Doctoral Program

researcher preparing an experiment


The PhD program is a research-intensive degree requiring a total of 72 credit hours and a dissertation.

For a complete description of the degree requirements, see our Graduate Student Handbook or the UA Graduate Catalog.


The 72 credit hours of coursework required of our PhD students can be broken down into 48 hours of coursework and 24 hours of dissertation research (CH 699). Students must maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 (B) to remain in the program.

Six lecture courses (18 hours) are required for the PhD degree. Of these courses, four must be in the student’s major area of study and two must be outside the major area. Normally, students complete these courses during their first two years in the program. If entrance exams show that a student is deficient in one or more areas, the student will be advised to take introductory courses in these areas; these courses will not count toward the requirement.

The remaining 30 hours of coursework will consist of seminars (CH 585/586), research techniques (CH 570), and advanced research techniques (CH 660) in the student’s major area. Students generally take 17 hours of research techniques courses. Advanced research techniques courses are taken if students need additional graded credit hours.


Each semester in residence, students will register for a research seminar (CH 584, CH 585, or CH 586). As part of these courses, attendance is required at the two departmental seminar series. The graduate seminar series is given by students in the program discussing their own results or research from the current literature. The departmental seminar series provides students with the opportunity to hear talks by academic and industrial researchers.

During their second year in the program, each PhD candidate will take CH 584 Literature and Communication in Chemical Research. This course will provide training in written and oral scientific communication. The course will culminate in a research paper and an oral presentation graded by the department faculty.

Prior to the final dissertation defense, each student will present a research seminar to the department (CH 586). This talk will allow the student to present an overview of the research that makes up the dissertation.


PhD candidates are normally expected to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for at least one academic year while in the program. Most students serve as TAs during their first year before becoming research assistants.

International students must gain accreditation by the International Teaching Assistants Program (ITAP) within their first year of support to qualify for additional TA support.

Additional Academic Requirements

Each PhD student must produce an initial research review, pass four cumulative exams, and write and defend an original research proposal.

Each PhD student must present an initial research review (IRR) to his or her dissertation committee prior to the end of the first month of the second year in the program (January for students starting in the fall semester). The IRR outlines the initial progress the student has made in his or her research project. The committee will provide comments about the student’s progress at this point in their career. If the degree of progress has been insufficient, or the presentation is not acceptable, the student may be asked to repeat the IRR.

PhD candidates must pass four cumulative exams prior to the end of their second year in residence. Cumulative exams are offered 10 times a year in the five core disciplines (analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, physical, and organic). Although students normally take exams in their major area, they are free to take any exam. Students begin taking exams during their first semester in the program, so they have 20 opportunities to obtain four passing grades.

Every PhD candidate must prepare and defend an original research proposal (ORP) prior to the end of his or her fifth semester in the program. The topic of the ORP is chosen by the student, but may not be related to any project in his or her research group. The student will write a seven- to 10-page outline of the proposed research, then defend this proposal orally in front of his or her dissertation committee. The student will also be asked to discuss his or her research progress during this meeting.

Research and Dissertation

The quantity of research required for the dissertation will normally be determined by the research advisor, although the entire dissertation committee will determine whether sufficient work has been done to award the PhD degree. Typically the PhD program takes at least four years, the bulk of which is spent working on a research project. The research for the PhD degree should encompass a significant body of work, and it is expected that this work will have resulted in at least one publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The dissertation should be prepared once the student and advisor, with advice from the dissertation committee, have agreed that a sufficient amount of work has been completed. The dissertation should be prepared according to the guidelines of the UA Graduate School. The dissertation should be distributed to the committee two weeks before the final defense is scheduled.

In the oral defense, the student should present a short overview of his or her dissertation research, unless the defense is held immediately following the student’s research seminar. After a period of questions, the committee will meet to determine whether the student has passed the oral defense. The committee will also make a recommendation regarding whether the dissertation is acceptable or requires additional corrections. When the committee members are satisfied, they will sign the dissertation acceptance form.