PhD Program Milestones and Requirements

Placement and qualification exams. Upon entrance to our program, graduate students take Phase I exams in areas of analytical chemistry, biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry before starting the first semester. These exams are similar to ACS tests and gauge the standing of the students in topics typically covered in BSc programs. The results also inform course selection. The students are required to reach excusing level in 4 out of 5 chemistry areas to continue to the second year. Students are allowed up to three trials in each exam area. The second round of exams is administered at the beginning of the second semester. The third round of exams is given with two weeks spacing between each exam throughout the second semester. 

Research mentor selection. During the first semester students hear short presentations from the faculty about their research areas and are given the opportunity to explore various research groups. Once a mutual agreement is made between a student and a research faculty mentor, an official mentor assignment form is submitted for approval by the Chair of the department. The mentor selection process is typically completed before the second semester of the PhD program.

Seminars. To enhance the communication skills of students and prepare them for professional presentations, all PhD students conduct three presentations during their tenure in the chemistry department. The first seminar occurs in the second semester with a focus on literature review. The second seminar occurs in 7th semester, focusing on the research progress of students. The final seminar is given prior to the PhD defense, outlining the research accomplishments during the graduate education. Weekly seminars by outside speakers are held in the department. Students are required to attend the seminars to learn about the current topics in scientific research and professional presentation skills.

Courses. Students take seven 3-credit hour classes in broad areas of chemistry with a distribution of three courses in the first semester, two courses in the second semester and two courses in the second year. A GPA > 3.0 is required to maintain good standing.

Comprehensive exams. Two oral exams serve as comprehensive examinations. The Phase IIA exam occurs in 4th semester where students are guided by their research mentors to┬áprepare and submit a document summarizing research accomplishments and directions. The thesis advisory committee forms at this juncture and an oral examination is conducted to evaluate the research progress and students’ fundamental chemical knowledge pertinent to the research area. The Phase IIB exam occurs in the semester following the Phase IIA. For this exam, students prepare an original research proposal without mentor input and defend the proposal in an oral examination. These exams prepare the students for design, execution, and reporting of scientific studies.

Teaching. Students are required to teach for at least one year to gain experience in teaching methods. This requirement may be waived upon demonstration of substantial prior teaching experience.

PhD defense. The final examination for a PhD degree includes a 20 minute presentation followed by an oral defense of the thesis. The presentation and questioning parts of this examination are open to the public and should be advertised ahead of the defense date.