Synthetic Biology Graduate Programs

So you’ve decided to look into a synthetic biology graduate programs or degrees. Congrats. You are going to embark on a journey through mazes of campuses, searching through tomes of knowledge, spending entirely too much time doing repetitive lab tasks that should be automated by now, and starting a love affair with caffeine (seriously, people get the chemical structure tattooed on themselves).

If you’re looking into synthetic biology graduate programs, you’ve probably had an experience similar to mine. When I first got interested in synthetic biology, I didn’t even know what it was called. Bio-engineering? Genetic engineering? Tissue engineering? It took me a while just to get all the systems sorted out. After a while, I finally understood that synthetic biology is such a new field, it really hasn’t coalesced. Granted, it’s forefather is probably metabolic engineering, which has been around for quite some time, but synthetic biology means something different. It isn’t just messing with genes to produce desired proteins, it includes the idea of mixing genes from various species or creating novel genes altogether.

The problem that created, however, was that when I wanted to go back to school to learn synthetic biology, the advice I was given was this: there are no graduate programs for synthetic biology, just people from areas like systems biology or bioengineering that do this new thing called synthetic biology.

Well, turns out that’s not true anymore. Below is a list of grad schools that offer legitimate degrees in synthetic biology. I’ve also included a list of schools that offer classes specifically in synthetic biology, even if they don’t give a degree in it, per se. And to top it all off, I’ve just (half) completed a super long post on the top 18 synthetic biology companies, so you can start to set your sights on a career in industry if you’re not planning on going the professor/academic route.

Synthetic Biology Graduate Programs:

Graduate Degrees that Allow for a Focus in Synthetic Biology:

  • Northwestern University (PHD in Life and Biomedical Sciences)
    • This degree has 9 areas of emphasis you can choose from, including one called Biotechnology, Systems and Synthetic Biology
  • Boston University
    • BU says “The Biomedical Engineering Department has world-class faculty whose research and expertise span Molecular Bioengineering, Neural Engineering, Biomedical Optics, Biomaterials & Tissue Engineering, Biomedical Applications of Nanotechnology, Subcellular, Cellular & Systems Biomechanics, Synthetic Biology and Systems Biology.”
  • University of Utah
    • This is a MS or PHD in Biomedical Engineering, but there is explicitly a track you can choose called “Computational Systems and Synthetic Biology.” Also of note, the University of Utah allows for dual masters degrees, if you’re wanting to add in an MBA to your bioengineering degree.
  • AIRE/AIV (Masters program that doesn’t require a ton of previous biology knowledge)
  • University of Washington (the program is applied bioengineering, but they highlight their professors work in synthetic and quantitative biology)
  • UC Berkley: The degree is bioengineering (MS or PHD), but they specifically have

Institutions Offering Courses in Synthetic Biology

And lastly, there are a lot of universities that don’t necessarily offer degrees or courses in synthetic biology, but that do have professors who are doing synthetic biology research. The academia jargon for a person who is in charge of deciding what to research is “Principal Investigator,” also known as PI. The folks at have put together a massive list of PIs at various universities whose studies utilize synthetic biology. Check out their list of synthetic biology PIs at various universities. Their list is beyond the scope of what I’m trying to do with this website, so I trust that they will keep it up to date.

If you’re looking for help in choosing which university for your synthetic biology degree, I’ll have a post coming on that topic soon!

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