout Michaelmas and Lent Terms.

The methodological sessions will cover choice and use of model organisms, genome projects, microarrays, proteomics, RNAi, interactomics and measurement of interactions, recombinant protein expression and imaging.

The landmark paper discussions will give you an opportunity to understand what makes brilliant science, a sense of why current knowledge has accumulated as it has, and what limitations were imposed by the available technology.  Each session, led by a member of staff, is assigned a landmark paper (or small group of papers) that represents a leap forward in biochemistry.  Papers may be historic, such as the proposal of the lac operon, or more recent, such as advances in stem cell technology. Groups of students will research and make presentations to the class as a whole on various aspects of the paper being considered.  These will include the state of knowledge before publication of the landmark paper, and the impact of the paper on biochemistry.

Research Work

There is a 17-week project during the Michaelmas and Lent Terms that may be laboratory-, literature-, or computer-based. The projects will be carried out under the supervision of a member of the teaching staff or senior research staff. The project weighting is 50% of the total marks in the examination. Throughout the project it is vital that students achieve a reasonable balance between project work and other aspects of the course. Students are of course largely responsible for policing their own work programme but Staff have been reminded of the need for students to achieve this balance and to guard against any suggestion of undue pressure. It is important that students commence the Project write-up before the end of the Lent Term. This is to avoid the erosion of revision time caused by a ‘creep’ of project write-up well into the Easter vacation and beyond.

Part III students are invited to the weekly Friday seminars, where the academic staff present an overview of their research to other members of the department.

Project Symposium

There is a symposium at the start of Lent term when Part III students report on the progress of their research projects.  Each student will have a total of 20 minutes (including 5 minutes for questions).  All students must attend all the talks on the two days.  Students are also called upon in group supervisions ( see below)  to report on their research progress.  At the start of Easter term students will be expected to give a final presentation summarizing their research project to their general supervision group.


Group supervisions

Group supervisions in Part II and Part III Biochemistry are arranged by the Department. Part II and Part III students are organised into mixed groups (students and staff members from the same college will be grouped together).  Each Group has a designated senior member as Leader, responsible for structuring the Group Supervisions. Groups normally meet once a week. Group supervisions are an essential part of the taught course.

Topics addressed include

  • Journal Clubs It is essential to acquire the ability to source, read and evaluate original papers; reliance should not be placed on review articles alone. The Journal Clubs help to develop these skills.

  • Reviewing particular experimental techniques or selected areas of research.

  • Critical evaluation of data.

  • Science that affects Society. This can take the form of a supervision exercise structured and moderated by the staff members, where designated student discussants research the topic and lead off a debate. Part III students in the group is very helpful to Part II students.

  • Integrated scientific essay. These groups contain both Part II and Part III students, some time will be devoted to rehearsing the skills needed to tackle the Part III  integrated scientific essay drawing on the overall scope of the landmark papers.

  • Development of presentational skills. Students will be given the opportunity to make  presentations on their project work, the  problem-based learning bioinformatics exercise and on scientific papers

Specialist supervisions

Students are expected to arrange specialist supervisions with lecturers on topics that particularly interest them. These are an important part of the course. These are usually conducted in small groups (3-5 students; larger ones may be appropriate in some situations).


At the Part III level lecturers will provide at the start of their lectures short lists of references to the relevant literature with titles. Members of the class are not necessarily expected to read all the papers included in these lists. With this in mind, the lecturers are asked to give an indication of their contents, and annotate the list to indicate which references they regard as the more important; they and everybody else in the Department are aware that the literature of Biochemistry is so large that nobody can effectively cover the whole subject. The references provided will allow individual members of the class to pursue different topics down to basic publications, and thus to read in detail about an aspect that may particularly interest them.

Departmental Seminars

The talks are usually given by an outside speaker and consist of a paper on original research followed by a general discussion. Members of the Part III class are expected to attend the Departmental Seminars and are strongly encouraged to take part in the discussion.

A list of the Department Seminars is posted on the notice board each Term and on the Department web site. In addition many of the neighbouring Departments and Institutes (eg Genetics, Gurdon, Pharmacology, Pathology, PDN, Plant Sciences, Stem Cell, Zoology and slightly further at Addenbrooke’s) also have seminars that may be of interest to you. A list of most Cambridge Seminars is on  You should aim to go to at least one seminar a week.

IT/Computer Training

The University Computing Service provides a wide range of courses and lectures (for free) to students at all levels, including lectures on e-mail, world wide web, writing web pages, Java, C programming, databases, graphics, Windows, Macintosh, Word, Powerpoint, Unix, Linux, Excel, SPSS and Access. Course booking and info:


The School of Biological Sciences runs a number of Bioinformatics training courses.

See also the online guide to the School's bioinformatics service. There is also a bioinformatics resource at EBI with online tutorials etc.

Staff-Student discussions and consultation

There are many opportunities for informal discussion with members of staff - in the common room at coffee, lunch and teatime as well as after lectures or supervisions and during projects. More formally, questionnaires are provided on the various components of the course, and the responses are considered in the first instance by the Part II and Part III course subcommittee, chaired by the cpurse organsier. The staff members attach considerable importance to your views, and will take them into account as the course evolves. Student representatives will be invited to consultative meetings with this subcommittee during the year, but any immediate concerns can always be taken up with the Teaching and Examinations Secretary  ( or with the Course Organiser.


The University Careers Service will talk to the class about career opportunities, the kind of choices biochemists have made in recent years, where to look for jobs/studentships and what employers/supervisors want to see in applications.  You may have attended this as a Part II student last year, but you are welcome to come again. The Careers Service provides (free) seminars and workshops on career choice, interviews, CVs, and particular career options, as well as one-to-one consultations.

The Biochemistry department postgraduate and research pages carry information about current research and post-graduate research opportunities. Students apply for such posts themselves, but members of staff will be pleased to advise.