Organic Chemistry PhD Degree Programs

A PhD degree program in organic chemistry prepares students for careers in academia, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, research, science communications, and other related industries. Learn more about the coursework, topics of interest, and common admission requirements of this graduate program. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Program Information

A PhD program in organic chemistry takes around 4-5 years to complete, with the first year typically dedicated to didactic coursework and the succeeding years focused on dissertation research and seminar courses. The coursework typically consists of core courses in organic chemistry, elective courses in other areas of chemistry, and, in some programs, electives in other science departments that are relevant to a candidate's field of study. Students are expected to work on collaborative and dynamic research projects in the areas of mechanistic and synthetic chemistry, organometallics, asymmetric catalysis, and chemical biology, among others. Core courses often include synthetic and physical organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and materials chemistry.

Physical Organic Chemistry

A graduate course in physical organic chemistry focuses on the theories of organic reaction mechanisms. Topics for discussion could include carbanions and carbocations, SN1 and SN2 reactions, solvent effects, and linear free-energy relationships. In addition, students could study orbital symmetry, kinetics, isotope effects, radicals, and strained molecules.

Chemical Synthesis

A chemical synthesis course discusses the major types and methods of synthetic transformations. Discussions usually cover carbonyl reduction, olefin oxidation and synthesis, aldol reactions, carbon-carbon and carbon-heteroatom bonds, and metal-catalyzed cross-coupling.

Medicinal Chemistry

A PhD course on medicinal chemistry tackles the various stages and aspects of drug development including the drug discovery process; drug structure, properties, and design; pharmacokinetics; and combinatorial chemistry. It also looks into drug targets such as enzymes, membranes, nucleic acids, and receptors. PhD students could also learn about the drug approval process, clinical trials, and intellectual property protection.

Medical Biochemistry

A medical biochemistry course covers biochemical concepts in the context of human health and diseases. Topics may include metabolic diseases, ageing, nutrition, hormones, blood biochemistry, protein folding, and sensory systems. The course may also discuss enzyme activity and mutations, and its effect on human diseases.

Organometallic Chemistry

In this graduate course, students can examine the fundamental concepts of organometallic chemistry, including bonding, magnetism, reaction mechanisms, and symmetry methods. The class will discuss the properties of transition metal complexes as well as transition-metal-mediated reactions and their application.

Spectroscopic Identification of Organic Compounds

This course provides an overview of the methods used for determining the structure of organic molecules. Students could study the theories and methodologies of major spectroscopic techniques such as infrared, mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance, and ultraviolet spectroscopy.

Applied Chemometrics

An applied chemometrics course focuses on basic chemometric procedures, such as principal components analysis (PCA) and partial least squares (PLS) regression. Students can study the application of these methods in laboratory settings for experimental design, hypothesis testing, instrument calibration, Multivariate Statistical Process Control (MSPC), and sample grouping. The course could also review common errors in chemometrics and how to avoid them.

Education Research

A course on education research is particularly useful for doctoral candidates who plan to focus on teaching. Students can review major research studies on learning, learning environments, and teaching of chemistry and biochemistry. Relevant topics may include cognitive models of reasoning, social discourse models, and impacts of various pedagogical methods.


An ethics course tackles the conduct of ethical science and responsible research. Relevant topics may include genetic testing applications, human and animal research, technology transfer, intellectual property, data management, and peer reviews. Students may also discuss subjects related to professional behavior such as conflict of interest, plagiarism, and sexual boundaries.

Dissertation Research

In order to complete their degree, doctoral program candidates must work on an original scientific research that will be presented in a written dissertation and an oral defense. Some programs may require an oral exam following the defense to determine the candidate's knowledge and comprehension of the research.

Admission Requirements

Applicants for a PhD in Organic Chemistry program must submit official transcripts of their undergraduate and post-baccalaureate degrees. GRE scores, while not always required, often provide a competitive advantage. Other common requirements include letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement. Some schools may request for an in-person interview following the initial screening process to determine an applicant's readiness and suitability for the program. Applicants may also submit a writing sample or a published paper to enhance their credentials.

Students who choose to pursue a PhD in Organic Chemistry will take classes in areas of chemistry, biological chemistry, and organic compounds. The programs are typically research intensive and can be completed in 4-5 years.

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