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Degree Programs in Chemistry

Master of Science and Master of Arts

Candidates for the MS degree in chemistry must demonstrate a general knowledge in the field and an ability to do original research in a specialized area of chemistry. While MS students need not take cumulative examinations, they must complete four courses and one semester of graduate seminar. They must also present and defend a thesis that describes and discusses their research.

MA candidates must complete six graduate courses; a research thesis is not required. Requirements for Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) are determined by the Graduate School of Education; a minimum of 20 credits in graduate-level chemistry courses is required.

Doctor of Philosophy

The PhD is awarded primarily for an original investigation which results in a significant advance in knowledge within an area of chemistry. A firm grasp of the fundamental principles, experimental techniques and current theories of chemistry is also required, and an extensive series of courses and seminars helps keep the student abreast of the latest developments in many fields. Students must demonstrate a breadth of understanding over the many areas of chemistry, a perspective of the relation of chemistry to other fields and expertise in the area chosen for dissertation research. We expect most students to complete their PhD programs in four years.

Proficiency in a specialized area is established by cumulative examinations (commonly referred to as "cums"), offered 10 times a year in any of the following areas: analytical, inorganic, organic, physical, biophysical, chemical physics or materials. Students are required to pass three out of eight of these exams in their major fields. The examinations may cover virtually any subject within the defined area, and provide the graduate curriculum committee with an assessment of the student's growth as a chemist. These exams begin no later than the second year of residence.

A student may, together with the his or her faculty adviser, prepare a proposal, with justification, for an alternative comprehensive examination, and submit the proposal to the graduate curriculum committee for its approval. If approved, the research adviser and the student nominate a guidance committee of at least five faculty members, including at least one tenured chemistry faculty member who is not the dissertation research adviser, with a nominated chairman who is not the dissertation research adviser. After approval by the graduate curriculum committee, the guidance committee becomes responsible for administering a comprehensive examination of the approved format, and for monitoring the student's progress toward the degree.

On completion of the "cums," each student takes an oral examination before a thesis committee, which uses this examination to determine whether the student has developed to the point where independent research can be appropriately carried out. Satisfactory completion of this examination is the final hurdle before completion of research and the presentation of a thesis.

The most important and time-consuming component of the PhD program is, of course, the research. Each student is required to complete a significant piece of scientific inquiry, write a thesis describing the work and the conclusions to be drawn from that work, and then defend the worked before a committee of chemistry and non-chemistry faculty.

Chemical Physics Program

An interdisciplinary graduate program in chemical physics has been approved by the faculty. Students with a strong undergraduate background in physics, either as a major or minor, can replace part of the chemistry placement, cumulative and oral examinations with analogous examinations in electricity and magnetism and in mechanics. Thesis research in the program can be carried out under the supervision of faculty members in the chemistry or physics departments. The graduate curriculum committee approves entry into this program.

Biophysical Chemistry Program

The graduate program is biophysical chemistry is a program for students wishing to specialize in the physical chemistry of biological systems. Students entering this program take a biochemistry placement examination in lieu of an organic, inorganic or analytical placement examination. In addition, a separate set of cumulative examinations is given, and students may count an additional course outside the department toward the minimum six to eight courses necessary for the PhD degree.

Materials Chemistry Program

An interdisciplinary graduate program in materials chemistry has recently been approved by the faculty. Students may take a materials and solid-state placement examination in lieu of the organic and analytical placement examinations. Relevant cumulative examinations are given, and courses outside the department are required toward the minimum courses necessary for the MS and PhD degrees.



At the start of the first semester, placement examinations are given in analytical, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry, or in the specialized areas of biochemistry, physics and solid state/materials sciences. The results are used to guide students' selection of courses. Graduate students are expected to take four to eight courses in the master's program, and six to eight courses in the doctoral program, two of which may be in geology, physics, mathematics, biology or the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to the regular graduate courses, special topics courses, offered each semester, cover a wide and varying range of subjects. In the graduate seminar program, students discuss the research of their or other's laboratories.

Research Adviser

Each student has to choose a research adviser by the end of the first year of study. The selection of an adviser is an important decision, since the adviser helps students with course selection and guides them in the development of a viable research program. The matching of students and research advisers is done with the guidance and approval of the graduate curriculum committee.

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Last Updated: 12/19/11