Program Organization

Our department offers two distinct Ph.D.s - one in Chemistry and one in Biochemistry. These programs encompass all areas of modern chemical research, including organic, physical, analytical, and inorganic chemistry, as well as biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. Interdisciplinary research is highly valued, and it is common 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.

A short summary of each section is provided below, and detailed information can be found in our Guide to Graduate Studies.

  Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5
semesters 1-3
years 1-2
Selection of Advisor
Oral Candidacy Exam    
Research Progress Report            
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.


Analytical Chemistry Meeting

Teaching experience is an integral part of the Ph.D. training process. While particularly valued by those students considering careers in academia, 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). 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.


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.

Oral Candidacy Exam & Research Progress Report

All chemistry and biochemistry Ph.D. students must pass the University Oral Candidacy Exam (OCE) in their third semester to continue in the Ph.D. program. The purpose of the OCE is for the student’s committee to determine if the student is prepared for Ph.D. studies. This includes demonstration of fundamental knowledge in their field, awareness of the goals of their research project, and progress in their laboratory investigations. The exam consists of a written document and an oral defense in front of the student’s committee. The Research Progress Report is a second requirement, with both written and oral components, that must be completed by the end of the 4th year of studies. The purpose of the report is: (i) to provide the thesis committee with an update on the student’s progress, (ii) to give a clear path to graduation, and (iii) to provide practice for the thesis defense.

Thesis Research


After choosing a thesis advisor in the fall of their first year, all graduate students actively begin their research. Our students conduct research in a variety of areas, ranging from computational chemistry to organic synthesis. Underscoring the interdisciplinary nature of modern chemistry and of 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.