Get your PhD in Chemistry

Thank you for your interest in the graduate program at the University of Iowa Department of Chemistry. The Department has had a chemistry PhD program for over 75 years and consists of over 25 research faculty, approximately 130 graduate students, and over 20 postdoctoral associates, research scientists and visiting scholars. Our graduates and postdocs have accepted positions at leading academic and industrial institutions, national laboratories and government facilities, as well as some non-traditional Ph.D. careers.

The Chemistry Building and adjacent Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratory house state-of-the-art laboratories, research support facilities, classrooms, and conference rooms spaces. Extensive resources are readily accessible such as NMR, mass spectrometry, and MatFab facility for fabrication and analysis which houses our X-ray facility and numerous other instruments. The department also supports advanced computational resources, and complete machine, electronics, and glass shops. In addition to strong programs in the core areas of analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, we offer cross-discipline research opportunities in emerging areas such as (bio)catalysis, natural product synthesis, materials, surface science, bioinorganic chemistry, chemical sensors, chemical education research, and environmental and atmospheric chemistry.

All Ph.D. students with an accepted offer and good standing with the Department of chemistry are guaranteed financial support, including an annual stipend, tuition remission, and employee benefits such as health insurance. Additional funding to support student research is available from a variety of internal and external sources

For more information, contact the graduate program by e-mail at

Degree requirements

Students must demonstrate basic proficiency in three chosen sub-disciplines of chemistry (analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, physical). Proficiency is established in one of the following ways: Scoring at the 50th percentile level (national norm) on the proficiency exam, completing a one-semester review course with a grade of C or better (courses specified below), or completing a one-semester graduate-level/advanced course in that sub-discipline of chemistry with a grade of B or better. The proficiency requirement must be fulfilled before the beginning of the student's third semester in the graduate program.

Courses currently designated as review courses are:

  • CHEM:4171 (formerly 4:171): Advanced Analytical Chemistry
  • BIOC:3120 (formerly 99:120): Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I
  • CHEM:4270 (formerly 4:170): Advanced Inorganic Chemistry
  • CHEM:4372 (formerly 4:172): Advanced Organic Chemistry
  • CHEM:4431 (formerly 4:131): Physical Chemistry I

Beyond the proficiency requirements, students must complete a minimum of four additional advanced courses, totaling at least eleven semester hours of graduate credit, by the end of their fourth semester in residence. Research, seminar, and pedagogy credits; courses that are listed with lower division undergraduate level numbers; and courses taken with the S/U grade option cannot be used to fulfill this requirement. Transfer credits may be applied to a portion of this requirement. Students are encouraged to develop a detailed plan with their research advisor and discuss with the graduate education committee as needed.

Courses that meet the Advanced Course criteria

Before the beginning of the third semester, after a permanent advisor has been appointed, a Graduate Academic Committee (GAC) of four faculty, at least three from Chemistry, will be formed for each student with a PhD degree objective. GACs will be composed of at least four faculty, at least three from Chemistry, who agree to support and advise the student during the course of the Ph.D. and beyond. GAC members will meet the student to discuss research progress and provide feedback and guidance as appropriate.

The committee will consist of the research advisor and three additional members who are nominated by the student, subject to the advisor’s approval, and assigned by the Graduate Education Committee (GEC). 

The comprehensive examination is designed to assess the student's overall progress, knowledge of fundamental chemical principles and chosen area of specialization, and general competency for PhD research. To be eligible to take the Comprehensive Examination, the student must have completed the advanced coursework requirement and maintain a cumulative average of 3.00 or greater on appropriate graduate coursework at The University of Iowa. The comprehensive examination must be completed by the end of the fourth semester in residence, unless written consent for an extension is received from the GAC and is approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

The comprehensive examination is a two-part process consisting of a written research report and an oral defense of the report.  The written document and oral defense are evaluated by the student’s GAC. Each member of the GAC will use a departmentally prescribed rubric to score the oral exam.  The exam typically occurs in a student’s fourth semester in residence.

Each student is expected to give a minimum of two acceptable seminars. One seminar must cover the student's research. The other may also deal with the student's research, or can be an extensive literature report. The student may register for the appropriate divisional seminar course and receive letter grade credit during those semesters in which the seminars are presented. The final PhD defense cannot be used to meet this requirement.

At least three months before the anticipated final defense, the PhD candidate must meet with their graduate academic committee. If scheduling permits, the research work can be reported as a research seminar during a regularly scheduled divisional seminar, with a subsequent committee meeting for questions and advice.

The Dean of the Graduate College will make a public announcement of a candidate’s final defense three weeks prior to the exam date. This final oral examination is open to the public. Dissertation copies must be made available to all members of the examining committee not later than two weeks before the examination date.

Milestones toward the PhD

The milestones on the path toward earning your PhD in chemistry at the University of Iowa are described below. These are illustrative of a typical student; most students follow this path, but some variations are possible.

Year 1 Timeline
AugustChemistry Proficiency Examinations (ACS Standardized exams)
AugustOrientation and TA training
August - December  1st semester classes and TA duties
September - NovemberResearch group rotations
NovemberResearch advisor selection
DecemberOfficially join research group
January-May2nd semester classes, TA duties, research
June-AugustResearch, and select graduate advisory committee
Year 2 Timeline
August-December1st semester classes (if needed), TA duties (unless on RA), research, present literature seminar to division
January-May2nd semester classes (if needed), TA duties (unless on RA), research
March  Written research report and original research proposal due to advisory committee
April-MayComprehensive exam
Year 3 and beyond Timeline
August-JulyResearch, write papers, attend meetings, give presentations
3 months before defensePresent research seminar to division, meet with advisory committee
3 weeks before defenseGive dissertation to committee
DefenseDissertation defense

Create your academic path

You'll find degree overviews, requirements, course lists, academic plans, and more to help you plan your education and explore your possibilities.

View General Catalog

Current course list

The MyUI Schedule displays registered courses for a particular session and is available to enrolled students. The list view includes course instructors, time and location, and features to drop courses or change sections.

View Current Courses