Providing Opportunities for Scholarship and Research

Department of Chemistry, Howard University

contributions to the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID)

Flexible curriculum provides opportunities for interdisciplinarity, early assessment of quality control, and integration of professional development

The revised program enables early transition to research enterprise, as well as provide opportunities for student-specific curriculum, interdisciplinarity, early assessment of quality control, and integration of various aspects of professional development.

What is the issue we are trying to address?

The program is designed to meet the needs of students from diverse academic backgrounds such that all students are not forced into an academic track that prolongs their transition into the research enterprise and doctoral candidacy. The program also seeks to significantly reverse the declining enrollment in our graduate program, and provide a solid foundation for careers in industry, government, and academia.

How do we know that this is an issue?

In the past, some of our students have taken up to three years to finish the required coursework and several qualifying and specialty examinations, only to be directed into the Master's program. Also, past ad-hoc workshops on various aspects of professional developments organized by industry personnel and alumni have demonstrated the need to integrate professional development into the curriculum. Further, our graduate student enrollment has declined from about 65 in the 1980s to 30 students in Fall 2004.

What is the change or innovation that is intended to address this issue?

Three major programmatic initiatives have been adopted:

  • Flexible Curriculum
  • Early transition to research enterprise: Students are now required to take only 15 hours of chemistry coursework prior to Ph.D. candidacy. Remaining 21 hours can be taken after candidacy.

    Student-specific curriculum: Beyond the 15 hours of chemistry coursework, students can take non-chemistry courses, based on their needs and the recommendation of their research advisor and/or advisory committee, in order to make up the 36 hours of coursework required by the graduate school.

    Opportunity for Interdisciplinarity:These additional courses could be selected from disciplines such as Biochemistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Biology, Teaching, Communication, etc. Thus, opportunities for training and research interdisciplinarity is greatly enhanced.

  • Early Assessment of Commitment and Competency (Quality Control)
  • Summer Workshop for incoming graduate students: A six-week summer workshop for all incoming graduate students is focused on enhancing their core competencies at the undergraduate level in the four classical divisions of chemistry (analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical). The summer workshop also seeks to prepare the students for the placement examinations, administered at the end of August.

    Placement Examinations: American Chemical Society (ACS) standardized examinations in Analytical, Inorganic, Organic, and Physical, will be given to all incoming graduate students at the end of August. Students' performance in each of these exams will be used to determine which of the chemistry graduate courses the students would enroll in.

    Special Courses to enhance preparedness for graduate studies: Students who fail the ACS placement exam in an area would enroll in an appropriate special topics course, and these special topics courses would be in addition to the required 15 hours of chemistry coursework. Students who do not pass the ACS placement exams in all four areas, or who do not pass the special topics courses with letter grade of A or B by the end of the first semester will be placed in the Master's program, and those students who meet the placement exam requirements will continue in the Ph.D. program.

  • Integration of Professional Development into Curriculum
  • Greater emphasis is placed on students' exposure to current literature and topics through a series of cumulative exams. These exams will be based on suggested literature topics and/or topics from departmental seminars. Additionally, students will be required to give two seminars to an Advisory Committee. One of the seminars shall be on a topic other than the student's research, the other shall be a defense of the student's dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal shall be written in form of a grant application, which could be used as a basis for the application for candidacy.

    Required Enrollment in a Professional Development Course: As part of the requirement for Ph.D. candidacy, each student is now required to enroll in at least one professional development course. One of the courses offered in the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) could be used to meet this requirement. Ideally this course could include topics such as: Responsible Conduct of Research, Ethical Case Studies, Communication Skills, Grantsmanship, Manuscript Preparations, Teaching and Learning as a Scholarly Activity.

    Why did we select that approach?

    Early Quality Control

    Because our students come from diverse academic backgrounds, and in order to prepare them for graduate studies, the summer workshop would provide an academic enhancement at the undergraduate level. Thus the placement exams will test their core competency at the undergraduate level. For those who do not pass the placement exam in a given sub-discipline, special courses to be provided in the first semester would be used to further prepare and test their competency for graduate studies. After the first semester, those students who still do not pass the placement exams in the four sub-disciplines will be directed into the Master's program.

    Flexible Curriculum

    Since we have adopted the policy of assessing students' core competency through the passing of placement exams in all four classical sub-disciplines, we now require each student to take only 15 hours of graduate coursework in chemistry prior to candidacy. Thus the students are able to transition into the research enterprise after one year and transition to candidacy in less than two years. Furthermore, students are now able to take additional courses in other disciplines that are relevant to their specific research needs

    Professional Development

    Each graduate student is now required to take at least one course in professional development. These courses will provide them the foundation in those non-disciplinary competencies that would be needed in their professional careers. Examples include communication skills, ethics, grantsmanship, the scholarship of teaching and learning, etc.

    The CID project as a Recruiting Tool

    We intend to use the above innovations as rectruiting tool for new graduate students, and a basis for applying for training grants to support our students. Examples of such grants is Graduate Assistance in the Areas of National Needs (GAANN) from the U.S. Department of Education and Bridges to the Doctorate.


    What is the intended effect of the innovation?

    Increase of our graduate student enrollment from the 30 (Fall 2004) students to 60 students over a 5-year period, with the resulting production of doctorates whose training have exposed them to various aspects of professional development and thus capable of transistioning into industrial, research and academic positions.

    This link provides detailed description of the doctoral program

    This link highlights some of the major aspects of the Doctral Program and reflects on the CID convening in Palo Alto, CA, August 2005

    What data or evidence will demonstrate the effect of our innovation?

    The percentage of our students who transition into the Ph.D. program within 2 years. The ability to increase graduate enrollment from the current 30 to 40 by 2005/2006, to 45 by 2006/07, to 50 by 2007/08, to 55 by 2008/09, and to 60 by 2009/10, and increase the annual production of African American doctorates to 7 by 2010.

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