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Graduate Studies Guide

Obligations and Responsibilities of a Graduate Student
Maintenance of Good Standing
Academic Requirements
Requirements of Recipients of Financial Aid
Tuition and Fees
Summer Support
Awards and Prizes
Miscellaneous Information
Assistance and Information

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Welcome to Rensselaer and the RPI Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. Although it may be difficult to appreciate the transition while it is in progress, it is certain that the next several years will represent a period of exceptional growth for you. You will be exposed to new ideas and developments in science, you will become involved in an outstanding program in undergraduate education, you will sharpen your communication skills and, most importantly, you will learn how to carry out independent research in the chemical sciences.

To earn an advanced degree, various institute and department academic requirements must be met. The timely fulfillment of all requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees is the responsibility of each graduate student. In other words, you are expected to be aware of not only the requirements of our graduate program but also when these requirements must be met. Of special importance is the selection of a thesis advisor and the beginning of your active research. The thesis advisor and student have the joint responsibility of ensuring satisfactory progress. The thesis advisor and student must consult with the Graduate Coordinator and the department chair when any of the departmental requirements cannot be met or a major deviation from the program is anticipated.

The major goal of the graduate program in chemistry is to provide an environment suitable for development of the potential of each student as a creative research scientist. This guide outlines the minimum requirements of the department, some of which are mandated by the Graduate School.  A brief summary of the requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees is presented in Table I, and the forms that must be filed are listed in Table II.  If this Guide does not answer all your questions, please contact the Chemistry Department office.

Table I.  Summary of Requirements



Ph.D. (after B.S.)

Ph.D. (after M.S.)

Placement examinations




Plan of Study




Department Seminar




Qualifying examination




Total credit hours

301; includes 6-9 credits of thesis, and 21 credits of course work



Residency requirements

2 semesters, 24 cr hrs1

45 cr hrs1

45 cr hrs1

Time limit

2.5 years1

7 years1

5 years1

Candidacy examination


yes (within 5 semesters)

yes (within 5 semesters)





Oral thesis defense




Minimum grade average (excludes research)




** Institute registration policies may result in a student having more than this minimum number of credits.

1. Graduate School requirement.

2. Required courses will be specified on an individual basis.

3. A bound copy of each thesis must be given to the department.  This is in addition to Graduate School requirements.

Table II.  Forms to be Completed

M.S. Candidates

Ph.D. Candidates


Thesis advisor selection

Thesis advisor selection

by end of first semester

Plan of study

Plan of study

beginning of second year


Nomination of Doctoral Committee

second semester of first year


Record of Candidacy

by June 30 of second year (or Jan. 30 of second year for students entering in Jan.)

Degree Application Form

Degree Application Form



Record of Thesis Exam


Graduate Change of Status Form needed if changing from M.S. to Ph.D. or Ph.D. to M.S.

All forms except Degree Application (Registrar’s Office) must be processed through the Departmental Administration Office.


The requirements for success in a graduate program are quite different from those for an undergraduate degree. Many beginning graduate students are not aware of this difference, and take some time to adapt. The relation between the student and the faculty advisor changes from student-teacher to student-mentor and then to that of colleagues. Students must develop the characteristics that are expected of professional colleagues. They must become familiar with the area of their research by following the current literature in appropriate journals, going into their own specialty in depth, but also with breadth. They must use this knowledge to formulate their own ideas and develop independence. They must show the highest standards of professional honesty.

Some of the responsibilities that a graduate student must consider are the following.

1. Research is the most important component of a Ph.D. program in Chemistry. It is the research results and the thesis and publications that accompany them that establish your credentials as a scientist and your preparation for your future career. Research is a smaller component in a research M.S. program, but still the key component.

The Ph.D. degree requires 90 credits, the majority of which will be research. You may be registered in a variable number of credits of research in any semester, but it is important to realize that the time you spend on research has no relation whatsoever to the number of credits of research you are registered for. Research credits are a bookkeeping device to ensure payment of a certain amount of tuition. Your thesis and degree are based on the quantity and quality of your research results, irrespective of how many hours were required to obtain them. Neither does the time relate to the number of hours you are nominally paid for on a research assistantship. The “20 hours” is another bookkeeping number; your stipend is to cover your living expenses while you work for your degree; it is not pay for time worked. (Consider it this way; 20 hours is for your services as a technician; the rest of your work is for your degree.) Your research advisor and the department are investing more in you than just your stipend and tuition; we expect our investment to pay off in the form of research results.  Most research projects will take considerable time in the laboratory, much of it learning what doesn’t work. The time that you spend doing the research may vary with your other obligations, but do not expect to be successful on a 9 to 5 basis. You should be prepared to work in the laboratory on evenings, weekends, and holidays — not every one, but frequently. Summers and semester breaks are when you can do research most efficiently; they are not time off for graduate students. (This does not mean you can’t take vacations — just not too many or too long. Plans for taking time off should be discussed with your advisor in advance.)

2. Course work must be satisfactory; if it is not, you will not be permitted to continue in the graduate program. A “B” average is required by the Graduate School . To that extent, coursework is important, but excessive attention to coursework jeopardizes research work. Graduate students are expected to learn how to balance research and coursework so that both are maintained satisfactorily. Some of the courses that you will take are intended to ensure adequate breadth in your formal training. The others provide depth in the field of your research and related areas. You should select your courses in consultation with your research advisor. In the first year you will be advised about departmental course requirements by the graduate advisory committee.

3. In the first two years you probably will be supported by a teaching assistantship. This involves a professional level of responsibility and this responsibility must be met in a professional manner. While your primary interest may be in your research, we have an equal concern about the teaching program, and as long as your support is provided from the teaching program, we expect an equal commitment from you. In fact, you will find that your teaching activities can be an enjoyable, educational, and  useful experience. Not all teaching assignments will be equivalent, but the expected commitment should average out to no more than 12 -15 hours per week contact, grading, or setup (some weeks may be more, but others should be less.) Let us know if you have an assignment that you think is excessive.

4. Examinations are required, some for specific courses and later the qualifying and candidacy exams which are meant to ensure an adequate level of knowledge in your discipline generally. The candidacy exam tests that you are developing skills (breadth and depth of knowledge, ability to form hypotheses and propose experiments to test hypotheses, reasoning skills, etc.) at the Ph.D level.  The best way to prepare for the candidacy exam is to understand that it is a cumulative exam of skills learned to date. The best way to gain these skills is to learn how to apply your classroom learning to research.  Additionally, critical thinking skills are formed by regular reading of the pertinent scientific literature. 

You must learn to balance your time among these various obligations. In your first semester, your primary responsibilities will be for your teaching and your course work. By the end of the first semester, you will select a research advisor, who will most likely outline an initial project for you.  The goal in the 2nd semester of the first year is to begin to coordinate your time between TA duties, coursework and research. While you will not be expected to be in the laboratory as much as senior students on research assistantships, you are expected to begin to develop laboratory skills including background reading, participating in group meetings, and performing some experiments. You should plan to use the break between semesters to do some serious reading on your project, and/or initiating your research project; your advisor should give you some suggestions, but also you should try to use your own initiative, because that is what graduate studies are all about. In your second semester, you should work on developing sufficient background and experimental skills to be able to make a serious start on actual laboratory experiments at the beginning of the first summer.


Two graduate degrees are offered in Chemistry. The Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees are research based. Students who are admitted to the Ph.D. degree program may transfer to the M.S. degree program at will; an M.S. degree is not required for the Ph.D. Most students admitted to our graduate program will be admitted at the Ph.D. level.

Dual M.S. - Ph.D degree programs with other departments may be possible in some cases.


1. Registration. Students are expected to register for courses or research each semester after admission.  If a student does not register for one or more semesters, he or she should request a leave of absence. Students who do not register for two consecutive academic semesters without having requested a leave of absence will be deemed to have dropped the program.  If they wish to return, they must apply to the Graduate Admissions Committee for reinstatement. The committee may review this as a new application. Students who have completed all requirements except the thesis defense and are not on campus, or who need to be off-campus as part of their research assignment, may be allowed to register “in abstentia”.

2Part-Time Status. Students with full-time employment may be admitted to the graduate program as part-time students.  They must complete all of the requirements of full-time students, but the timing may be modified to meet individual needs. Students who change from part-time to full-time status, or vice versa, should ask the Graduate Coordinator about the time frame expected from them.


Students must remain in good standing or they may be dropped from the program. Except in cases of serious misconduct, such students will be allowed to finish the semester. Good standing requires:

1. Maintaining at least a “B” average. A reasonable time will be allowed for a student to make up for a deficiency.

2. Satisfactory performance in research. This is determined by the research advisor. Typically satisfactory research performance is related to the residence time in the program; more is expected as you progress through the program.  The advisor may drop a student from his or her research group at any time for non-satisfactory performance. A dropped student has the option of finding another advisor and must do so to be able to continue in the program.

3. Satisfactory performance in teaching or other assigned duties.

4. Satisfactory completion of examinations according to the established time frame.

Students also may be dismissed for dishonesty, plagiarism, falsifying research results, or violating other Rensselaer regulations as outlined in the Student Handbook.


1Placement Examinations. Incoming students take examinations in the five major fields of chemistry: analytical, inorganic, organic, physical and biochemistry.

The function of the proficiency examinations is to provide an assessment of each student and to serve as a basis for directing him or her into the graduate curriculum as well as into any remedial course work as necessary. 

All graduate students must demonstrate a minimum proficiency at a 50% percentile level in each of the five areas of the examinations. Students that receive a lower grade on a given examination have three options that must be discharged by the end of the first year. They may retake a given examination after a period of self-study in that area. The student is allowed no more than three attempts to pass a given proficiency examination.

Alternatively, the student may be asked to enroll in the appropriate undergraduate level course. A grade of B in that course will satisfy the proficiency requirement. A student will be requested to enroll in no more than three remedial undergraduate courses. 

Lastly, the student may fulfill the proficiency requirement by attaining a passing grade (B) in a graduate level course in the deficient topic.  The decision for a student to take remedial courses will be made by the student’s graduate advisory committee together with the student. 

2. First Year Program. An ad hoc graduate advisory committee will be assembled by the department chair in consultation with the Graduate Student Coordinator at the start of the first semester of the first year.  The function of the committee is to provide academic and coursework guidance to all incoming graduate students in the first semester of their studies at Rensselaer based on their individual performance in the proficiency examinations. Any changes in the coursework is subject to approval by the committee. An additional function of the committee is to conduct an evaluation of each graduate student at the end of the first year. The evaluation will be based on the progress made by each student in meeting the proficiency requirements as well as his/her performance in the first year of course work. All graduate students must maintain a overall B average in their course work throughout their studies at Rensselaer. Students who have met these requirements will be allowed to proceed to the second year of their graduate studies.

There are four required core course requirements that are taken by all students and these will be completed by the end of the first year. Other required courses may be specified by the Graduate Committee or the research advisor based on individual student needs. All students will be required to take the core courses in their first year. The core course, Perspectives in Chemistry, will be offered in the first semester and will consist of a team taught course by faculty in all the areas of chemistry. In the second semester, another core course entitled Modern Methods in Chemistry will be offered. This course will also be taught in cooperation with several faculty members. In addition, students are required to take a teaching assistant training course (Chemistry Teaching Seminar) and a Literature Research course (each 1 credit hour). Students who have difficulty with spoken English may also be required by the Graduate School to take a course in spoken English. This does not count toward their total credits.

Additional elective graduate level courses will be offered and the student is expected to carry a minimum course load of 9 credit hours in each semester of the first year. Students may complement their academic experience at any time during their graduate experience by enrolling in these courses as time, interest and availability dictates.  The decision to enroll in these and other courses should be made by the student in consultation with their faculty advisor. 

At the end of the first semester and before the start of the second semester of the first year, the graduate student will select a dissertation advisor – see below.

Students entering the graduate program at the beginning of the spring semester are required to complete the same curriculum.  Students entering in January will be required to affiliate by June of the same year.

3. Second Year program. During the second year, the Ph.D. graduate student will primarily be occupied with filling out his or her academic experience by taking advanced courses in his/her field and completing the criteria for admission to Ph.D. candidacy (see below), but continued research activity is expected as well. All the formal Ph.D. candidacy requirements should be completed by the end of the second year. 

4. Thesis Advisor. At the end of the first semester and before the start of the second semester of the first year, the graduate student will select a dissertation advisor. The Perspectives in Chemistry course will serve as one basis for the student’s decision to affiliate with a faculty member.  The student must meet with at least three prospective dissertation advisors.  Based on those interviews, the student will submit a prioritized list, to the Chairman of the Department, of three faculty members with whom he/she could affiliate and who would also accept him/her into their research groups.  As far a possible, the student will be accommodated with their first affiliation choice.

With permission from the chairman, students may elect to work for a faculty member in another department while still obtaining a degree in Chemistry. Such students must complete the usual Chemistry department requirements, including having at least three Chemistry faculty on the Ph.D. committee. Support must come from the research advisor after the first year.

For the Ph.D. degree, a doctoral committee of at least four RPI faculty members and with one member from outside the department is to be selected in consultation with the student's thesis advisor and with the approval of the Graduate School . One or more members of the committee may be from outside Rensselaer , e.g., from other universities, industrial laboratories or government institutions but at least 4 members from RPI are still required. One of the appointees to the dissertation committee will be made by the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology while the other committee members will be recruited by the graduate student in consultation with his/her dissertation advisor.

The doctoral committee should be formulated prior to preregistration for the second year so that the entire committee may participate in the selection of the student's course work for the third and subsequent semesters. The thesis advisor and doctoral committee are also responsible for the student's plan of study, candidacy examination and oral thesis defense.

Commitment to a thesis advisor implies a commitment of time on the part of the student to become familiar with the research topic and the research group which he or she is joining, and a similar commitment of time and resources on the part of the advisor.  Choice of advisor should not be taken lightly. Students should discuss the project and the advisor’s expectations thoroughly in advance.  A student has the right to change advisors, but must find a new advisor who will accept him or her. Changing advisors will usually result in lost time.

A student who does not have a thesis advisor by the end of the first academic year will not be eligible for departmental financial support until an advisor is chosen.

5. Candidacy. At the beginning of the second year, the doctoral committee described above will be appointed to assist the student in the completion of the remaining requirements for admission to candidacy.

The criteria for admission to candidacy are:

  • maintenance of a B average in course work. 
  • successfully passing a two-part oral and written candidacy examination

The student will prepare a written proposal of independent and original research that will take a concise but defined format which used by ACS and is described on the following site:\index.html request Type G application forms.  At the discretion of the student’s dissertation advisor, the subject of the proposal may derive from any of the following two options.

  • The student submitting three possible topics with the thesis committee selecting one of these.
  • The student suggesting one possible topic that is acceptable to the thesis committee

The topic(s) of the proposal must be outside specific aims of his or her Ph.D. dissertation research area.

Within 30 days after the topic is selected, the student will make an oral presentation of approximately thirty minutes. A written proposal on the topic must be submitted one week prior to the oral presentation. In addition, one week prior to the oral presentation, the title and an abstract must be given to the graduate student coordinator for departmental posting. The oral presentation will be followed by a closed two hour oral examination of the student by the thesis committee. On the basis of that examination, the committee may decide on one of the three possible outcomes: pass, fail or conditional pass. If the decision is a conditional pass, the committee has the discretion to require the student to make some remedy such as: retake the examination, take a course in an area of a perceived deficiency, conduct a literature search, rewrite the proposal, etc.  A student may retake a failed candidacy examination with the consent of the candidacy committee.  The candidacy examination must take place prior to June 30th of the second year.

6. Third and Subsequent Year(s). During the third and subsequent year(s), the primary objective of the Ph.D. candidate is to complete a project of original research and to produce a written dissertation (thesis).  The candidate is expected and encouraged to proceed through this period as rapidly as possible.  The candidate will make a 30 minute oral departmental presentation on the research topic by the completion of the third year.  In that presentation, the candidate should specifically address the following points a) historical and chemical basis of the problem to be solved; b) progress to date; and c) intended future course of the research towards completion of the project. The candidate’s dissertation committee is expected to attend the seminar presentation.

On consultation with the dissertation advisor, the candidate will prepare a written dissertation of the original research that the candidate has conducted to be submitted to the dissertation advisor and to all the members of the candidate’s thesis committee at least two weeks before the oral defense. The format of the dissertation will conform to that already established by the university. At a date suitable to the candidate and the committee, the candidate will make a 50 minute formal oral presentation in defense of his dissertation.  An announcement of the presentation must be posted and the presentation is open to the entire university.  Following the oral presentation, a closed examination of the candidate’s dissertation by the committee will be conducted. There are three possible outcomes of the deliberations of the committee: pass, conditional pass or incomplete. If the decision is conditional pass, the candidate will be given specific directions with respect to the modifications to the dissertation that are necessary for acceptance. If judgment of the committee is incomplete, the candidate may be asked to rewrite the dissertation in whole or part, or to conduct further experiments, or both.

At all times after the first year, a student must remain in good standing.

7Degree Requirements. Note the degree requirements given in the Graduate Catalog. These are minimum Institute requirements. The department may set additional ones.  A "B" average is required in course work.

M.S. Degree: To receive the M.S. degree, the candidate must complete 30 credit hours, including courses specified by the Graduate Standings Committee and submit a research thesis. No more than half the credits can be at the 4000 level, and the thesis must be at least 6 but not more than 9 credits.

An M.S. thesis must be approved by one other chemistry faculty member besides the advisor.

The M.S. degree is not a prerequisite for the Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. Degree: For the Ph.D. degree, the student must accumulate 90 credit hours of course work and thesis research (60 beyond the M.S. degree). Satisfactory performance in the written qualifying examination and an oral candidacy examination (the format of which is set by the doctoral committee) completion of the departmental seminar requirement and successful oral defense of the thesis complete the requirements.

For all degrees, students must be registered in the semester the degree is awarded.

8Plan of Study. Each new graduate student must file a plan of study on forms available in the Chemistry office.  This plan of study should be formulated by the student with the help of the thesis advisor and doctoral committee.  The Plan of Study should be submitted to the Graduate School before preregistration in the student's second year of graduate study. The plan may be modified later if necessary. The plan of study for the Ph.D. degree must total 90 credits (60 credits for students already holding the M.S. degree); and credits earned beyond 90 (or 60 with M.S.) should not appear on the plan of study ( Graduate School rule).

A Ph.D. degree may be obtained without first submitting a M.S. thesis.  In general, one should be able to achieve the M.S. degree in 18 to 24 months and the Ph.D. degree in 4 to 5 years.  These times depend to some extent on the area of research and the preparation that is necessary.

9. Transfer of Credits. Credits for graduate courses taken at other institutions may be transferred if they (1) were not used to meet degree requirements elsewhere, and (2) are acceptable substitutes for courses recommended for graduate study. Graduate courses taken during undergraduate training, but not used toward the B.S. degree, may be transferred. No more than 6 credit hours may be transferred toward the M.S. degree and 45 credit hours toward the Ph.D. degree. However, students admitted to the full-time graduate program who were formerly enrolled under special non-degree seeking status may transfer a maximum of 12 credit hours taken under this special status.

A Transfer of Credits form is obtained from the department office and upon completion submitted to the Graduate Standings Committee for approval and transmittal to the Registrar.  Application for transfer of credits should be made during the first semester.

10. Change of Degree Program. Occasionally graduate students in the Ph.D. program may wish to transfer to the M.S. program, and students admitted to the M.S. program may wish to transfer to the Ph.D. program. A Ph.D. candidate wishing to transfer to the M.S. program must simply inform his thesis advisor and complete the change of status form.  Transfer from the M.S. program to the Ph.D. program, however, requires the formal approval of the Graduate Committee. A student initially admitted to the M.S. program wishing to transfer to the Ph.D. program must formally apply to the Graduate Admissions Committee no later than the start of the semester preceding the semester he/she wishes to enter the Ph.D. program. His/her request will be considered on a competitive basis with those of outside applicants for admission and for financial aid.

11Graduate Student Seminar. Graduate students must become familiar with the skills of seminar preparation and presentation. These skills will help the student learn how to organize scientific data for effective public presentation. Effective public speaking will be especially important for the student's future activities, such as during the job interview process. All students in the Ph.D. program must present one seminar, ordinarily before the end of the third year of graduate study.

The graduate student seminar is a part of the departmental seminar program.  Faculty and all graduate students are expected to routinely attend the seminar series.  The student will register for CHEM-6900 (one credit) during the semester he/she will present the seminar. The departmental seminar chairperson will be responsible for arranging the student seminar schedule. Seminar topics will be selected by the student with approval by the student's thesis research advisor. A short abstract (approximately 1 page) with leading references must be prepared by the student and distributed to the entire department at least one week prior to the seminar presentation.


1. Teaching Assistants. Recipients of half-time teaching assistantships (T.A.'s) normally are assigned to teach studio sections or laboratories for a total of 9-10 contact hours per week. Taking into account preparation time for this assignment and grading of notebooks, quizzes, etc., one should anticipate spending up to 20 hours per week at the maximum load periods on the duties associated with a teaching assistantship. The average over the course of the semester should be 12-15 hours per week. Graduate students whose native language is not English must undergo testing of their English language abilities before their teaching assignments are made. Those who do not meet the language requirement for teaching assistants by the beginning of the second year will no longer be eligible for support as teaching assistants.

Student must realize that assignment as a teaching assistant involves professional responsibility and that they are expected to approach their duties accordingly.

2. Research Assistants. Recipients of research assistantships (R.A.'s) are under the direct supervision of their thesis advisors. Research assistantships generally are directly tied to the faculty research grant process. To support his/her research program, a faculty member (the principal investigator) will prepare a research grant application and submit it to a granting agency. The grant application then undergoes a competitive peer review, and if it is approved, the principal investigator is awarded funds to support personnel (students, postdoctorals, technicians), supplies and sometimes major equipment. These funds are administered by RPI, but, within the constraints of the grant award, are spent at the discretion of the principal investigator.  The principal investigator is responsible for the evaluation of the student's progress in thesis research.  Unsatisfactory research progress may be grounds for a faculty member asking a student to leave his or her group.

3. Fellowship Recipients. Fellowships are awarded to graduate students of exceptional merit. The recipient has the responsibility to conform to all conditions of the award.  Fellowships may provide full stipend and/or tuition support, and they are usually awarded on an annual basis.


Graduate assistants are awarded a tuition grant of up to 30 credit hours for the academic year. University fees must be paid by the student. These fees are listed in the Graduate Bulletin.


Graduate students are expected to remain on campus during the summer months to continue their thesis research. Financial support for the summer will normally be available from the research advisor’s funds. The award of summer research assistantships is the responsibility of the thesis advisor.  Students should consult them directly. 

Special fellowships are awarded in open national competition by the National Science Foundation as well as the Hertz Foundation. Students with an adequate background are strongly recommended to apply for these fellowships. Applications are available in the Graduate School Office.


Graduate students in Chemistry are eligible for several awards based on excellent performance.

The W. H. Bauer Doctoral Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually at graduation to the student presenting the best Ph.D. thesis in Chemistry during that year.

The Dr. Johanna Maas Graduate Teaching Assistantship Award is given to a Chemistry graduate student who has shown exceptional performance as a teaching assistant.

The Slezak Memorial Fellowship is given to a Chemistry graduate student who has shown outstanding performance in the graduate program. It provides summer support.

The Dr. Andrew N. Dasheff '89 Memorial Fellowship is given to an outstanding Chemistry graduate student in the field of Polymer Chemistry.


Graduate students are assigned mailboxes located in Room 120 next to the main office in Cogswell Laboratory.  The boxes should be checked regularly.  In addition to checking your mailbox, you should be checking your email for messages from the department.  

The student is advised to consult the bulletin boards regularly for current information, job opportunities, and seminar notices.  Other matters of general interest to the department are posted in the main lobby of Cogswell Laboratory, and those of specific relevance to graduate students are posted near their mailboxes.

All graduate students will be issued a key to Cogswell  which will open the mail-room, the conference room (238) and the graduate student lounge (307).  The student’s ID card will permit access to the building. Other keys necessary for teaching assignments and for access to the research labs that you will work in are issued as required.  A $5.00 deposit which is returned when the key is returned will be charged.


The following people can provide information and assistance when questions arise:

All questions relating to employment,  pay, tuition, forms, regulation and keys - Ms. Bornt, Cogswell 120.

Questions relating to academic requirements, transfer credits, other academic problems - Prof. Bailey, Cogswell 117.

Advice on course selection etc. should be given by your advisor or the Graduate Coordinator.


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