Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
The Caltech chemistry option offers a program of graduate study leading to the Ph.D. degree, with the goal of preparing students for a lifetime of independent research and scientific leadership in the chemical sciences, through careers in academia, industry, or government. Modern chemistry strives to achieve a molecular-level understanding of the natural world and thus forms the basis for much of modern science, including biology, medicine, materials, nanotechnology, energy and environment. The program of study, while anchored in the traditional areas of organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, chemical biology, biochemistry and biophysics, chemical physics, and theoretical chemistry, is flexible and highly interdisciplinary.
The graduate program in chemistry emphasizes research. This emphasis reflects the Institute’s traditional leadership in chemical research and the conviction that has permeated the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from its founding, that participation in original research is the best way to awaken, develop, and give direction to creativity.
The program is designed to encourage students to begin their research early in their first year. Students can elect to do research that crosses the boundaries of traditionally separate areas of chemistry, for in this relatively compact division, they are encouraged to go where their scientific curiosity drives them. A thesis that involves more than one adviser is not uncommon, and interdisciplinary programs with biology, physics, geology, chemical engineering, and environmental science and engineering science are open and encouraged.
An extensive program of seminars will enable students to hear of and discuss notable work in chemical physics, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and electrochemistry, organometallic chemistry, and biochemistry and molecular biophysics. Graduate students are also encouraged to attend seminars in other divisions.
Ch Learning Outcomes
Students upon whom are conferred the Ph.D. degree have provided evidence of independent scholarship and scientific creativity through the performance of original research, which is described in their doctoral thesis and defended orally. Students must also demonstrate an ability to conceive new research directions by preparing and defending a set of written research propositions.
Ch Course Program
A student is required to complete at least five courses, each being nine units or more, in science or engineering. At least one course must be in a field substantially outside the research area of the student. Courses may be either inside or outside the chemistry option, must be numbered 100 or greater, and must be taken on a letter-grade basis with a grade of B or above. The student should discuss, with his or her adviser, which courses best serve his or her individual needs. The program of courses must be approved by the research adviser and by the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee.
Ch Master’s Degree
Students are not ordinarily admitted to graduate work leading to an M.S. degree. Under special circumstances, and with prior approval of the Graduate Study Committee, a master’s degree can be obtained. All master’s programs for the degree in chemistry must include at least 45 units of chemical research and must satisfy the Course Program described above. The remaining electives may be satisfied by advanced work in any area of mathematics, science or engineering, or by chemical research. A satisfactory thesis describing this research, including a one-page digest or summary of the main results obtained, must be submitted to the divisional graduate studies office at least 10 days before the degree is to be conferred. In addition, the fulfillment of the thesis requirement must be signed off by a designated faculty member on the M.S. candidacy form and a final copy of the thesis submitted to the Graduate Office no later than two weeks before the degree is to be conferred. The copies of the thesis should be prepared according to the directions formulated by the dean of graduate studies and should be accompanied by a statement of approval of the thesis, signed by the adviser directing the research and by the chair of the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee.
Ch Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Selecting a Research Project
Soon after a new graduate student arrives in the laboratories, they attend a series of orientation seminars that introduce students to the active research interests of the faculty. Students then meet with each of five or more faculty whose fields attract them, to discuss in detail potential research problems. They eventually settle upon the outlines of a research problem that interests them and select a specific research adviser (or set of co-advisers). Neither students nor faculty can make a commitment to an adviser-advisee relationship prior to the end of the first month of the fall term. Students typically begin research during their first academic year.
To be recommended for candidacy for the doctor’s degree in chemistry, in addition to demonstrating an understanding and knowledge of the fundamentals of chemistry, 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, which must be held during or before the fifth term of graduate residence (excluding summer terms). The candidacy committee shall consist of the thesis adviser(s) and two additional faculty members; at least two of the three members must be chemistry faculty. The committee should be considered as a resource for the student for the remainder of his or her 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, or brief scientific theses, must accompany the report, and at least one must be well removed from the student’s field of research. These propositions should reflect his or her breadth of familiarity with the literature, originality, and ability to pose and analyze suitable scientific research problems. The research report and propositions must be in the hands of the examining committee as a bound, hard-copy document one week before the examination.
The result of the candidacy examination may be either (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. In order to change conditional to pass status, the student must correct the indicated deficiencies or in some cases schedule a new examination the following term. The student must be admitted to candidacy at least three terms before the final oral examination. A student cannot continue graduate work in chemistry (nor can financial assistance be continued) past the end of the sixth term of residence 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.
Graduate Teaching Assignment Duties
All Ph.D. students are required to perform a minimum of one 9 term-hour GTA within the chemistry option before the completion of the fourth year of study. Most students find the teaching assistantship a valuable experience for their future careers.
There is no formal foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. in chemistry. However, the division believes strongly in the professional importance to chemists of knowledge of foreign languages and encourages their study prior to graduate work or while in graduate school.
Ph.D. Thesis Committee
In the third year, the student in consultation with their adviser will form their Ph.D. thesis committee. 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. 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.
Typically, a student will provide an updated CV, a short research summary (2-3 pages), and a brief outline of plans for the coming year.
Fourth Year Progress Meeting
Before the 13th academic term of graduate residence (excluding summer terms), the student will be expected to demonstrate satisfactory progress in the course of thesis research. To this end, an informal meeting with the Ph.D. thesis committee will be held. Typically, a student provides an updated CV, a short research summary (2-3 pages), a thesis outline with %-completed for each chapter, and a timeline for completion of the degree. At the meeting, the student will likely present an oral summary of research completed to date as well as an outline of future research plans. Following the discussion, an appropriate timetable for completion of the degree requirements will be discussed and agreed upon. It is also common to discuss plans for post-Caltech at the meeting.
Length of Graduate Residence
Any graduate student who anticipates a need to register for a 24th academic term must hold a meeting of his or her thesis committee and present the institute-required petition for permission to register that includes a plan of action for the period of the requested registration and a specific date for the completion of the degree requirements. This petition must be approved by the Thesis Committee, by the chair of the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee and, in cases where financial support is an issue, by the executive officer or division chair, before it is forwarded to the dean of graduate studies. Financial support of graduate students who are required to petition to register will not normally be provided through teaching assistantships. Failure to complete the degree requirements by the date specified in the petition would require the entire approval process to be repeated. This process must be repeated for every subsequent year.
Thesis and Final Examination
The final examination will consist in part of the oral presentation and defense of a brief résumé of the student’s research and in part of the defense of a set of propositions they prepare. Three original research propositions are required. No more than one of these may be a carryover from the candidacy examination, and at least one must be well removed from the 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; a student will be judged on the selection and formulation of the propositions as well as on the defense of them. Formulating a set of propositions should begin early in the course of graduate study.
To emphasize the importance of these propositions, there will be a separate examination on the three propositions by the Ph.D. thesis committee. This examination on the propositions is normally taken after the thesis research progress meeting, but not less than 10 weeks in advance of the final doctoral examination. A copy of the propositions, along with suitable abstracts, must be submitted to the examining committee not less than two weeks before the propositions examination. These propositions must be acceptable to the committee before the final doctoral examination can be scheduled.
A copy of the thesis must be submitted to each member of the thesis committee not less than two weeks before the final doctoral examination. A copy of the thesis should also be submitted to the Graduate Office for proofreading three weeks prior to the final doctoral examination. Two final copies (one on Permalife paper) are to be submitted to the Graduate Office.
Ch Subject Minor
Graduate students in other options taking chemistry as a subject minor will be assigned a faculty adviser in chemistry by the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee. In consultation with this adviser, the student will work out an integrated program of courses, including at least 45 units of formal course work at the 100 level or above. This program must be approved by the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee, and a grade point average of 3.0 in the approved program will be required.