Many students studying within the biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology department at Iowa State University will further their education after receiving their bachelor’s degree. While graduate school is an option, the department also initiated an online graduate certificate program.
The program consists of courses that are more challenging than what students experience while obtaining their undergraduate degree. Scott Nelson, professor in biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, teaches one of the main courses in the program.
“It’s really just a set of graduate courses that we feel would give someone a higher level of instruction,” Nelson said. “It’s less coursework than a master’s program and there is no master’s thesis that you need to complete.”
Enrollment in the program could prove beneficial to undergraduate students interested in applying to graduate school. Nelson said the graduate certificate can act as a stepping stone and prove a student’s academic abilities.
“Some students would benefit if they had additional evidence to show they are able to deal with the rigorous curriculum of graduate school,” Nelson said. “If they did well in these courses, I think they would have a much easier time convincing their school of choice that they are ready for the more difficult coursework.”
International students may also benefit from enrollment in the program. Nelson said that sometimes it can be hard for selection committees to compare the education someone received in another country to what they will receive in the U.S.
“It’s not always easy for us to judge what the coursework is like at international universities we aren’t familiar with,” Nelson said. “It can make it difficult for us to make offers because we are unsure if the student will be successful in our coursework.”
Completing the online graduate certificate courses would give universities like Iowa State a better understanding of what international students are capable of.
The program also is offered to individuals looking to continue their education, but do not have enough time to dedicate to graduate school.
Noe Gomez enrolled in the program during the fall 2020 semester. He recently began teaching agricultural biology and chemistry classes at a high school in California and wanted to refine his knowledge on the subjects.
“I chose this program for those reasons of trying to stay up-to-date in my field, keeping the knowledge fresh in my brain, and because I stumbled upon this profession of a high school teacher so suddenly,” Gomez said.
The online program offers Gomez flexibility to complete the coursework at his own pace. This semester he was enrolled in two classes: membrane biochemistry and biochemistry of nucleic acids.
“The content is definitely challenging; it forces you to think on a high level,” Gomez said. “To what other people might seem like a tedious topic, I found super interesting,”
Gomez encourages others in his situation to participate in the program. In addition to benefitting his own education, he said he is able to transfer what he is learning to his classroom.
“I would say that if you are an educator involved in any aspect of the agricultural industry, this kind of program is very flexible, very engaging and there is a lot that you can take away from it,” Gomez said. “I think it is a worthwhile investment.”
No matter what a student’s goals are, the online graduate certificate provides flexibility for the next step in their education and career. Nelson said program is still quite new, but they are looking forward to welcoming new students in the future.