Chemistry or Chemical Biology?

Which graduate program to attend is a personal choice influenced by many different factors. Beyond the specific project to be undertaken and the relationship with your supervisor, there’s compatibility with the research group and department. The Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology provides wide-reaching opportunities for research in virtually all branches of chemistry, and a highly supportive and collegial research atmosphere. Students are given the opportunity to learn, first hand, how to use advanced characterization equipment within our facilities, providing invaluable training for future careers.

Depending on your field of study, you may be in the position of choosing whether to apply for Chemistry or Chemical Biology for you MSc or PhD degree.  We encourate you to consult with the professor you are planning to work with before you finalize this important decision.

While the administrative home of both the Chemistry and Chemical Biology graduate programs is within the same department (i.e, the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology), they are separate programs with separate degree requirements.

Please note that you and your supervisor have a degree of choice in many aspects of both programs (for example, your supervisor may recommend particular courses, including ones offered outside the department, or your supervisor can choose to pay you as an RA in lieu of a TA assignment if their research funding permits - this is what we typically call a 'TA buy out').  You should work with your supervisor to plan a path through the program that works for both of you.

The main differences between the programs are as follows:

  • Course requirements
  • Chem students typically TA more than ChemBio Students (the default annual assignments are 260 hours and 130 hours, respectively)
  • Direct-entry PhD students in ChemBio must take a qualifying exam, while Chem students do not

The table below outlines the similarities and differences between the two programs.

CriteriaChemistryChemical Biology
Total Number of Course Units Required MSc (=transfer PhD): 7.5 units
Direct-Entry PhD: 4.5 units
MSc (=transfer PhD): 6.0 units
Direct-Entry PhD: 3.0 units
Required Courses, MSc/Transfer PhD MSc (=transfer PhD 1)
  • CHEM 700 (offered every Fall) - 1.5 units
  • 4 courses/6 units
MSc (=transfer PhD)
  • CHEMBIO 700A (=CHEM 700) - 1.5 units
  • CHEMBIO 700B (offered every Winter) - 1.5 units
  • 3 additional units from either CHEMBIO 702 or CHEMBIO 701 (non-credit) plus 3 additional units from other courses
Required Courses, Direct-Entry PhD Direct-Entry PhD
  • CHEM 700 (every Fall) - 1.5 units
  • 2 courses/3 units
Direct-Entry PhD
  • CHEMBIO 700A (=CHEM 700) - 1.5 units
  • CHEMBIO 700B (every Winter) - 1.5 units
  • CHEMBIO 701 (non-credit)
Colloquium All students deliver one 20-minute colloquium presentation during their graduate career
For Chem students, this is a non-credit requirement
All students deliver one 20-minute colloquium presentation during their graduate career
ChemBio students do the colloquium for course credit as part of CHEMBIO 701 or 702
Committee Meetings Annually or more often as recommended by your supervisory committee Annually or more often as recommended by your supervisory committee
Transfer Exam to PhD No later than 22 months after starting the MSc No later than 22 months after starting the MSc
MSc Thesis Defence Within 24 months of starting the MSc
  • Original research
  • Oral defence
Within 24 months of starting the MSc
  • Original research
  • Oral defence
Qualifying Exams N/A For Direct-Entry PhD students 9-12 months after starting the PhD
PhD Comprehensive Exams Usually 18-20 months after starting the PhD
  • Written report
  • Oral defence
Usually 18-20 months after starting the PhD
  • Written report
  • Oral defence
Department Seminar 50-minute presentation to the department prior to the dissertation defence 50-minute presentation to the department prior to the dissertation defence
PhD Thesis Defence Within 48 months of starting the PhD
  • Original research
  • Oral defence
Within 48 months of starting the PhD
  • Original research
  • Oral defence
Minimum Guaranteed Funding 2 MSc: ~$25, 000
PhD: ~$26,500
MSc: ~$25, 000
PhD: ~$26,500
Amount of Funding from TA Work Up to 260 hours/~$12,000 Up to 130 hours/~$6,000
Amount of Funding from RA Work As determined with your supervisor As determined with your supervisor
TA Assignments In Chemistry & Chemical Biology In Chemistry & Chemical Biology or in other departments affiliated with the Chemical Biology graduate program (e.g. Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences)

1Inorganic Chem students who transfer to the PhD program are currently required to do an additional 2 courses/3 units after transfer for a total of 10.5 units; this requirement is being phased out
2International MSc students, who pay higher tuition fees than domestic students, receive a tuition bursary on top of the standard research stipend and TAships

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McMaster University - Faculty of Science | Chemistry & Chemical Biology