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Graduate Program-PhD-Requirements-Fall-2020

Ph.D. Program Requirements


PhD Requirements – Effective for Fall 2020 Class


Year 1
(semesters 1 and 2)
Coursework (15 h min) TA Assignment
Year 2
(semesters 3 and 4)
Doctoral Qualifying Exam/Research Summary
Year 3
(semesters 5 and 6)
Research Progress SeminarProspectus
Year 4
(semesters 7 and 8)
Original Research ProposalCheck-in meeting
Year 5+Defense/DissertationPublications (1 min)

Requirements in Detail

TA Assignment– A minimum of 1 TA Assignment (one semester) is required.

Annual Professional Development Meeting – Department guidelines encourage the student’s mentor to develop an individual development plan whose goal is to enhance scientific productivity, academic excellence, professional development, and social outreach as appropriate to the student’s goals.

Coursework – A minimum of 15 credit hours by the end of semester 2 is required and can include non-Chemistry courses (with advisor approval). Incoming graduate students must register for and pass the Introduction to Laboratory Safety course (CHEM 701; 1 credit hour). First-year students will also enroll in their division’s seminar course (up to 2 credit hour each semester). Although CHEM 992/993 (masters research) does not count towards the 15 credit hour requirement, students will register for 3 hours each term until the qualifying exam is completed (Grad Studies Representative section in the Fall and Advisor in the Spring). The student will additionally register for dissertation oriented courses established from an advisory meeting with the student’s representative on the Grad Studies committee. In contrast to previous norms, student’s are encourage to audit courses taken in year 2 or 3 in support of the dissertation project.

If a student has 24 or more credits at the beginning of semester 3 or 27+ credits at the beginning of semester 4, students will only register for three hours of Chem 992/993 (masters research). In the case where the thresholds are not met, the student will additionally register for seminar; see Student Services for guidance. Upon completion of the qualifying exam, students will switch to registering for Chem 994 (doctoral research) every semester until the dissertation is defended. A list of graduate courses can be viewed here.

Committees – Per Graduate School policy all committees must be comprised of a majority of Chemistry faculty. Eligible committee members include, but are not limited to, faculty from other departments and members of staff, click here for details. The Qualifying Exam Committee will contain 4 members, including the advisor. The Dissertation Committee will be comprised of 5 members, including the advisor, and will oversee the Prospectus, 4th year check-in, and Final Oral Defense. Substitutions are allowed as needed.

Doctoral Qualifying Examination – The Doctoral Qualifying Examination involves a written research summary and an oral presentation along with examination with a faculty committee. Students are responsible for arranging the scheduling.

(a) Scheduling the Doctoral Qualifying Examination.

The exam is to occur in semester 3 or prior to the end of the official exam period of semester 4. Only by permission of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) can the time for qualifying completion be extended. The student should consult with their research advisor to discuss the timing of the exam and the composition of the committee. The student should invite faculty to join their committee of at least 4 members (including advisor whose role will be “silent”) well ahead of time, and to request that one of the non-advisor members in the Chemistry Department act as Chair. The student is responsible for finding a date where all committee members can attend. Once the date is selected, the student must submit the Doctoral Oral Examination Form to the Chemistry Student Services Office at least two weeks prior to the examination.

(b) Format of the Doctoral Qualifying Examination.

Details of the format for the oral examination and written research summary should be confirmed with the committee chair well in advance of the exam date. The written summary of research progress and future plans must be submitted to the committee 1 week prior to the examination. The oral examination will not exceed two hours. The purpose of the exam is to:

  1. provide a structure for students to reflect on research progress and plan future research directions
  2. develop the student’s writing and oral communication skills
  3. evaluate the student’s chemistry knowledge and critical thinking skills that will be essential for success in the PhD program
  4. evaluate the student’s research progress and to ensure the student is on track to succeed in the PhD program.

(c) Possible outcomes for the Doctoral Qualifying Examination.

  1. pass – without restrictions
  2. conditional – with special requirements for improving general knowledge. The committee will request another oral examination of general knowledge at a later time. The second exam must be completed within 4 months or the examination defaults to Fail. Only by permission of the DGS can the 4 month deadline be adjusted.
  3. conditional – but without approval of research progress. The committee will request another presentation of the research. The second exam must be completed within 4 months or the examination defaults to Fail. Only by permission of the DGS can the 4 month deadline be adjusted.
  4. fail – this grade is appropriate for students lacking adequate general knowledge and/or demonstrating insufficient foundations for undertaking PhD-level research. A student failing the preliminary doctoral oral examination will be permitted a second chance to complete the requirement. The re-take will follow the same format as the first exam and will occur no earlier than 3 and no later than 4 calendar months after the failure. Only by permission of the DGS can the 4 month deadline be adjusted.

The Doctoral Qualifying Examination Committee will additionally judge the suitability of the written research document. If suitable, the student will have completed the written requirement of the Ph.D. degree.

Research Progress Seminar – During the semester 5/6 period, students will present a seminar of at least 30 minutes within the divisional seminar series. The seminar will provide a background of the student’s research area and share progress on their project to date. Delays or early presentations by DGS permission only. Students who give a >15 min oral research presentation at a National, International or Gordon Conference prior to semester 6 will be considered to have satisfied this requirement (check with DGS if in doubt), though they may still choose to present to their divisional colleagues. Attending faculty may choose to trigger a dissertation committee meeting if the presented research was consider to be sub-standard.

Prospectus – In year 3 students will schedule a meeting with their Dissertation Committee to present their dissertation prospectus. The prospectus is a concise written document, 2-5 pages in length, that describes the major projects that will comprise your dissertation. The prospectus is one component of the department’s written requirements for the PhD. The prospectus must be sent to the Dissertation Committee at least one week before the 3rd year committee meeting. The meeting is an opportunity to have a forward-looking scientific discussion with your committee. Schedule the meeting before the conclusion of the spring semester in year 3. This is not an examination; the meeting, which should be complete within one hour, is intended to be a supportive environment for students to outline their goals and discuss strategies. In the case that a prospectus is not approved, the student will have 4 months to address the concerns of the committee and reconvene. To schedule a prospectus meeting, students must contact Student Services.

All But Defended (ABD) – For Graduate School categorization purposes, the student is considered ABD once the Qualifying Exam, Research Progress Seminar, and Prospectus have been approved (typically by semester 6). Students requiring ABD classification for fellowship applications (e.g. dissertation completion) should pay attention to appropriate deadlines so that all requirements are complete in time for ABD designation.

Original Research Proposal – Chemistry doctoral students complete an original research proposal (ORP) by the end of the fourth year of graduate study. The ORP targets development of the professional skills required for identifying important scientific problems, evaluating the current state-of-the-art, and developing original research ideas. The two-stage process is summarized below.

Stage 1: White paper / Preproposal 

A short “white paper” (also called a preproposal or abstract) summarizes the proposed research topic. The topic must be unrelated to the student’s dissertation research (students are encouraged to consult with their advisor in selecting a topic).

What to expect:

    • Feedback on whether the proposed research topic is appropriate (i.e. sufficiently “out of field”).
    • Feedback on potential pitfalls or areas of suggested focus in a full proposal.
    • A decision: approval to proceed, approval with stipulations, or a request to choose a new topic.

Stage 2: Full proposal

A full proposal adhering to the divisional requirements. For specific requirements for each section format and pagination please consult the division guidelines.

What to expect:

    • Proposals will be reviewed in detail by at least 2 faculty.
    • Each division will use a rubric that is shared with the students ahead of submission.
    • Faculty reviewers will provide ample constructive feedback for all proposals.
    • Faculty will consider that this is a learning exercise and not a competitive proposal review. As such, it is expected that revisions requests be limited to cases:
      • (i) there are serious deficiencies;
      • (ii) a revision will provide an important opportunity for the student to grow as a writer and a scientist.
    • The division will consider the reviewer comments (and short presentation in some divisions) and provide constructive feedback by May 1st at the latest.
    • A decision on whether the proposal is satisfactory, requires revision, or must be repeated the following year will be provided.
    • A proposal deemed inadequate will be returned to the student for revision. Revised proposals must be submitted in accordance with the division established timeline, and these proposals will be re-reviewed by the original panel.
    • It will be extremely rare for ORPs to not be approved: this will be reserved only for cases where no effort was apparent, or other extreme scenarios. Even proposals with a fatal flaw can successfully pass the exercise if the student wrote clearly and examined a new area.

For details, see the divisional guidelines as follows:

Year 4 Check-in Meeting –In year 4 the student will review progress towards and plans to complete the dissertation with their committee. The student should provide an updated detailed dissertation outline and a timeline for completing all planned chapters. The committee feedback is advisory only at this stage.

Publications – At least 1 first- or co first-author research publication must be submitted before the PhD defense.

Defense/Dissertation – The final oral examination will be administered by the student’s Dissertation Committee, and it is the dissertation advisor’s responsibility to ensure the thesis draft is appropriate for committee evaluation. A draft of the doctoral dissertation must be submitted to the Dissertation Committee at least 2 weeks in advance. Two committee members, in addition to the advisor, must be identified as “readers” who report to the entire committee at the completion of the oral examination. All members must be present in person or virtually for the defense to proceed. If revisions are requested, it is the dissertation advisor’s responsibility to ensure that these modifications are made in a timely manner, and before a final signature is applied to the Doctoral Exam Report by the Committee Chair.

The examination has the student describing the dissertation research, discussing its significance, and defending its conclusions. The examination has both a public and private component.

The student submits the Doctoral Oral Examination Form to Chemistry Student Services at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam. Dissertations are submitted to the Graduate School according to the schedule in the Registrar’s Calendar. The dissertation is prepared and eventually submitted as directed in the Dissertation and Thesis Guide. The Doctoral Exam Report is submitted to the Graduate School after corrections have been made and all signatures obtained. The title page is signed by the advisor and the “designated readers”, and included as a scanned image for uploading to the Graduate School. A curriculum vita is included as an appendix.

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