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Frequently Asked Questions about the Graduate Program in Chemistry and Biochemistry

What classes do I have to take?

Your class schedule is determined by your committee and you. What you take depends primarily on what your background is and what your main area of research is. It is important that you have a certain breadth of exposure, as well as depth in your research area. We currently teach three, one year-long courses: Reaction Mechanism and Structure, Quantum Structure and Dynamics, and Thermodynamics and Kinetics. Most students matriculating with a B.S. degree will take two or three of these courses. We also have a number of Special Topics courses, and there are courses at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University that may be appropriate, especially for gaining more profound depth in, for example, spectroscopy. Your class schedule is determined by your committee and you.

What skills courses do I have to take?

We currently teach Applied Courses, or skills courses, in statistics, NMR spectroscopy, microwave digestion, computational chemistry, and chromatography. Most students take three or four of these courses, as needed. You don’t have to take any of them, but the course contents were chosen to be the most useful to the most students. Again, this depends mainly on your background and level of experience. However, even if you have experience in, say, NMR spectroscopy, taking this course will allow you to learn how to get the most out of our particular instruments. What classes do I have to take?

Who decides what skills courses I have to take?

You and your committee. In practical terms, most students start taking skills courses shortly after matriculation, so the Director of Departmental Affairs and the Admissions Committee Director, who are your de facto committee until you choose your first rotation director, will help you decide on which courses to take.

Do I have to do my second rotation with a different professor than the first one?

No. However, you are encouraged to work with more than one professor. In some cases, this will be natural if you are working on a collaborative project. In some cases, you may be trying to decide what kind of research you wish to do during your time in graduate school. In some cases, you may just want exposure to different disciplines and experimental techniques. You are expected to challenge yourself. In any case, if you stay with the same professor in the second semester, you are essentially picking your research director for your whole time…which is fine if you are certain that you want to work for that person.

Can I do a rotation outside the department?

Yes. Students have done rotations in Biological Sciences, for example, to pick up additional exposure to certain techniques. This is most effective if the student is working on a collaborative project. You cannot do your Ph.D. research for a faculty member outside of Chemistry and Biochemistry, however, so make sure that you discuss this with your eventual advisor.

How do I pick my Ph.D. Committee?

Start with choosing your PhD advisor. Pick a group that has projects that interest you and has people in it that you can work with. Your prospective advisor also has to agree to have you work in his lab. We do not assign students to labs, but faculty are also not obligated to accept a student in his or her group. Every advisor has his or her own idea on how to fill up the committee. Most of the time, you or your advisor will pick other faculty who are familiar enough with that general area of research, or with particularly important techniques (analytical, synthetic, or computational, for example) that they can provide expert advice on your projects.

Do I have to do my PhD with the same faculty member with whom I did my rotations?

No. If you have done both rotations with the same faculty member, it is more difficult, but not impossible, to pick someone else entirely.