PhD Program

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

Qualification and Coursework
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:  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 8310, 8320, 8330, 8340.
  3. 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: Analytical CHEM 7200, Inorganic CHEM 7400, Physical CHEM 7300

Students must qualify for the Ph.D. program by the end of their second semester (this does not include summer session, for students who enter in January).  Failure to qualify will result in dismissal from the Chemistry Department Graduate Program.

The purpose of graduate coursework is to provide a foundation for the study of advanced chemical research problems.  Students must take at least five 8000-level courses – two must be in areas outside their own research concentration. Courses at the 8000-level in other departments may also satisfy this requirement, if they are relevant to the student’s Program of Study and are approved by the student’s Program Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Research Advisor, Dissertation Committee, and Degree Requirements

  1. Students select a research advisor by the beginning of their second semester (Fall entrance).  Exceptions to this rule must be discussed with, and approved by, the Director of Graduate Studies.  After consultation with his/her advisor, the student will recommend faculty for appointment to his/her Doctoral Program Committee and submit the appropriate Graduate School forms. At a minimum, the advisor, two chemistry faculty (at least one in the student’s research concentration), and one faculty member from outside of the chemistry department will constitute the Doctoral Program Committee.  The membership of the committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and is formalized in the D1 form for the graduate school.
  2. First year report.  Students will submit a written report summarizing their research progress to their Doctoral Program Committee and the Director of 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 [5-8 typed pages (12 pt. times or 11 pt. arial font, 1" margins, and double-spaced)] should present the student's research project and their progress. The report will be written in a manuscript format appropriate for their field and should include an introduction that places the project in the context of the larger field, a description of the approaches/experimental methods, a results section, and a conclusion that includes both a summary/interpretation of the results and discussion of future plans. 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 or Instructions to Authors on the websites of relevant journals for the proper formats.  The student will schedule a meeting with his/her committee to take place before October 31.  Finding a suitable time and date for these meetings is a challenge and the student should initiate the scheduling process at the beginning of the semester.  At this meeting the student will give an oral presentation describing their research problem and their early research progress (approximately 30 min). This will be followed by questions from the committee members. The student also should provide a list of courses taken, courses currently underway, and future coursework.  This plan-of-study is recorded in the D2 form for the graduate school that should be signed by the student’s committee at this meeting.  If the committee decides that research progress, the written report, or the student’s ability to answer questions is insufficient, the student will be allowed to conduct additional research, revise the report, and meet again with his/her committee by February 15 of the following semester.  If the committee decides that there is inadequate progress or an inability to answer questions at the second meeting, the student will be directed into the M.S. program.
  3. Students will present a seminar, preferably literature seminars, within their respective Divisions (Organic or DyNAMITE) during their third or fourth semester.
  4. 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, giving an oral presentation related to the document (open to the public), and defending their document orally in a meeting with their thesis committee (closed to the public). These constitute the written and oral components of the Comprehensive Exam.  Students who enter the program in the Fall will be expected to complete the Comprehensive 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 Spring 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 Spring or Summer) immediately following the deadline for completion of the CE providing an opportunity to complete a Masters Thesis.  Students should not expect departmental support after this time.
  5. Exceptions with regard to the timing of the CE will only be made for catastrophic personal circumstances, and the student will need to seek the 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.
  6. If a student is deemed by their committee to have failed the CE, the student’s committee will recommend a course of action that 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 must be completed no more than one month after the regular deadline for completion of the CE.
  7. The CE process, step one, selecting a topic.  At the beginning of their fifth semester in the program, students will submit three one-page 'original ideas' to their advisor and their thesis committee. The ideas should not be related to research in the student's group.  Typically, each idea will be illustrated with one scheme or figure and 3-5 supporting citations to published literature. The advisor, in conjunction with the committee, will choose one of the ideas for the student to further develop into a formal original research proposal (ORP).  Ideally, the scope of the work described in the ORP might be sufficient to yield 3-10 scientific publications.  It is important to re-emphasize that the ORP describes a “fantasy” project that is not related to previous or ongoing work in the student’s laboratory and, likely, will not actually be pursued after the examination.
  8. The ORP Document.  Will be no longer than 10 pages (not including literature citations). The research report should follow the same general format as the first year report: i. introduction to the field sufficient to frame the research problem (1-3 pages), ii. a clear statement of the specific aims/goals/significance of the proposed project (1-2 pages), iii. research strategy (5-8 pages). The research strategy should be divided into sections that correspond with the number and order of the specific aims (each aim may be divided into several sub-aims).  Each aim should include sections describing the rationale, approach/methods, anticipated results, pitfalls, and alternative strategies.  The document is expected to contain appropriate illustrations, figures, schemes prepared by the student – not “borrowed” from the internet.  The NIH website has information on the style and format for research proposals: (
  9. The Research Report.  The student will prepare a report that summarizes progress in their research project(s). The format, length, and scope of the report should be agreed upon by the student and their advisor.
  10. Submission, Presentation, and Defense of the CE.  The process of scheduling the time for the CE meeting is challenging and should begin early in the semester. Scheduling the CE is the student’s responsibility.  Students should be aware that faculty members are not obligated to schedule graduate student committee meetings outside of the regular semester dates.  Students are responsible for publicizing the time and date of the defense by posting flyers two weeks in advance, on doors and bulletin boards in the Chemistry Building.  The written CE (composed of the ORP and Research Report) will be submitted to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the defense.
  11. The CE examination will be held before the end of the student’s fifth semester.
  12. The exam will consist of an oral presentation (open to the public, approximately 35-40 min), preferably using digital media.  Following the oral presentation, the committee will question the students on the ORP, Research Summary, and general chemical knowledge (closed to the public, open-ended length).  Students are responsible for defending all aspects of the work and should not expect to rely on their advisor for assistance during the defense. Advisors should refrain from answering questions directed toward the graduate student during the oral examination.  The student’s committee will sign the D3 form for the graduate school upon successful completion of the examination.
  13. All students will present their dissertation outline to their Doctoral Program Committee at least three months prior to their final Dissertation Defense.
  14. 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.  The graduate school requirements for the written dissertation can be found on the MU graduate school website. Students are responsible for publicizing the time and date of the defense by posting flyers two weeks in advance, on doors and bulletin boards in the Chemistry Building.  The written dissertation will be submitted to the committee at least two weeks in advance of the defense.

Seminars and Colloquia

Each student is required to attend regularly scheduled Departmental Colloquia and either one of the DyNAMITE or Organic seminar programs.  The seminar schedules can be found on the Departmental website.  Any questions regarding decisions made by the Graduate Program Committee should be submitted in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies.