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Chemistry Ph.D. Assessment Plan 

student poster presentation


The following tools are used to assess Ph.D. students' mastery of the learning objectives: 

A. Coursework
B. Annual Reviews with Supervisory Committee
C. Written Candidacy Exams
D. Oral Candidacy Exams
E. Oral and Poster Presentations
F. Publications
G. Dissertation and Defense



Coursework

Most coursework in the Ph.D. Program is designed to make a significant contribution towards a student’s progress in Learning Objective 1. Depending on the specific course, Learning Objectives 2 and 3 may also be important components.

Ph.D.
students entering with a BS need to complete a minimum of 60 approved semester credits hours; students entering with a M.S. degree need 30 credits. At least 15 hours must be coursework hours. The remaining credits will be primarily in research (CHEM 6970 or 7970). Students can choose to specialize in either analytical, inorganic, organic, or physical chemistry. Of the 15 credits required to qualify as a Ph.D.candidate, 6 credits must be from courses outside of the student’s chosen area of specialization. These may include courses outside of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Each division (analytical, organic, inorganic, or physical) has established a list of core courses for students specializing in that area.

The graduate-level courses offered in the Chemistry Department during the last three academic years are listed in the following tables and each is ranked (high, medium, low) in terms of its contribution to the three learning objectives.

Course Tables

Annual Reviews with Supervisory Committee

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

Annual meetings with the supervisory committee result in significant progress towards Learning Objectives 2 and 3 by providing an opportunity for students to present a research summary and discuss their research progress with their committee.  These meetings also provide a venue for feedback about the progress being made on the research project, to clarify expectations for the successful completion of the degree, and for constructive criticism to be given when necessary. Committees particularly look for progress in the areas below, and comment on these in the letter following each annual meeting that is placed in the student’s file.

For a Ph.D. student, a minimum of five faculty members are required, with at least four members coming from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and one from another Department; a minimum of two members must be chosen from the Division in which the student is seeking the degree.

Committee Meeting Progress Report Checklist

First Meeting:

  • Is satisfactory progress being made in completing coursework on the Program of Study, and are grades satisfactory?
  • Is satisfactory progress being made in the research project; is progress toward research proficiency evident, and does the student show signs of taking intellectual ownership?
  • Does the student meet the advisor’s expectations with regard to time and effort, lab safety, notebook standards, and citizenship?
  • Is there evidence that the student reads and understands the current literature in their research area?


Subsequent Meetings:

  • Has clear research progress been made since the previous year’s meeting?
  • Has the student produced work that has been presented at conferences, or in publications? If not, is there clear progress toward this goal; what are the committee’s expectations in this area, and are they being met?


Particularly Important for Fourth Year and Beyond:

  • Does the level of measurable research progress, in terms of meeting abstracts or manuscripts, compare favorably with previous successful Ph.D. students, in a comparable research area, at this point in their studies?
  • Has the candidate taken intellectual ownership of their project? Can he/she make choices about the next steps in research, or just doing what they are told?
  • If any these areas are not clearly satisfactorily, is there justification for continuation in the Ph.D. program?


Any areas in need of improvement should be clearly identified in the letter, and the student given constructive criticisms during the meeting. Expectations to be met before the following year’s meeting should be specified in the letter.

Format of the Meeting: An essential part of the committee meeting is a discussion of the student's research progress. Students should come to the meeting with their notebooks, and any other materials needed to enable them to answer questions and discuss their results. The progress report must be given to committee members no later than 10 days before the meeting, and may include any publications since the previous meeting. An oral PowerPoint presentation may be a part of the annual meeting, but is not mandated. Students should consult with their committee in advance of the meeting to ascertain whether or not such a presentation will be expected, and its length.

Written Candidacy Exams

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

High

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

The written candidacy exams make significant contributions towards all three learning objectives since the exams are designed to test a student’s mastery of both basic and specialized knowledge in their research area. In addition, these exams test a student’s ability to effectively communicate complex ideas and concepts in a written format. 

Ph.D. students are required to take a written candidacy examination, which must be passed by the end of the third year. The written examination ensures that students have a broad understanding of chemistry and the depth of knowledge in their chosen fields required for Ph.D. work. The written examination must be passed before the oral examination is attempted.

Students must satisfy the written portion of the Ph.D. candidacy examination by passing a series of cumulative examinations. The organization of the scheduling and administration of the exams is done by the Graduate Studies Committee. Questions are solicited from the entire faculty.   

The examination procedure is outlined below:

  1. Students normally begin taking the cumulative examinations at the beginning of the Fall semester of their second yearFor the purpose of cumulative exams, a student’s effective date of entry will be considered to be either (i) the first day of fall semester (on-sequence) or (ii) the first day of the fall semester following the student’s actual entry date into the program if the student enters during a different semester than fall (off-sequence). With the approval of their advisor, their supervisory committee, and the Graduate Studies Committee, off-sequence students may start taking cumulative exams earlier should they so desire. Any student may petition to begin the cumulative examinations earlier or later in special circumstances. Such requests must be approved by the student’s advisor, supervisory committee, and by the Graduate Studies Committee.
  2. Students must pass 4 out of 9 consecutive examinations offered. Missed examinations without a legitimate documented reason will be counted as failures. Nine examinations are offered each academic year on a monthly basis.
  3. Cumulative examinations are offered in analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. Students may elect to take a single cumulative exam outside of their area, but not all areas will necessarily offer cumulative exams at every sitting. Students should consult the cumulative exam Canvas course page to determine which divisions will be offering a cume and what the examination topics will be.
  4. Examinations will be graded Pass/Fail, based on the percent score. A score of 60% or better always constitutes a Pass grade. Students are notified via the cumulative exam Canvas course about their performance on the examinations.
  5. Students who do not pass 4 out of 9 examinations may complete an M.S. degree.
  6. Upon successful or unsuccessful completion of the cumulative exam process, the Graduate Studies Committee will present the results to the faculty at the next regular faculty meeting.

Oral Candidacy Exams

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

High

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

The oral candidacy exams make significant contributions towards all three learning objectives since they require a high level of competency in fundamental skills, knowledge in a specialized area, and both written and oral communication skills.

Students must take the oral portion of the qualifying examination before the end of the seventh semester after entrance, including summer semesters. Administration of the oral examination is the responsibility of the student’s supervisory committee. To pass this examination, students must write, discuss, and defend an original research proposal.

In preparing for the oral examination, a student is permitted to solicit information from others, including faculty. However, this must be done on a strictly limited basis and good judgment must be exercised on both sides. It is expected that the originality of the research proposal and the bulk of the preparation for the defense represents the student’s own work. The project should be one that, if presented as part of an academic job application package, would be interpreted as demonstrating independence from their mentor. If a student is in doubt about the propriety of requesting information in a specific case, the supervisory committee should be consulted. Any information in the written proposals obtained from others should be acknowledged. Since the faculty regards the oral examination to be a very important indication of research ability, students should not limit their preparation to the three months just before the exam. Instead, possible topics should be considered and seriously pursued from the beginning of graduate study.

The procedure for the oral examination is outlined as follows:

The student will meet with their supervisory committee to clarify the expectations of the committee regarding the oral examination. The student’s Program of Study may also be discussed at this meeting. Prior to the preparation of the oral proposal, the student will submit a one-page pre-proposal and acquire approval of their topic from the members of their supervisory committee. The one-page pre-proposal should include title, summary (250 words limit) and justification of any overlap that might exist with the research projects in the student’s current laboratory.
  1. Students must submit a typed proposal to the members of their supervisory committee at least two weeks prior to the examination date. The proposal format is the same as required for proposals submitted to the National Science Foundation, or other national funding organization approved by the supervisory committee, and is not to exceed 15 double-spaced pages (excluding abstract, references, and vitae). A timeline for the project should be part of the proposal indicating how long each segment might take. No budget information should be included in the proposal but a brief biographical section about the author must be included. 3. No later than one week before the scheduled examination date, the student must obtain approval to proceed with the examination from each member of the supervisory committee.
  2. The oral examination begins with the student presenting a short summary of the proposal. The examination is conducted in the presence of the supervisory committee only. While the examination begins with a focus on aspects of the student’s proposal, questions on topics of a more general nature will likely be asked.
  3. After the examination is complete, the supervisory committee will deliberate on the student’s performance in light of the expectations outlined in the preliminary meeting. A grade of Pass or Fail will be immediately announced to the student. In certain cases, where the student fails the exam, the supervisory committee may at their discretion direct the student to prepare a new proposal, revise the existing proposal, and/or address specific topics in another attempt.
  4. Students who do not pass the examination may transfer to the Master’s degree program.

Upon completion of the oral examination, the supervisory committee will present the results to the faculty at the next regular faculty meeting. The students will be informed of the recommendation of the supervisory committee prior to this faculty meeting.

Oral and Poster Presentations

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

A key component in the achievement of Learning Objective 3 (Development of communication & professional preparation) involves the development of competence in presenting scientific results and conclusions. At the same time, the development of an effective research presentation involves mastery of foundational skills (Learning Objective 1) and research skills (Learning Objective 2).

Assessment of this learning objective is achieved in the following ways:

  1. Seminar Course: Seminars scheduled under the Organic/Inorganic and Physical/Analytical programs are an important aspect of graduate training. Students will register for one of these seminar programs in the Fall and Spring during the first two years of the program. Annual participation in the Departmental section (CHEM 7800-001) of the seminar program is mandatory regardless of the student’s registration status, and students must also register for the appropriate section (Physical/Analytical, or Organic/Inorganic) based on area of research. The grading for seminar is on a Pass/Fail basis. Each student will present at least one seminar each year regardless of seminar registration status. Students’ attendance and a satisfactory annual seminar presentation are a requirement for continuation in the program, and will be evaluated at the annual meeting with the supervisory committee. The student will present a departmental seminar reporting the results of their research as part of the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation.
  2. Presentations at Conferences and Professional Meetings: An important component of a Ph.D. student’s development is their presentation of research results at conferences and professional meetings. These experiences require students to prepare highly professional oral talks and posters for presentation to peers in their research field.

Publications

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

Another critical aspect of Learning Objective 3 (Development of communication & professional preparation) is the publication of research work in peer-reviewed journals. This process takes place under the close mentorship of the student’s supervisor and is a critical component of the scientific process.  It also requires mastery of foundational skills (Learning Objective 1) and knowledge in a chosen area (Learning Objective 2).  While expectations regarding number of publications varies between research groups, all Ph.D. students are expected to publish results in peer-reviewed journals during their program and publication is an important part of the assessment done by the student’s committee.

Dissertation and Defense

 

Contribution to Learning Objective

Ranking

L1: Fundamental Skills

Medium

L2: Research Skills

High

L3: Communication Skills

High

The dissertation and defense provide an opportunity for final assessment of student’s success in achieving all three learning objectives.

After completing research, students must report their results in a Ph.D. dissertation. A copy must be given to each member of the supervisory committee at least four weeks before the final examination is held. The student and the supervisory committee members must complete and sign an Appointment for Examination form for submission to the School of Graduate Studies at least ten days prior to the examination. The defense must be coordinated with the departmental seminar coordinator and announced to the faculty at least one week in advance.

The final defense of the dissertation or thesis includes a formal departmental seminar followed immediately by a closed meeting of the candidate with the supervisory committee. Although a detailed summary of the research is expected, the seminar should demonstrate the ability to present material that is understandable to chemists outside of a special research discipline. This seminar is an important degree requirement, and it must be presented to the satisfaction of the faculty at large. Students who pass the oral examination must make any changes or revisions specified by the supervisory committee and obtain their signatures before submission the School of Graduate Studies.