Program Details

A group of researchers holds up equipment in a lab and smiles into the camera.

Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program aims to prepare students for positions as independent researchers, whether in industry or in academia. Ph.D. students pay no tuition and receive a livable stipend, for the standard program length of five years, provided they are making good progress in the program.

The central feature of the program is original research leading to the student’s Ph.D. dissertation. In addition, students must exhibit a firm and broad grasp of modern chemical engineering and allied fields through coursework.

The close mentorship that characterizes our program, and our strong emphasis on written and oral communication, empowers students to thrive in managerial and administrative positions as well.

A checklist of Ph.D. program requirements is given in the Graduate Student Handbook.


Research Topic & Adviser Selection

Use the fall semester to gather whatever information you think will help you make the best decision possible: after all, this will be your project for the next four years, so make sure it’s one you will enjoy!

The basic process of choosing a project and adviser boils down to listening to presentations, reading research articles, meeting with faculty members (principal investigators), and talking with fellow graduate students who are already members of a research group. You may also have the opportunity to rotate through a small number of labs on a temporary basis to aid in your decision.

All graduate students are guaranteed a research project, with nearly all assigned to their first or second choice of project. In every case, faculty carefully consider a student’s skills and interests and work together with the student to find a project that will engender long-term success.


A Detailed Look at the Adviser Selection Process
Selection Timeline
  • Sep/Oct: Receive packet of available projects.
  • Sep-Dec: Attend CBE 507 for faculty research presentations.
  • Sep-Dec: Meet with faculty members and group members.
  • mid-December: Submit three choices for project.
  • January: Join research group and begin training.
Available Projects

In the first half of the first semester, students receive a packet of short descriptions of the Ph.D. thesis topics being offered this year. Each faculty member offering a project will present their work in CBE 507. After identifying a few topics of particular interest, students make appointments with the faculty members offering these topics to discuss them in greater depth.

To ensure investigation of a broad range of topics, we ask that students meet with a minimum number of five faculty members during this process. In many cases, one may wish to meet more than once with faculty in whose research you are particularly interested (e.g. scheduling a second meeting after reading articles or proposals relevant to the topic being offered).

In addition to the faculty members, upper-year graduate students are often a good source of information about the work going on in various groups.


Students may elect to participate temporarily in research and group meetings in one or more faculty members' labs during their first semester — either sequentially or simultaneously — to determine whether the research area is a good fit. To conduct such "rotations," a student must find a faculty member willing to host them and complete all applicable safety training. These rotations are temporary and it should be understood that conducting a rotation does not imply any commitment by the student to join the lab for their thesis work, or by the faculty member to accept the student into his or her lab.


Project choices are due before winter break. Conflicts in project selection (e.g. two or more students choosing a project which can accommodate only one) are infrequent but do occur. In the event of such a conflict, the faculty will make the final project assignments, relying largely on the input of the faculty member(s) offering the project in question.

Note About Outside Funding

Students who arrive at Princeton with their own funding (i.e. full support for three or more years from a source outside the University) should feel free to discuss with faculty whether there are potential projects not listed in the packet.



Each Ph.D. student must take a minimum of 10 courses: five specific graduate-level CBE courses, four elective courses, and one course on the ethics of engineering. However, students can certainly choose to take courses beyond these minimum requirements.

In addition, students may pursue a graduate certificate in one of several areas, including bioengineering, statistics and machine learning, or computational and information science.

Students, particularly those entering with master’s degrees, who have previously taken a graduate-level course comparable in scope to one of our “core” courses, may request exemption from this course from the Director of Graduate Studies.

A Detailed Look at Coursework
MAE 501/CBE 509 Mathematical Methods of Engineering Analysis I 1
CBE 503 Advanced Thermodynamics 1
CBE 504 Chemical Reactor Engineering 1
CBE 510 Transport Phenomena 1
CBE 507 Research Topics in Chem. and Bio. Engineering 1
EGR 501 Ethics in Engineering (half-semester) 1
400-level or higher technical (engeineering/science) electives 3
n/a unrestricted elective 1


General Examination

The General Examination consists of two components: 1) mastery of graduate-level chemical engineering material in the departmental core courses, and 2) a written thesis research proposal (First Proposition) and its oral defense, as described in the graduate handbook. There is no oral examination other than the First Proposition defense. Upon passing the General Examination, the student advances to “post-generals” candidacy. In addition, passing the General Examination entitles the student to receive a Master of Arts (MA) degree.



Writing the dissertation starts with a thorough conversation between the student and the adviser(s). Every project is unique, and no precise standard exists for the process of writing a dissertation. However, each student will receive guidance to ensure success. Once both readers are satisfied (see handbook), the student can proceed to schedule a Final Public Oral Examination.


Final Public Oral Examination (FPO)

The student defends his or her thesis before a faculty committee consisting of the adviser, the second reader and two examiners. All four members of the committee are expected to have read the thesis.

During the FPO, the student makes a formal oral presentation of his or her research. A suggested format is for the student to present an overview of the thesis for approximately 45 minutes, followed by questions by committee members and the public.


Master's Programs

A very few students are admitted directly into one of our two master's degree programs.

Funding is not typically available for either of these programs, and most students who matriculate into these programs have an outside funding source such as an employer. See the Graduate Student Handbook for more details.

Please contact the Graduate Program Administrator if you are thinking of applying for a master's degree.


MSE Degree

The Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) is a research-based master’s degree. Students can generally complete all requirements for the MSE degree by June of their second year of residence (within 21 months, but frequently less, sometimes as few as 15). Some students are admitted to the MSE track directly. Students admitted in candidacy for other degrees (Ph.D. and M.Eng.) cannot switch to the MSE degree track automatically; such a change of degree candidacy must be requested from the Director of Graduate Studies, who may consult with the full faculty before rendering a decision.


M. Eng. Degree

The Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) is a coursework-based master’s degree. Students for this degree must successfully complete at least eight graduate-level courses, and if enrolled full- time, will normally satisfy that requirement in one ten-month academic year. (Part-time study is also possible; the typical course load is two courses per semester, allowing the degree to be completed in two academic years.) A minimum of six of these eight courses must be technical, having their primary listing in a department or program within the natural sciences or engineering. A minimum of four of these six courses must be chosen from graduate offerings in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. No research or thesis is required.