Year One

Coursework: You will begin work on completing your core course requirements, which will vary based on the specific division of chemistry you are studying. It’s important to keep in mind that the material covered in your core courses will be the basis for the written qualifying exams you will take in your second year. We recommended you take no more than 9 credits (three 3-credit courses) in any one semester so that you can successfully balance classroom learning with other obligations.

One requirement for all first-year students is Chem 590, a one-credit course consisting of a daylong departmental symposium and showcase of the work happening across all of our research groups.

Teaching assistantship: The majority of first-year graduate students in the Department of Chemistry PhD program are supported financially through a teaching assistant position, supporting a faculty member with an undergraduate chemistry course. The time commitment is approximately 20 hours per week.

In order to serve as Teaching Assistants, graduate students are also required to complete 1 credit of Chem 555 – Teaching Workshop.

Research assistantship: Additionally, because earning an advanced degree in chemistry is a research-centered activity, first-year students are expected to engage in research studies as soon as possible. You are encouraged, but not required, to rotate through two or more laboratories to obtain first-hand experience about different research programs. There is an implicit additional time commitment of approximately 20 hours per week.

To help first-year students get acquainted with faculty in the Department of Chemistry, you will be asked to interview three faculty members about their work. Even if you have already been accepted into a research group, being well acquainted with faculty and their research areas will be helpful when you are selecting members of your PhD committee.

Joining a Research Group: To help you decide which research group you are interested in joining, consider attending regular group meetings and reading faculty publications. Group meetings offer lively discussion of the latest work being done in a faculty member’s lab and the 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.

Seminars: Faithful seminar attendance is a habit we encourage you to develop in your first year. You will be introduced to a broad range of current topics in chemical research and have the opportunity to meet scientist and colleagues from other institutions.

In addition to the main department seminar held on Monday afternoons, plan to attend at least one weekly divisional seminar:

  • Analytical, Environmental and Radiochemistry
  • Chemistry of Biological Systems
  • Inorganic
  • Organic
  • Physical Chemistry/Materials

Literature: 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 available to graduate students.

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. Plan ahead: you will need to reach an agreement with your research supervisor about financial support for summer (May–August).

Year Two

In August, you will meet with your research advisor to determine which courses you should take to complete the classroom-based portion of your degree program.

By the end of the fall semester in December, you should have formally selected your committee members and filed the Program of Study Request form with the WSU Graduate School. This form must be received by the Graduate School at least one semester prior to scheduling your Oral Preliminary Exam (usually in the fall of Year 3).

At the end of the spring semester (April-May), you will take written qualifying exams administered according to your research interest (AER, organic, inorganic, physical or materials science).

Throughout your second year, continue to dedicate yourself to your research project, completion of your course requirements, and engaging with department seminars and research groups.

Residency in Washington state (for eligible students) is also expected at the beginning of Year Two. Plan ahead to meet this state requirement.

Year Three

In the third year, the WSU Graduate School mandates the completion of an oral preliminary exam, accomplished by crafting an innovative research proposal and presenting it for defense before your committee in the fall semester.

To schedule the examination, ensure the Examination Scheduling Form, along with the approved date, is submitted to the Graduate School at least 10 working days before the exam. Additionally, the research proposal must be shared with the student’s committee 10 days in advance of the examination date.

Passing the preliminary examination moves a student to the rank of “doctoral candidate.” From this notable milestone, students will have a maximum of three years to complete their PhD degree program. Any extension of time must be approved by the chemistry faculty and the Graduate School.

Continued dedication to your chosen research area is essential to advance your skill set, collect data supporting peer-reviewed publications, and prepare for graduation and future employment. 

Years four to six

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.

You must meet with your committee at least once each year, usually in the spring semester, to present a progress report.

Your dissertation

Your written PhD 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 and reviewed by the entire graduate faculty in chemistry.

Most successful PhD candidates are already the first author on several papers by the time they near the completion of their dissertation. Although there is no set number of publications required for degree completion, a typical dissertation will be the equivalent of at least two journal articles, with additional introductory material and experimental detail.

Publications give students a competitive edge on the job market after graduation. Previously submitted manuscripts or published papers may be included in your 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.

Your final written dissertation should be submitted to your committee members at least one month prior to the date of your oral dissertation defense. There are two oral parts to the defense of your dissertation: a departmental seminar and a presentation to your committee.