Ph.D. Requirements

Advisor and Committee Selection

New students must interview with at least three potential research advisors during the 1st semester. An advisor must be selected before the start of the 2nd semester. The number of departmentally-supported students (TAs) who may work with a given faculty member is limited; a student should select an advisor as soon as possible. An Advisor Selection Form must be filled out and returned to the Graduate Coordinator for approval by the Graduate Affairs Committee.

The research advisor will appoint a permanent committee to guide the student's studies by the end of the 2nd semester. The committee will have at least five members of the graduate faculty (with no less than three from the Chemistry department). A Committee Selection Form must be completed.

Program of Studies

Ph.D. students are required to pass three 8000-level chemistry courses in their field and at least three additional courses (at the 8000 level in the Department or 6000 level or above in different departments at MSU) for a minimum of 18 coursework graduate credit hours. A minimum of four courses will be taken in the student's first year in residence. Students, in conjunction with their advisors, will design a program of study, and this program will be ratified and approved by the student's graduate committee. The Program of Studies Form should be approved and submitted to the Graduate school before the end of the student's second semester in residence.

Additional courses will be recommended by the advisor and/or committee as appropriate for the student's interests and career objectives. A typical program of studies would include:

  • CH 9000 Dissertation Research (20 hours; required of all Ph.D. students).
  • Three 1-hour literature seminars (CH 8711, 8721, 8731; 3 hours; required).
  • A minimum of three, but often more, 3-hr 8000-level chemistry courses in the students field, chosen in consultation with the research director/committee.
  • A minimum of three additional 3-hr courses chosen in consultation with the research director/committee. These courses must be 8000 level in chemistry or 6000 level or above in a different department at MSU.

The approved Program of Studies should be completed by the end of the 2nd semester in residence.

Academic Standards and Probationary Policy

An overall GPA of 3.0/4.0 on all graduate courses is required by the university to remain in good-standing. The chemistry department additionally requires that the student must maintain a 3.0 average in all chemistry courses above the 6000 level. If either cumulative GPA drops below 3.0 at any time, the student will be placed on probation and be required to correct the deficiency by the end of the next semester. If after a probationary semester, a 3.0 cumulative GPA is still not achieved, a recommendation by the student's committee to the Graduate Affairs Committee is necessary for program continuation. The Graduate Affairs Committee decides what action should be taken. Possible actions include extension of probation, or dismissal from the Graduate Chemistry Program. Other requirements:

  • The University requires a "B" average on all graduate course work.
  • A "B" average is required for all chemistry courses above the 6000 level.
  • No grade under "C" can be accepted for graduate credit.


One of the three required literature seminars may be satisfied by an oral presentation at a regional or national research conference.


The results of an original research project are the basis for a Ph.D. dissertation. Since the completion of a research project requires the investment of a great deal of time and effort, research should begin as early as possible. It will require direction from a faculty advisor, and possible collaboration with other faculty, but it must be based in substantial part upon the work for which the student is solely responsible.

Research assistantships (RAs) may be available and students who accept an RA to work on specific projects which are supported by extramural funds (not from the Chemistry Dept.) will be solely responsible to the faculty member that manages the project. In certain cases, part or all of the RA research may be included in the student's dissertation. If this is not possible, the faculty advisor will clearly delineate the RA research and the dissertation research. Students should understand that extramural research funds are often renewed annually and that if the funding is discontinued, the RA may also be terminated.

Other Ph.D. Requirements

Preliminary Exams

The preliminary exam has separate written (cumulative exams) and oral (proposal) components.

Cumulative Exams

Ph.D. students must begin taking cumulative exams ("cumes") at the beginning of their second year in residence.

  • Cumes are given once a month during the regular academic year (8/yr) in chemical biology, analytical, inorganic, organic or physical chemistry
  • Exam topics are posted 1 week before the exam and students must select a topic 1 day before the exam.
  • Exam periods are 90-minutes long and all students take the exams at the same time.
  • Only one exam can be attempted in any exam period.
  • Cumes are graded as a pass or a fail; any missed exam is a fail.
  • Each student takes a maximum of 12 "regular" cumes (over 3 semesters).
  • Each student must pass two of the first six exams.
  • Each student must pass six exams from the 12 attempts.
  • Three passes must come from the student's research area, the other three are unrestricted.

Students may take one practice cume at the end of their first year in residence. If passed, the optional cume counts as one of the six required passes and can be used to meet the 2/6 criterion; if failed, it is discarded.

Graded exams are not returned, but can be reviewed by the student. Example exams are available in the Chemistry Department office.

If the student fails to meet these requirements, he or she will be placed in the M. S. program and must complete the M. S. degree before applying for readmission to the Ph.D. program. If readmitted to the Ph.D. program, the student does not retain any passes or fails and must immediately restart the cume process.

Oral Proposal

A Ph.D. student must write and orally defend an original research proposal before his/her committee. The oral defense must be scheduled by the third semester (including summer) following the semester in which the student passes his or her 6th cumulative exam. This requirement judges whether the student can independently select and develop an original research idea. The topic must not be directly related to the student's dissertation research. The proposal must follow the format required for an ACS-PRF Doctoral New Investigator grant application:

  • An abstract (≤ 250 words). Explain the rationale for the research, its objective, and the significance to the field if the objective is achieved.
  • The body (≤ 4000 words 12-point double-spaced excluding the abstract, figs and refs). Describe the proposed research, its significance, and give a general plan of procedure.
  • Number the pages (abstract as Page 1). Print the word count of the narrative (Proposal Narrative = nnn words) before the reference citations. Proposals exceeding 4000 words will be returned without review.
  • References must include the names of all authors, complete article title, complete journal title, year of publication, volume number (if any), and pages of cited article. Do not use et al. (e.g. Dunn, D.A., Lee, B.I., and Fahr, A., 2015. Characterization and Analysis of Oil-Shale. Journal of Petroleum Chemistry 16, 200-215.
  • A budget is not required.

Complete ACS-PRF guidelines are available here. If the proposal and/or oral defense are unsatisfactory, the student cannot apply to retake the exam until 4 months have elapsed since the first exam. Two failures on this exam will result in the student being dropped from further consideration as a doctoral candidate. The examination results (doctoral oral comprehensive) must be reported using the form on the Graduate School's website (the form must be downloaded by your major professor).

Please note the following deadlines for the oral exam:

  • June 1 to graduate in December.
  • November 1 to graduate in May.
  • February 1 to graduate in August.

Admission to Candidacy

A doctoral student can be admitted to candidacy when he/she has passed the oral exam, has selected a dissertation title, and has satisfactorily completed all coursework.  Students need to use the Admission to Candidacy Form.

Final Exam

When the student in the Ph.D. program has successfully completed his/her research project, as judged by the research advisor, the student should apply for the final oral examination. At this exam the candidate will present and defend his/her research before his/her committee, invited guests, fellow students, and general faculty. The candidate has two attempts in which to successfully complete this examination. The attempts must be at least four months apart. Please also note::

The results of the "doctoral final" must be reported using the form provided on the Graduate School's website (the form must be downloaded by your major professor).

Please note deadlines and general guidelines for submission of dissertations as published by the Office of Graduate Studies.