Program Requirements (Abridged)
The Chemistry Department offers a flexible program that allows students to select courses tailored to their individual background and research interests. Students also serve as a teaching assistant for two semesters.
The First Year
No specific courses are required for the degree. Each student, with the advice of a graduate advisor or their research supervisor, pursues an individual program of advanced study which is pertinent to their long-range research interests. In general, candidates for the PhD degree in chemistry are expected to have completed at least 48 units of subjects approved for this purpose by the department with a grade of B- or better. Graduate courses in Chemistry are typically 6 or 12 units each. Although it is not a formal departmental requirement to complete all required courses during the first year, many students do complete them by the end of their first year.
Teaching Assistant Requirement
All students are required to serve as a teaching assistant for two semesters in their first year.
Research Group Selection Process
All first-year students will be able to participate in activities to prepare them to select a lab. Some of these activities may include desk rotations, Chemical Biology lab rotations, faculty research talks, meeting with faculty/students individually, and attending group meetings. Students then fill out a form (usually in early November) with their top research advisor preferences. Faculty meet and decide who will be matched to which group.
While all students will have the opportunity to participate in Research Group Selection Process in the Fall, all students are required to join a lab before the summer term following the first academic year. After this, students are supported as Research Assistants or Fellows, subject to availability of funds.
The Second 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.
The examination helps evaluate:
- Progress towards the PhD degree (coursework, research) indicating that the student is on track to receive a doctoral degree in Chemistry
- General knowledge and understanding in the broad field of study and specific sub-area
- Critical thinking, including the ability to use core principles to think through unfamiliar topics
- Ability to communicate effectively in oral and written forms, think logically and independently, and defend a point of view
- Ability to formulate upcoming research plans and present a feasible timeline for progress towards completion of research goals
- Overall scholarship
Thesis Committees are composed of three MIT faculty members: the student’s research advisor, a thesis committee chair, and a thesis committee member. This committee is appointed at the beginning of each graduate students’ second year in the program. The role of the Thesis Committee includes monitoring progress toward the PhD degree, participating in oral examinations, participating in the Plan to Finish Meeting, and conducting the final evaluation of the doctoral thesis.
Annual Meeting with Research Advisor
Starting in their second year all graduate students meet annually with their Research Advisor and are required to submit a written confirmation of that meeting. The following system has been developed to ensure that every graduate student in the Department of Chemistry receives a substantive evaluation of their progress toward the doctoral degree from their research advisor at least once each year. The aim of this system is to improve communication and sharpen goals in a manner that does not increase stress.
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.
Beyond the Second Year
Based on which research area you are assigned, there will be different requirements; these requirements are specified in the Graduate Guide that is updated on an annual basis.
Plan to Finish Meeting
By the end of the fourth year, all PhD students will participate in a meeting – the plan to finish (PTF) meeting – with their thesis committee. The purpose of this meeting is for the student to discuss their timeline and plans for finishing a PhD.
In the fifth year and beyond, 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.
All PhD candidates must have a Thesis Defense and submit a doctoral thesis before they graduate. A general submission process is made available to students here.
Graduate Student Exit Interviews
All exiting students are strongly encouraged to participate in an exit interview. Graduating students will be sent a list of interview questions by the Chemistry Education Office when the student joins the degree list.