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The PhD Program

Our curriculum is designed to foster the intellect, curiosity, and creativity of our outstanding students. Through a rigorous program with a range of requirements and course options, we provide our PhDs with a well-rounded Chemistry education that lays the foundation for a variety of career trajectories.

Below is an overview of the major features of the Emory Chemistry doctoral program. Each provides students the experience, tools, and guidance to find successful and rewarding careers upon graduation. First year students  are immersed in the various roles and perspectives of a chemistry graduate student. They learn about and explore the research being conducted in the department through a research rotation program, begin coursework in their areas of interest, and act as a teaching assistant. After completing 2-4 rotations, students select a research advisor and are assigned a research group, usually by mid-February. Students should also begin taking their cumulative exams in the first year of graduate school. Beginning in the 2nd year, students will participate in an annual review of their research performance and knowledge. This comes in the form of a 2nd year Report, Annual Reports, Research Proposal, Dissertation and Defense. These reviews are completed in coordination with a student's advisor and research committee.

Research Rotation Program

In fall 2002, the Emory University Chemistry Department Graduate Program introduced a research rotation program for first-year students. This program has proven to be extremely popular with our students, who uniformly stated that it was helpful to work in two or three laboratories prior to making a final decision on a research advisor. Students receive course credit for Chem 504 (pass-no credit grading)

Beginning in late August, incoming students begin attending research presentations several evenings a week.  Each evening, usually two faculty members, often with different areas of interest, will give a brief presentation of his/her research to all of the incoming students. Students should also meet individually with potential faculty mentors during this time.  The presentations are usually completed by mid September at which time students can select a schedule of research rotations with two or three faculty.  Students’ choices of rotation advisors are due by September 6, 2013 at noon.

Faculty expectations will be discussed during one-on-one meetings prior to selection of rotation advisor. Satisfactory completion of the rotation will require attendance at all activities presented in the division (seminars, student seminars, journal club, etc.) and all group seminar activities during the rotation period.  It is reasonable for faculty to require a minimum hour-per-week requirement for students doing rotations in their lab, which can include divisional and group seminar attendance. Faculty may also provide rotation students with a supervised laboratory experience, which should be assigned on the first day of the rotation period.

Our objectives for the rotation experience:

To help first-year students make informed decisions when selecting a research advisor

To inspire incoming students to learn more about the research in the department, 3) To provide a first-hand experience in the research culture and mentoring styles of different laboratories

To offer a short-term opportunity to consider more closely research in an area of chemistry different from the area they initially chose upon arrival

To encourage upper-level graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in various laboratories to discuss their research with new graduate students

To inspire development of collaborations between two or more laboratories, with the possibility of students working with two research advisors. 

2013-14 Rotation Schedule

Three advisor rotations (7-8 week duration):

First Rotation: September 9 - October 26, 2013
Second Rotation: October 27 - December 14, 2013
Third Rotation: December 15 - February 7, 2014

Two rotations (11 week duration):

First rotation: September 9 - November 23, 2013
Second rotation: November 24 - February 7, 2014

Following the completion of the rotations, students will submit their first and second choice of research advisor on Friday, February 7 at noon. The Faculty will meet the following Monday to discuss assignments and advisors will be assigned.



All students entering in full standing must take 6 courses (4-units each) for a PhD degree. 4 courses are taken in the first year, and the remaining courses are generally special topics courses taken during the second year. Some courses may be taken in other science departments, including biochemistry and biological sciences, physics, mathematics, and computer science. Students who hold a Master’s degree may enter in advanced standing and must only take 4 courses for a PhD. To be moved from full to advanced standing, a student must earn 24 credits of a B- or better in 500+ level courses.

Each division maintains its own requirements regarding course distribution, seminar attendance, and evaluations.


Scientists are also teachers.  Whether instructing students in a formal classroom, presenting research to colleagues or informing the public, scientists must be able to communicate their knowledge to a range of audiences. 

During the first year, graduate students assist the faculty in teaching undergraduate laboratory or lecture courses after completing the 5-day workshop associated with the Laney Graduate School’s Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity Program (TATTO). As a teaching assistant, students can expect to spend 8-10 hours per week fulfilling their responsibilities, which may include: aiding in course material preparation, helping with lab sections, proctoring and grading homework, lab, quizzes, and exams, and other assignments in support of University instruction. First year students will be given their TA assignments in mid-August, prior to the fall semester.

Additional teaching and training opportunities are also available after the first year. Students who excel at teaching and are interested in academic positions after graduation are encouraged to apply for the Dean's Teaching Fellowship, PRISM, ORDER, Curriculum Development Fellowships, and IOS Program.

Formal Evaluations 

Cumulative Exams
During the first few years, students are asked to take cumulative examinations, which test their knowledge of current chemical literature and general problem solving abilities in their general area of chemistry. The exams help students assimilate material from scientific literature, seminars, and other resources and to apply that knowledge, logic, and reason to solving scientific problems.

This requirement must be completed by the middle of the third year. However, most students successfully complete cumulative exams by the end of the second year. Students receive 0-2 points for each exam (0=no pass, 1=half pass, 2=full pass). The requirement is completed when students have accumulated 10 points with at least 3 full passes. 

Exams are given in both the Fall and Spring semesters. There will be 24 departmental cumulative exams given each academic year (Each division offers three per semester). The topic will be given no later than one-week prior to the exam date.

Fall 2013 Exam Schedule

Spring 2014 Exam Schedule

2nd Year Report (Qualifying Exam)
The 2nd Year Report is an important milestone in the early career of a graduate student to reveal basic research skills and knowledge of literature as well as work ethic and motivation. In the Fall semester of the second year, students prepare a research report that outlines their progress to date and presents it to a committee of three faculty members in the student’s general research area. The presentation is followed by an oral examination. Satisfactory completion of the exam endorses the graduate student as a PhD candidate.

Annual Report
From the third year on, students are expected to complete an annual report on his/her own research each year to present to their faculty committee. A student in his/her 5th year who is not graduating will also need to submit a plan for graduation to their committee for approval.

The Committee

A unique aspect of Emory’s graduate program in chemistry is that a student meets with his or her committee at least once per year to ensure he or she is making good progress in research and in intellectual and career development. These meetings also provide students an opportunity to demonstrate their research accomplishments and growth as scientists to faculty other than the student’s research advisor, which can be quite helpful when letters of recommendation are needed for postgraduate employment or postdoctoral training.

At the beginning of the second year, the student's advisor, along with the faculty in his/her division, will recommend a committee who will evaluate research reports as well as the dissertation and defense.


Research Proposal

Following the completion of the cumulative exams, students must present and defend an original research proposal on a chemistry topic unrelated to research ongoing at Emory. Students are advised to discuss the proposal outline with their committee.


The major requirement for a PhD degree at Emory is the preparation and defense of the student’s dissertation, which makes an original and significant contribution to existing knowledge in chemistry. The dissertation is presented in a public seminar and a private defense with the student’s committee. Most Emory chemistry graduate students complete their dissertation within 5 years of entering graduate school.