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Top PhD Programs for Chemistry

by Jennifer Holzman, Ph.D.
Structural and synthetic chemistry can work in academia and industry to try and create new medications to treat many different ailments.

Structural and synthetic chemistry can work in academia and industry to try and create new medications to treat many different ailments.

Pursuing a doctorate in chemistry can lead to a wide variety of job opportunities. There are many different sub-specialties within the field of chemistry such as geochemistry, biochemistry, materials chemistry, medicinal chemistry and chemical engineering. A graduate degree in chemistry can prepare you for careers in research, teaching and industry. According to the 2010 U.S. News and World Report rankings, three schools tie for the number 1 position – the California Institute of Technology, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

California Institute of Technology

At CalTech, students are required to commit to a dissertation laboratory and advisor by the end of their second term in the graduate program. There is no teaching requirement for graduate students; however, most students will find opportunities to teach at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Research in the division of chemistry and chemical engineering focuses on five main areas: nanomaterials for functional design, energy and sustainability, atmospheric chemistry and climate change, biological circuitry and theory. CalTech houses the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which is the largest research program in the nation focusing on solar fuel research.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

There are no required classes for students enrolled in the graduate program in chemistry at MIT. Instead, students can choose classes centered in their research field. Students must be proficient in a number of chemistry fields so that they can pass their cumulative exams. Students take monthly exams, and can choose from biological, inorganic, organic and physical chemistry at each testing session. Students must pass six exams, three of which must be in their area of expertise. MIT students teach for two semesters. The department also runs the MIT Chemistry Outreach Program in local high schools, where chemistry graduate students bring demonstrations to classrooms and show students what a career in chemistry can involve.

University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley offers doctoral degrees in a number of chemistry fields and has a special graduate program in chemical biology. While course requirements are minimal so that students can immediately begin working in their research laboratories, each chemistry specialty has expectations for the number of courses that a student will complete during their first two years. During their second year, Berkeley graduate students must present a departmental seminar before taking their qualifying exams and advancing to doctoral candidacy. Additionally, students must fulfill the departmental teaching requirement by serving as a teaching assistant for one semester during each of their first three years of graduate studies.

Chemistry specialties

If you are interested in a particular area of chemistry, researching rankings and offerings of schools by specialty may help you to narrow down your choices. The 2010 U.S. News and World Report rankings include lists for several chemistry sub-disciplines. UC Berkeley ranks first in both organic and physical chemistry, second in biochemistry and organic chemistry, and third for inorganic chemistry. CalTech ranks second for inorganic chemistry, and third in both physical and theoretical chemistry. MIT ranks first for inorganic chemistry, and second for physical chemistry. Several other universities are highly ranked for particular fields of chemistry. While the top three schools from the general rankings are represented in five of the six specialties, the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Purdue University – West Lafayette and Indiana University – Bloomington are the top schools for analytical chemistry.

About the Author

Dr. Holzman earned a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Emory University, and taught introductory biology there for 10 years. She also holds a teaching license in high school biology, and has extensive experience with curriculum development and implementation in both college and high school classes.

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