Doctoral Program (Ph.D.)

The Smith School’s Ph.D. in chemical engineering will prepare you for careers in academia and research. The program is completed in four to five years, and students typically receive full funding.

Why earn a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the Smith School?

As your pursue your Ph.D., you’ll be prepared to make significant contributions to the field—and you’ll be in good company. 

Not only are our chemical engineering faculty leading researchers and facilities continually improving with state-of-the-art upgrades and equipment, the culture of collegiality at the Smith School is unmatched. While you’re progressing toward your thesis and diploma, you’ll be surrounded by a community of scholars that is contributing to something greater and embracing the founding principles of Cornell University.

The graduate student experience reflects a thriving community among its student groups and initiatives; curriculum includes components of lab safety and research ethics; and faculty and research students are working toward ensuring that future CBE classes are composed of demographically diverse students through new programming. The Smith School’s community stands out as a differentiating factor—not only will you make significant contributions to the field, but you’ll be part of a group that is making a societal impact in more ways than one.

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Degree progression and requirements

As a Ph.D. student, you’ll complete a select set of core courses, take two exams, and complete a thesis with oversight from your faculty Special Committee. You are also required to minor in two subjects. The Ph.D. program is very flexible and allows students to shape their studies with graduate-level electives.

Typical Ph.D. in chemical engineering sequence

First-year transition course

First-year Ph.D. students take CHEME 6920 - Principles and Practices of Graduate Research. Topics include the culture and responsibilities of graduate research and the professional community; the mechanics of conducting research (experimental design, data analysis, serendipity in research, avoiding self-deception); documenting research (lab notebooks, computer files); and reporting research (writing a technical paper and oral presentations). 

Required courses

All new Ph.D. students are required to take four core classes during the first two years of study.

  • CHEME 6130 - Advanced Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics 
  • CHEME 6240 - Advanced Fluid Mechanics and Heat Transfer OR CHEME 6230 - Transport Phenomena for Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering 
  • CHEME 6110 - Mathematical Methods of Chemical Engineering Analysis
  • CHEME 6420 - Chemical Kinetics and Transport OR CHEME 6430 - Advanced Principles of Biomolecular Engineering

Examinations for Ph.D. students

Research Progress Assessment (RPA) — Typically after the first year, Ph.D. students complete this oral and written evaluation to assess their proficiency in chemical      engineering fundamentals and research.

Examination for Admission to Candidacy (A Exam) — After the second year (semester 4), Ph.D. students complete this exam to confirm their ability to undertake original research and present an appropriate plan for their thesis project. Before taking the A Exam, students must complete a mandatory CPR, a First Aid class and the four required core classes.

Ph.D. candidacy

Ph.D. candidates (post- A Exam) complete their research, deliver a yearly Work-in-Progress (WIP) seminar, and defend their findings.