Chemistry/Biology Interface Program

The UMBC Chemistry/Biology Interface (CBI) program is an NIH supported program designed for those graduate students interested in pursuing cross-disciplinary training in the chemical and biological sciences. The program will prepare the students for the challenges of the 21st century, where those who possess multi-disciplinary training will have significant advantages. As more and more scientists pursue boundary-crossing lines of investigation, those researchers possessing multi-disciplinary skills will be increasingly in high demand. CBI students obtain their Ph.D. degree in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, molecular biology or pharmaceutical sciences, but with an additional focus in one of the other disciplines. Each course of study is individually tailored to take into account the students’ strengths and interests, but all include coursework at an advanced level in both the biological sciences, chemistry and biochemistry.

Eligibility: The CBI program is designed to expose PhD-seeking students to research in other disciplines, to learn how to give professional talks and presentations, as well as to participate in hands-on, cross-disciplinary research. PhD students from any of the four participating programs (Chemistry and Biology (UMBC), Biochemistry (UMBC/UMB), and Pharmaceutical Sciences (UMB), are eligible to be considered for membership if their undergraduate GPA is 3.25 or better.

CHEM 715 – “Issues at the Chemistry/Biology Interface”: CBI meets Mondays from 4-6 pm as part of the formal chemical biology course associated with the program – CHEM 715. In the Fall semester, the students (excluding first year students) lead discussions on topics related to chemical biology, as well as to dissect two journal articles related to the topic, and in the Spring semester, they give a research update on their dissertation project. After the talks, the group meets for an additional 45 minutes to eat dinner and discuss topics of interest relevant to the program. As part of CHEM 715, the students also invite 2-4 notable outside speakers to visit and give a talk. During those visits, only CBI students meet with the visitor, however all faculty and students are invited to attend the talk.

Requirements: first year students are “on probation” while they complete their rotations (2-4 depending on the program), join a research group and take classes. At the end of the first academic year, they submit their application package for consideration to the CBI executive board for review. If the student has maintained a good GPA (> 3.25), joined an appropriate research group, and has a research project appropriate to the CBI (see comments below), the student will be officially accepted into the CBI program. Once admitted to the program, the student must complete the required elements listed below in order to maintain placement in the program:

  1. take an upper level course in one of the other disciplines (this cannot be a course in the same department and must be approved by the Program Director) – this course takes the place of either a core course or an elective, depending on the program.
  2. take an NIH-approved ethics course (offered in all three departments once a year)
  3. maintain a 3.25 or better GPA in all coursework
  4. present at two or more of the local and/or regional graduate symposiums each year, as well as additional regional, national and international meetings as appropriate (note: NIH funded CBI Fellows must present one or more national or international meeting each year as a requirement of their fellowship)
  5. participate in cross disciplinary research with someone in another department (or in another university or research center such as NIH, NCI, etc). The research must be directly related to their dissertation project and that gives added value to the project overall. The cross-training aspect must be approved by the CBI Program Director in consultation with the student’s mentor.
  6. attend and actively participate in all CBI activities each semester
  7. continue to make appropriate progress towards degree completion (i.e. finish all milestones as required by each program/department on time).

If a student fails to (i) make appropriate academic or research progress, (ii) fulfill the CBI requirements, (iii) maintain a > 3.25 GPA for more than one semester, or (iv) drops to a Master’s degree, the student must leave the CBI program. Each student is reviewed by the Executive Committee every year to ensure they are meeting all of the requirements and are on track academically.

 Funding: If the student is a U.S. citizen, the student can compete for one of the training grant fellowships provided by the NIH training grant starting in their 3rd year. The training grant slots are competitively renewed each year for a maximum of 3 years; it is not automatic that if you receive one year of support that you will receive a second (or a third).

Once a student is officially accepted into the CBI program, they are eligible for funds for travel and supplies to support their cross training. This generally ranges anywhere from $2000-2500 depending on how many students are participating in a given year.

Mentors: If a student joins a group where the faculty member is not yet a member, the faculty member must apply to the program – not all faculty members are appropriate for membership in CBI – unless they are a new faculty, they must have a strong track record of obtaining funding, publishing, and mentoring students. In addition, the student’s Ph.D. research MUST be at the CBI – and it must have elements that involve cross-disciplinary science. CBI students should also have at least one member of the CBI training faculty on their committee from another department. In addition, if possible, the external member of the student’s committee should be the person they are doing their cross training with, however, depending on the timing, it may not be possible, so this is not a strict requirement but should be discussed with the program director.

Website: The CBI website ( is designed to provide an active social media presence that showcases the talents and efforts of the CBI Fellows. Specifically, the Spotlight section highlights accomplishments of the Fellows. The Conference section details the Fellows actively participating in the science community. The Directory lists current and past fellows and provides a brief description of their research. Additionally, the Opportunities section is devoted to informing the Fellows about upcoming conferences, travel grants, post-doctoral positions and funding opportunities.

UMBC offers students the opportunity to carry out cutting edge research with state of the art equipment and an internationally known faculty. Some of the areas of research focus in the four departments include, for example, determination of biological structures by NMR and mass spectrometry, drug design and development, RNA structure and function, enzyme mechanisms and model systems, biochemical energetics, protein-nucleic acid interactions, fluorescence spectroscopy, immunology, gene regulation, analysis of biological molecules, signal transduction, biomedicinal chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, protein structure, developmental biology among many other areas.

Recent graduates of the program have gone on to post-doctoral and or tenure track positions at Yale, Stanford, Thomas Jefferson, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, Naval Medical Research Center, the University of Chicago and the NIH. Others have gone into industry or professional organizations at the AAAS, Norwich Pharmaceuticals, Shimadzu, Propagenix Inc. and Glaxo / SmithKline.

If you are interested in the CBI program, please contact the Program Director:

Professor Aaron Smith, Ph.D.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry
1000 Hilltop Circle
Baltimore, MD 21250