Department of Chemistry



PhD Program Requirements


Student’s must complete 12 credits of graduate level course work with grades of B or better.  The 12 credits must arise from courses contained in the menu provided below and/or approved by GSAC and the Graduate Curriculum Committee (GCC) before the start of the term.  Note that at least 6 credits of coursework with a GPA of at least 3.0 must be completed before the Preliminary Exam at the end of the first year (see section 2.3 in the handbook), and all 12 credits of coursework, with grades of B or better, must be completed in advance of the Comprehensive Exam (see section 2.4 in the handbook). Selection of core courses is done in consultation with GSAC before the Preliminary Exam, and it is done in consultation with the student’s Preliminary Exam committee after that.  The following core courses are offered; all are 3-credit courses, the schedule of courses is published each year:

  • Analytical: Chem 2210 Electroanalytical Chemistry, Chem 2220 Chemical Separations, Chem 2230 Analytical Spectroscopy
  • Biological: Chem 2810 Biological Chemistry 1, Chem 2820 Biological Chemistry 2
  • Inorganic: Chem 2110 Chemical Symmetry, Chem 2120 Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry
  • Organic: Chem 2310 Advanced Organic Chemistry 1, Chem 2320 Advanced Organic Chemistry 2
  • Physical: Chem 2430 Quantum Mechanics and Kinetics, Chem 2440 Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

In addition to these courses within the Department, students may request to take a course from outside the Department. Requests must be approved by GSAC (and the GCC) in advance of the term in which the course is taken. 

The University and the Department require that a minimum of 12 credit hours of coursework at the 2000- or 3000-level must be completed with an earned grade of B or better (Note: not a B average but rather a grade of B or better in courses totaling to 12 credits). 

Successful completion of the 12 credit course program represents the minimum course preparation for a graduate career in chemistry.  To provide additional opportunities, the Department offers a range of advanced courses in several branches of chemistry. Students who elect for an area-of-concentration (Analytical, Biological, Inorganic/Materials, Organic, and Physical) may be required to take particular sets of courses or additional courses beyond the minimum 12-credits.  Additional requirements and guidelines for areas-of-concentration are provided in Appendix V in the handbook. 

Students with Advanced Standing

Students who enter the graduate program with advanced standing (e.g., MD/PhD students and others who have already taken graduate-level courses in chemistry) may request permission from the Graduate Student Advising Committee to earn credit for a core course by taking an examination. Normally, this “credit by examination” option is available only to students who have previously taken a graduate-level course similar to one of this department’s core courses, as determined by the course instructor. Earning credit by examination involves the assignment of a letter grade based on an oral or written examination, at the discretion of the core course instructor. A course passed by examination counts towards the requirements for the 12-credit requirement.

Cumulative Exams

There are no cumulative exams in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.

Preliminary Examination

The student, in consultation with his/her advisor, must form a committee of three T/TS chemistry faculty including the advisor before the end of February in the second term in residence. The preliminary exam must occur in the period March - June of the student’s first academic year; i.e., in the last half of the student’s 2nd term in residence or the first half of the student’s 3rd term in residence.  To pass this exam the student must demonstrate a strong likelihood for passing the comprehensive exam, which occurs in the last part of the student’s second year in the program.  In the preliminary exam, the student must demonstrate i) good progress in meeting the course requirement (i.e., at least 6 credits with an average GPA of 3.0 or better), ii) an understanding of their research project (i.e., an ability to articulate their project’s goals and importance), and iii) basic skills and aptitude for chemistry research (i.e., a basic understanding and experience in theory, literature, and methods that are core to their research).

The goals of the preliminary exam are to assess the student’s progress and to advise the student on the best pathway forward in the graduate program.  The preliminary exam is a ‘closed door’ meeting that includes the student, the student’s advisor, and two other chemistry department T/TS faculty members. The student is required to provide the committee with a short (1 to 2 pages) description of their proposed dissertation research and a summary of her/his coursework progress at least 2 weeks in advance of the exam.  

A full description of the Preliminary examination is described in the handbook.

Comprehensive Examination

All PhD students are required to complete their comprehensive examination by the end of their sixth term in residence (end of spring of the second year). After completing the Comprehensive Examination, students are eligible to submit the Application for Admission to Candidacy form.  A full description of the Comprehensive examination is described in the handbook.