PhD in Chemistry

The PhD program is designed to develop students who are able to plan and carry out original research in chemistry. Studies begin with core courses in focus areas, with students quickly moving on to join research groups that match their interests. Opportunities abound for research presentations, publications and award achievement. Collaborations with colleagues in medicine, engineering and nearby federal research laboratories—including the National Institutes of Health, Naval Research Laboratory, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—provide rich research experiences.

Students in the PhD program must :

  • take and pass a set of core courses
  • take and pass a series of cumulative examinations
  • take and pass a candidacy exam
  • satisfy departmental "special requirements". These include presenting two seminars and
  • attend all departmental seminars

The following requirements apply to students matriculating in Spring 2014 or later. Current students may choose which requirements to follow.  For all other students, please see the pre-2014 Ph.D. requirements.

Ph.D. Curriculum

  1. Courses
  2. Special Departmental Requirements

 3. The General Examination



PhD Curriculum

1. Courses

a. The "Core" courses

Students develop a Program of Studies (POS) using the appropriate form in consultation with their doctoral committee and subject to the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) on behalf of the Graduate Affairs Committee. Any changes in the Program of Studies made at a later date are also subject to the approval of the DGS on behalf of the Graduate Affairs Committee and have to be documented on an updated form. In order to ensure breath of knowledge at an advanced level, the Program of Studies must include:

1) a minimum of 5 graduate (6000 and above) level courses taken at GW or equivalent courses* offered by another university.

2) at least 3 courses chosen from the 6000 level courses which are "core" courses as described in (4) below. Equivalent courses* offered by another university may be substituted for any or all of these 3 courses at the discretion of the Graduate Affairs Committee. This requirement cannot be fulfilled by achievement on the placement exams.

3) at least 1 graduate (6000 and above) level course must be taken from each of the 3 categories of core courses described in (4) below.  As with (2) above, equivalent courses* offered by another university may be substituted at the discretion of the Graduate Affairs Committee.

4) Courses designated as core are as follows:

Course #



Chem 6221

Spectrochemical Analysis


Chem 6277

Chemical Bonding


Chem 6278

Molecular Spectroscopy


Chem 6350

Organometallic Chemistry


Chem 6251

Advanced Organic Chemistry I


Chem 6235

Advanced Inorganic Chemistry I B

Chem 6259

Polymer Chemistry


Chem 6222

Biomedical Mass Spectrometry


Chem 6238

Chemistry of Inorganic Materials


Chem 6257

Physical Organic Chemistry


Chem 6273

Chemical Thermodynamics


5) An average of "B" (3.00/4.00) or better is required in the core curriculum to advance to candidacy.

*For a non-GW course to be taken for credit towards the PhD in Chemistry from GW, the student must submit a memo to the DGS containing: 1) a description of the request, 2) the non-GW course syllabus, and 3) the GW course information for which the substitution is requested.  The Graduate Affairs Committee must approve the request before the student may register for the course.

b. Advising of incoming graduate students

The Graduate Affairs Committee advises graduate students until a choice of doctoral Research Advisor has been made and reported to the Graduate Affairs Committee. Advising of incoming students should be done after placement exam scores are known. Students may be required to take remedial undergraduate coursework after taking into account the placement exam results and other relevant information concerning the student's undergraduate background in chemistry. Any undergraduate course the Graduate Affairs Committee assigns to the student must be completed prior to advancement to Candidacy unless a waiver is requested from and granted by the Graduate Affairs Committee.

Prior to the selection of a Doctoral Research Advisor, courses should be chosen after consultation between the Graduate Affairs Committee and the student concerning their choice of sub-discipline and the perceived relevance of the course offerings to the student's educational/career goals.

c. Research Courses & Beyond

Students with less than 48 credit hours must register for Advanced Reading and Re- search (Chem 8998). The number of credit hours varies, but students should take a total of 9 credit hours each semester (not including GTAP) between regular classes and research. Students who are transferring credits from another institution should consult the Director of Graduate Studies. After reaching 48 credit hours, students must register for Dissertation Research (Chem 8999). Again, the number of credit hours will vary, but students should continue to register for 9 credit hours per semester until reaching 72 credit hours. At that point, students must register for CCAS 0940, Continuing Research - Doctoral. This is a 1 credit hour course for which no grade is earned, and it allows the student to remain enrolled at GW without doing coursework. At this point, the student should also complete the Half-time / Full-time Certificate form from CCAS, which ensures a full- time enrollment status despite taking less than 9 credit hours.

NOTE: The decision about whether to take Chem 8998 vs. 8999 is driven purely by the number of credits accumulated. It has no relation to candidacy status. For more information, see 'Requirements for the Degrees' in the CCAS section of the Graduate Bulletin.

d. Additional Courses

The Graduate Affairs Committee may require up to 9 additional semester hours of for- mal courses in Chemistry or related fields. Nonetheless, the department expects students to begin their research work within 6 months after admission to the program.

PhD students in Chemistry may substitute up to 12 hours of Dissertation Research (Chem 8999) in the form of course work approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.. The 12 hours may be selected from appropriate courses offered by Columbian College, the Elliott School of International Affairs, the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health or the Law School.

e. Transfer of Credits

As noted in the University Bulletin, students who hold a Master’s Degree may request transfer of up to 24 credits toward the doctoral degree.   Approval of relevant course work is provided by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the Graduate Affairs Committee.

2. Special Departmental Requirements

a. Seminar Presentations

Students must present at least two seminars. The first seminar should be 25 - 30 minutes long on a topic from the literature or may be preliminary results from their research and must be given prior to the start of their fifth semester in the program. The second seminar is an hour-long seminar on the research and is generally given in the summer prior to the PhD defense.  An abstract (about 50 words) should be prepared to accompany the announcement of each student seminar.

b. Writing Skills

Competency in scientific writing is expected of all graduate students. Evidence of this ability will be obtained by periodic review of the student's research reports, examinations, papers for classes, seminar abstract, and other material. In the event of inadequate performance, a student may be required to take a course in scientific writing. Students are encouraged to make use of campus resources, such as the Writing Center, for help in achieving this goal.

3. The General Examination

The "General Examination" requirement described in the Bulletin is replaced by a two- part requirement consisting of a cumulative examination system and a Candidacy Exam. These requirements reflect the idea that course grades and research accomplishments are not a sufficient basis for awarding the PhD degree. Entrance into the candidacy cannot be approved until after completion of the General Examination.

a. Cumulative Examinations

Cumulative examinations will be given in each of four subdisciplines; Analytical, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry.  Cumulative examinations are a means of determining that students have reached a particular level of understanding of the broad principles of their subdiscipline and can apply those principles to different problems in their subdiscipline. These examinations are also a vehicle for demonstrating an ability to read the literature of a subdiscipline critically and for assessing some level of familiarity with the current literature of a particular subdiscipline. Each subdiscipline will provide Guidelines that define their Core knowledge, Major Exam Topics and Recent Literature from which they may be drawn upon.

Students begin taking cumulative examinations at the beginning of the 3rd semester in the program, although they may begin earlier if so desired. Students normally take the examinations in their subdiscipline, but may elect (in consultation with their Research Advisor) to take examinations in more than one of the four subdisciplines. For each examination points are assigned as follows: Pass - 2 points Low pass - 1 point Fail – 0. This requirement is completed when the student has accumulated a total of 10 points in 7 examinations or 12 points in 10 examinations. Students are disqualified from the PhD program if they have accumulated less than 12 points after 10 exams.

b. Candidacy Exam

A Candidacy Exam is required of all PhD students in chemistry. The purpose of this requirement is to demonstrate the student’s readiness to proceed with and complete his/her dissertation. The exam must be taken before the end of the student’s sixth semester in the program.  The date and time of each exam will be determined by the Chemistry Department Office in consultation with the PhD Research Advisor.

Candidacy Exam: Procedure for Fulfilling the Requirement

The student develops a PhD dissertation research plan in consultation with his/her Research Advisor. In principle, the Candidacy Exam may be scheduled at any time prior to the end of the student’s sixth semester in the program.  While it might be tempting to put off the exam until late in the term, the student should consult with the Department Office and the Research Advisor to anticipate any need to have the exam completed earlier.

Prior to the Candidacy Exam, the student must write a PhD research plan. The plan should include the research objective, the results of related research that have been re- ported in the literature, detailed descriptions of the experimental and/or theoretical work that would be performed, preliminary results that the student has obtained and how this work will fulfill the research objective(s). The plan must not exceed ten pages for the entire document, including figures and appendices, etc., with the exception of the reference section, which may be included on additional pages at the end of the document. The student may consult with his/her Research Advisor when writing the plan, particularly to ensure that the proposed research falls within that covered by any grant or contract from which the student may draw support, however, the plan must be the original work of the student.

The research plan must be formatted as follows:  Font – Times New Roman;  Size – 12; Line Space – 1.5; Margins – 1 inch. 

After the plan has been approved by the Research Advisor for readability (i.e., organization, style and syntax), the proposal should be electronically transmitted to the Chemistry Office and the Examining Committee as a PDF document.

The completed document must be transmitted to the members of the Examining Committee and in the possession of the Department Office at least seven calendar days before the scheduled oral examination. The Departmental Office should notify all faculty members that the research plan has been submitted and forward it to faculty upon request.

Attendance at the Candidacy Exam is limited to the student taking the examination and the faculty.   The Examining Committee, consisting of at minimum the Research Advisor and at least 2 other faculty members, must be present. The initial 20-30 minutes of the presentation is reserved for an oral presentation with appropriate media that summarizes the research plan, whereupon the floor is open to questions and discussion. Any faculty member present may take part in the examination. After the oral presentation and discussion, the committee consults with the other faculty members attending in executive session and then assigns a grade of Pass or Fail for the written research plan and the presentation. The committee may require additional coursework or other appropriate requirements to ensure a student’s preparation for dissertation research, regardless of the outcome of the exam. If the grade of Fail is awarded, the committee may, at its discretion, opt to allow the student to rewrite the plan and/or undergo re-examination within one month. No more than one grade of Fail for this requirement is permitted.

PhD Dissertations

Graduate students follow the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Student Handbook guidelines for the dissertation, including standards and how to submit the finished document.

The Department of Chemistry expects that a full-time student should complete the dissertation oral examination within three years after completion of the General Examination; four years will normally be allowed for a part-time student.

A copy of the ACS Style Guide may be borrowed from the Department Chair. This pro- vides specific information directed toward writers of chemistry papers (or theses/dissertations), such as chemical nomenclature, copyright policy, format for reference citations, oral presentations, etc.

Doctoral dissertations and master's theses must meet the formatting requirements specified by CCAS.

Consortium Courses

All students should be aware of the opportunity to take courses at any of the other universities in the Consortium of the Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area. Other Consortium members with graduate programs in chemistry are: American University, George Mason University, Georgetown University, Howard University, and the University of Maryland. Current catalogs and schedules of classes for these institutions can be obtained on their websites or by direct request. Consortium registration forms and instructions for Consortium registration may be obtained from the Office of the Registrar. Department approval by the Director of Graduate Studies is required, and approval will normally be limited to either courses not offered or available at GW or to cases where scheduling problems prohibit a student from taking the equivalent course(s) here. All approved Consortium courses must be added to the student's Program of Studies.

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