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Department of Chemistry Analytical Division

The Department of Chemistry offers courses of study leading to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees with opportunities for research in seven fields: analytical, environmental, radiochemistry, materials chemistry, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. The low student-to-faculty ratio assures students of individual guidance, yet the total size of the department provides excellent facilities for research, including the latest instrumentation.

The program of study for graduate students in the Department of Chemistry provides a good balance between formal course work and actual research experience. In addition to the normal core classes, first-year graduate students also take a seminar course which provides a forum for the presentation and discussion of current research in chemistry within the department. With this exposure, students are typically comfortable selecting a research adviser by the end of their first semester. Individual divisions also have a weekly seminar program in which graduate students participate, gaining experience in presenting and discussing their own research.

Year 1

Most first-year students are provided financial support through appointment as a teaching assistant, in which case approximately 20 hours/week is spent as a TA in an undergraduate chemistry course. Because the completion of an advanced degree in chemistry is a research-centered activity, students seeking this degree that are supported on a TA are also required to engage in research as soon as possible in their career as a graduate student at Washington State University and to accept the implicit additional time commitment. Though the RA is nominally a part time job requiring 20 hours a week, successful students on RA appointment will find themselves spending a much greater amount of time in the lab, and enjoying it. Beginning graduate students are encouraged, but not required, to rotate through two or more laboratories to obtain first-hand experience about the work being done there.

In addition to your TA or RA, the remainder of your time is involved in taking courses, attending departmental seminars and researching which lab you’d like to join. In order to help you get acquainted with faculty research, you will be asked to interview three faculty members about their work. You will also enroll in Chem 590, a 1 credit course consisting of a daylong departmental symposium that will showcase the work being done in chemistry department research groups. Note that the Chem 590 and faculty interview requirements apply even if you have already made a decision as to which group to join. Being well acquainted with faculty research areas will be helpful in choosing the members of your committee.

Faithful seminar attendance will be a habit begun in your first year and will introduce you to a broad range of current topics in chemical research. In addition to regular attendance at departmental seminar, held at 4:10 p.m. on Mondays in Fulmer 438, plan to attend at least one of the following weekly divisional seminars:

  • Analytical, environmental and radiochemistry (Chem 592)- Fridays at 3:10 p.m. in Fulmer 150
  • Chemistry of Biological Systems – TBA
  • Organic – Spring semester (Chem 594) – TBA
  • Physical Chemistry/Materials Seminar (Chem 593) – Fridays at 4:10 p.m. in Fulmer 125

In addition to seminar attendance, you should strive to become acquainted with the literature in your planned area of research. Take advantage of the convenience of online access to current journals to peruse the tables of contents and learn what is hot in the areas that pique your interest.

Also in your first year, you will begin work on completing your core course requirements. Keep in mind that the material in these core courses will form the basis for your written preliminary exams to be taken in Year 2.

To help you in your decision to join a research group, consider attending regular group meetings and reading faculty publications. You will find that research group meetings offer lively discussion of the latest work being done in a faculty member’s lab and a chance to get acquainted with the group’s style. By the start of spring semester you should have reached a decision about which group you’d like to join. You will need to reach an agreement with your research supervisor about financial support for the upcoming summer.

Your first summer in graduate school will give you the chance to totally immerse yourself in the research project you and your advisor have selected, without the distraction of courses or regular seminars.

Year 2

At the start of the fall semester you will meet with your research advisor to determine which courses you should take to complete your program. By the end of the semester you should have formally selected your committee members and filed the “Program for Doctoral Degree” forms with the Graduate School. You can obtain these forms online at These forms have to be submitted before you can schedule your oral exam as described below under Year 3.

In the spring semester you will take written preliminary exams administered according to the division (analytical, organic, inorganic, physical or materials science) that is home to your research group.

You will continue to dedicate yourself to your research project and the completion of your course requirements.

Year 3

The Graduate School requirement of an oral exam is met in the fall of the third year by writing an original research proposal and defending it to your committee. You will need to submit a completed scheduling form with approved examination date to the Graduate School at least 10 working days prior to the examination. After passing the oral exam, you will have a maximum of three years to complete your Ph.D. requirements. Any extension of time must be approved by the chemistry faculty and the Graduate School.

Subsequent Years

You should meet with your thesis committee at least once each year, usually in the spring, to present a progress report. Throughout the remainder of your graduate school career, you will continue to develop your independence as a research scientist, to make new discoveries, and to increase the depth of your knowledge and experience. You will become the expert on your thesis topic. As you delve more deeply into your research project, continued seminar attendance and reading of the literature will foster a broad and open-minded approach to scientific discovery.

The Ph.D. Thesis

Of course, your written Ph.D. thesis is the capstone of your graduate career and will describe a significant body of original scientific research. The adequacy of this work will be judged by your research advisor and committee members as well as the entire graduate faculty. Most successful Ph.D. candidates are already the first author on several papers by the time they reach this stage of their career. Though there is no set number of publications required for completion of the Ph.D., a typical thesis will be the equivalent of at least two journal articles, with additional introductory material and experimental detail. Previously submitted manuscripts or published papers may be included in the thesis but must be supplemented by a suitable introduction explaining the background and motivation for the work, and a summary chapter discussing the overall significance and conclusions.

The written thesis will be submitted to your committee members well in advance of the date of your oral thesis defense. There are two oral parts to the defense of your thesis: a departmental seminar and a presentation to your committee members.