PhD Program of Study

Course Requirements

The PhD program requirements consist of a minimum of six credit units of lecture courses  of which are usually completed in the first academic year. In addition to the six required courses, students must also take the Chemical Information Course worth 0.5 credits. Frequently, students having interdisciplinary interests will take some courses in other departments in their second semester. Twenty units of combined course and research credit are required for the Ph.D. degree, after which students enter "dissertation" status until they graduate. Graduate Chemistry Courses are listed here: 400 level and above.

Lab Rotations
Ph.D. candidates in the biological chemistry or biophysical chemistry divisions are required to take 2 half-semester courses (CHEM 699) with a member of the Chemistry Graduate Group during the fall semester of their first academic year.
Supervisor Selection

The supervisor selection process occurs during the first semester of study. The process is three stages: faculty interviews, faculty seminars, and rank-ordered choices.

Faculty Interviews

First year students must conduct a series of meetings with at least 6 faculty members as potential supervisors.  Students are expected to familiarize themselves with the professors’ research and the work of their groups.  Every student must conduct these “interviews” with faculty and turn in a form  to the Graduate Office.

Faculty Seminars

A weekly seminar series featuring current faculty members interested in recruiting students for their groups.  These are generally held every Wednesday evening from mid‐September through mid-November (5-6:30pm).  Attendance at these seminars is required and recorded for all first-year students, regardless of division interest.

Rank-Ordered Choices

Towards the end of the fall semester, all first‐year students must submit a rank-ordered list of top choices for research group assignments. Students are then matched with supervisors.

Teaching Requirement

We require students to serve as Teaching Assistants for at least two semesters, usually during the first year. Teaching Assistants are responsible for supervising laboratory sections or conducting recitation classes under the guidance of a faculty member. New Teaching Assistants in Chemistry are prepared for their teaching responsibility through a special training program held for one week before the start of the fall semester.


A regular program of seminars, in which distinguished scientists visit the Chemistry Department, is an essential part of the curriculum. At Penn, there are weekly departmental research seminars in biological, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are strongly encouraged to participate. Additional interdisciplinary seminar series (Biochemistry/ Biophysics Minisymposium; Interface of Chemistry and Biology) and special sponsored lectures (Aldrich, Axalta Coatings, Novartis, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Edgar Fahs Smith, ACS Philadelphia Section Award, Philadelphia Organic Chemists' Club, etc.) also offer opportunities to hear from premier scientists.

Research Project

A major portion of the work towards a Ph.D. degree is a research project leading to the thesis. This usually involves several years of research under the supervision of a particular faculty member. Increasingly, chemistry-based students are becoming involved in interdisciplinary areas of research involving collaborations with faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows from other departments or institutions.

In the fall of the second year, each graduate student chooses a Dissertation Committee composed of three faculty members other than the Research Advisor. Yearly Dissertation Committee meetings monitor student progress, culminating in a public seminar, final oral examination and submission of thesis. The average time to complete the Chemistry Ph.D. Degree is 5.5 years.
Ethics and Research
"Handbook for Students: Ethics and Original Research" focuses primarily on integrity in the preparation of scholarly texts. It provides important information about correctly acknowledging sources, guidelines for collaboration, and information about what constitutes violations of academic integrity.