The Ph.D. is the highest degree in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry. The decision to pursue this degree should be based on a high aptitude for the subject and a determination to function as a professional in the field. The Ph.D. degree is essentially a license to practice independent research and/or to teach at the university level. The preparation for this degree involves significant coursework and research designed to provide both an in-depth understanding of one area of chemistry (e.g., analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic or physical) as well as exposure at an advanced level to types of chemistry outside the area of specialization. Ph.D. students are required to present seminars to develop those research and presentation skills.
However, research is easily the most important aspect of a Ph.D. program. Beginning as soon as an appropriate research group is identified (no later than the beginning of the second semester), research is what ultimately provides familiarity with the knowledge and techniques in areas of specialization. To develop expertise and insight, there is no substitute for facing and overcoming the difficulties associated with particular research goals.
When has one done enough to be worthy of a Ph.D.? Opinions vary, but typically an original significant contribution to one's field is required. This generally (and roughly) corresponds to material for two publications. Making an "original contribution" means going beyond simply doing what you are told, not recklessly but creatively. The student must take ownership of the project in the sense that he/she becomes primarily responsible for its success or failure. The student should provide significant ideas and even direction to the project(s) he/she has been entrusted with. This rarely occurs in the first year or two of graduate study, but by the third or fourth year significant creativity should begin to be evident. The best reason to pursue graduate studies in chemistry is a love for the sense of discovery this field offers.
Note: The requirement for a minor field of study (as described in the Graduate Catalog) does not apply to the graduate degrees in chemistry.