Chemistry Ph.D.


Within the Ph.D. program students have the flexibility to design a course of study focused on personal research interests, and at the same time are expected to maintain the high intellectual standards associated with the doctoral degree. Research options include biochemistry, physical chemistry, biophysical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, bioinorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, physical-organic chemistry, and bioorganic chemistry. Some research groups are interdisciplinary and are involved in two or more of these areas.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

Graduate students are expected to acquire an in-depth understanding of their area of specialization through a core curriculum that prepares them for advanced study and research. The course requirement is 15 credits of core courses (three courses) and 10 credits (two courses) of electives. Electives may be either at the graduate level (200 series) or at the advanced undergraduate level (100 series). Twenty of the 25 credits (four 5-credit courses) must be chemistry and biochemistry courses. The remaining 5 credits may be in chemistry and biochemistry or in a related discipline such as molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology; microbiology and environmental toxicology; physics; math; biomolecular engineering; electrical engineering; etc. Eligible electives do not include CHEM 163A/CHEM 163B/CHEM 163C, CHEM 109, CHEM 110, CHEM 110L, CHEM 143 or CHEM 151A, but can include CHEM 124, 151B, and CHEM 169. The lecture course requirement must be met before advancing to candidacy. Students may take more than the required five courses at any time depending on their interests or research.

Please refer to the Graduate Student Handbook for the current core and elective curriculum by area of specialization.

Teaching Requirement

The focus on high quality undergraduate education is one of the most outstanding features of the UC Santa Cruz campus. Teaching is a job that is taken very seriously and many graduate students and faculty come to UCSC because they want to be in an atmosphere where both teaching and research are important. Therefore, we require that each chemistry graduate student serve as a teaching assistant for a minimum of three quarters.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

  • Laboratory Rotations. First-year students do two, nine-week rotations during fall and winter quarters in the laboratory of two Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty members. Performance in each rotation is graded as satisfactory/unsatisfactory. At the end of each rotation period, students will present their project as a short talk.

  • Graduate students must choose their research advisor and join a lab in spring quarter (by May 1) of the first year. Ph.D. students choose two additional faculty members to complete their research committee.

  • The Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry requires that all Ph.D. students give a literature seminar in their fourth or fifth quarter. Students present a second-year seminar on a topic of current interest in published research. The oral presentation is accompanied by a detailed three-page written document that describes the contents of the presentation.

Qualifying Examination

By the end of the seventh quarter (typically fall of the third year), pass the Ph.D. oral qualifying examination before an examining committee consisting of three research committee members plus one outside member approved by the graduate dean. The Ph.D. candidate presents (a) a summary of current research results and future directions, and (b) an original research proposal on a chemistry or biochemistry topic unrelated or partially related to the candidate's current thesis research. The latter must be approved by committee prior to the oral examination. In addition, a detailed written research proposal will be submitted for evaluation by the examining committee.



When the dissertation reading committee agrees that the research is ready to be submitted, the student writes the dissertation according to the guidelines prescribed by the University Library and the Graduate Division.

The dissertation, completed in the format specified by the Graduate Council and approved by the dissertation committee, must be submitted to the Graduate Division no later than the last day of the term in which the degree is to be awarded.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation seminar, a presentation open to the public, should be scheduled at least one week prior to submitting the dissertation. Students must submit the doctoral thesis to the dissertation reading committee for tentative approval at least one month before presenting a defense seminar. The faculty, through the dissertation reading committee chair, makes the final departmental decision regarding the awarding of the Ph.D. degree. The decision is subject to the approval of the graduate dean.

Academic Progress

The academic progress of each continuing graduate student shall be reviewed annually by the student's department or committee of studies by the end of the spring term. Students will receive a notice with the committee findings and details of expected requirements for the following year.

Advanced students must meet with their dissertation reading committee at least once a year, typically during the fall quarter, to report progress in an updated prospectus and get advice and guidance for the coming year.

The fourth-year review gives the student an opportunity to focus and plan their research and to begin shaping the final product—the research dissertation. With this goal in mind, the student presents their research progress to the committee, obtains feedback and receives guidance on future directions.

Progress discussions and reviews are held in fall quarter of the fifth year and the sixth year, if necessary, until the dissertation is submitted. The format is the same as described above for the fourth-year review.

Applying for Graduation

Students close to completing their degree must file an application for the Ph.D. degree early in the quarter in which they wish to graduate (see the Academic and Administrative Calendar for deadline). The application is your official notification to the graduate dean of your intent to graduate. This form is available on the Graduate Division’s web site.

Normative Time to Degree

The department has established five years and one quarter normative time to degree. Extensions may be granted in the 17th and 18th quarters if funding is available. Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete research and write the dissertation within nine quarters after advancing to candidacy following a successful Ph.D. oral qualifying examination. Financial support is not available after 18 quarters in the graduate program.

Ph.D. Program in Biomedical Sciences and Engineering (PBSE) Chemical Biology Biochemistry and Biophysics (CB3)

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry participates in the graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Engineering (PBSE) through its administration of the Chemical Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics (CB3) training track. Sixty-one faculty members, who come primarily from the Departments of Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology; Biomolecular Engineering; Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology offer an unusual breadth of expertise and exceptional opportunities in interdisciplinary graduate research training. When students apply to the PBSE they indicate interest in one of four training tracks:

  • Biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics (BMEB)

  • Chemical biology, biochemistry, and biophysics (CB3)

  • Microbial biology and pathogenesis (MICRO)

  • Molecular, cell and developmental biology (MCD)

The Ph.D. track in chemical biology, biochemistry and biophysics (CB3) provides students with the opportunity to carry out cutting-edge research at the interface between biology and chemistry. The training program emphasizes analysis of molecular structure and mechanism as well as the use of organic chemistry to address biological questions. Interdisciplinary research is encouraged and supported by a diverse group of faculty.

After successful completion of all of the Ph.D. requirements, students in this track will be awarded a Ph.D. degree in chemistry from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The program provides the flexibility to craft an individual curriculum that specifically suits the needs of the student's research interests. Second-year students take oral qualifying examinations and initiate independent research projects that ultimately lead to their dissertation. Advanced graduate students work under the direct supervision of faculty members in a highly interactive, collaborative research environment. All students participate in a variety of seminars, advanced special-topics courses, and research group meetings designed to provide continuing learning opportunities.

Laboratory Rotations

First-year students do three seven-week rotations during fall and winter quarters in the laboratory of three PBSE-affiliated faculty members. Performance in each rotation is graded as satisfactory/unsatisfactory. At the end of each rotation period, students will present on their project either with a short talk or poster presentation.

Teaching Assistant

Serve as a TA for a minimum of two quarters. Students must meet this requirement before advancing to candidacy.

Oral Qualifying Examination

Pass the Ph.D. oral qualifying examination before an examining committee by the end of the student’s sixth quarter. Students must demonstrate an expertise in their area of research and a six-page NIH-style research strategy and specific aims page on their planned dissertation research. Upon passing that examination, the Dissertation Reading Committee (DRC) is formed. The committee comprises the advisor plus two members of the CB3 track.

Third-Year Talk

Students present a public seminar that is based on their dissertation research in the spring quarter of their third year.

Advance to Candidacy

After successfully completing the third year talk and all other requirements have been completed, the student will advance to candidacy.

All students must meet with their dissertation advisory committee each year until completion of the thesis.


The final requirement for the Ph.D. degree is acceptance of the student's dissertation under the rules of the Academic Senate. A three-member dissertation advisory committee (DRC), headed by the student's research advisor, evaluates the dissertation for the department.

Students are required to give a public talk before their final submission on the principal results of their research.

Required Coursework

In addition to the courses listed below, CB3 Ph.D. students are required to take at least three additional graduate-level lecture courses by the end of the third year. A list of approved elective courses is available on the PBSE-CB3 website.

Students also enroll in CHEM 291 (weekly research seminars) until they advance to candidacy.

CHEM 200AAdvanced Biochemistry: Biophysical Methods


CHEM 200BAdvanced Biochemistry: Macromolecular Structure and Function


CHEM 271Chemical Biology


CHEM 296Teaching Chemistry


BIOL 289Practice of Science