The PhD Degree

The requirements for a PhD degree involve formal course work, a seminar presentation, special examinations, teaching, and research lab imageleading to the PhD thesis. More information about applying for the PhD degree can be found on the graduate admissions page.

Thesis research is the most important aspect of doctoral work. Students generally select a research advisor and begin research during their first year of graduate school. Once admitted as a graduate student in chemistry, a student may choose to work with any faculty member in the School of Chemical Sciences. The size of the department, combined with the great infrastructure for scientific research that exists at the University of Illinois, guarantees that all incoming students will be able to choose a research project congruent with their goals and interests.

Within the Department of Chemistry there are seven areas of study: Analytical, Chemical Biology, Inorganic, Materials, Organic, and Physical.

Another interdisciplinary PhD program of interest to chemists is Chemical Physics.

The well-prepared student can satisfy the formal course requirement within one year by taking five courses of graduate credit. The selection of these courses is, to a large extent, an individual matter, with the student's research interests and long-range plans being major factors in determining their selection. Courses both within and outside the department can be chosen.

PhD seminar In addition to the formal courses, students are expected to attend and participate in the departmental seminar program. Participation generally involves presenting a talk on a topic from the chemical literature during the second year of graduate work, as well as a second seminar, which may take a variety of forms.

The preliminary exam is usually completed before the end of the third year and is designed to evaluate the student's research. It involves a written research proposal, a written progress report on the thesis research project, and an oral discussion of a research proposal or the research progress of the student. The final exam, taken when the thesis work is completed, is an oral exam on the thesis project.

Students in the Department of Chemistry participate in teaching as part of the degree program. The department recognizes that teaching can be an effective experience in learning the fundamentals of a field and in developing communication skills. The duties of teaching assistants generally involve conducting laboratory or quiz sections in various undergraduate courses or working as a grader in more advanced courses. Assignment are made in accord with the student's background and interests whenever possible.

The MS Degree

Other programs that may be of interest to potential graduate students include the Master's Program in the Teaching of Chemistry and a joint degree program with the Law School.


Certificates are not degree programs but are short training programs that give graduate students additional expertise in certain areas. Certificates are issued to students who complete these programs.

Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) option. This option allows our students access to a more systematic training in numerical computation and the use of advanced computer architectures for their research projects. A chemistry graduate student whose PhD thesis has a substantial computational component would receive a CSE Certificate upon completion of the option.

Certificate in Business Administration for Scientists. This non-credit 10-session course is designed specifically for individuals who are interested in acquiring the basics of a business degree, but do not have the time to pursue one. It will provide participants with an understanding of the interrelationships of the functional areas of business as it is conducted in science-related industries. Each topic is discussed at length and practical applications will be given. At completion of the program, participants should be able to assess critical issues and develop appropriate solutions.

For more information and to obtain a brochure, please contact the College of Business, 217-244-3115.

Graduate Concentrations

Astrochemistry Concentration. Astrochemistry is an emerging interdisciplinary field at the intersection between chemistry and astronomy. As a few examples, topics of active research in this area include identifying organic molecules in interstellar space, building models of the chemical reactions that occur in interstellar space, laboratory measurements of astronomically important molecules, searching for Earthlike planets using molecular signatures, and understanding the contributions of interstellar molecules to the chemical origin of life. To succeed in this field, students require training in both of the traditional disciplines of chemistry and astronomy, as well as formal (transcript) recognition that they are qualified astrochemists. This graduate concentration provides these benefits.  More information can be found on the astrochemistry concentration page.  Additional information on all graduate concentrations at Illinois is available at the Graduate College website.