PhD Degree Activities and Requirements

Overview.  The PhD is awarded primarily on the basis of a dissertation (doctoral thesis) describing the student’s original research work in the field of chemistry.  In addition, there a number of formal requirements en route to the PhD degree.  The PhD requirements are designed to increase the student’s fundamental and advanced knowledge in chemistry, develop skills in oral and written communication, and to provide experience in creative problem-solving, experimental design, and project planning.

Qualification.  This refers to the formal Graduate School requirement that PhD students display basic competence in their field.  Qualification is accomplished in the first year of study either by passing ACS standardized entrance exams or graduate coursework in two different areas of chemistry.

Coursework.  Students typically take five graduate courses in chemistry – two in the first semester, two in the second semester and one final course in their third or fourth semester.  Three of the courses are in the student’s area of research interest and two are outside of this area.

Choosing a Research Group.  Students join a research group at the end of their first semester.  Leading up to this decision, students attend presentations by each faculty member describing their research.  Students also will have an opportunity to spend time in two or three different laboratories, attending group meetings, and observing research activities.  Students are also encouraged to speak one-on-one with the faculty and their research group members to learn more about the group dynamic and the nature of the work.  Students begin their research in the second semester, alongside coursework and teaching responsibilities.

Teaching.  Teaching is not a formal requirement in the program; however, most students are afforded opportunities to develop their communication and leadership skills through teaching in the Department’s Undergraduate Chemistry Program.

Literature Seminar.  In the Fall Semester of their second year, students present a literature-review seminar to the Department and their Doctoral Committee.  The seminar presentation is developed as part of a course that discusses how to find, read, organize, illustrate, and present scientific information.  Typically, the topic of the seminar is related to the project on which the student has begun research.

First Committee Meeting.  The first formal meeting of the student with their dissertation committee takes place in the Spring Semester of the second year.  The student provides their committee with a written research progress report and a brief (30 min) oral presentation of their work, followed by questions from the committee members.

Comprehensive Exam (PhD Candidacy Exam).  The Comprehensive Exam leading to PhD Candidacy takes place in the Fall Semester of the third year.  This exam consists of a written research progress report and a written research proposal that is not related to the student’s research project.  The oral exam consists of a short presentation by the student, followed by questions from the student’s Doctoral Program Committee.

Fourth Year Seminar.  In the Spring Semester of their fourth year, students present a research seminar to the Department and their Doctoral Committee.

The Final PhD Requirements:  Written Dissertation and Dissertation Defense.  The candidate prepares a written dissertation (often referred to as “the Thesis”) describing the original research carried out during their time at MU.  The Thesis defense consists of an oral presentation (usually about 35-45 min) describing highlights of the student’s research, followed by questions from the dissertation committee.

Current students in the PhD program can find a detailed timeline and description of these requirements on the Chemistry PhD Program’s Student-Faculty Canvas Site.