Graduate Program

IV. Degree Requirements for the PhD in Chemistry

A. Undergraduate Prerequisites for Graduate Study

Graduate students in Chemistry are required to have passed a minimum of 2 semesters of organic chemistry, 1 semester of organic laboratory and 1 semester of physical chemistry as part of their undergraduate curriculum. Students admitted without these courses will be required to make up the deficiencies with the appropriate survey course.

 B. Course Requirements (for graduate school requirements, see catalog)

A minimum of 48 semester hours of course credit, including formal lecture, seminar and research techniques courses, is required for the Ph.D. Of these credit hours, a maximum of 20% may be pass/fail courses. The remaining credit hours must be taken for a letter grade, and a GPA ≥ 3.0 must be maintained overall. In addition, a student is required to complete no less than 24 hours of dissertation research (CH 699, NOT thesis research, CH 599, which counts only for M.S. students).

NOTE:   Each student should be advised by the graduate committee or his/her research mentor prior to course registration for all semesters in residence.

 1. Formal Lecture/Laboratory Courses (departmental requirement)

Ph.D. students are required to take six (6) lecture courses: four formal lecture/lab graduate courses in a major field and two formal lecture graduate courses in areas outside their major field. These courses should be selected so that upon their completion the student will have the necessary tools to perform and make original contributions to his/her dissertation. This minimum course requirement has been established on the assumption that the student has completed a B.S. degree in chemistry (with at least 32 semester hours of chemistry coursework) and has undergraduate grades to indicate that he/she has a good grasp of the subject matter.

If undergraduate preparation and/or placement exam performance indicates that the student is weak in one or more of the areas planned for graduate study, then the student is urged to consider taking the appropriate survey course(s) first. The courses which are normally offered include:

                                  (1) Analytical Chemistry Survey – CH521 (Spring semester)

(2) Inorganic Chemistry Survey – CH 501 (Fall semester)

(3) Organic Chemistry Survey – CH 530 (every semester)

(4) Physical Chemistry Survey – CH 540 (Fall semester)

Note that survey courses do not count toward the required six formal lecture courses except for CH 501, which may be used by all except inorganic majors.

2. Schedule for Completing Required Courses

Doctoral students will normally finish lecture courses within their first four academic semesters. This means that first year students will take two lecture courses per semester, and the final two courses will be completed in the second. The remaining credit hours will be seminar and research techniques courses.

3. Withdrawing from Courses

Students are not allowed to drop graduate courses without permission of the Director of Graduate Studies. Students who want to petition to withdraw from a course should immediately contact the Graduate Director.

4. Courses in Major

Each student must take the core course(s) in his/her major area. A list of major courses (with core courses designated *) for each major area is given on the following page:

Graduate courses according to major area (updated Spring 2019)

* required course in the major area

† course can count in more than one area

 Analytical courses:

CH 524            Spectroscopic Methods of Analysis

CH 526            Chemometrics

CH 605            Special Topics in Inorganic Chemistry—X-ray Crystallography †

CH 621            Current Trends in Analytical Chemistry–Electrochemistry†

CH 626            Surface Analytical Techniques †

CH 627            Mass Spectrometry

Biochemistry courses:

CH 561            Biochemistry I

CH 562            Biochemistry II *

CH 563            Biochemistry Lab

CH 564            Biophysical Chemistry †

CH 565            Bioinorganic Chemistry †

CH 566            Bioorganic Chemistry †

Inorganic courses:

CH 501            Introduction to Graduate Inorganic Chemistry

(does not count for inorganic majors)

CH 565            Bioinorganic Chemistry †

CH 601            Structural Methods *

CH 605            Special Topics in Inorganic Chemistry—Polymer

CH 605            Special Topics in Inorganic Chemistry—X-ray Crystallography †

CH 609            Organometallic Chemistry †

Organic courses:

CH 505            Medicinal Chemistry

CH 531            Physical Organic Chemistry *

CH 532            Synthetic Organic Chemistry *

CH 637            Organic Spectroscopy *

CH 566            Advanced Bioorganic Chemistry †

CH 609            Organometallic Chemistry †

CH 635            Special Topics in Organic Chemistry

Physical courses:

CH 541            Adv. Physical Chemistry I: Kinetics and Statistical Thermodynamics *

CH 549            Adv. Physical Chemistry II: Atomic and Molecular Structure *

CH 621            Current Trends in Analytical Chemistry–Electrochemistry†

CH 626            Surface Analytical Techniques †

CH 643            Quantum Mechanics

PH 534            Digital Electronic and Computer Interfacing

PH 591            Advanced Laboratory

ChE 651          Statistical Mechanics and Multi-Scale Simulation Methods

Note:  Students may count courses not listed on the previous page. In these cases, the advisor will request (in writing) that the Graduate Committee count a course. This petition should briefly describe the student’s situation including how the new course will enhance the student’s studies. The Committee will then vote to accept or decline the petition or to request additional information. The student is then responsible for collecting the information which can include a copy of the course syllabus of and/or a detailed rationale for counting the course, including how it fits into the scientific curriculum and its impact on the student’s research work.

5. Courses outside Major

Students are expected to take two courses outside their major to strengthen and broaden their backgrounds. The student should consult with the Graduate Committee or his/her Research Advisor in the selection of these courses. Courses offered outside of the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry must be approved by the Graduate Committee using the process described above.

6. Exemptions from Formal Coursework/Transfer of Credits

Students who have already passed equivalent courses may request to transfer up to two of the six required lecture courses. A maximum of one course may be in the major area.

7. Seminars

Development of written and oral communication skills fulfills an important professional function: chemists are often called upon to give written and/or oral reports of their research work or the work of others. These presentations and the discussions that follow provide one of the most important avenues of communication in science. It is, therefore, necessary to learn how to communicate and to benefit from the ensuing discussions.

Chemistry Seminars, CH 585

Graduate students must register for Chemistry Seminar (CH585) every Fall and Spring semester. Exceptions will be made for students who are not on campus or have conflicts between assigned teaching duties and seminar times; these must be approved in writing by the Graduate Director.

Grades are to be based on attendance at Departmental seminars and graduate student research presentations. For attendance to count, students must (1) arrive on time, (2) personally sign the attendance sheet, and (3) stay until the end of the lecture (including question/answer times at the end of the talk). Assigned grades will be based on the percentage of seminars attended on the following scale:

                        100-85% A, 84-70% B, 69-55% C, 54-40% D, 39-0% F

The “total number” of seminars in a given semester will be determined based on the number of all scheduled departmental seminars and graduate student research presentations on the published “last day to drop a course with a W”. Seminars added to the schedule after this date will not increase the total number of seminars for grade purposes, but attendance will be recorded and count toward the course grade.

Literature and Communication in Graduate Chemistry, CH 584

In the Fall of the second year, graduate students must register for the Methods in Chemistry Research course (CH 584). This 3-hr course will focus on the development of skills necessary to research and critically analyze the chemical literature and to effectively communicate information in written and oral presentations. Students who do not earn a A or B grade in this course will be required to repeat the course at the next earliest opportunity. A second failure to earn a passing grade would constitute inadequate progress toward the degree and trigger dismissal from the graduate program.

 Research Seminar, CH 586

Near the time of their dissertation/thesis defense (and ideally immediately prior to the scheduled defense), the research seminar provides students the opportunity to present their research accomplishments to the Department community in terms of the historical perspective of the subject as well with the current results. It is expected that in the presentation, the student will demonstrate critical understanding and mastery of the subject matter. The lecture is graded by attending faculty members, and a grade of “C” or lower requires that an additional seminar be given during the next semester. CH 586 also requires attendance at seminars like CH 585. In addition, a written 2-page abstract of the talk must be distributed to faculty on the Friday preceding the presentation date.

CH 586 will typically occur during the last semester in residence for Ph.D. and Plan I (Thesis) M.S. students. Students should only register for CH586 ONCE. If you cannot complete the seminar during the registration semester, a grade of “incomplete” will be given; this will be replaced with a grade when the seminar is completed.

Students should see the Seminar Coordinator (currently Prof. Metzger) for scheduling and to obtain other information about requirement such as abstract preparation and presentation guidelines.

8. Research Credit toward a Degree

Graduate students will normally take ≥12 semester hours of “Research Techniques” courses over the span of their Ph.D. work. The research techniques courses are graded with a letter grade assigned by the research mentor. The exact number of hours of these courses required will depend on the sum of other graded coursework taken such that the total number of coursework credits is at least 48 hours. You may register for 1-6 credit hours of these courses in each semester. The following courses fit into this category:

1st Year – CH 570                                   Research Techniques in Chemistry

2nd year & beyond – CH 660                 Adv. Research Techniques in Chemistry

Note: Normally, the advanced research techniques courses will be taken after the first year and can be used to supplement research technique hr as needed to give the student enough graded coursework hours to meet the degree requirements (see above). Once doctoral students have achieved “Candidacy”, they must register for a minimum of 3 credit hours of dissertation research (CH699) in every Fall/Spring.

During the semester of their dissertation defense, the Graduate School permits students to enroll for only these three credit hours. Students whose dissertations are accepted after the deadline for graduation during the semester may be able to under-enroll in the following semester. Meet with the Graduate Director to discuss these options. Note that the visa requirements for international students generally do not permit under-enrollment.

C. The Dissertation Committee

After consultation with their research advisor, students will designate a dissertation committee. This is composed of five faculty members: Research Advisor (chair), three faculty from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, and one from outside of the Department. This last member can be a faculty member from another UA department or an individual from off-campus. In the latter case, the individual should hold a Ph.D. (or equivalent terminal degree) and should have a demonstrated record of research or scholarly activity. These individuals must be appointed to Temporary Membership on the UA Graduate Faculty. This procedure requires a CV from the individual and completion of the request form. If the qualifications of the individual are not evident from the CV, then a short, written explanation is required. This form should then be submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant.

To appoint a committee:

  1. Go to https://graduate.ua.edu/current-students/;
  2. At bottom, click on “Graduate Academic Activities” and login using MyBama credentials.
  3. Click on “Thesis/Dissertation Activities” and follow link to “manage” Committee Formation.
  4. Click on “Add New Member” and select name from list to invite each faculty member to serve on committee. You will need to designate your advisor as “Committee Chair”, other Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty as “Committee Member”, and the external member as “External Member”.

D. Meetings with the Committee

Students will hold annual meetings with their committees in the Spring semester. In each meeting, the student will present an update of their progress through the degree program, and the committee will provide feedback regarding the student’s progress. The committee can request that additional work be completed to address any deficiencies in the presentation. All remediation must be completed in the following semester (Summer). Failure to satisfactorily complete this requirement will result in the student being found out of good standing and, thus, ineligible for Departmental support.

Meetings should be scheduled as early as practical, and the Department should be notified of the planned meeting time, date and room (form on webpage). A minimum of three UA Chemistry committee members must be present for a valid meeting. All four UA Chemistry members are required for the 2nd year meeting (IRR, CH680). The entire committee should convene for the Oral Candidacy exam (3rd year, CH681) and the dissertation defense. When unavoidable, a committee member may attend these meetings remotely (via Skype or other teleconference technology).

First-Year Meeting

All students should briefly (≤30 minutes) meet with their committees in Spring of their first year. In this meeting, students should present:

      1. A summary of progress (grades, cumulative exams, etc.)
      2. A tentative Plan of Study
      3. Goals for summer research

Items 2 and 3 should be completed with significant input from the research advisor.

Second-Year Meeting: Initial Research Review (IRR, CH 680)                                                

All students must present to their committee an initial review of their research efforts, taken as a 1 hr course (IRR, CH680) in Spring of the 2nd year. The purpose of this meeting is for the student to demonstrate knowledge of his/her research project and document initial research progress for the committee. The committee will question the student and provide input about the initial research effort. There are two aspects of this examination that will be considered by the committee:

  1. A brief written summary (≤10 pages) by the student of the project and initial research findings to date is to be provided to the committee one week in advance of the meeting.
  2. An oral presentation with a period for discussion and questioning to follow such that the entire meeting is completed within 2 hours. The oral presentation should include:

a. A summary of progress (grades, cumulative exams, etc.)

b. A discussion of the background and significance of the research project

c. A description of the work completed to date

d. A description of plans for the next year

Comments from the committee about the student’s IRR will become part of the student’s academic record, and the committee will assign the student a grade for the CH 680 course based on progress, familiarity with the project, and the quality of the summary, presentation, and subsequent discussion. The grades will be:

PASS: the student has made satisfactory progress to continue in the program. The committee will also determine if the student should continue in the doctoral or M.S. degree program.

FAIL: the student has not made satisfactory progress and should be dismissed from the graduate program.

INCOMPLETE: the presentation was unsatisfactory, but the committee feels that with additional work, a passing grade can be earned. This remediation must be completed by the following semester.

Third-Year Meeting: Oral Candidacy Examination (OCE, CH 681)

After completion of the cumulative exams (see below), students must complete the “oral” part of the candidacy exam. This exam will be held as the Third Year Committee Meeting. Students will present a detailed research summary and an original research proposal. Each of these parts will be supported by a written document delivered to every committee member at least one week prior to the exam. In connection with this exam, students must register for CH681 (1 credit hour).

Research Presentation:

Students should prepare an oral presentation (supported with computer graphics) of results and prospects to be presented to the dissertation committee during the exam. Slides should be clear and properly referenced. The research presentation will be composed of:

a. A summary of progress (grades, cumulative exams, etc.)

b. A discussion of the background and significance of the research project

c. A description of the work completed to date

d. A description of plans for completing research for a dissertation

At this point, students should show command of their project’s background and goals. The motivation behind the project should be described. Additionally, students should begin to demonstrate the ability to critically evaluate their own results as well as make predictions regarding the outcomes of future work.

The research presentation will be supported by a written report composed of a minimum of ten double-spaced pages of text and figures. All information from sources other than the student (including other group members, UA personnel, and external resources) should be properly attributed. A list of consistently formatted references should be appended to the end of the report and will not contribute to the page count.

Original Research Proposal:

The remainder of the exam will involve the defense of an original research proposal. The proposal can be related to the student’s research but cannot involve an extant part of the advisor’s research program. Alternatively, the student can propose a line of inquiry remote from their own projects. In either case, the topic must be endorsed by the advisor as not being a current direction within their group. An abstract must be approved by the committee well in advance of the examination. The student will be evaluated on the identification of a significant research question, the development of hypotheses, and the proposal of specific experiments to test these hypotheses. The scope of the proposal should encompass a minimum of a single specific aim with the recognition of potential problems in the experimental design and potential routes to overcome them.

The proposed project should be described in a properly referenced paper handed out to each committee member at the same time as the research report. The proposal should be a minimum of five, double-spaced pages. Appended to this should be a budget appropriate for the scope of the proposed work. This budget should assume that the work will be performed in a standard laboratory at UA and should list costs of personnel, benefits, tuition, equipment not readily available at UA, travel, supplies, and overhead costs. More information on these can be found at the Office of Sponsored Research website. An oral presentation of the proposal should be prepared and defended by the student at the exam.

The committee will evaluate the presentations and award grades. A passing grade indicates that the student has passed both parts of the exam and satisfies the requirements for doctoral candidacy. Where one or both parts of the exam were deficient, an “incomplete” will be given. Additional work will then be required by the student to earn a passing mark. The nature of such work and the procedure to evaluate the results will be determined by the student’s committee. Satisfactory completion of this additional work will change the grade to “pass”. Failure to satisfactorily complete the work in a timely fashion will result in a grade of “fail”. The receipt of a “fail” grade signifies serious deficiencies that necessitate dismissal from the doctoral program. The Graduate Committee will determine (with input from the dissertation committee) whether relegation to the Master’s program is appropriate.

Fourth-Year Meeting (and Fifth-Year Meeting, if needed)

Annual committee meetings after achieving candidacy will be held in Spring to ensure that students remain on track for the timely completion of their dissertations. Students will present:

                            (1) A research update research progress

                            (2) A rough outline of the dissertation.

Every student should schedule a meeting with their dissertation committee in their 8th academic semester. The student will prepare and distribute a structured draft of the table of contents for their planned dissertation. Items should be labeled as completed, in progress, or planned. The student will then present an oral research update (with PowerPoint slides) to the committee. An important part of the discussion will involve the additional work that should be completed for the dissertation and the timeline for its completion. Students with dissertation defenses scheduled to allow graduation in the following semester (summer) will be allowed to waive this requirement; the advisor’s signature will be required to confirm these plans.

Students not graduating are required to repeat the ARR annually. At each meeting, the committee will evaluate whether an acceptable dissertation is likely to be produced. This determination will aid in decisions to extend departmental support beyond the 5th year. Again, students with dissertation defenses scheduled to allow graduation by the following term (for most students, the following summer) will be allowed to waive this requirement; the advisor’s signature will be required to confirm these plans.

Students who do not complete/pass annual committee meetings on time will not be in good standing and will not be eligible for graduate student assistantships in the following fall. In cases where extenuating circumstances (serious illness, for example) hinder the timely completion of a committee meeting, the Graduate Committee can be petitioned for a time extension.

E. Written Candidacy Exam: Cumulative Exams (Cumes)

Ph.D. candidates must pass four cumulative exams (cumes) within 20 opportunities. Cumes (in each major area of chemistry: biochemistry, inorganic, analytical, organic, and physical chemistry) are given monthly, except in August and December, normally on the 3rd Monday of the month at 7-10 PM in Shelby Hall. A cume schedule is posted each August in the main hallway. Students starting in Fall begin taking cumes in September of their first year and thus have until July of their 2nd year to pass 4 exams. Students must pass at least two exams in their major area. However, students may take cumes in any area of chemistry and up to two “passes” will be counted in areas outside of the major area. Students may only turn in one exam paper for grading in any given month (one attempt per session).

Although many beginning students do not pass cumulative exams, all students are strongly encouraged to take an exam in every session, do their best, and treat them as a learning experience. With time, students master the subject material well enough to pass these exams.

Cumulative exams constitute the written portion of a doctoral student’s “candidacy” exam. Failure to pass this requirement will result in dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

 F. Research and Dissertation

 1. Amount of Research for Dissertation

As chair of the dissertation committee, the research advisor will largely determine the amount of work required for the dissertation; however, the entire dissertation committee is involved in judging both the quality and quantity of research work accomplished as well as its defense by the student.

2. The Final Version of the Dissertation

A final version of the dissertation will be given to each of the committee members serving on the Dissertation Committee at least two weeks before the oral defense. The student is expected to be responsible for all aspects of the production of the dissertation, including the preparation, word processing, reproduction, dissemination to the committee members, and all costs involved.

3. Oral Defense of Dissertation

A majority affirmative vote by the Dissertation Committee hearing the oral defense constitutes satisfactory fulfillment of the research and dissertation requirement.

G. Policy Concerning Publications

At the time of graduation, the Ph.D. candidate will have at least one publication accepted by a refereed journal, or in lieu thereof, the dissertation will be examined by an external referee designated by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate Committee.