Program Organization

Guide to Graduate Studies-2016

The Department offers two distinct Ph.Ds. - one in Chemistry and one in Biochemistry. These programs encompass all areas of modern chemical research, including organic, physical, inorganic, and analytical chemistry, as well as biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. Interdisciplinary research is highly valued, and it is not uncommon to find chemists and biochemists in the Department working side by side, researching different aspects of a major scientific challenge. The Ph.D. degree programs follow the general outline of study in the diagram below. Prospective students may apply to the program through our online application.

  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
semesters 1-3
years 1-2
Selection of Advisor
Academic & Research Progress Exam    
Candidacy Exam        
Laboratory Research  
duration of program
Thesis Defense                  


Entering Ph.D. candidates begin with advanced courses in organic, physical, inorganic, or biochemistry depending on their discipline of interest. These are usually followed by specialized courses in related areas of chemistry, biology, physics, or engineering. Many of these choices will be made in consultation with a faculty advisor based on the goals and interests of the student. The course load is flexible but typically students take six courses over the first two years of the program. Courses can also be audited at any time.


Teaching experience is an integral part of the Ph.D. training process. It is particularly valued by those students considering careers in academia. Moreover, teaching experience is valuable for any student who will in turn lead others. Chemistry and biochemistry Ph.D. students are required to complete a minimum of two semesters as a teaching assistant (TA) during their degree. This requirement is normally met during the first year of the program. Duties as a TA vary (laboratory demonstrations, grading, recitation sections, office hours, etc.) and are typically limited to 8-12 hours per week.


Poster session in the Jordan Hall Galleria

Several seminar programs complement coursework. Student-led seminar series provide opportunities for students to gain experience in preparing and presenting talks as well as encouraging active discussion of current research topics. Students also attend regular departmental and divisional seminars given by distinguished visiting scientists. Seminars offered by other departments and programs, such as the Chemistry Biochemistry Biology Interface (CBBI) program or the Harper Cancer Research Institute are often of special interest to our Ph.D. students.

Academic & Research Progress Exam and Advancement to Candidacy

All Chemistry and Biochemistry Ph.D. students must pass the Academic and Research Progress (ARP) exam in their third semester to continue in the Ph.D. program. The goal of the ARP exam is to help students develop fundamental knowledge in their field, to demonstrate awareness of their research projects, and to show progress in their research. The exam consists of a written document and an oral defense in front of a faculty committee. The Oral Candidacy Exam is a second exam that is completed before the end of the student's fifth semester.  It represents a second examination of a student’s research progress and is a requirement of the Graduate school. 

Thesis Research

Professor Hartland and graduate student Todd Major work on an ultrafast laser experiment

After choosing a thesis advisor in the fall of their first year, all graduate students actively begin their research. Our students perform research in a variety of areas, ranging from computational chemistry to organic synthesis. Underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of modern chemistry and our department in particular, many chemistry students choose to complement their primary research with projects in fields such as molecular biology or engineering. A key component of graduate research in chemistry and biochemistry involves the dissemination of research results through publication in peer-reviewed journals. All graduate students are expected to publish their research in leading academic journals during their time in graduate school.