Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. requirements include the completion of a minimum of 10 course units of graduate level work beyond the undergraduate program with a grade-point average of at least 3.0, satisfactory performance in the Ph.D.-related exams, presentation of a departmental seminar, completion of the teaching practicum, and the submission and successful defense of an original and significant dissertation

The following outline provides a general summary of the program – click each topic for more information. Specific requirements governing each student’s program will be provided upon entry into the program.

Course Requirements

A minimum of 10 credit units must consist of formal graduate courses, including several specified by the Graduate Group Committee.

Five of these courses must be:

  1. ENM 5100 Applied Engineering Mathematics I
  2. ENM 5110 Applied Engineering Mathematics II
    or ENM 5020 Numerical Methods and Modeling
  3. CBE 6180 Advanced Thermodynamics
  4. CBE 6210 Kinetics and Reactor Design
  5. CBE 6400 Transport Processes I

Electives: An additional 5 electives are required to complete the doctoral program. PhD students in CBE select their electives with their Faculty Advisor. Electives may be chosen from any courses at a level of 5000 or above. Students may take up to one course in the Wharton School.  Non-technical classes will be allowed at the discretion of the Graduate Chair.

GPA Requirement

Grades given in graduate engineering courses are A, B, C, D, F, and I. The I (Incomplete) is a temporary grade which is changed to a letter grade when the course requirements have been completed. A grade average of at least B must be kept to remain in good standing. Students with an undergraduate degree in a field other than chemical and biomolecular engineering receiving a grade of C or below in any required undergraduate course will be asked to withdraw. Research is graded S or U.

Teaching Practicum

The participation of Ph.D. students in the educational mission of the department is considered to be an important component of each student’s education and will help to develop their teaching, presentation, and leadership skills. All doctoral students are required to take a teaching practicum course under faculty guidance for two semesters (not exceeding ten hours per week), generally in their second year.

After completing each semester practicum, the student will receive a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grade and an evaluation from the faculty member responsible for the course. The evaluation will be based on the comments of the students taking the course and the observations of the faculty.

  • English Proficiency: “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted legislation in 1990 requiring that every member of an institution of higher learning who teaches undergraduates be tested and certified as fluent in English. At Penn, the English Language Programs (ELP) is responsible for testing and certifying all teaching assistants who use English as a second language (International Teaching Assistants or ITAs). Students whose native language is not English must pass an English Language Fluency test and receive certification from Penn English Language Programs (ELP). More information on the exam and requirements can be found here.

Foreign Language

There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree.

Qualifier Examination

  • All first year graduate students in the Ph.D. program must take the qualifier exam. This examination is given each year at the end of Spring semester. The exam may use a written or oral format, or both; the exam covers fundamental chemical engineering principles and may also include a research proposal.
  • Based upon the performance on the qualifying exam and in-class performance and research progress during the spring semester, a recommendation is made by the Graduate Group Committee whether or not a student will be welcomed into the Ph.D. program.

Research Committee

The examining committee must consist of AT LEAST four (4) University of Pennsylvania faculty members including your research advisor(s). The chair of your committee MUST BE a CBE faculty member who is NOT your research advisor(s).

Please see the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination procedures and instructions for more information.

Ph.D. Candidacy Examination

Oral Thesis Proposal + Presentation Guidelines

Oral Thesis Proposal:

  • A research proposal before the student’s dissertation committee will determine the research potential and ingenuity of the candidate.
  • The exam is to be scheduled and presented before spring semester of your 3rd year.
  • The results of the oral examination will be one of the following:
    • Passed
    • Failed with permission to take again
    • Failed without permission to take again.

Oral Thesis Presentation Guidelines:

  • You must schedule an oral presentation of your proposal at a time when all committee members may attend.
    • Schedule a 60 minute period.
  • The oral proposal will consist of an informal presentation not to exceed 30 minutes; this is a closed meeting.
  • A significant portion of the presentation should discuss current and future research.
    • Completed research can be briefly summarized for context.
  • An additional 30-minute discussion period involving only the student and the committee will follow the presentation.
  • A written thesis proposal must be submitted to all committee members and to the graduate group chair at least two weeks prior to your presentation.
  • The length and format of the written proposal is up to your advisor, but it should be at least 5 pages in length

Forms needed:

  • Preparation of Oral Thesis – This form must be completed via Penn Grad Forms (This form should be completed no later than two weeks prior to the oral these proposal presentation date)
  • Acceptance of Oral Thesis – This form must be completed via Penn Grad Forms once your oral thesis proposal has been approved by your committee.

Research Progress

In order to assure that each student is making satisfactory progress toward completion of the dissertation, the department will require a progress report due in the Fall semester for those students in their fourth year and beyond.

Doctoral Research

The doctoral dissertation in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering is normally based upon the successful completion of a research problem. It should be of a sufficiently novel or original nature as to warrant publication in a recognized journal requiring critical review by one or more referees. While the choice is important, it should not be regarded as committing the student to specialize in that particular area as his or her life’s work. The topic choice should be neither so limited in scope as to leave little room to maneuver as difficulties are encountered, nor so overly ambitious as to waste much time in properly defining the problem.

Ph.D. Thesis

A Ph.D. Thesis presents results of the candidate’s research for evaluation by his or her dissertation research committee. A copy of the final approved thesis will be presented to the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Faculties. Detailed regulations concerning the writing, format, and presentation of the thesis apply.

Ph.D. Final Examination

Normally, the members of the dissertation research committee shall be the same members who evaluated the oral examination. All of the members of the committee shall be readers of the thesis. At the time of the examination, the candidate will be allowed approximately 30 minutes for the oral presentation, which will be followed by questions. Students and the public are invited to attend the presentation and the question portion of the examination.

  • Dissertation Deposit Fee: A fee of $100 is payable to Trustees of the U of Pennsylvania to cover cost of processing and publication. Copyright Registration by UMI, if desired, is an additional cost of $65.
  • Electronic Filing of the Dissertation: Beginning in fall 2009, a PDF file of the dissertation may be submitted online via the Scholarly Commons@Penn portal.
  • Submit your manuscript to Scholarly Commons in advance of your appointment at the Graduate Division. See the instructions online here. If possible, use your Penn email account.
  • The thesis acceptance form is available here.

Ph.D. Dissertation Regulations

The Department pays for binding of the two copies indicated.  The department copies are different from the copies indicated when filling out the online deposit form.  If you’re only receiving copies through the department, you can skip ordering them when setting up your online deposit. Additional copies may be bound at the same time as the others but must be paid for by the student. Money for binding should be paid to the Business Administrator when the dissertation is submitted. The Dissertation Manual may be found here.

The PhD dissertation presented to the research committee for approval will be the final typed copy ready for delivery to the SAS Graduate Division Office in Suite 322A, 3401 Walnut St.

The Dissertation Checklist may be found here.

The following procedure is typical:

  • When the research advisor has approved the rough draft, the final copy is prepared, including all tables and figures. This final copy should satisfy all requirements as to the format found on the web. Copies of this final version are then given to the faculty members who have been selected to read the dissertation.
  • The readers may offer informal suggestions, but their formal action will be either to permit the oral examination to be held, or to reject the dissertation. The oral examination will be scheduled by the student a minimum of three weeks from the date the final copy of the dissertation is submitted to the readers. Each reader will examine the student’s work, including a conference with the candidate, if any, within two weeks after receipt of the dissertation. After the oral examination, the examining committee consisting of the research committee and any other faculty members (within or outside Chemical Engineering) will either accept or reject the dissertation.
  • The Graduate Faculties deadline (available from the CBE Dept. Office and the SEAS Graduate Office) for the final oral examination must be met with the final typing completed. Other details are covered in the Graduate Catalog. The forms for the abstract and title pages are prescribed in the guide for dissertation-authors published by the Graduate Faculties. It is the responsibility of each student to pick up this booklet (311A or Suite 322, 3401 Walnut) and to adhere to it. Information on the special margin dimensions required for microfilming is also provided in the guide.
  • An appointment must also be made with the Graduate Faculties Office, Suite 322, 3401 Walnut, (8-7444) to submit the dissertation and forms.

Fellowship Aid Requirement

Most students admitted to the Ph.D. program who receive fellowship aid from the department must make satisfactory progress toward their degree in order to maintain their support up to the maximum of five years.

Vacation Policy

Research assistants are formally allowed 2 weeks (10 working days) of vacation each year. In addition, University-observed holidays are paid time off. Unclaimed vacation cannot be carried over to a subsequent year. Any special arrangements must be negotiated with the research advisor.


The Ph.D. program, culminating in a successful defense of the doctoral dissertation, must be completed within a period of 10 years from the year of matriculation as a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science of the University of Pennsylvania.

Students may request a Leave of Absence for up to two years or four academic semesters, after which time, students must reapply for admission. Reasons for requesting a Leave of Absence include personal, medical, military, and family leave. Time spent in the military service and medical cases do not count under the time limit. Reinstatement is dependent upon departmental and SEAS approval. While on a Leave of Absence, students may still utilize the library and/or recreational facilities by requesting and paying a special service fee. RAS can help facilitate this process.


In This Section:
Your CBE Contact:

Ashley Culver – Graduate Program Coordinator
Office:  311A Towne Building
Phone: 215-898-8352


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