The Chemistry Department offers a flexible program that allows students to select courses tailored to their individual background and research interests. Students also teach for two semesters.
As part of the requirement for a PhD degree, MIT requires a General Examination, with both an oral and written part. The Oral Examination for the PhD in Chemistry must be passed by the end of the fourth semester of graduate study. No other general written examinations are required. In particular, no qualifying (or entrance) examinations are given.
A final oral presentation of doctoral research is scheduled after the thesis has been submitted and evaluated by a committee of faculty.
Coursework and Teaching
All students are required to teach for two semesters in their first year.
2nd Year Oral & Written Exams
MIT requires that all Ph.D. candidates pass general oral and written examinations in their field of study. For chemistry students, these exams occur in the spring of the second year. The faculty committee will (i) assess whether the student has progressed sufficiently to be on-track for obtaining a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry and (ii) provide constructive feedback to help the student reach their full potential during the period of study at MIT. Thus, the overarching purpose of the examination includes fulfilling Institutional requirements for Ph.D. students and evaluating:
1. Progress towards the PhD degree (coursework, research) indicating that the student is on track to receive a doctoral degree in Chemistry
2. General knowledge and understanding in the broad field of study and specific sub-area
3. Critical thinking, including the ability to use core principles to think through unfamiliar topics
4. Ability to communicate effectively in oral and written forms, think logically and independently, and defend a point of view
5. Ability to formulate upcoming research plans and present a feasible timeline for progress towards completion of research goals
6. Overall scholarship
Each research area will schedule the second-year exams independently within the April-June time frame. The oral exam will be scheduled for 90 minutes. These 90 minutes include a 75-minute oral exam followed by a 15-minute session for the faculty to evaluate the exam and prepare feedback for the student. The exam will commence with an uninterrupted, 15-minute research presentation by the student followed by a 60-minute session with the faculty committee that includes Q&A and discussion. The written report has a maximum length of 10 pages and is submitted prior to the oral exam, deadlines are provided by each research area.
As the first step, second-year students meet with their research advisors to discuss which faculty might be appropriate as members of their Thesis Committee. Thesis Committees must be composed of at least two other MIT faculty besides your advisor. Your Thesis Committee chair must be from the department of chemistry and in your area of chemistry (chemical biology, inorganic, organic, or physical). Please see the notes below if you are working in a research group outside the department and/or are co-advised. You are required to propose at least four faculty members as candidates for your committee in addition to your advisor, though you may propose up to six faculty members. Students should fill out the online Thesis Committee Nomination Form by Friday, September 15, 2023. Submitted forms are then reviewed by the Graduate Officer and a faculty advisory group who assign final Thesis Committees. They will also choose one of these faculty members to be your Thesis Committee Chair. This process is necessary to avoid the past problem of some faculty being assigned to an inordinately large number of committees. If you are listing any faculty outside the department, please contact them before submitting your form to confirm that they are willing to serve on your Thesis Committee and attend all relevant examinations and meetings. You do not need to reach out to any faculty within the department about serving on your thesis committee.
Students wishing subsequently to change their Thesis Committee, for reasons including significant changes in the direction of their research topic, should email Jennifer Weisman with the reason for requesting a change. Students must receive a positive response from the Chemistry Education Office in order for the change in committee to take effect. Since changes in Thesis Committee membership can only be granted in unusual circumstances, students should contact the members of their committee to schedule the date for their oral defense well in advance of when they expect to complete their dissertation.
In the second year, each student’s research progress and intellectual development is evaluated through the Oral Examination. If a division requires an examination after the second year, Thesis Committee members also meet then. The thesis committee also meets for the Plan to Finish Meeting described below. Students (and research advisors) may arrange an additional meeting of the Thesis Committee in special circumstances by contacting the chair of the committee. Additionally, beginning in the second year of graduate study, each student meets with the Chair of their Thesis Committee at least once during the fall semester.
*Please note that if you are conducting research outside the department your Thesis Committee must be composed of at least two other MIT faculty besides your advisor and both must be from the Department of Chemistry. As noted above, your Thesis Committee chair must be in your area of chemistry (chemical biology, inorganic, organic, or physical).
*If you are co-advised your Thesis Committee will have 4 members (both co-advisors, a Thesis Committee chair, and Thesis Committee member).
Annual Meeting with Research Advisor
Under this system, research advisors are required to meet with each graduate student in their group who is in their second or later year to discuss the student’s intellectual and professional development over the past year and progress toward the degree. Prior to this meeting, students should complete Parts I-II of the required form on their own. Send the file to your Advisor the night before the meeting. At the meeting, students discuss their progress, future plans, and concerns with their advisor. The completed Graduate Student Annual Research Advisor Meeting form must be signed by both the student and their research advisor. Note that this is only a suggested format for the meeting. You and your advisor may choose a different format for the discussion as long as there is some written summary.
After the meeting, please bring the completed and signed form to Jennifer Weisman in the Chemistry Education Office (6-205). She will record that the meeting has been completed but will not keep the form, it is yours to keep. If you prefer, you may send the form electronically to Jennifer and she will delete the email after recording completion of the meeting. Meetings must be completed by February 5, 2024.
Annual Meeting with Thesis Committee Chair
Beginning in the second year of graduate student, each student meets annually with the Chair of their Thesis Committee. At these meetings, students update the Thesis Committee (TC) Chair on their on their research progress and general intellectual development in an informal and relaxed setting. The time, place, and format for this discussion is arranged between the student and Thesis Committee Chair. These meetings aim to encourage productive and stimulating discussions of science and to facilitate the development of further interactions between students and other members of the faculty besides research advisors. Students should keep in mind that these meetings are intended to focus primarily on academic and scientific matters, and that Thesis Committee Chairs are not bound by the same obligations with respect to privacy as are the Chemistry Department Mediators.
After the meeting, please bring the signed Thesis Chair Annual Meeting Form to the Chemistry Education Office (6-205). If you prefer, you may email the form to firstname.lastname@example.org. Meetings must be completed by February 5, 2024.
Plan to Finish Meeting
Updated October 2022
By June 1st (and preferably before April 15th) of the 4th year, each PhD student will participate in the Plan to Finish (PTF) meeting with their thesis committee. The purpose of the PTF meeting is for the student to discuss their timeline and plans for finishing a PhD.
In the 5th year and beyond, if the student is not defending the PhD thesis by August 31st of the 5th year, the student will have another PTF meeting before June 1st (and preferably before April 15th) of that calendar year, and the PTF meeting will be repeated annually until the year the student defends their thesis. Thus, a student who graduates in year five will have one PTF meeting, one who graduates in year six will have two, and so forth.
Before the meeting: The student will prepare and share slides containing a summary of their research progress and their plans for research and completing the PhD thesis.
- In discussing future plans the student should pay close attention to:
- Projects that will be wrapped up and/or relinquished
- Papers that will be written and/or submitted
- Opportunities for professional development
- Plans for after graduation
- The presentation should be succinct, not more than 8–10 slides total. These slides should include:
(1) 1–2 introductory slides, one of which must display a proposed table of contents for the PhD thesis. The TOC includes the title for each proposed chapter and state of each chapter (e.g. “Experiments complete and manuscript published”, “Experiments nearly completed and manuscript writing in progress”, “Experiments ongoing”).
(2) 1–3 slides per thesis chapter and associated future work linked to each chapter.
(3) 1 slide summarizing future plans with a realistic timeline for completion of all the proposed activities (the PTF timeline). Be sure to include the status of plans for after graduation. The student should consult with their research advisor in preparing the PTF timeline.
- The slides must be sent to the committee at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting.
- Meetings will be scheduled at the student’s direction and be organized by the research supervisor’s administrative assistant. These meetings are intended to be in-person, but teleconference can be used in special circumstances.
During the meeting: The meeting will follow the format below.
First, the student will provide a short (10-20 minute) presentation of their research progress and future plans based on their slides. Faculty will participate in discussion of the research and plans during this presentation.
Next, the research supervisor will be asked to leave the room so that the thesis committee can confer privately with the student.
Subsequently, the student will be asked to leave the room for a short period so that the committee can confer privately with the research supervisor.
The thesis committee will offer constructive feedback during and after the presentation and following the private discussions. The committee may request changes and/or revisions to the PTF outline as part of the discussion.
The plan to finish meeting will last ~1 hour altogether.
After the meeting: The student will write-up a brief summary of the meeting, and submit it along with the PTF timeline and a signed PTF Form to the Chemistry Education Office as proof of completion. These items can be submitted as hard copies to the Chemistry Education Office or emailed to Dr. Jennifer Weisman.
- While the deadline to hold the PTF meeting is June 1st, students are strongly encouraged to complete their PTF Meeting by April 15th to avoid scheduling issues later in the spring. As a reminder, the research supervisor’s administrative assistant will schedule the meeting upon the student’s request.
- There is no possibility of failing the PTF meeting. The purpose of the meeting is fulfilled by the process of having it.
- Annual meetings with the research advisor are required every year, including the fourth year.
Graduate Student Exit Interviews
- Graduating students will be sent a list of interview questions by the Chemistry Education Office when the student joins the degree list. Instructions about scheduling a time for the in-person or virtual discussion will be included with other informational correspondence from the Chemistry Education Office regarding degree completion. Graduating students will perform their exit interview after the thesis defense so as to avoid making the interview an additional burden.
- For students departing the program without a degree, the interview questions and instructions for scheduling an in-person discussion will be sent by the Chemistry Education Office at the point in time that a date for termination of their appointment in Chemistry is determined.
- For the majority of departing students, this interview coincides with the end of the semester, but a rolling schedule of surveys is anticipated.
Guide for Graduate Students
For MD-PhD students in the HST program