Graduate Student Awards and Honors

Personal Excellence Awards

The department’s Personal Excellence Awards were created to encourage and reward graduate students, post doctoral scholars, and fellows for outstanding work and commitment to research and teaching. Students and post-docs in the department should feel that the work they do as a part of their graduate program is both expected to be excellent and valued. This program provides significant monetary awards for outstanding accomplishments. The awards are aimed at various levels of study and are available for both research and teaching accomplishments.

The Program

Four personal excellence award candidates will be identified per year. Out of these four, two will receive $3,000 cash awards. The four cases will be presented to the faculty, with the final two selected by faculty vote.

How to Become a Personal Excellence Candidate

The Candidacy Exam

Each fall when second-year students take the candidacy exam, the chair of the exams that semester will identify the best performance, and this person will become a personal excellence award candidate. The chair will submit the students' written document, the evaluation form that has been signed by the committee, the letter from the adviser, and a memo explaining why the student was selected. All other committee members will be asked if they wish to submit a supporting letter.

You do not need to do anything to apply to become a candidate, except take the candidacy exam during your third semester of study. Criteria for excellence in the candidacy exam includes:

  • Mastery of research area
  • Ability to identify plan of research and the outcomes of successfully completing the plan
  • Ability to convey thoughts to others in writing and orally
  • Adviser’s assessment of performance.

The Graduate Student Research Symposium

Each fall, the department will host a graduate student research symposium. The best presentation at this symposium will define the second personal excellence award candidate. To be eligible, you must have passed the candidacy exam. You do not need to do anything special to apply. An abstract and CV must be provided and made available to industrial visitors to be used in the assessment of presentations.

The candidate will be selected by a three-person committee comprised of faculty and industrial visitors. Criteria for excellence in the graduate student research symposium includes:

  • Originality of research and advancements enabled in your area of research
  • Clarity with which the results are presented and placed within the general context of your scientific area

The Annual Competition for “Best Paper”

Each summer, applications will be solicited for the annual chemical engineering best paper competition. This competition is open to students who have passed the comprehensive exam and to postdoctoral scholars. Applications should be submitted to the department office by the first Friday in July. The application procedure is initiated by the student or postdoctoral scholar. The application package includes the manuscript to be considered, a supporting letter from your adviser, and a CV. The manuscript must have been published within the 12 months prior to the deadline or have been accepted for publication (a letter of acceptance is required).

You should request the letter from your adviser, which will be submitted directly to the department. The letter must address to what extent you contributed to the interpretation in and the writing of the submitted manuscript. Submissions will be judged by a committee of faculty. Criteria for excellence in the best paper competition includes:

  • Originality of research and advancements enabled in your area of research
  • Clarity with which the results are presented and placed within the general context of your scientific area

Excellence in Teaching

At the end of each academic year, faculty will be asked for nominations of truly outstanding teaching assistants. The nomination letter must specifically address the contributions of the teaching assistant. These contributions must be beyond the normal responsibilities of the teaching assistant position. A clear case for excellence must be presented. Criteria for excellence in teaching include:

  • Interaction with students
  • Desire for and demonstration of involvement with teaching beyond the minimal requirements (grading, office hours, maintaining website and grade sheet, etc.)
  • Originality in defining the teaching assistant position
  • Resourcefulness
  • Dependability


The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

Department of Chemical Engineering

121 Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2574