Skip Navigation.
Carnegie Mellon Department of Chemistry

Guide to Graduate Studies

Ph.D. Requirements

Research Progress Report

Each student must write and present a detailed progress report on the proposed thesis project and present that to both the department and to the Advisory Committee in the fourth semester in residence. The purpose of the requirement is to demonstrate that the student:

Passing the research progress report requirement is normally the last step leading to Ph.D. candidacy. Thus, the Ph.D. requirements expected in the first and second years normally must be completed before the student may complete the progress report orals and advance to candidacy. The report requirement includes a poster presentation to the entire department, a written report, and an oral exam by the Advisory Committee. While two semesters as a teaching assistant are required to advance to candidacy, exceptional circumstances may occasionally delay a student's completion of this requirement and this will not require a delay in completing the progress report requirement.

Poster Presentation

The report is to be presented as a formal poster presentation, following ACS format, with an accompanying research overview paper (details described below). The presentation must include the scientific objectives in the thesis research, an overview of the necessary background material, the theoretical and experimental techniques used, and representative results obtained to date. Students should expect to present their research in approximately 5-10 minutes, repeated 3-4 times to different small groups, during the day of the poster session and to answer questions from a wide variety of faculty members and graduate students. Attendance at the poster session portion of the progress report may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, graduate students, or other interested members of the department or university. The purposes of the poster presentation are to expose the student to a wide range of questions in preparation for the oral exam, to develop scientific speaking skills, and to facilitate feedback from various members of the department.

Written Progress Report

In addition, a 15-18 page research overview (excluding reference pages), must be presented to members of the Advisory Committee and the Graduate Program Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. The purpose of the written report is to summarize the student's research progress to date, demonstrate scientific writing skills appropriate for Ph.D. work, and provide context for the work presented at the poster session and assessed at the oral exam. Therefore, the report should include the following sections:

Reports must be in a 12 pt font with 1.5 spacing and should follow ACS Style. Note that students with multiple projects who wish to submit a progress report longer than 15–18 pages, excluding front matter and references, need permission from their advisory committee. In general, the report should reflect the student's writing abilities after feedback/suggestions from the advisor on a small number of initial drafts. If a student does not submit a written report that the advisor agrees should be presented to the committee by the 12th week of the semester, an advisor may either (1) delay a student's oral exam until the end of that semester to allow for revisions, with the agreement of the GPC, or (2) if the deficiencies are serious, place the student on probation in the group with the possibility of termination from the group, and possibly from the Ph.D. program, pending the outcome of the oral exam.

Oral Exam

Within 2–6 weeks after the poster session, the student will meet with the Advisory Committee for a private oral exam on his/her research progress. It is recommended that the student organize a practice oral exam with other membersof his/her group and of related research groups in order to prepare for the potential range of questions in the oral exam, including fundamental background critical for the student's Ph.D. work. Advisors are also encouraged to suggest areas of study to the student and to share these topics/areas with the advisory committee to help them in preparing background questions for the oral exam. Attendance at the examination may be by any of the Chemistry Faculty, although they will be nonparticipating spectators. Note that members of the GPC may attend to assist with questions about requirements or procedure.

The purpose of the oral exam is to assess whether the student has the necessary background knowledge to conduct his/her research and to determine whether the student is on a trajectory to complete the Ph.D. successfully. The scope of the advisory committees' questions may include any subject matter tangential to material in the written report or oral presentation. During this oral examination, the student is expected, through a prepared presentation and responses to questions, to:

Students will typically not be eligible to take the oral exam if they have not passed all attainment requirements, have not satisfied the graduate course requirement, or have not made the required consistent efforts with the ICC toward passing the English proficiency requirement. Students may petition the GPC for an exception to go ahead with the oral exam; documentation must be provided to show strong effort to date and extenuating circumstances.


The written research progress report should be presented to the Advisory Committee at least one week before the scheduled poster session. When the paper is submitted, a date for the oral exam should be arranged that is acceptable to all committee members and falls within 2–6 weeks of the poster session. The student must receive oral feedback from the committee on the day of the exam and written feedback from the Advisory Committee Chair should follow in 1–3 days.

Any extension beyond the end of the fourth semester requires approval of a written petition from the student to the GPC and the agreement of the advisor. (See Petitions for Extension)


Note that a passing performance requires satisfactory performance on both the written report and oral exam. The poster presentation is required as preparation for the oral exam, but is not normally evaluated formally. There are four potential outcomes to the progress report requirement: pass, conditional pass, conditional pass with probation, or failure.

  1. Pass indicates clearly satisfactory knowledge of both fundamental background and research methods, along with satisfactory research progress that is on a trajectory to successful completion of the Ph.D. Both written report and oral exam are deemed satisfactory by the advisory committee.
  2. Conditional pass indicates that deficiencies, while deemed minor, must be addressed. The student is required either to revise the written report or otherwise address deficiencies as requested by thecommittee. Conditional pass generally indicates satisfactory research progress with minor deficiencies in knowledge, written report, and/or oral exam performance that the student should be able to address in 2-6 weeks, including potentially revising the report, or answering additional questions for the committee.
  3. Conditional pass with probation indicates that at least one deficiency is considered significant or that a combination of weaknesses will require 2+ months to address. Re-exam by the committee and revising the written report is normally required in this situation; advisory committees may assign additional written follow-up as appropriate. Any deficiencies need to be addressed in 2-3 months or no later than the end of the subsequent semester, with the specific deadline determined by the advisory committee, with goal of making the time as short as is reasonable for the required work. The advisor is responsible for providing summer support if there is an intervening summer. Inability to address the deficiencies and pass unconditionally by the stated deadline will be considered grounds for termination from the Ph.D. program.
  4. Failure indicates grave concerns about a student's research progress, knowledge, written report, and/or oral exam performance such that the advisor and committee question the student's ability to complete a Ph.D. in this research area. The advisor may terminate the student from his/her group or, upon agreement of the advisor, advisory committee and GPC Co-Chairs, the student may be permitted to repeat the oral exam, including revisions to the written report, by no later than the end of the subsequent semester, with the specific deadline to be set by the advisory committee. The advisor is responsible for providing summer support if there is an intervening summer. If the student is terminated from the group and is not able to secure a new advisor within a 1-2 month grace period (see Research Advisors), he/she would be terminated from the Ph.D. program. If the student is permitted to repeat the oral exam and the student does not pass unconditionally on the second attempt, he/she would be terminated from the Ph.D. program.

In cases B, C and D, the deficiencies must be communicated in writing by the Advisory Committee Chair to the student and the Graduate Program Committee, along with a new deadline for re-defending the progress report, if a re- defense is required. Any requests for extensions beyond the agreed-upon date must be made and approved in writing by the GPC co-chairs; otherwise, the student will be on probation until the requirement is satisfied. In case D, the Advisory Committee Chair must also give the student and GPC a written document describing the deficiencies that warranted failure.

Normally, students will complete the research progress report in the fourth semester in residence. Students may petition the GPC for a one-semester extension, with their advisor's agreement, as described under Petitions for Extension. All students must pass the research progress report requirement by the end of the sixth semester in residence to remain in the Ph.D. program, unless there are documented exceptional circumstances.