Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Top 20 Doctoral Program—National Research Council

For more information

Please contact:
Graduate Studies Coordinator
Dept. of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
University of Houston
S222 Engineering Bldg 1,
Houston, TX 77204-4004
phone: 713-743-4311
email: grad-che [at] uh [dot] edu
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Guide for Graduate Studies

Welcome to the Graduate Program in the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Houston!

This description contains information that will help you plan your studies at the University of Houston. However, we realize that no single document can cover everything. Useful information for new graduate students is available from the Organization of Chemical Engineering Graduate Students (OChEGS), in the Dean's summary of policies and procedures, and on the departmental web page. General information about graduate programs can be found in the current University of Houston Graduate Catalog. Current course offerings are listed in the UH academic schedule, which is updated twice each year. In addition, there are several channels of communication you can explore to ask questions, get help, seek advice, provide feedback, etc.: (i) your research advisor once you have one; (ii) the Director of Graduate Studies, vmdonnelly [at] uh [dot] edu (Dr. Donnelly); (iii) the Department Chairman, ramanan [at] uh [dot] edu (Dr. Krishnamoorti); (iv) any faculty member or instructor with whom you feel comfortable; (v) any officer of OChEGS or other students.


Graduate Degree Programs

The department has both full-time and part-time M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Chemical Engineering. The department also offers a professionally-oriented Masters in Chemical Engineering (M.Ch.E.) program, directed by Dr. Vekilov, as well as two petroleum engineering programs. The Petroleum Engineering programs include a M.S. in Petroleum Engineering program and a Masters in Petroleum Engineering (M.P.E.) program, both of which are directed by Dr. Holley. The M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Chemical Engineering are described below.

The M.S. Program

This program focuses on advanced engineering fundamentals and research. Full-time students with a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering are expected to complete all requirements within 21 months from the time they join the program. Individual schedules are arranged for students entering without a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.

  1. Coursework
    Each candidate must complete a total of six 3-credit hour courses, including the following required core courses:
    • CHEE 6331: Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering I – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6333: Transport Processes (Fluid Mechanics) – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6335: Classical & Statistical Thermodynamics – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6337: Advanced Reactor Engineering – Spring Semester

    The two electives may be technical subjects in any relevant field. Courses from other departments are typically graduate-level, although relevant senior-level courses outside the student's undergraduate major may be approved on a case-by-case basis. It is possible to cross-enroll to Rice or Baylor College of Medicine in some cases. Some basic computer science (COSC) classes, as well as the finance and accounting courses offered in the M.Ch.E. program (CHEE 6350, 6368, and 6369) are not usable as M.S. or Ph.D. electives. Students are also expected to enroll for the departmental seminar series class when permitted by their total-hours limits (see below), and to attend seminars regularly, whether formally enrolled or not. If you get another fee statement during the semester, indicating that your enrollment has not been fully completed, please let the Graduate Office know immediately.

  2. Research Thesis
    A research project and a master's thesis must be completed. The thesis must be presented and satisfactorily defended in an oral examination. The thesis committee consists of your advisor, one other faculty member from the Chemical Engineering department, and one other Ph.D. scientist or engineer (most commonly a UH faculty member) from outside the department. The student's research advisor chairs the committee. The thesis corresponds to at least 12 credit hours toward the overall degree requirements, of which at least 6 are taken as research credits and 6 as thesis credits.
  • Students who do not receive a stipend from the department may complete part or all of the degree requirements on a part-time basis. For these students, there is also a non-thesis degree option, which requires a total of 30 credit hours of approved graduate courses.

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The Ph.D. Program

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree are given intensive exposure to a specific field of engineering research as well as continued study of a broad range of engineering fundamentals. The main focus is individual research, and students are expected to expand the frontiers of knowledge in their area of endeavor. Moreover, candidates learn, absorb, and otherwise experience the general philosophy, methods, and concepts of research and scholarly inquiry so that after graduation they can approach significant problems that may or may not be related to their doctoral research.

  1. Coursework
    Each candidate must complete a total of 30 credit hours of coursework including the following 4 required Core courses:
    • CHEE 6331: Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6333: Transport Process – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6335: Classical & Statistical Thermodynamics – Fall Semester
    • CHEE 6337: Advanced Reactor Engineering – Spring
    • Semester

    Each candidate must also take two out of the following Semi-Core Courses:

    • CHEE 6332: Numerical Methods
    • CHEE 6397: Experimental Methods
    • CHEE 63XX: Molecular Modeling (or CHEM 6320 Molecular Mech. And Modeling)
    • CHEE 6300: Physics & Chemistry of Engineering Materials
    • CHEE 6360: Biomolecular Engineering
    • CHEE 6377: Introduction to Polymer
    • Science

    Of the remaining four (elective) courses, at least two must be Chemical Engineering graduate courses. Semi-Core Courses can also be used as electives. Graduate level courses from other departments may be approved on a case-by-case basis. It is possible to enroll in Rice graduate courses in some cases. Some basic computer science (COSC) classes, as well as the finance and accounting courses offered in the M.Ch.E program (CHEE 6350, 6368 and 6369) are not usable as M.S. or Ph.D. electives. Students are also expected to enroll for the departmental seminar series class (CHEE 6111) when permitted by their total hours limits. However, you must attend department seminars regularly, whether formally enrolled or not.

  2. Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D.
    At the end of the first year Spring semester, the faculty would decide whether a student belongs to one of the three following tracks:
    • Track (i) goes for fast-track PhD,
    • Track (ii) works on removing coursework deficiency and then goes for PhD, and
    • Track (iii) goes for an MS and leaves.

    This decision would be based on 5 required course instructor recommendations (positive or negative) and advisor recommendation.

    • Track (i) would have students who have done well in courses (required course GPA>3.30). They must have positive recommendations from all instructors and their advisor. They would do a research-based PhD qualifier by the end of the second year. (A one semester extension can be given in special situations.) A committee of 3 ChE faculty would judge, if they qualify. If they do not qualify, they complete and leave with a thesis-based MS.
    • Track (ii) would have the students who have not performed well in some required courses. They would be advised to “repeat” the required courses in which they performed poorly and/or obtain a thesis-based MS. They must have a positive recommendation from the course instructor to move on. If they succeed in these additional requirements, they proceed to PhD. If they do not qualify, they complete and leave with a thesis-based MS. (Note:  If an instructor finds weak performance, but with potential to improve, he/she can give an “I” grade, allow the person to repeat the course (or do an extra project) and give a final grade within one year.)
    • Track (iii) would have students who have required course GPA < 3.00 or get 3 (or more) negative recommendations from instructors and advisor. They would be advised to take the necessary classes and leave with a coursework MS by the end of their first calendar year. Alternatively, if the advisor is willing to provide funding, they could do a thesis based terminal MS (but no PhD).

    This qualification process also includes the faculty evaluation of all first year students at the end of the first Fall semester. The weak students (2 or more B-) are advised to drop out of the PhD program at that stage and do a coursework MS.

    Research-based PhD Qualifying Examination Format: In the second year (preferably in the Spring semester), students would take their research-based qualifying examination. The examination would consist of a report (double-spaced, 12-font, approximately 20 pages: background, summary of research conducted, and directions for further research) and an oral presentation of the research (~20 minutes presentation + 40 minutes questions regarding research / course-based fundamentals related to research) to a committee of 3 professors (including the advisor). The committee would be appointed, with input from the advisor, by the Graduate Program Director and approved by the ChE chairman.

  3. Residency
    All PhD Students are required to satisfy a 1 year full-time residency before they can graduate. This means that you must be enrolled for the required nine (9) hours, which is considered full time, in two (2) consecutive long semesters (Fall and Spring).
  4. Research Dissertation
    A Ph.D. candidate must complete a research project and a Ph.D. dissertation. The dissertation should contain a significant new contribution to knowledge in chemical engineering, and must be presented and satisfactorily defended in an oral examination. The dissertation committee is composed of the student's advisor, two other faculty members from the Chemical Engineering department and two faculty (most commonly UH faculty) from outside the department. The student's research advisor chairs the committee. The dissertation must provide at least 36 credit hours towards the overall degree requirements, of which at least 24 are taken as research credits and 12 as dissertation credits.

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Ph.D. Dissertation Committee

This committee seeks to provide input to the Ph.D. candidate's research goals and progress at a time early enough to accommodate any adjustments before defense of the dissertation. The time for assembling this committee is decided by the student and his/her advisor. For further information, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies.

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Students with B.S. Degrees in Subjects Other than Chemical Engineering

Degree plans for full-time students seeking a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering who have a B.S. degree in Chemistry, Physics, Materials Engineering or related branches of science and engineering are arranged on a case-by-case basis. In the first year, the student will usually take two of the required graduate courses per semester together with pertinent undergraduate courses. If the student audits the other required courses and is making the transition to chemical engineering smoothly, they will be encouraged to take the Ph.D. qualifying exam at the end of the second year. In some cases, students will be required to complete an M.S. before proceeding.

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Transfer Credit/Placement for Courses Previously Taken

Previous graduate-level coursework may allow for placement out of required graduate courses (the student takes more advanced courses, for the same total number of classes), or for transfer credit (as though the course had been taken for credit at UH; replaces a UH course). Only formal courses may be used for transfer credit or placement. Transfer credit can be granted for two courses at most, and these may not have been used in earning any previous degree. Classes used for either placement or transfer credit must be individually evaluated for comparability to UH courses (based on syllabus, notes, etc.) by the instructor of the most-related UH course, and courses offered for transfer credit must be clearly established as not having been used toward a previous degree, usually by analysis of transcripts and published degree requirements from the student's prior institution. Transfer credit requires the completion of a Graduate Petition, which is available in the Graduate Office.

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Students with Previous M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering

Seven to ten courses are required of students doing a Ph.D. after a previous M.S. degree. If you are doing a Ph.D. after an M.S., please inquire in the Graduate Office. Core ChE classes taken here by students who have taken similar classes elsewhere may often be usable as electives, which can greatly reduce the total coursework load (this procedure is new, and will evolve over time).

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English Test for Foreign Students

Foreign students from a non-English speaking country are required to take the Placement Examination for Non-Native Speakers of English (PENNSE) before classes begin. The purpose of this test is to determine if the student needs remedial English courses. It is also required by the University for students who will act as TA's. As of Fall 2000, all international students who will serve as Teaching Assistants will have to pass the Test of Spoken English (TSE), speak test.

Independent of the PENNSE, the department will prescribe remedial English courses for students whose command of written or spoken English seems likely to limit their academic and/or professional development.

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Stipends and Payment

The great majority of full-time students pursuing research degrees in the department are paid the current standard departmental rate. Perturbations in take-home pay are created by the incredibly complex Federal and University policies governing stipends and income, by international tax treaties, and by insurance and tax withholding (the last of these can be adjusted by filling the right forms). Students are very rarely admitted without support, as financial concerns usually prevent unsupported students from doing well. External fellowships arranged by the student (e.g., NSF Graduate Fellowships) lead to somewhat higher stipend levels.

Students are generally paid at the beginning of each month, for the month just ended. The first payment to new students is therefore October 1. It is essential to arrange for your Social Security Number to be entered into the university accounting system as soon as possible, to ensure that payment will occur on time.

Presidential Fellowships

The Presidential/Cullen/Ehrhardt Fellowships are intended to assist departments or programs in enhancing quality by providing funds to recruit outstanding students. The Fellowship program provides funds to match or exceed financial assistance packages offered by other institutions. Only students of exceptional caliber who represent extraordinary recruitment opportunities will receive these fellowships.

    The two-year fellowships are available for outstanding students who are entering graduate or professional programs at the University of Houston in the fall 2010 semester. Preference is given to those whose degree objective is the doctorate. The potential for academic excellence is the main criteria for selection. Students must meet minimum full-time enrollment (12hrs) and 3.0 GPA to maintain the Fellowship each semester.
    The faculty/committee of the individual graduate programs has the primary responsibility for the selection of candidates for admission to these programs and the nomination of individuals for the competitive fellowships. Typically the criteria utilized for these decisions focus on the prior educational attainment of the applicant, demonstrated interest in and preparation for the course of study, and evidence of the applicant’s ability to successfully matriculate in the program. These decisions, by their very nature, require a comprehensive review of the multiple factors by the faculty/committee charged with selecting students for admission and/or the awarding of competitive fellowships.

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Assignment of Research Advisors

Research advisors are assigned at the start of the Spring semester. Several weeks before advisor-choices are to be submitted, each professor planning to take new students gives a 30-minute presentation on his/her work and the projects available for new students. Each student is then expected to meet further with at least three of the professors, as well as with students already involved with the groups of interest. Experience shows that these meetings are one of the main ways in which students learn about the research activities of the department, and this knowledge is often helpful in their research. (The OChEGS symposium each Fall is another valuable source of information about current research in the department). Following these meetings, near the end of the first semester, each student submits their rank-ordered first, second, and third choice. The department earnestly attempts to assign students to the advisor of their choice, and the great majority of students get their first or second choice. Don't be out of touch during the week before second-term classes begin, as it is often necessary to consult with students regarding the assignment process.

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Teaching Assistant Duties

In addition to their coursework and research activities, all full-time graduate students in the department are assigned some teaching assistant duties. Such duties usually include homework grading, tutoring students, or assisting in an instructional laboratory. This assignment is a worthwhile educational experience for all graduate students. Because all students participate, the burden on each individual is moderate. In recent years, no TA duties have been given to students during their first semester of graduate study, or to students who expect to graduate before the end of the semester.

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OChEGS and Toastmasters

Two useful, student-run organizations in which many graduate students participate are the Organization of Chemical Engineering Graduate Students (OChEGS), and Toastmasters. OChEGS organizes a variety of social events each year, as well as a long-standing Fall symposium featuring research conducted by students in the department. OChEGS may be reached through their mailbox and at the events they sponsor.

The Human Resources Department invites all staff, faculty and students to join the UH Toastmasters Club.

The UH Toastmasters Club offers instruction and skill development to help people speak effectively, organize and conduct meetings, and motivate others.

The Club, known as “The Cougar Pause” will meet twice monthly at noon. Members represent a cross-section of UH employees from different backgrounds and departments.

For more information about joining the UH Toastmasters Club, please contact:
Althea Neilson, HR Training Specialist (3-5786)
aneilson [at] central [dot] uh [dot] edu

For more information about Toastmasters International, please visit

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Ethical Practices

The department's standards in this area are high and inflexible. Particularly avoid the following: collaboration on take-home exams, plagiarism of others' writings, and falsification of data. Any of these can end your professional career, not only here but forever. Seek advice if you find yourself in a situation in which you are uncertain.

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Much of the research conducted in the department involves the use of potentially-dangerous substances and equipment. None of the research conducted here outweighs serious injury to any member of the department. Be cautious when you first begin experimental work. Ask the members of your research group about hazards. Take the (required) radiation-safety course, if applicable. Other safety courses are now required. Know the special disposal rules for organic and biohazardous wastes. Beware of gas cylinders, which must always be secured against falling, and leaks of toxic/flammable gases. Use eye protection. Know where the nearest eyewash and fire extinguisher are located (could you find them with your eyes closed or blinded?). Beware of glass tubing and vessels, and hot surfaces. Finally, even the non-experimentalists should be aware that injuries associated with over/improper use of computers are real, and increasingly common.

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Duration of Financial Support

The department limits the duration of financial support in order to encourage students and their advisors to expedite the student's progress toward graduation. While anxiety-provoking at first glance, this policy has effectively eliminated the lengthy terms of graduate study still found in many other departments (e.g., 7-8 years!).

All full-time Ph.D. candidates are ideally expected to complete their degree requirements within four years from the time they enter the department. A student wishing to extend the period of support must submit a written request, signed by his/her advisor, to the Director of Graduate Studies. The Director of Graduate Studies will then make a recommendation to the ChE faculty, who will make the final decision. For full-time students who enter the Ph.D. program with an approved M.S. degree, it should be noted that (i) an extension of support will be more difficult to justify if they have transferred a significant number of courses into the department, and (ii) financial support will not be continued beyond the end of their first year unless they have passed the Qualifying Exam.

In addition to the above guidelines, the State of Texas places a reasonable but firm upper limit on the duration of graduate studies, beyond which out-of-state tuition would have to be charged by the University for a student to continue his/her enrollment in the graduate program. Please make sure that you discuss this issue with your advisor.

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University Holidays

The official holiday schedule for each academic year typically includes: Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Spring Break, Memorial Day, and U.S. Independence Day.

Note: A State employee is entitled to observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Good Friday in lieu of any holiday or holidays on which the employee's agency is required to be open or staffed to conduct public business. Other absences should be prearranged with the student's advisor. In practice, it is observed that students who are enthusiastic and committed to their studies and their research seem to have more fun, and do better when they get out.

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First-Year Graduate Coursework

A full-time student must enroll in 9-12 credit hours each semester (see the attached statement concerning number of hours to register for). The following is a typical schedule for full-time graduate students:

Fall Semester (M.S. and Ph.D.)
  • CHEE 6331 - Mathematical Methods in Chemical Engineering I
  • CHEE 6333 - Transport Processes I
  • CHEE 6335 - Classical & Statistical Thermodynamics I
  • CHEE 61XX - Elective Course

The Department invites renowned speakers to address the faculty and the graduate students. Seminars are usually held from 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. on Fridays. 

A social with coffee and doughnuts precedes each lecture. All graduate students are required to be enrolled in this course every Fall and Spring semester where credit hour limits permit. Students are expected to attend the graduate seminars whether formally enrolled in the seminar course or not.

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CHEE 6298 (Research) or an elective

The Class Schedule  can be found here and gives the academic schedule and lists courses offered in other departments; additional information on these courses is given in the Graduate Studies Catalog.

Spring Semester (M.S.)
  • CHEE 6337 - Advanced Reactor Engineering
  • CHEE 6298 - Research
  • CHEE 6399 - Master's Thesis
  • CHEE 6111 - Graduate Seminar
  • and: One Elective
Spring Semester (Ph.D.)
  • CHEE 6337 - Advanced Reactor Engineering
  • CHEE 63XX - Elective Course
  • CHEE 6111 - Graduate Seminar
  • CHEE 6X98 - Research

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Enrollment in Classes

The UH requirement for full time enrollment can change depending on policies of the higher administration and Federal government (it’s generally 9 or 12 hours for M.S., and 9 for Ph.D. students, but check each term with the Graduate Office). Any student who is supported (TA, RA, fellowship, scholarship) is required by the College of Engineering to be full time. Any student who is on a temporary visa is required by federal law to be full time as it is defined by the university he/she is attending.

As of now, subject to change:

  • Continuing students, classified as Ph.D. students and taking less than 9 hours of regular classes (lecture classes, not research units or seminar) - sign up for a total of 9 hours. This should include the seminar, any classes you are taking, and enough thesis/dissertation hours to make a total of 9.
  • Continuing students, classified as Ph.D. students and taking 9 or more hours of regular classes (lecture classes, not research units or seminar) - sign up for a total of 12 hours. If you are taking 9, 10 or 11 hours of classes, take these plus the seminar and enough research to make 12 total (i.e., 2, 1 or 0 hours of research, respectively). If you are taking 12 hours of classes, take just these. Enrollment in the seminar class can be waived if you need to take 12 hours of classes, but you still are expected to go to the seminars.
  • Your classification will be changed from M.S. to Ph.D. after the second year if you have passed the qualifying exam.
  • Continuing students, classified as M.S. student - the 9-hour rule does not apply. Sign up for 12 hours or whatever the Graduate Office says. This should include the seminar, and a mixture of classes and research hours to make 12. Students who have not finished an M.S. thesis or passed the Ph.D. qualifying exam should be classified as M.S. students.
  • New students are initially classified as M.S. students. Sign up for the three core courses (Math 1, Transport 1, and Thermodynamics), and 3 more hours. Take the seminar unless you take a fourth course for 3 hours. Fill in the total with M.S. research hours to make 12.
  • New students who already have an M.S. degree and are taking three classes (Math 1, Transport, and Thermodynamics), are eligible to take three more hours. Take the seminar unless you take a fourth course for 3 hours. If you sign up for the seminar, fill in the total with Ph.D. research hours to make 12. Enrollment in the seminar class can be waived if you need to take 12 hours of classes, but you still are expected to attend the seminars.
  • Some new students entering with an M.S. degree will have taken classes similar to our core classes. With permission of the instructor, a previous class may allow placement out of the corresponding University of Houston class. This should be done cautiously, as later classes and the qualifying exam assume the background provided by the University of Houston core classes. It may be prudent to audit (with the instructor's permission) any course that the student has placed out of. Students placing out of core classes should still enroll in at least 9 hours of Chemical Engineering classes. (See also the discussion of placement/transfer credit above.)

If you get another fee statement during the semester, indicating that your enrollment has not been fully completed, please let the Graduate Office know immediately.

It’s important to sign up for research hours with the right faculty member - this means using the right section number.

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