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First Year

Course Requirements

Students must follow the curriculum outlined by their division in as listed in the Chemistry Graduate Program Handbook.  Additionally, every student must take CHEM 6780-Faculty Research Presentations, CHEM 6781-Laboratory Safety, and CHEM 6782-Ethics in Scientific Research during the first year of study.  Most coursework is completed in the first year with the exception of some advanced subjects which may be taken later in the program.  Elective courses outside of the department must be approved by the faculty advisor and vice chair, unless it is specifically listed as an acceptable elective in the Summary of Procedures and Requirements.  Requests for permission to take courses that are not coded CHEM or BIOCHEM can be submitted online for evaluation.  More information on course registration for the Autumn semester for incoming students is available here.

Advisor Selection

First-year graduate students are encouraged to remain open to exploring several options for potential faculty advisors when embarking on the advisor selection process. To that end, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has developed a formal system of advisor selection. The process is designed to encourage exploration while at the same time providing a solid foundation of information from which students can formulate their list of potential advisors. The primary purpose is to provide a mechanism for each graduate student to become acquainted with the research opportunities in the Department and to provide the time and information necessary to make a considered choice of research area and research advisor. The strong secondary purpose of this system is to allow the graduate faculty and students the opportunity to become acquainted with each other. The choice of a research advisor is probably the most important decision a student will make during his/her graduate career; therefore, it should be done objectively and carefully.

The advisor selection process is as follows:

  1. Faculty Research Presentations: During the first 7-week term of Autumn Semester, all first-year graduate students earn credit for CHEM 6780 for their mandatory attendance at faculty research presentations. The presentation sessions will be scheduled by division with each division being allotted two or three evenings on which the affiliated faculty can present. Each first-year graduate student is required to attend 6 of the 12 presentation sessions. The 6 sessions must be comprised of all of those assigned to the faculty from the division that the first-year student intends to join as well as presentation sessions by other divisions that will serve to expose the student to a wide-breadth of research being conducted in the Department. At the conclusion of the Faculty Research Presentations, each student will submit to the Grad Program Coordinator a list of potential advisors with whom they have either previously interacted or will interact as part of the Further Exploration component of the advisor selection process. This list will be reviewed and each student will then receive by e-mail an advisor selection process documentation sheet. All students will receive instructions during the semester regarding how and to whom to submit this list.
  2. Further Exploration: The further exploration component of the advisor selection process is self-directed by each individual student and is ongoing throughout Autumn Semester. The purpose of this component is for the student to further acquaint him/herself and interact with each potential advisor by participating in a variety of activities including, but not limited to, a short rotation in each advisor's group, attendance at group meetings, participating in lab tours, conducting interviews with the advisor and/or the advisor's current group members, and reviewing publications and other pertinent data (funding, # of PhD graduates, # of GTAs vs. GRAs per semester, et al). Biochemistry students are required to undertake three rotations in the first Autumn term.
  3. Final advisor selection and assignment to group: At the end of November (typically before the Thanksgiving holiday), each first-year student is required to submit to the Grad Program Coordinator a rank-ordered list of potential faculty advisors. Specific instructions for this process will be provided to students during the semester. This list cannot be submitted unless/until the student has had meaningful interaction (see list of activities above) with each of the faculty members who were included on the student's documentation sheet. Additionally, proof of interaction with each potential advisor must be provided to the Grad Program Coordinator. This proof could be in the form of the faculty member's signature on the documentation sheet or record of a rotation completed previous to the beginning of Autumn Semester as part of the summer research program. Once all students have submitted their rank-ordered advisor list, the lists will be sent out to the divisions. The faculty members in each division will meet and assign students to groups. By the end of the Autumn semester, each division's faculty secretary will send the list of group assignments to the Grad Program Coordinator who will communicate the assignments to the students so that research and student/advisor interactions can commence at the beginning of the Spring Semester.


First-Year Oral Exams

All students must take an oral examination near the end of their first year of study.  The focal point of this examination is a paper selected jointly by the student and advisor that is related to the student’s research topic. The purpose of this exam is to evaluate the student’s progress within the context of an activity that is relevant to their research interests, and to determine whether the student is ready to proceed with further requirements of the Ph.D. program. A brief overview of the process follows.  Full details are available in the Chemistry Graduate Program Handbook.

  • By April 1st, the Secretary of each division announces to students dates for administration of the first-year oral examination and the members of the division's oral exam committee or committees
  • The student and advisor are jointly responsible for selection of a journal article – related to the student’s research topic – that will form the basis of the exam.
  • The format of the exam will include a short presentation by the student of no more than 5-10 minutes, followed by approximately 50 minutes of questioning. The presentation and paper will serve as the starting point for the subject of the questions. Students will be expected to discuss the content of the paper and respond to questions about larger concepts underlying research described in the paper.
  • Full instructions regarding the FYOE are listed in the Chemistry Graduate Program Handbook.

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