PhD Program

Ph.D. Degree Requirements
Here you will find a description of how the Chemistry Department implements the specific requirements for the PhD degree as established by the Graduate School. Current graduate students may request an updated copy of the Department of Chemistry Handbook at

Qualification and Course Work
The purpose of Qualification is to demonstrate proficiency in core areas of chemistry. Graduate students entering the Chemistry Department Graduate Program will be given Qualifying Exams in each of the 4 core areas of Chemistry (Analytical, Inorganic, Organic and Physical) prior to registration. These exams are administered in August and January by the Chemistry Department. A student must pass the exams in two or more areas to be Qualified for the Ph.D. graduate program.

Entering graduate students who do not pass at least two of the Qualifying Exams when they first enter the Chemistry Department Graduate Program can qualify for the Ph.D. program by three different methods.

  1. A student can retake one or two qualifying exams prior to registration for their second semester during the regular school year. (This does not include the summer semester.) It is assumed that the student will prepare for this exam by independent study.
  2. A student can qualify in an area by passing an approved graduate level course in the area with a grade of B or better. The approved courses are listed below.

Analytical: 8085 (in analytical chemistry), 8210, 8230, 8250, 8270

Inorganic: Any graduate level (8xxx) inorganic course (i.e., Chem. 8085 (in inorganic chemistry), 8410, 8430, 8450

Organic: 8150, 8160, 8170

Physical Chem. 8310, 8320, 8330, 8340

  1. A student can qualify in an area by passing an approved undergraduate level course in the area with a grade of B or better. The approved courses are listed below.

Analytical Chem 7200
Inorganic Chem 7400
Physical Chem 7330

Students must qualify for the Ph.D. program by the end of their second semester of the regular school year. (This does not include summer session.) Failure to qualify will result in dismissal from the Chemistry Department Graduate Program.

The purposes of graduate course work is to provide an in-depth study of advanced chemical concepts. Students must take at least five 8000-level courses – two outside their own research concentration. Courses at the 8000-level in other departments may also satisfy this requirement, if they are germane to the student’s Program of Study and are approved by the student’s Program Committee and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

Research Advisor, Dissertation Committee, and Written Requirements

  1. Students are strongly encouraged to select a research advisor by the beginning of their second semester (fall entrance) and must select an advisor by the end of the semester preceding their first summer of research. With his/her advisor, the student will recommend faculty for appointment to his/her Doctoral Program Committee and submit the appropriate Graduate School forms. (The final membership of the committee must be approved by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.)
  2. Students will submit a written report summarizing their research progress to their Doctoral Program Committee and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies no later than September 30 after the first summer of research. This report will help the Doctoral Program Committee evaluate the student's progress. The report [minimum 2 typed (12 pt. font, 1" margins, and double-spaced) pages] should present the student's research in the context of what already exists in the literature. The report will be written in a manuscript format appropriate for their field (e.g., with an introduction and a methods/experimental section). Figures, data tables, experimental details, and journal references should be included, as appropriate, but are not included in the page total. Students are encouraged to consult the ACS Style Guide for the proper formats. The student's Doctoral Program Committee will decide if this requirement has been met satisfactorily. If the committee decides that the student is not prepared, the student will have a second chance to present the report the following January. If the committee decides that the student is still not prepared at the second meeting, the student will be placed into the MS track.

 Oral Requirements

  1. All students will present seminars, preferably literature seminars, within their respective Divisions (Organic or DyNAMITE) during their third or fourth semester.
  2. All students will be required to complete the Comprehensive Exam (CE) by the end of their 5th semester in the Chemistry Department Graduate Program. Completion is defined as submitting a written document, which is described below, and defending their document to their thesis committee. These constitute the written and oral components of the Comprehensive Exam. Students entering in September will be expected to complete the exam by the end of the Fall Semester of their third year, and students entering the program in January will be expected to complete the exam by the end of the Winter Semester of their third year. Students who do not complete the CE on time will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program. They will be allowed to remain in the Masters program for one additional semester (either Winter or Summer) immediately following the deadline for completion of the CE to complete a Masters Thesis, and will then be dropped from the Masters program. Students should not expect departmental support after this time.
  3. If a student fails the preliminary exam, the student’s committee will recommend a course of action which may include termination from the program, or establishing a set of criteria to be met by the student as a prerequisite for remaining in the program. The prerequisite will be met no more than one month after the regular deadline for completion of the CE.
  4. Exceptions will only be made for catastrophic personal circumstances, and the student will need to seek an exception in writing. The Graduate Program committee will be the final arbiter of the exception. Though the student’s advisor will be consulted in making this decision, the advisor will not be allowed to submit a letter on behalf of the student. This places the burden for managing the exception on the student.
  5. At the beginning of the student's fifth semester, students will submit three one-page 'original ideas' to their advisor and their thesis committee. The ideas should not be related to work being done in the student's research group. The advisor, in conjunction with the committee, will pick one of these ideas for the student to write into a formal proposal. This original research proposal (ORP) will be presented to the student's PhD committee by the end of the fifth semester. The ORP document should contain both the original idea as well as a research update. The PhD committee will examine the student on their original idea, however questions about the student's research are also possible as are general questions about any chemistry the committee feels relevant. 
  6. The CE document will be no longer than 10 pages plus references (writing in a concise fashion is an important skill). The research report should follow the same format as the first year report. The original idea should follow the format of a typical proposal for a granting agency such as the NSF. The proposal should start with specific aims/research goals; followed by a section on background and significance; followed by the research strategy. The written document will be submitted to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the defense. Students should be aware that faculty members are not obligated to participate in graduate student committee meetings that are scheduled outside of the regular semester dates, and are encouraged to arrange committee meetings early in order to meet the CE requirement on time. Scheduling the CE is the student’s responsibility. Students are responsible for publicizing the time and date of the defense.

For more information on the sections "Introduction/Background/Significance", "Specific Aims" and "Preliminary Results", the NIH web page instructions to investigators on RO1 research proposals may be of value (

  1. Students will be expected to make their oral presentation in a professional manner, preferably using digital media. Students are responsible for defending all aspects of the work, and should not rely on their advisors for assistance during the defense. Advisors are encouraged to avoid speaking for the students during the defense.
  2. All students will present an oral summary of their dissertation research to their Doctoral Program Committees three months prior to their final Oral Examination.
  3. The final oral requirement is a public presentation of the student's dissertation research followed by a defense of the dissertation research before his/her Doctoral Program Committee.


Seminars and Colloquia
Each student is required to attend regularly scheduled Departmental Colloquia and either one of the DyNAMITE or Organic seminar programs. Seminars are announced weekly in the departmental newsletter. Any questions regarding decisions made by the Graduate Program Committee should be submitted in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies.