Materials Chemistry PhD Student Requirements


The primary activity of postgraduate study is research. Students are encouraged to begin their research as soon as possible. For most graduate students, research begins in earnest in their second semester. Research is conducted under the advice of one, or sometimes two, faculty in the Department of Chemistry or other participating department.


A minimum of two semesters at 0.5 time or three semesters at 0.25 time of teaching are required for PhD candidates.

Course Requirements

Each graduate student must complete a total of 20 hours of graduate-level coursework. Except in special circumstances, first year graduate students are required to complete at least two courses in each of their first two semesters. Students are encouraged to finish their course requirements during their first year. CHEM 584 (Introduction to Materials Chemistry) and CHEM 588 (Physical Methods in Materials Chemistry) should be taken. The following 400 level courses can be taken for graduate credit: CHEM 480, 482, 483, 488. Furthermore, 400- and 500-level courses outside of the Department may be taken for graduate credit; in the past, students have taken such courses in materials science and engineering, mathematics, computer sciences, geology, electrical engineering, physics, and biochemistry. Students who have had advanced training prior to coming to Illinois may petition to have certain course requirements waived.

In addition to the 20 hours of graduate coursework, materials graduate students also give two seminars (literature and final, see below):

  1. Core Courses
    Chem 584– Introduction to Materials Chemistry
    Chem 588– Physical Methods in Materials Chemistry
  2. Other Relevant Courses (an incomplete list)
    1. Physical Chemistry of Materials
      MCB 550– Biomolecular Physics
      CHEM 482– (MSE 458) Polymer Physical Chemistry
      CHBE 551– Chemical Kinetics + Catalysis
      CHBE 553 –Surface Chemistry
      MSE 401 – Thermodynamics of Materials
      MSE 402 – Kinetic Processes in Materials
    2. Materials Synthesis
      MSE 403 – Synthesis of Materials
      CHEM 438 – Advanced Organic Chemistry
      CHEM 480 (MSE 457) Polymer Chemistry
      CHEM 512 – Advanced Inorganic Chemistry
      CHEM 517 – Advanced Inorganic Laboratory
      CHEM 518 – Special Topics (if materials-related)
    3. Characterization Techniques/Spectroscopy
      Multiple courses are available which cover the topics of interest in this area, such as surface spectroscopy, electron microscopy, and optical analysis. Some examples are listed below:
      CHEM 483 – Solid State Structural Analysis
      CHEM 516 – Physical Inorganic Chemistry
      CHEM 522 – Experimental Spectroscopy
      CHEM 524– Electrochemical Methods
      CHEM 530 – Advanced Organic Chemistry: Structure and Spectroscopy
      MSE 452 – Polymer Laboratory
      MSE 481 – Electron Microscopy
      MSE 582 – Surface Physics
    4. Other Materials
      MSE 421 – Ceramic Processing
      MSE 445– Corrosion of Metals
      MSE 461– Electronic Materials II
      MSE 450 – Polymer Science and Engineering
      MSE 455 – Polymers Physics

Student Literature Seminar

In addition to the 20 hours of graduate coursework, materials graduate students also give two seminars (literature and final, see below); the first of these carries a credit of 1 hour in CHEM 585. Your literature seminar is expected before the end of your third full semester. Upon consultation with their faculty advisor students who are enrolled in 6 or more hours of coursework in their third semester may be granted a one semester extension of this deadline. You should enroll in CHEM 585 for 1 hour only for the semester in which you give your seminar.

The topic for the seminar should be approved by your faculty advisor and by the faculty member in charge of CHEM 585. A number of criteria are relevant to the choice of topic and these are discussed with enrollees in CHEM 585 You are responsible for turning in your seminar title to Katie Trabaris in A131 CLSL two weeks prior to your seminar. Email your abstract (pdf document) two days prior to your seminar. Please pay close attention to the guidelines given to you for your lit seminar abstract.

Preliminary PhD Examination

In the fifth semester, a written progress report is prepared and an oral presentation given to a committee of four faculty members, selected by you. The purpose of this preliminary exam is to check that your research is properly directed toward the thesis. You should prepare a paper that includes background information, research goals, and accomplishments. This can be no longer than 10 typed pages including references and figures. Preprints and reprints of research papers may be appended to this. The last page should be a detailed outline of your PhD thesis, chapter by chapter, with an indication of the current level of completion for each chapter. You will have an oral examination by your preliminary examination committee on your research and background information related to your research. The oral examination usually lasts 1 1/2 hours but you should reserve a room for two hours.

The preliminary examination committee consists of your research advisor and three or more other faculty. Two or three of these four faculty members must represent your major area of interest (e.g., materials chemistry), and at least two of the four faculty must be tenured. After consultation with your research advisor, you are responsible for arranging for the faculty members on your committee and for scheduling of the exam with them.

Successful completion of the preliminary examination is a requirement of the graduate college. There are three possible outcomes: (1) pass, (2) fail, (3) deferred. If the thesis committee members think it is appropriate, they may defer the preliminary exam for up to six months and request that you provide additional written material or an additional oral presentation.

The oral portion of the prelim must take place no later than the end of your fifth full semester. This would be January 1 of the third year for students arriving in August, and June 1 of the third year for students arriving in January. Students who enroll in Chemistry 312 or who must take both Chemistry 442 and Chemistry 444 are granted an extension of this deadline to June 1 for August arrivals and November 1 for January arrivals. You may formally petition to extend the deadline. Grounds for such a petition include medical reasons.

Six weeks in advance of the preliminary examination, notify Kate Neef in the Inorganic/Materials Office (A131 CLSL). She will arrange for the required form from the Graduate College and reserve a room. One week before the oral examination you must give each member of the committee a copy of your report. Remind each member of the committee the day before the exam.

Original Research Proposal

Successful completion of the research proposal is a requirement of the materials area.

Format your written proposal according to the instructions in the Materials Chemistry Research Fund application (taken from the ACS-PRF Type G Starter Grant). You can obtain the application form and information from Kate Neef. The proposal should not be directly related to your PhD research and must be written completely independent of your research advisor and other faculty members.

The due date for the original proposal is the last day of classes of the seventh full semester of graduate study. Email a pdf version of your ORP to Kate Neef in the IMP Office. Many students find that their original research proposals are useful as part of an application for a postdoctoral fellowship, or faculty position.

The original research proposal will be evaluated by your thesis committee, and a written report will be returned to you with one of three grades:

  • Acceptable: The proposal is of sufficient quality to satisfy the requirement.
  • Revise and Resubmit: The general tenor and topic of the proposal is adequate but there are specific areas where the committee would like to see more work; the report will describe these. The proposal is then to be modified and resubmitted incorporating the suggestions in the report. The report will also provide a time scale for resubmitting the proposal.
  • Unacceptable: The proposal is unacceptable. The report will advise the student to develop a new topic for the proposal involving a complete rewrite. This proposal will then be evaluated by the committee anew.

PhD Thesis

The PhD in Chemistry is given for making an original and significant contribution to chemical science as evidenced by a thesis on original research, which must be defended in the final oral examination. The choice of the thesis topic is a decision mutually agreed on by the student and advisor. Before writing the thesis, you should obtain a copy of "Handbook for Graduate Students Preparing to Deposit", which is available from the Graduate College Thesis Office in 218 Coble Hall (3-6278). Go to this website  for thesis and dissertation instructions. Notify Kate Neef in the IMP Office six weeks in advance of your final defense; she will arrange for the necessary paperwork.

Before writing the thesis, it is a good idea to check with  Graduate Student Services about matters of format such as correct abbreviations, proper format for reporting analytical data, etc. After the thesis is in final form, its format should be checked in the Graduate Student Services Office (109 Noyes Lab).Only after she and the Grad College have checked the thesis should it be reproduced.

Before the thesis is submitted to the Thesis Office, the Final Examination Result form and the Thesis/Dissertation Approval (TDA) form must be signed by the members of the committee and the Department Head. The Head will sign it only after the research director has signed it. The final check-out list should be obtained from Connie Knight in Graduate Student Services and it is self-explanatory.

Students who do not complete their PhD thesis by the end of five years must submit a brief (~2 pages) report to their committees, indicating plans for completing the research. At the committee’s discretion, another oral exam can be scheduled at any time after five years to reconsider the student’s eligibility for a PhD degree.

The Graduate College sets several deadlines during the academic year that dictate what semester and what year the PhD degree will be officially conferred. Students may deposit their thesis in advance of any one of these deadlines. The Graduate College Calendar lists the date of the deadlines for the current academic year.

Final Thesis Seminar

You should contact  Kate Neef in A131 CLSL to arrange a suitable date for your final thesis seminar. Furthermore, the thesis advisor and your committee must give formal approval of the seminar date. You should begin checking with them at least a month before you wish to schedule your final to confirm the date and time. Students are required to have a complete thesis draft submitted to their thesis committee not less than seven days before they give their final seminar.

Approximately three weeks prior to the desired date, you should contact  Kate Neef to have her request the final examination forms from the Graduate College and to reserve a room. At this time also give her your thesis title so that it can be included in the weekly SCS Seminar Schedule. You should make sure that all the members of your committee are available on the date and time chosen. The members of your committee may sign the final examination card immediately after the final seminar. You should email Kate Neef with a pdf version of your abstract at least two days before the actual date of the seminar. The same guidelines apply for this abstract as for the Chem 585 lit seminar abstract.

You must plan to complete your thesis and final seminar before leaving campus for your next position. It is nearly impossible to start a new job and finish a thesis at the same time.