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The Department of Chemistry at the University of Southern California is continuously training approximately 175 Ph.D. students in the various areas and disciplines of modern Chemistry. The program has several requirements, as well as multiple avenues of graduate student support.

Program Requirements:

Laboratory Immersions

During their first semester students will participate in two or more, short laboratory immersions under the guidance of faculty that match their research interests. The selection of immersion mentors for each student begins in September and is based on mutual interest from both the student and the faculty mentor, and every possible effort is made to match students with their top choices. These immersions enable students to get a taste of the research in different laboratories before they select their research mentor, and importantly, they build personal relationships with additional faculty that can serve on their thesis committee.

Selection of Research Advisor

Students will formally join a research group at the beginning of their second semester. Prior to making this selection, students much complete at least two graduate courses with grades of B or better in their first semester. After selection of a research advisor, students will become members of a research group and will begin experimental research or theoretical work.


Students must complete 24 units of graduate courses, split between courses of 2 and 4 units each. The overall GPA for all graduate work must be higher than 3.0 in order to qualify for a Ph.D. degree. Transfer credit for work done at other universities is possible for those students who have taken graduate-level classes during their undergraduate studies or those who have obtained an M.S. The overall unit requirement for the Ph.D. degree is 60 units: 24 units of coursework, 28 units of directed research, and 8 units of dissertation research.


Experience in teaching is a key component of the Ph.D. program at USC. The program requires that the students participate in classroom instruction as a teaching assistant (TA) for two semesters, typically during their first year. The faculty view this teaching experience as being integral to graduate studies, particularly for those students who plan for a career in academics.

Qualifying Exam

Prior to the fifth semester, students will select a guidance committee, which is chaired by their mentor to provide advice and to administer a qualifying examination. The qualifying examination consists of the preparation and oral defense of two research proposals and brief written answers to three questions from the committee. This type of examination emphasizes a student’s creativity and originality, and develops an ability to answer scientific questions spontaneously. It provides a realistic model for situations often confronted by practicing chemists, and is itself an important part of the educational process. Upon successful completion of this exam, the student is expected to work full-time toward their Ph.D. thesis based on original research.


When a student has completed a sufficient amount of original research, as determined in consultation with their research mentor and guidance committee, they will move towards graduation. This involves the preparation of an original thesis, an oral defense of that thesis, and a research seminar in the department. 

Student Support:

Financial Support

Our support package for graduate students is one of the most competitive in the nation. The starting stipend is currently $29,328 per year for all students, plus several tiers of fellowships ($4,000 - $7,000) that are available for outstanding applicants. There are no tuition charges, and students receive both health and dental insurance coverage. The stipend is covered through either teaching assistantships (TAs) that supervise laboratory work, grade papers, and proctor exams, or research assistantships (RAs) that are funded by grants or by fellowships that allow students to pursue their doctoral research projects conducted with the studentŐs research mentor.


USC graduate student housing, located adjacent to campus near the soon to be completed University Village, is available at the Hillview apartments. We require all international students to sign up for Hillview. If there is additional space, we invite domestic students to reside at the USC Hillview apartments as well. Students who apply for Hillview apartments are required to live there for one full academic year. Our department reserves “Two-Bedroom” spaces for $1025/month per resident, enabling first-year graduate students to meet each other and form strong friendships. For more information regarding Hillview please visit their website:

Campus and Neighborhood Safety

As a university campus in an urban center, USC is committed to providing students with a safe educational environment. The USC Department of Public Safety is one of the largest campus safety departments in the US, which deploys public safety officers on campus on in the surrounding community. Additionally, USC provides other safety tools, including the Campus Cruiser that transports students between buildings on campus or to their local residences. Because of USC's location in downtown Los Angeles, many students may be surprised to learn that the statistics for safety, as collected by the U.S. Department of Education, show that student-related violent crime at USC is lower than at UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego.

A graduate student profile

© 2015 Department of Chemistry , USC