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Requirements for degrees in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry place a strong emphasis on organic and medicinal chemistry with flexibility for additional emphasis in various aspects of biochemistry, pharmacology, or other aspects of the biological sciences.

Safety Training

Students are expected to comply with all mandated training required by the KU Department of Environment, Health and Safety and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry; this may take the form of research seminars, hands-on training, and/or online training. Students also must complete appropriate safety training specific to a research laboratory before they are allowed to begin laboratory work.

Foundation (Prerequisite) Courses

Students enter the medicinal chemistry Ph.D. program with a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. All graduate students must present evidence of credit in the following foundation courses.  Ideally these courses will have been taken prior to entering the graduate program; if not they must be taken as early in the graduate program as practicable.

Organic Chemistry with Lab
CHEM 624, 625, 626, 627

2 semesters

Physical Chemistry
CHEM 640 or 646

1 semester

* see note below

1 semester

*A one-semester survey course in biochemistry is acceptable if the student received a grade of B or better in the course OR if the student scores a 70 or better on the ACS Biochemistry placement exam given to entering graduate students in the fall (one try only will be allowed). If neither of these applies, the student will take one semester of biochemistry through the Department of Medicinal Chemistry (MDCM 701).

At the end of the first semester, continuance in the program is dependent upon satisfactory academic program progress.

Ph.D. Program Requirements and Typical Scheduling

The curricula presented below represent the minimal programs of required courses for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.  Where the student can demonstrate having had comparable coursework experience elsewhere, a waiver can be requested by the student.  The faculty of the department has the option to waive individual requirements at its discretion.  A terminal thesis-based M.S degree may be offered to students who complete all the required coursework for the Ph.D. degree but then elect not to complete that program.  A Non-Thesis M.S. degree is awarded automatically to students upon completion of the Oral Comprehensive Exam (see below).

Year 1

Fall - 1st Semester

Course Number Credit hours Title
MDCM 710 4 cr. Chemistry of Drug Action 1
CHEM 740 3 cr. Principles of Organic Reactions
MDCM 801 1 cr. Issues in Scientific Integrity (offered even years only)
MDCM 895 1 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry
Workshop 0 cr. Bibliography of Med. Chem (workshop format)
MDCM 701 0 cr. Biomedicinal Chemistry (enroll if score is <50% on ACS Biochemistry placement exam)

Spring - 2nd Semester

Course Number Credit hours Title
MDCM 790 3 cr. Chemistry of Drug Action 2
Elective 3 cr. Elective (see list below, but often Physical Organic Chemistry CHEM 840)
Elective 3 cr. Elective (see list below, but often Organic Synthesis I CHEM 842)
MDCM 895 1 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry

Summer Semester

Course Number Credit hours Title
CHEM 742 3 cr. Spectroscopy (Structure Elucidation).  If the course is not offered, the student registers for 6 cr. in MDCM 895
MDCM 895 3 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry
Exam   End of Year Proficiency Exam (EOY Exam)

Year 2

Fall - 3rd Semester

Course Number Credit hours Title
MDCM 860 3 cr. Principles and Practice of Chemical Biology
Elective 3 cr. Elective (see list below, but often Organic Synthesis II CHEM 942)
MDCM 801 1 cr. Issues in Scientific Integrity (if not already completed)
MDCM 895 2/3 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry

Spring - 4th Semester

Course Number Credit hours Title
MDCM 798 1 cr. Literature Seminar
MDCM 895 8 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry
MDCM 895 6 cr. Research in Medicinal Chemistry
Exam   Comprehensive Oral Examination

Suggested Elective Courses

A minimum of 9 credit hours of electives, composed of any combination of approved elective courses is required.  Listed below are the suggested elective courses for our graduate students.

Course Number Credit Hours Title Semester
MDCM 816 1 cr. Careers in Chemical Biology (Required for TG) Fall/Spring
CHEM 840 3 cr. Physical Organic Chemistry I Spring
CHEM 842 3 cr. Organic Synthesis I Spring
CHEM 942 3 cr. Organic Synthesis II Fall
CHEM 980 2-3 cr. Advanced topics in Organic Chemistry Fall/Spring
BIOL 688 3 cr. Molecular Biology of Cancer Fall
BIOL 818 2 cr. Techniques in Molecular Biosciences Fall
BIOL 918 4 cr. Modern Biochemical and Biophysical Methods Spring (even years)
BIOL 952 3 cr. Introduction to Molecular Modeling Fall
BIOL 754 3 cr. Brain Diseases & Neurological Disorders Spring
PHCH 715 3 cr. Drug Delivery Spring

Continuance in the program is dependent upon satisfactory overall progress during the various stages of study. To be in good academic standing, in addition to satisfactory research performance (e.g. research productivity, work ethic, good citizenship etc.), a student must also maintain a minimum overall grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher throughout the duration of the graduate program.

Minimum Enrollment

Minimum enrollment for the Fall and Spring semesters is 9 credit hours each, with a minimum of 6 hours being required in the summer. It is emphasized that these are minimum enrollment figures. Students are expected to take all courses stated in the departmental curriculum even if that means taking more than the minimum hours a given term. In particular each student must be continuously enrolled in at least 1 hour of thesis or dissertation research each term (MDCM 895 or 999), regardless of other coursework, throughout his or her tenure in the graduate program.

End of Year Proficiency Examination

This required examination comes at the end of the Spring Semester of year 1 and is based directly on all the required coursework taken during year 1 in the program (Fall and Spring semensters). A score of 70% or above is deemed passing and qualifies the student to continue in the program.  A score of 50–69% qualifies the student for one additional attempt at passing, which must occur before the beginning of the fall semester of year 2.  A score of <50% is considered a failing grade, and will generally result in immediate dismissal from the program. 


The graduate program requires the preparation and presentation of two seminars in the departmental seminar series. The first seminar, presented during the first-half of the Spring semester of year 2, is a literature based seminar and is part of the ‘Literature Seminar & Research Proposal Preparation’ course (MDCM 798). Each student suggests three topics of contemporary medicinal chemical significance, from which the course coordinator selects and assigns one for the student to develop into their literature seminar presentation. The second seminar is a research seminar (MDCM 799) presented during the Fall semester of Year 4, and is meant to highlight the research progress of the student.

Original Research Proposal

As part of the ‘Literature Seminar and Proposal Preparation’ course (MDCM 798), during the second-half of the Spring semester of year 2, students are also required to prepare an original research proposal (in NIH format), and submit it to the faculty for evaluation. This proposal is based on the same as their literature seminar (see above).   

Comprehensive Oral Examination

Upon successful completion of the first two years of coursework and other related requirements, a faculty committee comprised of four Medicinal Chemistry faculty and one outside faculty member conducts a comprehensive oral examination of the student. Successful completion of the oral examination results in the student attaining the status of Doctoral Candidate. To be eligible to serve in the examination committee, all the members must hold graduate faculty status (regular/dissertation/special/ad hoc), as stipulated by the Graduate Studies office.  A non-thesis M.S. degree is automatically awarded to all students after the successful completion of their oral comprehensive examination.

Research Requirement

Graduate degrees (Thesis M.S. and Ph.D.) in Medicinal Chemistry are research-based degrees. As such, they are only awarded after the recipient has made a significant, in-depth contribution of new knowledge to the field, in the form of research publications and the M.S. Thesis or the Doctoral Dissertation. Generating the substance of this contribution typically requires that the student devotes significant time and energy to their research problem.

Research Rotations and Research Advisor

All incoming graduate students are required to perform two research rotations during the first semester.  If any student enrolls for the preceding summer session (optional), a third rotation can be completed. The purpose of these rotations is to help the student transition from an undergraduate to a graduate department, and to expose them more deeply to the research activities and research groups in the department.

Assignment of research advisors, both for rotations and the final research group assignment, are done taking into consideration the student’s preference of research advisor, as well as the availability of funding and research space in the groups of choice.

Student Self-Assessment

All students in their 3rd year or later are required to complete a yearly self-assessment of their goals and progress toward meeting them. This document helps to guide students who are no longer taking classes and assists Departmental Faculty in tracking individual student progress in the graduate program.

Dissertation Defense

The final requirements for the Ph.D. degree are the preparation and defense of a dissertation based upon the original laboratory research conducted by the student.  The average time needed for graduation is about five years, rarely less but occasionally longer depending on the particular  research project(s) undertaken and the aggressiveness of the student in pursuing his/her own research.   In certain circumstances, a Thesis M.S. degree involving the preparation and defense of an original thesis can be awarded.

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