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Chemical Engineering, PhD

Doctoral degree in chemical engineering

As a PhD student in our outstanding, collaborative department, you’ll engage in original problem-solving. You’ll be able to specialize in either traditional or emerging areas of research in chemical and biological engineering, including energy-related science and technology, soft and hard materials science and engineering, systems engineering and optimization, catalysis, process control and design, nanotechnology, biotechnology, biomedical engineering, complex fluids, colloid and interfacial phenomena, atomic, molecular, and multiscale modeling, polymers (synthesis and processing), micro- and nano-electronics, environmental engineering and sustainability, reactor design, and atomic-scale design of surface reactivity.

At a glance

Chemical and biological engineering department

75Percent
of our faculty have received early-career or young-investigator awards
7
undergraduate ranking among public universities
8
graduate ranking among public universities

Learn more about what information you need to apply.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline October 15
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Required.*
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/requirements/#english-proficiency).
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Students with a strong background in chemical engineering or related field and a strong interest in research are encouraged to apply for admission. Most applicants accepted into the program have grade-point averages well above the Graduate School minimum of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. All applicants are required to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) general test. Applications are evaluated on the basis of previous academic record, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and personal statement. The Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering does not consider applications for a terminal M.S. degree; the department admits only to the Ph.D. An M.S. degree can be awarded post admission as an alternative to the Ph.D. degree. The M.S. degree is not a prerequisite for the Ph.D. degree.

Applicants with degrees in the physical or life sciences or other engineering fields are encouraged to apply for admission into the Ph.D. graduate program. These students should contact the chair of the graduate admissions committee to discuss their preparation for the graduate program. Students are not accepted for spring semester except when space is available. Fall applications and supporting materials must be received by December 15.

Tuition

Tuition and segregated fee rates are always listed per semester (not for Fall and Spring combined).

View tuition rates

Funding

The vast majority of admitted students receive a 5-year financial guarantee. The guarantee is usually provided through a Research Assistantship, which may also be supplemented with a Teaching Assistantship. This financial support will continue as long as the student maintains satisfactory progress toward their degree. Financial support includes:

  • Payment of all tuition costs (referred to as tuition remission).
  • Payment of an annual stipend of $32,500 (pre-tax) for standard Research Assistant appointments.
  • Subsidized health insurance coverage.
  • A one-time Welcome Check payment of $1,000 at the start of the first semester for new students to use as needed (e.g., for moving expenses).

The same stipend is paid to all current PhD students and is periodically raised to account for cost-of-living increases; all increases are also applied to all current PhD students. Stipend payments may be larger for students funded by external fellowships, although the stipend is competitive compared to national fellowships (e.g., the 2021 stipend for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship is $34,000). The cost of living in Madison is comparable to or cheaper (sometimes substantially so) than other major cities based on cost-of-living calculators so that the stipend is sufficient to ensure students can live comfortably. Students are also required to pay segregated fees each semester which provide access to bus passes, University Health Services, the Wisconsin Union, and recreation services (including on-campus athletics facilities). Segregated fees decrease once a student reaches dissertator status.

Research in CBE is highly collaborative and often involves diverse teams from within the department, across campus, at other campuses, and in industry. CBE researchers address the most pressing challenges facing society by developing approaches to sustainably produce new fuels and chemicals, combat the plastic pollution crisis, create new therapeutic molecules and materials, optimize energy infrastructure, computationally design new materials and chemical processes, understand transport in complex environments, engineer bacteria to produce biofuels, and more.

View our research

Minimum graduate school requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (26 credits out of 51 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university’s Course Guide.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements At least two of the core graduate classes must be taken in the first semester of residence in the graduate program, and at least four core graduate classes must be completed with grades of B or better, preferably by the end of the second semester of residence. A student who receives one grade of BC or lower in a core class but who wishes to remains in the PhD program must take the fifth core course or re-take the low graded core course preferably in the third semester, and the student must receive a B or better.

A student who receives more than one grade of BC or lower in core graduate classes will be placed in the M.S. program. Upon successful completion of the M.S. program, the student may petition the full faculty for readmission to the Ph.D. program.

A student who receives an average of 3.0 or higher on their preliminary exam becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. program. A student who does not receive an average score of 3.0 or higher in the qualifying process is placed in the M.S. program. Upon successful completion of the M.S. program, the student may petition the full faculty to be readmitted to the Ph.D. program.
Assessments and Examinations A Ph.D. candidate who has met the grade requirements must complete a preliminary exam consisting of a written report and oral examination.

During the fall semester of the fourth year of the program, candidates will participate in a mandatory research progress meeting with their thesis committee.

The Ph.D. candidate defends a written thesis in a final oral examination.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements Students must complete a minor.

The Ph.D. candidate is required to undertake a program of coursework in a field other than chemical and biological engineering. This requirement may be satisfied by an external minor (option A) or a distributed minor (option B).

The minor, whether Option A or B, is designed to represent a coherent body of work, and should not be simply an after-the-fact ratification of a number of courses taken outside the major department. To ensure coherence, the student must consult with his or her advisor. The Ph.D. Minor Agreement Form should be submitted for approval at an early date, before the student is halfway through the proposed course sequence.

Students must complete at least six semester courses (totaling at least 18 credits) in the CBE department. Four courses will be core CBE courses and two will be CBE electives, chosen at the discretion of the student in consultation with their advisor. These classroom courses shall be in the range numbered 500-899 and will not be laboratory courses, Independent Studies or Research. Grades of B or better are required in all CBE courses used towards degree requirements.

At least four of the six CBE courses shall be selected from these core graduate courses:

CBE 620 Intermediate Transport Phenomena3
CBE 660 Intermediate Problems in Chemical Engineering3
CBE 710 Advanced Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics3
CBE 735 Kinetics and Catalysis3
CBE 781 Biological Engineering: Molecules, Cells & Systems3

At least two of the core graduate courses must be taken in the first semester of residence in the graduate program, and at least four core graduate courses must be completed with grades of B or better, preferably by the end of the second semester of residence. A student who receives one grade of BC or lower in a core class but who wishes to remains in the PhD program must take the fifth core course or re-take the low graded core course preferably in the third semester, and the student must receive a B or better. Students are expected to take a total of four courses in their first semester of residence.

The requirement of four core CBE graduate courses shall not be met by substitution of other courses. Students matriculating with an M.S. degree from another university may, with department approval, use up to two courses from their M.S. work toward the requirement of six CBE graduate courses.

Students taking advanced courses outside the department in excess of minor requirements may, with department approval, use up to two of these courses toward the requirement of six CBE graduate courses. Seminar courses may not be used to satisfy CBE course requirements.

Elective course requirement: Students must complete at least one course totaling at least three credits. Courses must be numbered 300 and above. A B average is required. Pass/fail or audit courses may not be used for the elective course requirement. Courses used to satisfy the minor program may not be used for the elective course requirement. Advisor approval is required and secured through submission of the Ph.D. Elective Course Approval Form. Elective courses can be foreign language courses.

Teaching assistantship: Each student in the Ph.D. program is required to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) for two semesters. Under normal circumstances, each student should serve as a TA one semester of the second year and one semester of the third year. Requests for alternate arrangements, partial or full waiver of the requirement, should be submitted in writing to the Graduate Program Committee.

Kate Fanis, Student Services Coordinator
gradoffice@che.wisc.edu
608-263-3138
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI 53706

Sean Palecek, Director of Graduate Studies
gradoffice@che.wisc.edu
Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering
1415 Engineering Drive, Madison, WI 53706

View the Graduate Guide for program-specific information on admission, coursework, policies, rules and regulations.

Chemical and biological engineering news

Research in chemical and biological engineering spans a wide range of techniques and approaches. For us, interdisciplinary collaboration is key! The result? Innovative research that addresses the most pressing challenges facing society today.

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