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College of Arts and Sciences Department of Chemistry

Earning a Ph.D

Overview

At Washington State University, earning your Ph.D. is separate from earning an M.S. degree and it is not necessary to complete an M.S. before pursuing your Ph.D.

The Department of Chemistry offers courses of study leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees with opportunities for research in seven fields: analytical, environmental, radiochemistry, materials chemistry, inorganic, organic and bioorganic, and physical chemistry. The low student-to-faculty ratio assures students of individual guidance, yet the total size of the department provides excellent facilities for research, including the latest instrumentation.

The program of study for graduate students in the chemistry department provides a good balance between formal course work and research experience. In addition to the normal core classes, first-year graduate students also take a seminar course which provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of current research in chemistry within the department. With this exposure, students are typically comfortable selecting a research advisor by the end of their first semester. Individual divisions also have a weekly seminar program in which graduate students participate, gaining experience in presenting and discussing their own research.

You must meet with your dissertation committee at least once each year, usually in the spring semester, to present a progress report. First-year students will only be required to meet with their advisor during the first year since they may not have a committee selected until the second year.

Graduate Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Achieve expertise in fundamental areas of analytical, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry
  • Apply theory and methodologies within these areas to conduct independent research that addresses scientific and technological problems of broad chemical interest
  • Effectively communicate the results of their research in peer reviewed journal articles and in oral presentations to chemistry faculty and students in the department and at local, regional and national conferences
  • Become effective members of the scientific community by participating and taking leadership roles in teaching, professional organizations, and service on local, regional and national levels
  • Become independent, motivated researchers in a specific area of study with the ability to recognize and address important scientific problems and to make original contributions to the solution of these problems
  • Present an original proposal summarizing the existing literature in their area of study, posing an extant question or hypothesis, and presenting their plans for investigating and advancing the state of knowledge in this area
  • Conduct independent research using sound methods of data collection and analysis
  • Effectively present the results of their research in written and oral presentations
  • Attract and retain high quality graduate students and increase the number of graduate students in our program
  • Mentor graduate students to enable them to complete their degrees in a timely manner
  • Prepare students to successfully compete for academic, industrial, and government lab positions on graduation
  • Recruit and retain nationally and internationally recognized faculty and assist them to compete for extramural funding to support graduate student research assistantships
  • Perform undergraduate teaching, grading, and mentoring activities
  • Mentor graduate students to enable them to complete their degrees in a timely manner

Year 1

Most first-year students are provided financial support through appointment as a teaching assistant, in which case approximately 20 hours/week is spent as a TA in an undergraduate chemistry course. Because the completion of an advanced degree in chemistry is a research-centered activity, students seeking this degree that are supported on a TA are also required to engage in research as soon as possible in their career as a graduate student at Washington State University and to accept the implicit additional time commitment. Though the RA is nominally a part time job requiring 20 hours a week, successful students on RA appointment will find themselves spending a much greater amount of time in the lab, and enjoying it. Beginning graduate students are encouraged, but not required, to rotate through two or more laboratories to obtain first-hand experience about the work being done there.

In addition to your TA or RA, the remainder of your time is involved in taking courses, attending departmental seminars and researching which lab you’d like to join. In order to help you get acquainted with faculty research, you will be asked to interview three faculty members about their work. You will also enroll in Chem 590, a 1 credit course consisting of a daylong departmental symposium that will showcase the work being done in chemistry department research groups. Note that the Chem 590 and faculty interview requirements apply even if you have already made a decision as to which group to join. Being well acquainted with faculty research areas will be helpful in choosing the members of your committee.

Faithful seminar attendance will be a habit begun in your first year and will introduce you to a broad range of current topics in chemical research. In addition to regular attendance at departmental seminar, held at 4:10pm on Mondays in Fulmer 201, plan to attend at least one of the following weekly divisional seminars:

  • Analytical, Environmental and Radiochemistry (Chem 592) Fridays at 3:10pm in Fulmer 438
  • Chemistry of Biological Systems – (Chem 594) Tuesdays at 12:30pm in Fulmer 438
  • Inorganic – (Chem 591) Fridays at 3:10pm in Fulmer 438
  • Organic – (Chem 594) Tuesdays at 12:30pm in Fulmer 438
  • Physical Chemistry/Materials Seminar (Chem 593) Fridays at 4:10 pm in Fullmer 150

In addition to seminar attendance, you should strive to become acquainted with the literature in your planned area of research. Take advantage of the convenience of online access to current journals and the many journal clubs that are available to graduate students. Free copies of C&EN, Science and other journals are available around the department.

Also in your first year, you will begin work on completing your core course requirements. Keep in mind that the material in these core courses will form the basis for your written qualifying exams to be taken in your second year. It is recommended students do not take more than three 3 credit courses in any one semester.

To help you in your decision to join a research group, consider attending regular group meetings and reading faculty publications. You will find that research group meetings offer lively discussion of the latest work being done in a faculty member’s lab and a chance to get acquainted with the group’s style. By the start of spring semester you should have reached a decision about which group you’d like to join. You will need to reach an agreement with your research supervisor about financial support for the upcoming summer.

Your first summer in graduate school will give you the chance to totally immerse yourself in the research project you and your advisor have selected, without the distraction of courses or regular seminars.

Year 2

At the start of the Fall semester you will meet with your research advisor to determine which courses you should take to complete your program. By the end of the semester you should have formally selected your committee members and filed the Program for Doctoral Degree forms with the Graduate School. These forms have to be submitted one semester before you can schedule your Oral Preliminary Exam as described below under Year 3.

In the Spring semester, you will take written qualifying exams administered according to the research interest (AER, organic, inorganic, physical or materials science).

You will continue to dedicate yourself to your research project and the completion of your course requirements.

Year 3

The Graduate School requirement of an oral preliminary exam is met in the fall of the third year by writing an original research proposal and defending it to your committee. You will need to submit a completed scheduling form with approved examination date to the Graduate School at least 10 working days prior to the examination. After passing the oral preliminary exam, you will have a maximum of three years to complete your Ph.D. requirements. Any extension of time must be approved by the chemistry faculty and the Graduate School.

Subsequent Years

You must meet with your dissertation committee at least once each year, usually in the spring semester, to present a progress report. Throughout the remainder of your graduate school career, you will continue to develop your independence as a research scientist, to make new discoveries, and to increase the depth of your knowledge and experience. You will become the expert on your dissertation topic. As you delve more deeply into your research project, continued seminar attendance and reading of the literature will foster a broad and open-minded approach to scientific discovery.

Degree Completion

Of course, your written Ph.D. dissertation is the capstone of your graduate career and will describe a significant body of original scientific research. The adequacy of this work will be judged by your research advisor and committee members as well as the entire graduate faculty. Most successful Ph.D. candidates are already the first author on several papers by the time they reach this stage of their career. Though there is no set number of publications required for completion of the Ph.D., a typical dissertation will be the equivalent of at least two journal articles, with additional introductory material and experimental detail. Previously submitted manuscripts or published papers may be included in the dissertation but must be supplemented by a suitable introduction explaining the background and motivation for the work, and a summary chapter discussing the overall significance and conclusions. Publications give students a competitive edge on the job market after graduation.

The written dissertation will be submitted to your committee members well in advance of the date of your oral dissertation defense (at least one month). There are two oral parts to the defense of your dissertation: a departmental seminar and a presentation to your committee.

Graduation

It is strongly advised that the application for degree be submitted at least one semester before the final examination is scheduled so that the student can be notified of graduate requirements (“To-Do List”) before enrolling for the last semester. Submit completed scheduling form (including approved examination date, time and location) and a copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School Office at least 10 working days prior to examination date.

It is required that a copy of the dissertation be cleared by the Graduate School for compliance of format at the time of scheduling the final examination. A copy of the dissertation must be available for public inspection at least 5 working days prior to the final examination in the department office or location designated by the department. The student must provide a copy of the dissertation to each member of the committee at least 5 working days before the final examination. Dissertations should be turned in to the Grad School within five working days of successful completion of final oral examination.

Resources for Employment

WSU offers career services to assist our grad students to succeed in after graduation employment. Resume/CV and coverletter assistance by appointment through the Academic Success and Career Center is available. The Graduate School and the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) organize The Professional Development Initiative (PDI). The goal of PDI is to ensure that all graduate and professional students have the skills, knowledge, and mindsets necessary to succeed both professionally and academically. Many workshops and resources are available. For example, access to the Versatile Ph.D. and Job Search Databases. Additional early career resources, compiled by Professor Zachariah Heiden, are available at https://chem.wsu.edu/careerworkshop/resources/.