Ph.D. Program Guidelines and Requirements

Doctoral Program

The goals of the program are to provide students with a broad base in advanced topics in chemistry and substantial depth in one or more areas of expertise through an indepth research experience. Students earning a Ph.D. in chemistry are intellectually functional as independent scientists and sufficiently technically skilled to perform advanced scientific research.

They are able to instruct others in their discipline. They have highly developed communications
skills to allow the efficient dissemination of scientific information in both a written and verbal


All entering students will be given proficiency exams, usually of the ACS type. Currently, these exams are in the following areas: Inorganic, Organic, and Physical. The results of the examinations will provide the Chemistry Department with information regarding the entering class as a group and the Graduate Studies Committee with information about the scientific backgrounds of individual members of the entering class.


Selection of a research director by a new student usually begins during the first semester of study in the program. The student is required to talk with at least three faculty members about research before the formal selection process is completed. The process is completed when the student turns in the SAC form to the Chemistry Student Services Office that has been signed by at least three faculty members. One of the faculty members must indicate a willingness to accept the student into his/her research program. This process may not be completed before October 15th for students starting in the fall semester or February 15th for students starting in the spring semester, and is normally completed by the end of the first semester in residence.

As soon as a student has selected a research director, a SAC should be established. This committee consists of the research director and two additional members of the faculty, one from the student’s Division and one from outside the Division. The faculty members selected should be those who are most likely to be able to provide the student with advice on questions arising about course work or research problems. Students are required to inform the Chemistry Student Services Office of the members of the SAC at the same time that they specify their research director.

The SAC has the responsibility of serving as a resource for the graduate student concerning any problems that arise during his/her course of study. A SAC meeting should be called any time advice is deemed necessary by either the student or research advisor. SAC members serve as members of the permanent committee. After the student has joined a research group, registration is the responsibility of the research director in consultation with the SAC if necessary.

Any changes in the constitution of the SAC should be reported by the research director to the Chemistry Student Services Office. In the event that the student wishes to change his/her research director, the Chemistry Student Services Office should be consulted for the proper procedures to be followed.


The Permanent Committee for a Ph.D. student consists of his/her SAC plus two “examiners,” selected by the research director. One of the two examiners must be from within the student’s major area and one must be from outside the major area. The student’s major area is defined by the set of cumulative examinations he/she elects to take. The Chairman of the Permanent Committee must be from the student’s major area but cannot be the research director.

The Chairman of the Permanent Committee will be selected by the research director. Recommendations concerning the Permanent Committee should be forwarded to the Chemistry Student Services Office by the student after approval by the Research Director. The Permanent Committee will then be nominated by the Vice Chair for Graduate Studies and approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.

The Permanent Committee conducts the Doctoral Oral Examination and the Final Oral Examination as prescribed by the Graduate School requirements.


There are no formal Departmental course requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Course programs are arranged on an individual basis. However, prior to passing the Doctoral Oral Examination all students requiring research registration must register for the appropriate number of hours of Chem 9X1. Starting with the semester after students have completed their cumulative and oral exams, every doctoral student is required to register for three hours of doctoral dissertation, Chem 994, every semester until they successfully defend. This is most likely in the fourth or fifth semesters of study. A list of graduate courses can be viewed HERE.

Please Note:
Biological graduate students must take all the biological chemistry module courses offered in their first two years.

To obtain a doctoral degree, a student must earn four semesters of residence credit. At least two semesters of residence credit must be earned at this University by continuous registration, for not less than six semester hours in a regular semester, or for any number in summer session, although registration during summer session is not required for continuity. The other two required semesters of residence credit may be obtained by registration at this University and/or by transfer of credit. Residence credit in any term of summer school is computed the same as during the regular semester. Residence credit earned on work for a Master’s degree is applicable as residence credit for a doctoral degree.

Residence Credit Computation
  •  Nine, 9, semester hours of credit is considered full-time and earns a full semester of residence credit.
  •  Six to eight, 6-8, semester hours of credit earns ½ semester of residence credit.
  •  Three to five, 3-5, semester hours of credit earns ¼ semester of residence credit.


(a) Pre-examination Requirements.

The Doctoral Oral Examination must be taken no earlier than the second semester and no later than the fourth semester of graduate study, prior to the end of the official exam period. No Division or SAC has the authority to postpone the first attempt at the oral examination past the end of the fourth semester of graduate study. The Graduate Studies Committee will consider special cases after receiving a petition from the student and his/her SAC. When the student is ready to take the Doctoral Oral Examination, and at least two weeks prior to the date it is to be given, he/she should:

  1. obtain permission to take the examination from the Chemistry Student Services Office
  2. submit the Doctoral Oral Examination Form to the Chemistry Student Services Office

(b) The Format of the Doctoral Oral Examination.

The format of the oral examination is determined by the Chairman of the Permanent Committee and will vary from case to case; however, the examination period will not exceed two hours. The student should discuss the format and the content of the oral exam with the Chair of the Permanent Committee at least one month before the doctoral exam takes place. Usually the dissertation project will be presented and discussed. The oral examination will accomplish the following purposes, among others:

  1. determine the candidate’s fitness to continue work toward the doctorate.
  2. discover any weaknesses in the candidate’s knowledge which need to be remedied by additional course work or other forms of instruction.

Students are expected to present a written statement of their research projects, prospectus, at least 7 days, more for some Divisions, prior to the date of the oral examination. Typically the report will be approximately 12-15 pages in length with relevant references and embedded figures. For the Biological Division, the written proposal shall be no more than 12 pages double spaced 12 point font with 1 inch margins, not including title page and references. The written proposal must be given to the committee 2 weeks prior to the oral defense. The report will be submitted to the Chair of the Permanent Committee after the student has received permission to take the oral examination. This report will satisfy the Graduate School’s requirement for a prospectus.

(c) There are four possible outcomes for the oral examination.

  1. pass – without restrictions
  2. pass – with special requirements, for example, additional courses to take
  3. pass – but without approval for the thesis project as presented. In this case another presentation of the thesis project may be required at a later time. Approval of the thesis project is not viewed as part of the Doctoral Examination by the Graduate School.
  4. fail – this grade is appropriate for students who reveal inadequate general knowledge and/or who demonstrate that they are not prepared to undertake their thesis research project.

A student who fails the preliminary doctoral oral examination is permitted to retake the examination. He/she must take the second examination no later than four calendar months and no earlier than three calendar months after the first examination is failed.

The Doctoral Written Examination takes the form of a series of written examinations, “cumulative exams” or “cumes,” given by the faculty in the student’s particular major area. The content of the exams generally covers the current literature, courses and seminars. The purpose of the examinations is to assess the scientific maturity of the student at regular intervals. The number of written examinations required varies from Division to Division; the particular requirements of each Division are listed below. Failure to complete the written exam requirement in the prescribed time period typically will result in the student being dropped from the Ph.D. program; usually onto an MS track. Topics will be announced one month in advance.

Analytical Division, must pass 6
A student in the Ph.D. program is expected to pass at least two exams in the first year and six exams after two years. Students that do not pass at least two exams by the end of their first year will be remitted to the Master’s program. Upon satisfactorily completing the requirements for the Master’s degree, such students may reapply to the Ph.D. program. As an incentive, passing five exams in the first year automatically satisfies the six-exam requirement. The content of each analytical exam typically involves a series of discussion questions covering a general area of analytical chemistry, for example, chromatography, electrochemistry, mass spectrometry, surface science.

Since many analytical research projects are interdisciplinary in nature, it is possible that exams in other Divisional areas may be appropriately substituted for analytical exams. Students may, after obtaining prior permission from their research advisor or the analytical graduate studies representative, take an exam in another area. Up to two passes in exams from other areas can be used for the analytical requirement. Each request will be considered on an individual basis. Students in other Divisions must declare to the analytical graduate studies representative their intention to take an analytical exam at least one week in advance of the exam.

Biological Division
The written qualifying exam is held in September or October of year two, with a second opportunity in January, if needed. There are three parts, one Current Topic, plus two Advanced Topics in Chemical Biology and Biochemistry. The broad outline and background literature for each part is provided approximately one month in advance. Students are encouraged to prepare together prior to attempting the exam. A score of 67% or higher is required to pass each part. Students must pass at least two parts in the two opportunities.

Inorganic Division
The Inorganic Division Written Requirement consists of original research proposals and a written examination. First year students attend a seminar course, Chem 754, that involves attending the scheduled inorganic seminars as well as a writing tutorial component that provides guidance on scientific writing, using online research tools, and peer review sessions. During the writing tutorial component, students will develop an original research proposal in collaboration with a faculty member. Acceptable proposals will be submitted to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program or another similar program. Unacceptable proposals, due to poor writing, or unoriginal ideas, for example, will not be submitted; rather, another revision will be requested.

Second year students will take a written examination early in the Fall semester. The examination will consist of questions from the textbook Inorganic Chemistry by Miessler and Tarr. A grade of 70% or better is required to pass the exam. Students who do not pass may re-take the exam in January of their second year. Twice failing the exam will result in the student being moved into the MS program.

Second year students will also attend the seminar course, Chem 754. Students who did not receive a fellowship the previous year will revise their proposals based on their current research progress. Second years are also important in the peer review process of the course. Students who were awarded fellowships will attend the course and help other students write winning proposals.

Third year students are required to submit an original research proposal, roughly 10 double-spaced pages. Students will defend their proposals in a 20 minute oral presentation to the faculty. The possible outcomes of the oral defense are: pass, re-write to address committee concerns, or re-write the entire proposal and defend the proposal again, with or without a new topic.

Please Note:
Prior approval by the Analytical Division, one week in advance, is necessary before attempting an analytical cume.

Organic Division, must pass 5 and 1 research proposal
Nine, 9, examinations are given yearly, September through June. Students are required to pass five exams during the first two years. Passing four exams the first year exempts the student from the fifth exam. Up to two exams from another Division may be credited toward this requirement. Cumes are graded on a high pass, pass, conditional pass, and fail scale. A conditional pass on a cume will only be counted towards the five passes if the student receives a high pass on another cume.

Please Note:
Prior approval by the Analytical Division, one week in advance, is necessary before attempting an analytical cume.

Entering students are encouraged to begin taking exams immediately, and after the first semester are expected to take each exam as it is given. Not taking the exams regularly until the requirement has been completed reflects poorly on a student’s interest and motivation. To encourage a more focused and comprehensive learning experience, topics are announced one month in advance.

In addition, each student is required to submit an acceptable original research proposal. Proposals must be submitted by March 1st of the student’s fourth year, and may not be submitted until after the cumulative examination requirement has been fulfilled. Proposals will be reviewed by faculty panels, and an evaluation will be provided within two months of submission. A proposal deemed inadequate will be returned to the student for revision. Revised proposals must be returned within two months following return of the reviews. Since the process may be lengthy, students should submit proposals at least a year before the expected completion of their other requirements.

The format to be followed is based on the NIH Postdoctoral Fellowship Application.

The proposal will be limited to twelve double-spaced pages, exclusive of references, and should address the following points:


  1. Explain the importance of the problem or barrier to progress in the field that the proposed project addresses.
  2. Explain how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge.
  3. Describe how the concepts, methods, or technologies that drive this field will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.


  1. Describe any novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies,
    instrumentation or interventions to be developed or used, and any advantage
    over existing methodologies.


  1. Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to
    accomplish the specific aims of the project.
  2. Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success
    anticipated to achieve the aims.

Physical Division
Physical chemistry graduate students must demonstrate a proficiency in the fundamental topics of the discipline by passing the final exams for both CHEM 481 and CHEM 482. The exams will be graded on a P/F scale. Students wishing to take the exam should contact the course instructor prior to the beginning of the final exam period. Successful passing of these exams is among requirements for admission to candidacy. Physical chemistry graduate students are also required to hand in a written paper based on the research presented in a seminar that is assigned to them in the fall of their second year. This paper should provide 1) clear background and motivation to the research topic; 2) good technical discussion; 3) a suggestion of future directions. The paper shall be approved by student’s advisory committee before proceeding to the oral examination at the end of second year. The fall physical chemistry coordinator will provide details on the appropriate seminars, and the paper length and due date.

Polymer and Materials Division
The written examination requirement for Ph.D. students in this Division will be in the form of a single cumulative examination administered every academic year. The exam will be composed of three sections: A general fundamental knowledge, B polymer/soft material fundamental knowledge, and C semiconductor/hard material fundamental knowledge. Section A will be required of all students, but students can choose to complete either Section B or Section C. Each section, A, B, C, will be graded individually and have individual “Pass”, “Conditional Pass”, and “Fail” thresholds. In exceptional circumstances, a student may petition to the polymer/materials faculty member on the graduate studies committee to allow a written cumulative examination from another division to substitute for either Section B or Section C of the exam.

Prior to the preliminary oral examination, a student must either (1) “Pass” the written exam in their first year of graduate studies or (2) “Pass” or “Conditional Pass” the written exam in their second year of graduate studies. An exam grade of “Pass” for both sections carries no additional requirements. A grade of “Conditional Pass” in any section during the second year of graduate studies constitutes on overall “Conditional Pass” for the exam and carries the requirement of an additional general question session during the preliminary oral examination. Thus, the oral examination for students with a “Conditional Pass” consists of two parts: a research presentation with questions directly followed by a general question session. A grade of “Fail” in any section during the second year of graduate studies constitutes on overall “Fail” for the exam and causes the student to be remitted to the Master’s program. Upon satisfactorily completing the requirements for the Master’s degree, such students may reapply to the Ph.D. program. All students are required to take the written examination in the first year of graduate studies. Any section in which the student receives a “Conditional Pass” or “Fail” in the first year of graduate studies must be retaken in the second year of graduate studies. Any section in which a student receives a “Pass” in the first year of graduate studies does not need to be retaken in the second year.


Analytical Division
All first and second year Analytical students are required to register for Analytical Seminar, Chem 741. Second year students will present a 25-minute literature seminar focusing on the fundamentals of modern analytical methods. In particular, seminars should include thorough descriptions of the underlying theory and measurement principles of the method, or class of methods, and the relevant instrumentation. The topic of the literature seminar is to be approved by the student’s research advisor and the faculty member in charge of the seminar. The topic is not to be related to the student’s current or previous, for example, undergraduate research projects, or other research areas in the research group that the student is part of.

Discussion of carefully selected illustrative chemical applications is also appropriate, but should not be the main topic or consume the major part of the presentation. Students in the Ph.D. program will also present a research seminar, typically in the fall semester of their fourth year. The student will receive an evaluation for the Departmental files but no formal course registration is involved. Students registered for, but not presenting a seminar in a semester, will provide written critiques of student seminars during the semester. Students in their third or later year are expected to regularly attend seminar.

Biological Division
The Division offers a regular program of weekly seminars featuring local and national speakers. Students are expected to participate in the Seminar Program throughout their graduate careers. All first and second year biological chemistry students register for and attend the seminar in Biological Chemistry, Chem 731. Every biological chemistry student must present a seminar before the end of the spring semester of his or her third year. After the seminar the student will meet with their committee. It is the student’s responsibility to notify their committee members. Students typically present an additional research seminar during their fourth year, and a seminar is a required part of the dissertation defense.

Inorganic Division
The Division offers a regular program of weekly seminars featuring both local and national speakers. Students are expected to continue to participate in the Seminar program throughout their graduate careers. All first and second year inorganic chemistry students register for and attend the seminar in Inorganic Chemistry. Students typically present two research seminars, one during their fourth year and one as their dissertation defense.

Organic Division
The Division views the seminar program as a vital part of graduate training and expects students to participate by attending the Organic seminars regularly and presenting two seminars during their tenure in the Department. The first seminar is normally given in the spring of the second year and is based on a topic from the current literature. The second is usually given in the fall of the fourth year and is based on the student’s dissertation research. Each seminar is evaluated by those faculty members present, and the evaluation relayed to the speaker.

Physical Division
To help broaden their prospective of the field, students in Physical Chemistry should regularly attend the Physical Chemistry seminars. Students in Physical Chemistry register for Physical Chemistry Seminar, Chem 781, for the first four semesters. First year and second year students will also help with the mechanics of running the seminar program. Graduate students give a seminar in their third year. The faculty member in charge of the course will schedule these. The topic of the seminar can be based upon either a literature study or the student’s own research. In either case, the appropriate background material should be included to give the audience the context needed to appreciate the work. Following the seminar, the physical chemistry faculty will provide feedback on the seminar presentation.

Polymer and Materials Division
All first and second year Polymers/Materials Division students must register for the Polymer and Materials seminar course, Chem 721. Students are expected to participate in the seminar program throughout their graduate careers.

Anytime after completion of the oral exam and after the student has completed significant research, a research seminar must be given. This seminar is to be scheduled by the student for presentation at a Polymer and Materials Chemistry Division seminar. An oral presentation (not a poster presentation) delivered by the student at a National or International Professional Society Meeting (ACS, APS, MRS, etc.) can be substituted for this seminar requirement upon written approval of the student’s Ph.D. Advisor.


When a candidate nears the end of research and can anticipate final approval of the dissertation, the student should formally apply for a degree for the next commencement according to the deadline listed in the Registrar’s Calendar. The Application for Graduation can be completed and submitted through the Graduate School. If a student has already applied for candidacy and for the degree but has failed to meet the deadline for a specific commencement, he/she must make an application for the degree again, but not for candidacy.

The final oral defense will be held only after all members of the committee have had adequate opportunity to review a draft of the doctoral dissertation. Two committee members, in addition to the advisor, must be identified as “designated readers”, and they will report to the entire committee at the completion of the oral examination. The dissertation advisor is responsible for determining that the draft is in an appropriate form for committee evaluation. If substantial revisions are necessary, they should be completed before the final oral defense is scheduled.

The final oral examination is administered by the student’s Permanent Committee and all committee members are expected to be present at the defense. The student should submit a copy of his/her thesis to the readers along with a copy to the other permanent committee members one week -three weeks for the Biological Division- before the defense. The examination involves a defense of the dissertation; students normally present a description of their dissertation research and discuss its scientific significance. At least two weeks prior to the date the exam is to be given, the student should submit the Doctoral Oral Examination Form to the Chemistry Student Services Office.

Dissertations should be submitted to the Graduate School according to the schedule in the Registrar’s Calendar for a specific commencement. The dissertation must be prepared as directed in the Dissertation and Thesis Guide.

It is the responsibility of the dissertation advisor to verify that the dissertation is in appropriate form. After all alterations and corrections have been made to the dissertation and the final oral examination has been held, the Doctoral Exam Report is submitted and the dissertation, in final typed forms, two copies of dissertation with four abstracts, is registered with the Graduate School. The title pages of the dissertation should be signed by the dissertation director and two other members of the student’s committee, the “designated readers”, and included as a scanned image for uploading to the Graduate School. A current Curriculum Vita should also be included as an appendix.


All graduate students beyond their first year are reviewed annually, usually in July, to assess progress towards their degree. Assessments are based on division requirements. First year students are reviewed each semester during their probationary period to assess their continuation in the PhD program.

The Nicewicz Group

Professor Nicewicz and his research group