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PhD Program Overview

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Academic and departmental matters

We have orientations and academic advising sessions for all new graduate students before you select your courses and start your first classes. Furthermore, you'll get ongoing support and advising from faculty and staff throughout your graduate career.

PhD Frequently Asked Questions

Where do I find information?

  1. Go to Stanford's Graduate Admissions site.
  2. Explore all the information available on our Chemical Engineering site, (including the faculty pages and and the multiple pages under the PhD and admissions tabs). If these resources do not address any remaining questions, please send an email to the department at Use your email subject line: Admissions - [family name] - [topic of your inquiry]

When may admitted PhD applicants visit Stanford?

March 2-5 2023, is the Chemical Engineering Virtual Visit Weekend. If you are seriously considering Stanford's Chemical Engineering's PhD program for your doctoral work, please reserve these dates for your virtual Stanford visit, as we will be unable to accommodate a request to visit at another time.

How long does it take to get the PhD degree?

The average time to earn a PhD degree is between 5 and 6 years. Some students finish a little earlier and some a bit later.

If I have a master's degree from another university, do I need to get a MS from Stanford before pursuing a PhD?

No. In Chemical Engineering, having an MS degree is not a requirement for conferral of a PhD degree. PhD students without a master's may petition for conferral of a Stanford master's in the course of fulfilling their PhD requirements. Matriculated PhD students with a MS earned elsewhere either may petition for conferral of a Stanford MS or may petition for approval of transfer units, to be applied toward the total unit requirements for a PhD degree. Any student contemplating petitioning for approval of transfer units should consult first with departmental student services.

How many faculty members do you have and how long have they been teaching?

See the faculty pages. Our faculty is well-distributed in terms of experience and areas of emphasis.

What are the course requirements, and how long do they generally take to complete?

PhD students take 10 units per quarter.

PhD students take three 3-unit courses and one 1-unit colloquium (seminar) per quarter in the first two quarters and the majority of their lecture courses during the first two academic years. Then they finish the coursework requirements by taking a class here and there until they have a total of 42 units for lecture courses in science and engineering, plus 3 units of colloquia (seminar). Because of the importance faculty place on honing communication skills while pursuing a doctorate, all candidates are also required to assist in the teaching of two chemical engineering courses.

What are PhD research rotations?

Each first-year PhD student rotates with two different faculty research groups before choosing an advisor and lab in which to develop his or her own research projects. The rotations enable students to gain a better understanding of a given faculty member’s research program and to determine if that lab is a good fit for their future research. Furthermore, during the first six months, there are multiple opportunities to talk with a wide range of faculty members about their research.

How do PhD qualifying examinations work? What is the usual pass rate?

To be admitted to PhD candidacy, students must pass a qualifying examination, taken at the end of the summer quarter of the first year, respectively. The PhD Qualifying Examination has three parts: 

  • A one-page written summary of their research project
  • A 20-minute presentation about the research project before research advisors and other faculty examiners
  • A 20-minute question-and-answer session with faculty

This exam focuses on the student’s progress report on original research performed during the previous half-year, e.g. from April until the time of the exam in late September. A progress report may have no conclusions, but the talk should demonstrate a depth of thinking about the research strategy and the fundamental chemical, physical and biological concepts that govern the molecular behavior of the system being studied.  The focus is on the ability to think critically and to communicate understanding the fundamental concepts, techniques and questions within the field. The faculty are looking for the student's understanding of how one's research relates to the field as a whole and how he or she demonstrates an understanding of where the project will lead.

Most years, all rising second-year PhD students pass their PhD candidacy examination. The format of this examination is designed to test for the essential skills of the successful researcher — the abilities involved in approaching new problems from a perspective grounded in scientific fundamentals. The focus is not on having the right answers, but in formulating approaches rooted in the scientific method. The faculty do their utmost to select applicants who will thrive as doctoral researchers, with the objective that the selection process should take place at the time of admission. The faculty, other students and staff are all motivated by the ultimate success of each year’s PhD students with their examinations. This culture fosters a uniquely positive environment of collaboration and teamwork among all students, rather than competition based on a "survival of the fittest" mentality.

How does PhD advisor selection work?

All during the first two quarters, first-year PhD students have many ways to become familiar with individual faculty, their research projects, students in their research groups, and how a research group functions. Toward the end of the second quarter each student-faculty dyad formalize their advisee-advisor relationship and then PhD students join their advisors’ research groups at the beginning of spring quarter, and start on their own projects.

Can I work with faculty outside of the department?

Yes. Some past examples have been with faculty in physics, chemistry, materials sciences, mechanical engineering, environmental microbiology, bioengineering and biochemistry.  These students also have a Chemical Engineering faculty co-advisor who helps ensure good degree progress and sits on the reading committee formed in the second year.

What sort of job opportunities does a PhD degree in chemical engineering from Stanford usually enable?

Graduates of our department are extremely versatile with regards to their post-doctorate careers. Over the last few years, many of the graduates from various research groups have chosen to spend a couple of years as a post-doc in another research lab (usually not at Stanford) either in preparation for a research/academic job or in profiting from further research experience before entering industry. Stanford grads are now current professors at many top universities (MIT, Harvard, etc.) or members of prestigious research centers (IBM, national labs, etc.). A significant number of students decide to enter industrial positions upon graduation, as engineers, consultants, etc. You will find companies from all sectors actively recruiting Stanford chemical engineers, including companies in the local biotech and nanotechnology industries.

What kinds of jobs do PhDs get and where?

There is a saying that a chemical engineer can do anything, and the range of employment and career options available to our students demonstrates this. Approximately two-thirds of our PhD students find challenging jobs in fundamental or applied research either in industry or national laboratories. Further generalization is not possible — graduates find careers in areas as diverse as the information technology companies, biotechnology, the oil industry, the chemical process industry, renewable resources and private consulting. (Approximately one-third go into teaching and research as a profession).

Student Life

Housing and living

Stanford has a strong residential character. Over half of all graduate students live in university-operated apartments. The university’s residence system is among the largest and most diverse.

How does on-campus housing work?

There is a lottery and when you enter it, you list your choice of housing options in preferential order. Housing is guaranteed for first-year graduate students, but this means that you must apply on time and select the option that you are willing to accept any living arrangement (studio, two people in a two-bedroom, three people in a two-bedroom, etc.). If you submit your choices by the deadline, usually you obtain your top housing choices.

Students can renew the same housing assignment for the following year without entering a lottery. Thus, if you are happy with whatever assignment you get in the fall of your first year (and you live in a residence that is open year-round), in the spring of your first year you now can just check "renew" on your housing application for the next year and keep your assignment for the following year.

Pets are not allowed in campus housing.

How much does on-campus housing cost per month?

The cost of housing varies. The general rule of thumb is that the more room/suite-mates you have, the lower the rent. If you would like to have a room to yourself (double-occupancy two-bedroom, etc.) then you should expect to pay more. If you do not mind sharing a room, then the cost drops some. 

What is included in on-campus housing costs?

In addition to the rent, the cost of housing covers basic utilities (electricity and water). Laundry is free to students living on campus. Also, most on-campus apartments are furnished so you don't have to worry about the cost of furniture. Additional charges will apply for an internet connection, cable TV, etc. (These facilities are easily available and are relatively inexpensive). If you have a car, you will need to purchase a campus parking permit, but they are inexpensive for students.

What are the off-campus housing options?

A popular way to find off-campus housing is to use Craigslist. You can perform specific searches of price ranges or towns or places that accept pets. The places listed include condos, homes for rent, individual cottages, or apartments. If you do a search on Craigslist, go to "apts/housing" and then click on "Peninsula" at the top of the screen (S.F. Bay Area prompt). Depending upon the specific location, the following towns are within bikeable distance from Stanford: Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto. Redwood City, Los Altos and Mountain View are a minimum of a ~30 min bike ride.

How much do off-campus apartments costs per month?

Depending upon how many roommates you have, monthly rent can range from $900-$1,700/per person.

How can I find a roommate?

Most incoming students do not know people at Stanford and so do not choose their roommates. However, if you do find/choose someone you would like to room with in university housing, then you can request that Housing Assignments Office assign both of you to the same housing location. There is also a roommate-finding website.

What about housing for couples or families?

There are several options for on-campus couples housing-furnished or unfurnished. Please see the Housing Options page for information about housing for couples without children and students with children.

What's the bottom line? Is it comfortable to live on the graduate stipend?

Yes. People can live comfortably and still afford to travel both nationally and internationally. Several students have hobbies such as skiing or cycling that they can afford on the graduate student stipend/salary. (English PhD students get by on ~10K less!)

Activities in the local and surrounding areas

How do I get involved in departmental social events?

All ChemE grad students are welcome to participate on the social subcommittees of the graduate student-run ACTION Committee, as well as staff-student planned events such as the annual Holiday Party in December.

What do people do for fun?

The Office of Student Engagement supports over 600 university-recognized, incredibly diverse student groups on campus.

There are various gyms on campus, along with many intramural sports and club sports. There are also athletic classes you can take for credit (kickboxing, Pilates, boot camp, yoga, etc) or simply for fun at the residence complexes. Other than sports, there are a plethora of cultural events in the arts, dance, music and other live performances on and off campus. San Jose is ~20 minutes away while San Francisco is ~45 minutes away by car. Both are also accessible by public transportation. If you prefer outdoor activities, hiking trails and extensive bicycle routes are minutes away and a few hours of driving can take you to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, the northern California Redwoods, etc. while Santa Cruz and Monterrey are closer attractions.

What are the common attractions in the area surrounding the San Francisco Bay?

San Francisco has abundant theaters and cultural events, SFMOMA, Civic Center, Asian Museum, China Town, Fisherman's Wharf, Golden Gate Park (de Young Museum) and Golden Gate Bridge. Further north, you can visit Muir Woods redwood park, various marinas, Point Reyes National Seashore, etc., while further south you can visit Monterey Bay Aquarium, stroll beaches along the Pacific Ocean, go rock climbing and tour wineries in the Santa Cruz mountains.

How is the transportation system? How do you get around?

There are on-campus shuttles that also access the local train stations, local bus lines, CalTrain, BART and Muni. Many students have cars. Many do not. The majority of students also have bikes to get around on campus.

Are there intramural sports and sports clubs?

Yes to both. Intramural sports range from volleyball to soccer to billiards, and club sports range from triathlon to sailing to martial arts. This department fields several teams.

How are the gym facilities?

The Arrillaga Family Sports and Recreation Center is the primary gym for students. The facility is on Campus Drive right across from the track. At Arrillaga, you'll find squash courts, a climbing wall, basketball courts and a weight room with cardio-machines (ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes, etc.). Students also can take classes for physical activities such as martial arts (Arrillaga has a training room), fencing, yoga, etc.

Also, the recently opened Arrillaga Outdoor Education and Recreation Center (AOERC) is the newest recreational facility on campus. It's on Santa Teresa Street right next to Roble Field. AOERC features a fitness center, outdoor recreational pool, three indoor courts, academic classrooms, a climbing wall and an outdoor recreation center.

Stanford also has a great outdoor pool center and has several tennis courts spread across campus. It is not unusual for Stanford to host national track-and-field or ATP tour events, so you shouldn't be surprised to see some big names in sports strolling about on campus.