The primary objective of the Chemistry PhD Program is the development of an individual's ability to perform original and creative scientific research. In CB & MB, we strive to produce individuals who are exceptionally well trained to conduct original research at the interface of biological, chemical, and physical sciences. The program strives to develop in each student self-reliance, creativity, professional ethics, and an appreciation of the importance of continuing intellectual growth and the societal impact of science.
At the beginning of the fall term, students are introduced to faculty research through a series of seminars. A division-wide seminar day during Orientation week provides additional exposure to research in CCE. New students are encouraged to begin discuss potential research projects with faculty before matriculation. Once on campus, students are encouraged to attend group meetings to facilitate the selection of rotation labs.
New graduate students in CB & MB must participate in a minimum of two 10-week rotations in different research groups during the fall and winter terms. Switching rotation labs mid-term may be approved on rare occasions by submitting a petition to the Chemistry Option Representative. Students can choose to join a research group at the end of the winter term, or perform an additional rotation in the spring term. Ideally, all CB & MB students join a research group by the end of the spring term. Chemistry Rotations form
Once a student decides on a research project under the direction of a research advisor (or set of co-advisors), they must complete the Advisor Section Form and submit the form to the Chemistry Option Representative for approval. Advisor Selection Form
Students in the Chemistry graduate program are required to complete at least 5 graduate level courses (minimum of 9 units each) in science or engineering with a grade of B or higher. These courses may be within or outside the chemistry option. CB & MB students are required to take introductory Biochemistry (Ch/Bi 110a) if they have not completed equivalent course work as an undergraduate. Exemption to Ch/Bi 110a requirement must be approved by the faculty course counselor during Orientation week. Students are otherwise able to choose from a wide selection of classes that cover all areas of modern chemistry, biochemistry, and chemical engineering as well as other scientific disciplines. See Chemistry Course listings.
Students define course selections in consultation with the faculty counselor in the first term and are encouraged to consult with faculty advisors in subsequent terms. The faculty advisor and the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee/thesis committee must approve a student's final program of courses. Alternately a student may pursue a subject minor in another option. Please see the Caltech Catalog for more information on minors.
All PhD students are required to perform a minimum of one 9 term-hour graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) within the chemistry graduate program before the completion of the fourth year of study. In practice, students in the Chemistry graduate program typically TA 3 terms, and those interested in teaching are encouraged to continue their involvement. For CB & MB students, the first TA assignment typically occurs in the third term of the first year. TA assignments may consist of grading, leading a recitation section in an undergraduate course, or supervising an undergraduate laboratory course. Advanced graduate students often help with graduate level courses. Class sizes at Caltech are small, thus enhancing the teaching experience.
To be recommended for candidacy for the doctor's degree in chemistry, in addition to demonstrating an understanding and knowledge of the fundamentals of chemical biology or biochemistry, a student must give satisfactory evidence of proficiency at a high level in the primary field of interest, as approved by the division. This is accomplished by an oral candidacy examination. CB & MB students are expected to hold the exam during or before the spring term of the G2 year.
The candidacy committee shall consist of the thesis advisor(s) and two additional faculty members; at least two of the three members must be CCE faculty. Upon approval by the Chemistry option rep, the members of the candidacy committee should be entered into REGIS.
The committee should be considered as a resource for the student for the remainder of their studies. At the candidacy examination, a student is asked to demonstrate scientific and professional competence and promise by discussing a research report and propositions as described below.
The research report should describe progress and accomplishments to date and plans for future research. Two original research propositions (proposals) must accompany the report, and at least one must be well removed from the student's field of research. These propositions should reflect their breadth of familiarity with the literature, originality, and ability to pose and analyze suitable scientific research problems. Students should be prepared to discuss their work and their proposals through their written document and/or writing at the blackboard/whiteboard. A 20 min presentation summarizing the content of the written document is highly recommended. The research report and propositions must be in the hands of the examining committee one week before the examination. After selecting a date for the candidacy exam that is mutually satisfactory for you and your committee, enter the date of the exam in REGIS under Graduate Degree Progress.
All research reports are limited to 30-double spaced pages and propositions to 15-double spaced pages each. Page counts do not include cited references.
The result of the candidacy examination may be (a) pass, (b) fail, or (c) conditional. Conditional status is granted when the committee decides that deficiencies in a student's research report, propositions, or overall progress can be remedied in a specific and relatively brief period of time. To change one's status from conditional to passing, the student must correct the indicated deficiencies. In some cases, the student may need to schedule a new examination the following term.
You must be admitted to candidacy at least three terms before the final thesis defense. A student cannot continue graduate work (nor can financial assistance be continued) past the summer of the G2 year without being admitted to candidacy, except by petitioning the division for special permission. This permission, to be requested by a petition submitted to the Graduate Study Committee stating a proposed timetable for correction of deficiencies, must be submitted before registration for each subsequent term (including the summer following the sixth term of residence) until admission to candidacy is achieved.
In the third year, the student will form their Ph.D. thesis committee in consultation with their advisor. This committee will comprise at least four faculty members and will generally consist of the original candidacy committee plus an additional member of the faculty; at least three of the members must be from the chemistry option. Upon approval by the chemistry option rep, the thesis committee members should be entered into REGIS.
The student must meet with their committee annually beginning in the third year. At these informal meetings, the student will update the committee on the status of their research. Progress Meeting Outline Template (Optional)
In the G5 year, the student will be expected to demonstrate satisfactory progress in the course of thesis research. To this end, an appropriate timetable for completion of the degree requirements will be discussed and agreed upon at the annual research progress meeting in the G5 year.
The final examination consists of two parts: a Ph.D. propositions defense and a Ph.D. thesis seminar and defense. The Ph.D. Propositions Defense is a separate examination on three propositions by your thesis committee. The Ph.D. Thesis Seminar and Defense is a public one-hour oral presentation followed by a closed-door defense of your thesis by your PhD. Committee. Starting the summer of G6 year, students must petition the Dean's Office to continue study at Caltech. See "Length of Graduate Residence" in the Caltech catalog for guidelines (https://catalog.caltech.edu/documents/24/catalog_16_17_part4.pdf )
Not less than ten weeks in advance of the Ph.D. thesis defense, students must take the final Ph.D. proposition examination. The propositions (research proposals) includes a written component and an oral defense. The propositions exam must be successfully completed before the final Ph.D. thesis defense may be scheduled. After selecting a date for the propositions exam that is mutually satisfactory for you and your Ph.D. committee, enter the date of the exam in REGIS under Graduate Degree Progress (form here PhD Propositions Exam).
Three propositions are required. No more than one of these may be a carryover from the candidacy examination, and there is no guarantee that a proposition accepted at candidacy will be accepted at the Ph.D. proposition exam. At least one proposition must be well removed from your field of research. Each proposition shall be stated explicitly and the argument presented in writing with adequate documentation. The propositions should display originality, breadth of interest, and soundness of training; you will be judged on your selection and formulation of propositions as well as on your defense of them. If one of the propositions is based on a proposal that the student prepared for a postdoctoral fellowship, it should be preceded by a brief statement that this is so and that describes the student's original contributions to the proposal. You are encouraged to begin developing ideas for propositions early in the course of graduate study.
All research reports are limited to 30-double spaced pages and propositions to 15-double spaced pages each. Page counts do not include cited references. The written proposition with suitable abstracts must be received by the thesis committee two weeks before the oral exam.
The oral component of the Ph.D. propositions exam will begin with a 15-minute presentation by the student on a proposition of their choosing, but not a proposition derived from a postdoctoral application. The format would be like that of a job interview. Although formal presentations of the other two proposals are not required, students should be prepared to defend them orally and with assistance of the chalk/white board.
Before the Ph.D. thesis defense
A guideline for preparing your thesis is available from the Graduate Office. Pick this up and read it before preparing your thesis defense.
- Select a tentative date (determined by you and your research advisor). Your thesis seminar should precede the exam. Make sure that the date and time are compatible with your committee members' schedules. Enter the date of the thesis defense in REGIS under Graduate Degree Progress
- At least two weeks before your exam, distribute copies of your thesis to each member of the examining committee. Also submit a complete version to the Institute Graduate Office for proofreading.
Please see the Graduate Studies Office Degree Tracking and Degree Completion instructions for further information. Refer to the information here https://gradoffice.caltech.edu/documents/6332/phd-thesis_guidelines_rev_1-11-16.pdf to prepare and submit your thesis.
After the thesis defense
The Petition and Approval of Thesis form will only be signed at the time of the examination if the thesis is completely acceptable. Thesis committee can request students to revise parts of the written thesis. If corrections or revisions are required, it is your responsibility to:
(1) make the necessary corrections or revisions
(2) submit the revised thesis to the members of your committee
(3) secure committee signatures on the Petition for Examination which can be obtained from your Graduate Program Manager.
When you have made all the necessary corrections and made the final copies of your thesis, upload a final, approved version of the thesis to CaltechTHESIS.
Before leaving the Institute, submit a forwarding address and information on your future employer and position to your Graduate Program Manager and return your keys to the Division Office.
- If you are a member of the Athenaeum, and have no plans to retain membership, please submit an Athenaeum Termination notification to avoid additional dues.
- You must make arrangements to clear your student account before leaving Caltech by completing a Bursar Exit Interview. The formal diploma may be held if accounts have not been cleared or a payment schedule agreed upon before commencement.
- Please supply a forwarding address via access.caltech.
- Refer to the Checklist for additional instructions and notifications