Ph.D. Program Overview
In Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, we seek solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems, from finding ways to more efficiently produce fuels and chemicals to improving human health through better drug delivery and new biomaterials. Students in the Ph.D. program engage in innovative, interdisciplinary research in world-class facilities and are part of a diverse and active student body.
Numerous legendary engineering scholars and leaders in both academia and industry are among our graduate alumni. Jack Welch (former CEO of General Electric, member of the National Academy of Engineering), Bill Banholzer (former CTO of Dow Chemical Company, member of NAE), Joan Brenneke (UT-Austin) and Fikile Brushett (MIT) are just a few examples. The average annual salary for Illinois students with a Ph.D. in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering seeking jobs in industry and government was $99,100, as of 2017-2018. Consistently recognized among the top Chemical and Biomolecular programs in the country, the graduate program was ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report for 2019.
Ph.D. students typically take about eight courses in their first two years and also become involved as teaching assistants during their second and third years in the program. All of our graduate students are supported financially as they work toward their Ph.D. degree, provided they make satisfactory progress. Students in the Ph.D. program can elect to obtain a non-thesis or thesis-based M.S. degree on their way to their Ph.D. degree.
*The Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering does not admit students into the program with the intention of earning a terminal Master’s degree; however, students who have met the requirements may obtain a Master’s degree as a milestone on the path to completing their Ph.D. degree.
To earn a Ph.D. degree in chemical engineering, students must complete course work, the Ph.D. thesis, and satisfactory performance on qualifying and certification examinations.
Course work for Ph.D. students must include a minimum of four 500-level lecture courses in chemical engineering and a coherent program of a minimum of four courses (including at least one 500-level course) in one or two other departments. For additional details on course requirements and selections, we refer interested students to the Graduate Student Handbook. Students who enter the graduate program with a B.S. in a subject other than chemical engineering typically take additional courses before the qualifying exam.
The Ph.D. qualifying examination, taken at the end of the first year, comprises (1) a hybrid written-oral exam covering the fundamentals of chemical engineering, including transport, kinetics, and thermodynamics, typically taken after the first semester in the program, and (2) an oral presentation of proposed research including a literature review and a 6-12 month research plan.
The preliminary examination, typically taken before the end of the third year, includes a written research proposal and oral presentation to the examination committee describing preliminary data and a detailed research plan and timeline for completion of the dissertation.
Final Exam/Dissertation Defense
The final examination, or the dissertation defense, is a significant milestone in a graduate student’s career. This stage involves the student presenting their work to their doctoral committee and disseminating their work to the public.
More information about the final exam/dissertation defense, including deadlines, thesis writing guidelines, and assembling a committee for the final defense, can be found from the Graduate College Thesis Office.
Students typically graduate in five years.
Grad student life
From barbecues to research symposiums, graduate students have opportunities to connect in and outside the lab. ChBE grad students are involved activities such as the Annual Graduate Research Symposium and the Graduate Student Advisory Council. Learn more about life as ChBE graduate student and the Champaign-Urbana community.
Whether you want to work in higher education, for a government laboratory, Fortune 500 company, or a start-up, Illinois will provide you with the skills and training you need. Our alumni are successful leaders in academia and industry, including Jack Welch (former GE CEO), Bill Banholzer (former Dow Chemical CTO), Fikile Brushett (MIT) and Joan Brenneke (Notre Dame). Graduates have joined companies such as BP, Dow Chemical, Abbott Laboratories, Eli Lilly, and many more. Learn more about where our graduates work.
The Career Counseling & Placement Services Office of the School of Chemical Sciences assists students at all levels in finding a job (in academia or industry) after graduation. Counselors offer a number of services, such as helping assess skills, interests, values, and experiences. They also can support you in your job search, helping you prepare your CVs and application materials, practice your interview skills, and assist in negotiating offers.
The Graduate College Career Development Office also offers support to graduate students and postdocs during their time at Illinois.