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Graduate Program


Overview | Course Requirements | Qualifying Procedures
Thesis Research | Teaching Opps | Funding | Training Programs

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The PhD represents the last formal stage of academic training for an engineer, and can lead to a variety of careers in industry, government, and academia. Our PhD program aims to teach students to conduct research, to develop the maturity of judgment necessary for critical, creative, and independent thinking, and to contribute to scientific and engineering knowledge in a particular area of scholarship. The conduct of this research, as well as the versatility expected of a productive member of the profession, requires a breadth of knowledge of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering fundamentals and their applications.

The department has set minimum requirements that it expects every student to satisfy. These requirements are designed to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate differences among students with respect to interests, aptitude, and expected career paths. Students are encouraged to take the initiative in seeking opportunities for formal and informal intellectual exploration beyond the guidelines imposed by the degree requirements. Please be aware that as our faculty continually work to refine and improve the PhD program, our guidelines may change.

Course Requirements

The aim of the course requirements is to develop a foundation of technical knowledge in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. This knowledge should be obtained in a way that develops an understanding of basic principles, while at the same time providing depth in a specific area. An overall GPA of 3.00 or above MUST be maintained in courses taken toward meeting these requirements.

There are three components to the course requirements:

  • the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering science core (thermodynamics, transport phenomena, and chemical kinetics and reaction engineering)
  • advanced mathematics
  • Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering technical electives

The core courses and the mathematics sequence should all be taken during the first year (prior to the qualifying exams). Eight credits of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering electives are required. At least three credits of these must be at the 800-level; the remainder may be at the 600- or 800-level and suitable courses taken outside Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering may be substituted. The Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering electives may be started during the fall semester of the first year and are usually completed during the second year. Nine credits of CHEG 969-xxx Doctoral Dissertation are also required. These credits should be taken after all other course work is completed. A typical schedule for the first year is shown below: The curriculum is reviewed each year and updated often.

CHEG 825 ThermodynamicsCHEG 845 Advanced Transport Phenomena
CHEG 835 Chemical KineticsCHEG 841 Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Principles II
CHEG 831 Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Principles 1CHEG 6xx/8xx Technical Elective
CHEG Tech Elective from list belowCHEG 6xx/8xx Technical Elective

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Qualifying Procedures

The qualifying procedures give the faculty an opportunity to evaluate students' analytical skills and their abilities to think critically and generate original ideas. In addition, they give students a chance to practice their communication skills and faculty a chance to evaluate them. The qualifying exams are oral exams given towards the end of the student's first year (after completion of the core courses). This insures that all students have the necessary Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering background to take the exams and also allows students to get involved in their research in a rapid and effective manner. In order to avoid unnecessary delays in formal admission to the Ph.D. program, students are given only a single opportunity to take and pass the qualifying exams. The faculty feel very strongly that we have more than enough information to make an appropriate decision about Ph.D. candidacy after students have spent a full year at Delaware, and that it would be inappropriate for us to delay the decision and interfere with the development of the thesis.

The central formal element of the qualifying procedures is an oral examination that takes place around the last week in August of the students' first year. The oral exam evaluates students' abilities in several areas:

  • creative thinking, progress in understanding and formulating a research project
  • mastery of the relevant underlying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering fundamentals
  • effective communication of ideas in both oral and written forms

Each oral exam lasts 60 minutes, of which the first 12 - 15 minutes are reserved for oral presentation and the remaining time is provided for faculty questions. Transparencies or PowerPoint files may be used for the oral presentation; inclusion of a large number of slides (more than 8-10) is discouraged. Each student's exam is administered by a group of at least five faculty. At least two of the faculty should be members of the student's thesis committee. It is the student's responsibility to organize the thesis committee prior to scheduling the exam, in consultation with the research advisor. In preparation for the exam, students should prepare a brief written summary to the faculty in both written and electronic form at least a week before the exam. The written document should comprise 6-10 double spaced pages on standard paper in at least 11 pt font, including all figures and a bibliography. The exam date will be scheduled by the Department's graduate student advisor in consultation with the faculty.

Both the oral and the written presentations should provide succinct and clear descriptions of the concepts underlying the proposed thesis research, the goals of the project, and the methods to be used in achieving those goals. Results obtained to date provide a useful focus to help motivate the discussion. Questions asked by the faculty may address specific details or the broader context of the project presented, the proposed approaches, and associated Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering principles. Clear communication in both the oral and written presentations and in interpreting and answering questions is essential for successful completion of the process.

In each student's preparations for the exam, his/her advisor is likely to be the principal source of information and guidance. However, it is expected that both the written and the oral presentations represent the student's own work, therefore advisors do not work with the students on the structure or content of either presentation, e.g., by reading drafts of the written document or the slides, or being present during practice sessions.

In addition to the formal oral exam, student performance in the required first-year courses is also considered in reaching a decision on admission to Ph.D. candidacy. These courses provide perhaps the best view of students' analytical skills. In recognition of the importance of course work in providing a good test of the analytical abilities essential for successful completion of the Ph.D., a 3.00 GPA in approved graduate classes is required before taking the oral exams. The faculty consider other information in addition to performance in the formal qualifying procedures in assessing students' suitability for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. Instructors in courses and, most important, each student's advisor will have had a better opportunity than the faculty as a whole for extensive interaction, and their judgment will thus be particularly valuable in evaluating students' performance.

The faculty will make their decisions on admission to the Ph.D. program within a week after the oral presentations. The decisions will be conveyed to the students in writing by the Department Chair. All of the components considered by the faculty are important. A strong showing in only one area will probably not be sufficient to ensure admission to Ph.D. candidacy, but neither will a weak showing in any one area lead to automatic rejection. It should be emphasized that the department admits students to its graduate program with the expectation that they will be successful in the qualifying procedures and proceed to completion of the Ph.D. degree. The qualifying procedures are thus intended to be a constructive learning experience; they are not intended to eliminate large numbers of students from the Ph.D. program.

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Thesis Research

The unique feature of graduate education is the development of the skills necessary to conduct and present independent research. The Ph.D. thesis should demonstrate that the student has (1) acquired the skills necessary to conduct high-quality research including the abilities to think creatively and critically, and (2) completed a coherent piece of independent research that makes a solid contribution to the general pool of scholarship. The length of the actual thesis, the number of associated publications, and the time required will necessarily depend upon the abilities and effort of the student, the details of the project, and the philosophy of the thesis advisor. It is impossible for the department to determine, a priori, how long any given student will remain in residence. However, it is important to recognize that the Ph.D. program is a transition period, one which provides students with an opportunity to expand their intellectual horizons, to learn how to conduct research, and to be creative. The transitionary nature means that students should move as rapidly as possible towards completion of all of the objectives/requirements associated with the Ph.D. degree. The following sections describe the policies and guidelines that have been established to assist the student in the selection, conduct, and completion of the doctoral thesis.

Thesis topic selection

Since research is such a critical component of the graduate program, students need time to gather information about the available projects, to clarify their own personal research interests, and to think carefully about their own long-term objectives. Thus the Department does not allow students to choose thesis topics or advisors prior to actually arriving at Delaware. Instead, toward the beginning of the Fall semester, a set of written descriptions of available projects (prepared by the faculty offering them) will be provided to the students. Over the course of the next few weeks, each faculty member will present his or her projects in a 30-minute talk. Graduate students are expected to attend all of the thesis topic presentations (even if they are not predetermined toward that particular research area). These presentations are an ideal way to meet the faculty and become exposed to the full range of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering research. Students should then talk individually to faculty members and other graduate students to gain a more thorough understanding of possible research topics. Several meetings may be required to fulfill this objective, and many projects are negotiable; students are encouraged to work with the faculty to develop projects that match their personal research interests.

View the Faculty and their Research Area

Although a formal check-list is not required, students are expected to speak with at least six faculty members. Students are then asked to give a listing of their preferences and a paragraph describing the reasoning behind them to the graduate advisor in late October or early November. There must be at least four projects spanning at least three advisors listed. The matching of students to topics is a difficult multivariable problem. There are many factors involved in the determination of the final assignments, including current research group sizes, faculty objectives, department objectives, funding, and student preferences. Often the solution does not match everyone's requests and some students may be asked to meet again with the graduate advisor to discuss options.

Thesis committee

Research projects are independent, but they are not isolated. Graduate students are encouraged to involve multiple faculty members, both inside and outside the department. A formal structure for this interaction is provided by the formation of a thesis committee. The committee consists of two to three other faculty members chosen by the student in consultation with the thesis advisor. These faculty will usually be from the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department, but outside faculty may also be included; one faculty member from outside the department is ultimately required to be included in the committee for the final thesis defense. This committee is to be chosen before the oral qualifiers are taken, but it can be changed later as needed.

The thesis committee members make a formal commitment to provide input and feedback throughout the course of the thesis research. This includes feedback on your departmental seminars (see below). Students are strongly encouraged to provide the committee written progress reports and copies of all manuscripts/publications. The absence of formal departmental requirements for interactions with the thesis committee is intended to encourage flexibility and to ensure that substance, rather than form, prevails.


A necessary complement to good research is good presentation skills, and participation in the departmental seminars gives the student a chance to develop an effective presentation style. All students are expected to present two seminars during their graduate careers, one during the second year and one during the fourth. These seminars will are given as part of a day-long Departmental Research Review that provides students, faculty, staff and sometimes outside visitors an opportunity to learn about different research areas, discuss alternative approaches to research, and provide comments and feedback to colleagues.

The content of the talks will vary with the state of the projects, but suggested content includes: background, experimental approach, results, future plans, etc. The second year seminar is primarily a preliminary report and research proposal, while the fourth year seminar should be more polished and present a more coherent picture of results of the project. The student can improve his or her skills by soliciting feedback from faculty members and other students; at a minimum each thesis committee member should be consulted. Students are encouraged to make use of video equipment which is available for recording and reviewing presentations.

Final thesis defense

The final oral defense is a presentation to the department, the defense committee, and the public research community of a summary of the research. The defense committee may be the same as the thesis committee discussed above, with the addition of one member from outside the department. The student must provide a copy of the thesis to each member of the defense committee at least two weeks before the defense. At this time the graduate advisor should also be informed of the date and venue of the defense and provided with an abstract suitable for use in an announcement to the department.

The period leading up to the final defense should involve the close interaction of the student, the advisor, and the thesis committee. Since a good research project is one that is quite open-ended, questions such as which specific goals are to be pursued and which are to be set aside as secondary require substantial discussion. To allow all possible points of view to be brought to bear on these issues, continuous involvement of the thesis committee is recommended to obtain the best advice possible. Such involvement of several faculty also ensures that neither the student nor the faculty advisor will be surprised by the interests and requirements of the other, and that impartial reviews of any divergent interests occur promptly.

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Teaching Opportunities

The ability to communicate ideas, concepts, and factual information in a "teaching" environment is an essential skill for all PhD graduates, even those who have no interest in an academic position. In recognition of this, all PhD students are required to fulfill a teaching requirement, which consists of serving as a TA for either two lecture courses or a single laboratory section. Students who TA for a lab course are considered full-time TAs for that semester, while students who TA for a lecture course are considered half-time TAs. All the TAs are expected to continue to be actively involved in their research while serving as a TA. Although the exact timing of your TA positions is flexible, it is highly desirable to complete your TA responsibilities relatively rapidly (by the end of the third year if possible) to allow you to focus more strongly on your research as you near the end of your graduate studies.

In order to be an effective TA, it is essential that you have adequate command of the English language. Graduate students who are felt to have insufficient language ability are required to correct this deficiency, e.g., by taking an appropriate "course" through the University's English Language Institute (ELI). Identification of any language deficiencies can be made during the Oral Qualifying Examination, but is assessed more formally by the ELI as part of the University's requirements for the language proficiency of TAs. Final decisions on how to resolve these deficiencies are made by the Graduate Program Coordinator in consultation with the student's thesis advisors and the Department Chair.

Teaching Assistant positions are assigned by the Graduate Program Coordinator in November (for the upcoming Spring semester) and in May (for the following Fall). Students are encouraged to submit their preferences for specific TA positions early to facilitate the process. Although every effort is made to satisfy these requests, students should recognize that this may not be possible in all cases. In addition, the educational needs of the Department may equire the Graduate Coordinator to ask students to fill specific TA positions.

Every Spring, the Department gives out the Robert L. Pigford Award for Outstanding Teaching Assistants. These awards are used to recognize and reward the contributions of our most outstanding TAs and to thank them for all their efforts on behalf of the Department.

Teaching Fellowship

The Department has recently established the Teaching Fellowship program for graduate students with particular interest in an academic career. The Teaching Fellow actually co-teaches one of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering courses with a faculty mentor, and is involved in all aspects of the course (lecturing, preparation of new material, grading, etc.).

Graduate students interested in the Teaching Fellow program should meet with the Graduate Program Coordinator to discuss the various options. Teaching Fellows will be chosen by a committee based on their performance in previous TA positions, recommendations from their thesis advisor, and comments from the prospective faculty mentor. It is strongly encouraged that students complete their TA requirements prior to applying for a Teaching Fellowship.

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PhD candidates are generally admitted with a tuition waiver and a stipend. Our stipend levels are competitive with most major US institutions. At the MS level, there is no financial support for either full time (thesis) or part-time (coursework) options. Funding will be available on a continuing basis if the student maintains satisfactory progress toward completion of the degree. A 3.00 GPA must be maintained in course work throughout the program, and this will obviously be the main criterion in assessing performance during the first year. After the first year, however, progress will be primarily in research, where a clear quantitative measure of performance is infeasible. In general, the thesis advisor is responsible for this progress review, but in cases where there is disagreement between advisor and student, the thesis committee will provide an independent evaluation to determine if there is "satisfactory progress" for the continuation of funding. In the event that progress is deemed unsatisfactory, the student will be provided at least three months notice that funding is in danger of being discontinued, and will, wherever possible, be given sufficient opportunity to rectify the situation. Although the likelihood of this happening during the early stages of the research is slim, students should be aware that all theses must come to an end and thus the likelihood of funding being discontinued increases as the residence time in the program increases. In particular, funding is not guaranteed beyond four years.

The majority of students in the department will be supported on research grants and contracts obtained by their faculty advisor. Students on projects without external funding will be provided support (assuming that their progress is satisfactory) through the use of either departmental funds (e.g., industrial grants) or by appointment as a teaching assistant. No student will be supported by departmental funds for more than five semesters; funds beyond such a commitment must be provided by the thesis advisor or by appointment as a teaching assistant. This policy does not apply to students working with new faculty, where full support may be provided for purposes of initiation of new research.

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