Birkbeck Structural Molecular Biology

This is basically a distance learning version of the Queen’s molecular biology masters so similar amount of theory but no practical work and the project would be literature based too.

It’s structured as a choice of two out of three certificate courses and you can do it part-time over two or three years.

The first (effectively compulsory) certificate is Principles of protein structure. This covers “the structure of proteins, and how that structure is related to both a protein’s sequence and its function. It provides a background to the discipline of structural molecular biology. That is: how protein structures are built up, how the structure of proteins contributes to functions that are common to all living things, as well as differences between them, how knowledge of protein structure has led to the development of drugs against diseases such as cancer and HIV/AIDS, how to use software to manipulate and explore 3D, models of protein structure, and to view models of molecules in motion.” ie pretty much as you’d expect from a molecular biology masters.

In theory, you have a choice of one from the remaining two programmes but Protein Crystallography is really a specialist course and in reality I suspect that most people actually do Techniques in Structural Molecular Biology which runs through the various techniques used including protein expression, purification and crystallisation, protein bioinformatics, X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and electron microscopy.

You do two projects, one tied to each of the certificate programmes that you’ve done so I imagine that you could either do those following the certificate or leave them both to the end (hence two or three years to do the masters).

Cost-wise, the Birkbeck masters is £3975/year over two years or £2700/year over three years compared to the £4900 for the Queens molecular biology & biotechnology masters over one year and about £4600 for the Open University medicinal chemistry masters over about three years.

One thing that strikes me when I looked at the detailed course content that Birkbeck describe is that with doing both biology and chemistry, I’ve covered a lot of the ground eg protein structure, molecular modelling and a number of the analysis tools like NMR and microscopy. Whilst presumably the masters courses will cover such things in somewhat more detail, my pre-existing knowledge should make it an easier ride than it would have been otherwise. It also strikes me that at masters level, molecular biology seems to become a whole lot closer to chemistry which in turn is making the medicinal chemistry masters more attractive.


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