Chemistry and Chemical Biology

PhD Course Requirements 

Students must pass four advanced four-credit courses in chemistry and/or related fields (e.g., biochemistry, physics, etc.) with average grades of B or higher. Grades of B- will count as a pass if balanced by a B+ or better on a one-for-one basis. Grades of C+ or below will not count. An advanced course is one designated in the announcement of courses as “for undergraduates and graduates” or “primarily for graduates” with the exception of the following courses that cannot be used for credit toward the PhD degree in Chemistry: Chemistry 100r, 135, 145, 160, and 165; Physics 143a, 143b; Chemical Biology 2200, and Molecular and Cellular Biology 121. Courses numbered 300 or above also do not count toward this requirement.

All incoming graduate students (G1s) are required to take Chemistry 301hf. Scientific Teaching and Communication: Practicum in their first year.  This course teaches how to communicate scientific concepts in the classroom to prepare for teaching responsibilities in the spring term of the first year.

During Orientation, incoming students will create a Plan of Study in consultation with a member of the Curriculum Advising Committee (CAC). The CAC advises students on their academic plans, approves required courses, and assists in decisions related to the PhD program. Any changes to the original Plan of Study must be discussed with and approved by a member of the CAC.

Students normally satisfy the letter-graded course requirements in the first two years of graduate studies. 

Guidelines for Reduction in Course Loads

In the following situations, students may request a reduction in their course requirements. It will generally be understood that students must demonstrate excellent preparation and generally will be expected to earn grades of A- or better to be considered for these exceptions.  

  1. Students who have already earned a Master’s degree at Harvard.  

  2. Students who received an A.B. from Harvard University and have taken a large number of graduate courses already with honor grades. Graduate-level courses that were used to fulfill the course requirements for the A.B. degree cannot be used to fulfill the Department course requirements.  

  3. In rare cases, students who have earned a Master’s degree at another institution and have taken graduate-level courses at that institution equivalent to specific Harvard courses. 

The Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the Curriculum Advising Committee, will make the final decision, and ordinarily the course requirements would not be reduced by more than one course.  While these requests will be considered, a reduction in course load is rare. The Department feels that taking courses at Harvard, that may be similar to courses previously taken elsewhere, will still be advantageous to the student’s academic growth, as students will gain new insight from learning advanced material with a different professor. 
 

Students should email a written petition to Joe Lavin, Co-Director of Graduate Studies. This petition should include supporting information about the courses, such as transcripts, a syllabus, name of the professor, textbooks used, etc. Requests may not be made until the student has joined a research group, and approval of the student’s research advisor will be required.   

Rotations

Our Lab Rotation Program allows first year graduate students (G1s) to experience the science and environment of our CCB laboratories. The program also exposes our students to the interrelated, multidisciplinary research our faculty pursue and encourages them to investigate beyond the borders of their chosen field. Incoming graduate students are required to participate in three 4-week rotations in different laboratories, OR they may conduct one 8-week and one 4-week rotation in two different laboratories. In the third rotation, students may choose to rotate with a professor in a department outside CCB with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. Students are encouraged to conduct additional rotations if necessary.

Advising

During rotations, once in a lab, each rotation student will be assigned a graduate student or postdoctoral mentor. Mentors are a valuable resource for rotation students, providing guidance and advice regarding lab practices and policies.

Students are strongly encouraged to enter a research group by the start of their second term. Students are required to enter a research group by June 30th of their first year. Once a student joins a research group, the faculty member of that group becomes the student’s advisor. If a student subsequently finds that another area of research more closely matches their interests, the student should consult with the director of graduate studies or co-director of graduate studies. Students are encouraged to consult with the director of graduate studies or the co-director of graduate studies on any issues that affect graduate student life.

PhD Research Progress and Evaluation

 (Effective with entering class of 2017-18)

Our faculty are dedicated to teaching graduate students to perform original and creative research. To fulfill this goal, graduate students participate in three student/faculty meetings over the course of their career. Each meeting serves a different purpose within the overall objectives to:  

  • Assess the expertise of a student in performing independent research (2nd year PhD. Qualifying Exam); 

  • Monitor a student’s research progress and guide the student to develop an original research program (3rd year Proposal / Research Review Meeting); and 

  • Offer advice for the professional development of the graduate student (4th year Advising Meeting). 

G2 PhD Qualifying Examination

All students must pass a PhD Qualifying Examination to: assess the (i) early research progress of the PhD candidate and (ii) fundamental knowledge underpinning the student’s PhD research project.

The director of graduate studies (DGS) assigns each student a PhD Qualifying Committee by the end  of the G1 year. Committees typically consist of four CCB faculty members including the student’s research advisor, with one member designated as Chair. Each committee will examine four to six students. If a research project involves an advisor (primary or collaborative) external to CCB, then that faculty may attend as an additional member. The Chair administers the PhD Qualifying Examination meeting. Meetings for all G2 students will be held in April or early May of the G2 year and a given committee administesr exams for the four to six students in either one or two consecutive days. Meetings may only be delayed if the student has an approved leave of absence during the first two years, in which case the meeting must be held during the 4th term in residence. The Chair from each committee will notify students of the exam results within five days.

Exam format

The examination includes both written and oral components (Formatted: Font: 12 pt)

  • Written Examination: no more than 5 single-spaced pages (or 10 double-spaced pages) in a communication-style format; figures embedded in the document are included in the 5-page limit; references are not included in the 5-page limit; report key results of accomplished research and include a brief discussion of future plans. While research may not yet be at a publishable level of completeness, the presentation of your report should feature the organization typical of published work to provide everything your audience needs to assess your progress. An ideal written or oral presentation requires addressing the following elements: (1) describing the problem; (2) background and the limitations in the state of the art; (3) your hypothesis; (4) how you will (or did) test your hypothesis; and (5) your analysis.The student must submit this report by email to all faculty members on the Qualifying Committee at least 7 days prior to the oral examination, with a CC to the Graduate Program Administrator.
  • Oral Examination: consists of a 20-minute PowerPoint or blackboard presentation (as decided by the student) followed by 30 minutes of Questions and Answers by committee members. Committee members will not interrupt the student during the 20-minute presentation. Adherence to the guidelines of the 20-minute presentation will be enforced by the Chair of the committee. During the 30-minute Q&A session, queries from committee members span specific aspects of the research project to explore the fundamental knowledge underpinning the research project. Questions on the latter focus on material typically covered in an undergraduate chemistry curriculum that relates to the broadly defined area of the research project.

Students may not consult with their faculty advisor on the preparation of both the written and oral reports, although they are encouraged to get feedback from fellow group members. 

THREE POSSIBLE RESULTS

  • Pass: the student becomes a candidate for a PhD; a thesis committee forms by the end of the term (see below).
  • Conditional Pass: the committee re-examines the student before the end of the fall term of the G3 year. The committee decides the re-examination format, which may involve a written report to address specific concerns of the committee or re-assembled committee.
  • Fail: the student withdraws from the program at the end of the term, with the opportunity to receive an AM degree, provided other requirements have been met as outlined in GSAS.

Constitution of PhD Thesis Committee

Upon passing the PhD Qualifying Examination, a three-member Thesis Committee will be formed, which will include the student's faculty advisor and two other faculty members. Two members of the committee must be from CCB. The third faculty member may be from CCB or from an external department associated with Harvard University. A student may also petition the DGS for approval of a third faculty member external to Harvard University. A student, in consultation with their research advisor, may add external members beyond the three-person committee, with approval of the DGS.

To constitute the committee, in consultation with their research advisor, students will propose at least three faculty members as candidates for their committees in addition to the advisor. The student will submit their faculty preferences on a Thesis Committee Nomination Form, submitted to the CCB Department office June 15th. These preferences will be reviewed by the DGS and a faculty advisory group with the intent of honoring the student’s preferences while balancing a fairly distributed committee load among the faculty. The selection process is necessary to avoid faculty being assigned to an inordinately large number of committees. Under unusual circumstances, students may wish to change the membership of their thesis committee, for reasons including significant changes in direction of their research topic. Such changes should be requested through the CCB Department office. Students must receive approval from the DGS in order for the change in committee to take effect.

G3 Proposal / Research Review Meeting

The one-hour meeting should be held with a student’s Thesis Committee before May 31st of the G3 year and will be scheduled by the department. The meeting will have two components: (i) a research proposal and (ii) review of research to date.

  • A Research Proposal will compose 30 minutes of the 1-hour meeting. Students will submit a 3-5 page single-spaced proposal to all members of their faculty committee 7 days before the meeting: figures embedded in the document are included in the five-page limit; references are not included in the five-page limit. The student must present an original independent research proposal. The student will present this proposal and accept questions from the committee during the first 30 minutes of the meeting. A student cannot pass/fail the Research Proposal. The purpose of the research proposal is to better develop the student’s skill set at conceiving and designing an original research program. The proposal will be rated (excellent, very good or good) with a short written critique provided by the committee designed to provide the student feedback that helps to develop further this skill (of writing proposals). 
  • A 30-minute Research Review will be devoted to an update of the research progress made by the student. The research review will be graded Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. A grade of Unsatisfactory will be reflected in the grade for the student's 300-level reading and research course. This alone will not result in a withdrawal; a student would be withdrawn from the program with two grades of Unsatisfactory in a 300-level reading and research course during the course of a student’s graduate studies, in accordance with GSAS policies.

Students may not consult with their faculty advisor on the preparation of both the written and oral reports, although they are encouraged to get feedback from fellow group members.  

G4 Advisory Meeting

The G4 Advisory Meeting provides a mechanism for students to create relationships with faculty other than their advisor, as well as to mediate student/advisor conflict, if one exists, provide direction to completion of the PhD degree, provide career counseling or to address any other concern or issue of interest to the student. The student must call this meeting any time during the G4 year.

The agenda will be set by the student and may address research progress or career counseling in one of two meeting formats:

  • The student may assemble their Thesis Committee for a formal 1-hour meeting.

–or–

  • In lieu of a full meeting of the Thesis Committee, the student may choose to meet with their advisor and at least one other member of their committee individually.

For either meeting format, the student must first meet with their research advisor to discuss a (i) professional development (PD) plan, or (ii) proposed plan to graduation (PG). The student will summarize these discussions on the meeting confirmation form. The research advisor must sign off on this form, which should be returned to the CCB Department office.

G6+ Advisory Meeting

Students in their G6 year must meet with their Thesis Committee by December 31st of their G6 year and then every year beyond the G6 year. A detailed plan for the student's graduation and a proposed defense date will be decided at these meetings. The student will summarize these discussions on the meeting confirmation form. The research advisor must sign off on this form, which should be returned to the CCB Department office.

PhD Research Progress and Evaluation

(Effective for students entering program before 2017-18)

Students who entered the degree program before 2017-18 will continue to be advised by their Graduate Advising Committee (GAC), formed at the end of the G2 year. The GAC consists of the student’s advisor and two other faculty members, one of whom must be a CCB faculty member. Students report their progress to the GAC at least once per year, beginning in their G2 year. The GAC may require more frequent meetings depending on the student’s progress, especially as the dissertation defense nears.

Students are expected to present and defend an independent research proposal anytime between the first semester of their G2 year and the end of their G4 year (June 30th). Any one of the G2, G3, or G4 GAC committee meetings can serve as the independent research proposal meeting. Students are required to choose topics that are distinct from their PhD research, and the final topic should be arrived at in consultation with their advisor. The student with his/her advisor will decide when to present the independent research proposal.

Completing an independent research proposal will expand a student’s base scientific knowledge and provide a formal exercise in identifying research projects in interesting and promising areas of research. The objectives of the independent research proposal program are to provide students the opportunity to:

  1. Think deeply and creatively about a significant research problem and propose how that problem can be addressed experimentally.
  2. Develop writing skills by preparing a clear and concise scientific document.
  3. Develop oral presentation skills and engage in scientific discourse.
  4. To provide students with a forum to receive constructive, critical feedback from faculty members.

The oral exam is expected to be 30 to 60 minutes in duration. During the presentation, students should be prepared to answer questions concerning the proposal topic as well as allied areas. Questions of a more general nature or of topical interest (e.g. recent CCB seminars) may also be asked. At the end of the independent research proposal presentation, there will be a short discussion on research progress to date.

G6 Year: Students in their G6 year must meet with their Thesis Committee by December 31st of their G6 year and then every year beyond the G6 year. A detailed plan for the student's graduation and a proposed defense date will be decided at these meetings. 

Language

A thorough command of oral and written English is required. Incoming PhD students who are non-native speakers of English and who have not received their undergraduate degree from an English-speaking institution will be screened by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning to determine their level of proficiency. Students who are not deemed proficient will be required to take courses approved by GSAS to improve their English proficiency as part of their preparation for teaching and professional development. Adjustments to first-year course schedules may be necessary to allow for time to take these courses. Students will not be allowed to teach until they are deemed proficient.

Teaching

All students are expected to teach half-time in the spring term of their first year and during one term of the second year based on teaching needs. In rare instances and at the discretion of the Department, less than half-time teaching may be allowed to meet this requirement when half-time teaching positions are not available. With their advisor’s approval, a student may also teach in subsequent years.

Satisfactory Progress

Continuation in the degree program is contingent on the following: (1) satisfactory completion of required coursework, (2) successful completion of the PhD Qualifying Examination*, (3) admission to a research group by the end of the second term in residence, unless extension of time has been approved by the director of graduate studies, and (4) satisfactory progress in 300-level research courses.

*Students who entered the program before 2017-18 must have completed the successful presentation and defense of an independent research proposal, instead of the PhD Qualifying Examination.

Dissertation

The preparation of a satisfactory dissertation normally requires at least four years of full-time research. All students are expected to provide a public presentation of their PhD research as part of their program requirements. The final manuscript must conform to the requirements described in Dissertations

The dissertation defense includes:

  1. A public presentation of the student’s PhD research to which members of the CCB community will be invited, followed by
  2. The private PhD dissertation defense before PhD Thesis Committee

Master of Arts (AM)

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology does not grant a terminal AM degree. However, upon completion of certain requirements, students in the Chemistry PhD program may apply for the AM degree. A thesis is not required. The requirements for this degree are:

Residence

A minimum of one year of full-time study is required.

Course Requirements and Research

The student must pass eight advanced four-credit courses diversified among the fields of chemistry with average grades of B or higher. Grades of B- will count as a pass if balanced by a B+ or better on a one-for-one basis. Grades of C+ or below will not count. Typically, four of these four-credit courses are classroom work, and the remaining four are research courses. As many as four four-credit courses of the required eight may be taken outside the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, provided the Curriculum Advising Committee approves them. Students planning to take such courses should petition the CAC in advance of taking the courses in order to have them count for the AM degree.

Approval of the application for the AM degree is contingent upon the satisfactory completion of the required eight four-credit courses.