Aims and Scope of the Graduate Programs
The general objective of the graduate work in chemical engineering is to produce individuals who are exceptionally well trained to apply mathematics, the physical, chemical, and biological sciences, and engineering to the understanding of systems involving chemical reactions, transport phenomena, and materials/energy transformations, and to the development of new processes and materials. The program also strives to develop in each student self-reliance, creativity, professional ethics, and an appreciation of the societal impact of chemical engineering and the importance of continuing intellectual growth.
It is expected that each applicant for graduate study in chemical engineering will have studied mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and chemical engineering to the extent that these subjects are covered in the required undergraduate courses at Caltech. In case the applicant’s training is not equivalent, admission may be granted but the option may prescribe additional work in these subjects before recommending them as a candidate for a degree.
ChE Master’s Degree
Although there is no formal M.S. program in ChE, in the course of their Ph.D. program students may apply for an M.S. degree by submitting an approved thesis and meeting all the other institute requirements for the M.S. program. The thesis must be approved by both the student’s adviser and option representative.
At least 135 units of coursework must be completed in order to satisfy the Institute requirements. These units must include ChE 151ab, ChE 152, ChE/Ch 165, 18 additional units of advanced courses in chemical engineering, 27 units of science or engineering electives, and 18 units of general electives. With advanced permission from the option representative, general electives may include courses in the humanities and social sciences. A student must maintain a GPA of ≥ 2.0 to qualify for an M.S. degree. Finally, the M.S. requirements include at least 27 units of research, ChE 280, which represents two terms of research under the supervision of a chemical engineering faculty member.
At least three weeks before the degree is to be conferred, a research report on the work performed under ChE 280 must be submitted to both the student’s adviser and the option representative.
ChE Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
- Initial Consultation: Upon arrival at Caltech, the ChE Ph.D. students will meet with the ChE option representative to discuss the program, adviser selection, and expectations for the first and second terms. During these two terms, students are expected to take a normal load of three courses per term plus 9 units of research (ChE 280) to cover the rotation (see below). The courses during the first term include one each in advanced Kinetics (ChE 152) and Thermodynamics (ChE 165), and a third course in an area of need or an area that lines up with the research interests of the student. The courses during the second term include one each in advanced Transport (ChE 151 a) and Statistical Thermodynamics (ChE 164) and a third course as above. The third course taken during the first and second terms must be at least 9 units and graded. The entire first year of study will also be discussed.
- Course Requirements: During the first year, Ph.D. students are required to take the five core courses: ChE 151ab, ChE 152, ChE 164, ChE 165, plus one additional ChE course from the following list: ChE 112, 115, Ch/ChE 140, 147, 148, 155, ChE/ESE 157, 158, 159, BE/ChE 163, 174. The core courses must be graded and a minimum grade of B- is required in each one. There is also a minimum GPA requirement of 2.5 each term of all courses taken. Failure to meet these grade and GPA requirements places the student in a state of deficiency, which may lead to termination of the program if not corrected promptly.
- Subject Minor or External Coursework: Each student is required to complete either a subject minor or a general program of courses outside chemical engineering. The general program of courses consists of at least 54 units. A maximum of 27 units from the following list of doubly-listed courses can be used by graduate students as part of the 54-unit requirement: ESE/ChE 158; ChE/Ch 140, 147, 148, 155, ESE/Ge/Ch 171. A course in the ACM 100ab sequence will be credited 9 units instead of the nominal 12 units as listed in the catalog. Courses in the Humanities, Arts, and Linguistics are explicitly excluded from the general program. The requirements for a subject minor in other options may be found in the current Caltech Catalog. The general program of courses must be submitted and approved by the Option Representative after the candidacy exam. All courses chosen must be at the graduate level and should constitute an integrated program of study rather than a randomly chosen collection of courses outside chemical engineering. A grade of C or better is required in any of these courses to remain qualified for the Ph.D. program.
2. Research Adviser
The choice of a research adviser is perhaps the most important decision a graduate student makes during the first year of graduate study. This decision must be made before the end of the second term of the first year, and so it is reasonable to devote significant thought and effort to this task before then.
In the first two weeks of the fall quarter, all faculty will present overviews of their research program during informal evening sessions. All first-year students must attend all of these sessions. Following these presentations, the students are expected to meet individually with at least two faculty members to discuss proposed research projects and the possibility of doing a rotation in that faculty member’s group during the first or second terms. All students must formally join a group by the end of the second term.
Rotations serve to acquaint the student with a group’s research area and style. Two rotations are required. During a rotation, the student must participate in research activities in the chosen group for at least nine hours per week under the tutelage of a faculty or senior group member. At the end of a rotation, the student must produce a research report and give a group presentation. The report, signed by the rotation advisor, is forward to the ChE option representative. If the student and the faculty member decide that the “match” of research interests and personalities is good, the student may remain the the same group for a second rotation, effectively joining the group. Otherwise, the student should proceed to do a second rotation in another group with the same requirements as above. All students must find advisers and formally join a group by the end of the second term.
4. Candidacy Exam
All students are required to pass the candidacy examination, ideally before the official start of the second year, or at the latest by October 15 of the second year. This oral exam is administered by a Candidacy Committee and consists of two parts:
- A presentation by the student based on the contents of a research progress report.
- A background questions part broadly related to the research problem presented.
The research progress report must be submitted to the Candidacy Committee members and the ChE option representative by August 31 of the first year in residence. The report should expound on the research pursued by the student and is expected to exhibit originality and a professional quality of exposition. It should outline the research problem, the proposed approach, the expected contributions in the general problem area, and the progress of the student at the time of writing. It should also provide clear evidence of the student’s understanding of the research topic, the underlying science and technology related to that research, and the student’s mastering of the relevant techniques and methodology necessary to pursue the proposed research.
The Candidacy Committee should consist of no fewer than four voting members of the Caltech faculty, with at least three being chemical engineering faculty. To ensure the impartiality of the committee, the chairperson and at least one more of the committee members must have no direct advisory relationship with the candidate. The choice of the oral exam committee will be made by the student and their research adviser and must be approved by the ChE option representative. It is the responsibility of the student to obtain approval from each proposed committee member for the date and time of the oral exam. The list of the recommended committee members must be submitted to the Option Representative at the same time as the research progress report.
The second component of the oral exam consists of chemical engineering background questions relating broadly to the student’s research topic. The chairperson of the Candidacy Committee shall be responsible for ensuring that the questions are at an appropriate level, consistent with that of undergraduates at Caltech. For example, if the Ph.D. focus is on heterogeneous catalysis, the student must be able to answer questions on basics such as: surface reaction mechanisms, diffusion/reaction in porous media, and multi-component gas-phase transport, etc. Similar considerations apply to Ph.D. projects related to fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, basic biology, physics, chemistry, etc. The advanced courses taken during the first year should help you prepare well for this part of the exam. Serious gaps in the understanding of classical chemical engineering concepts, approaches, and methodologies applicable to your research may lead to failing the exam even if research progress is deemed adequate. Furthermore, for interdisciplinary projects going beyond classical chemical engineering, the student will be expected to demonstrate good understanding of the fundamentals in other areas directly relevant to their project.
The candidacy exam may have three outcomes: Pass, Conditional Pass, or Fail. Passing the candidacy exam admits the student to candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Failing the candidacy exam terminates the student’s Ph.D. program at Caltech. When course requirements are met, the student may be awarded an M.S. degree at the recommendation of the Candidacy Committee. Conditional Pass is a special outcome granted only when the student has clearly passed the background questions component, but the committee deems that more is needed on the research front. In this case, the committee chair will put in writing what is required and the time frame to meet those requirements. Under no circumstances is this time to exceed one term. Meeting the stipulated requirements must be reflected in a revised candidacy report, which must be submitted to and approved by the Candidacy Committee by the set deadline. It is at the discretion of the committee to request a re-examination. In any case, a Pass or Fail decision must be reached at the latest by December 15 of the second year in residence. This is a hard deadline for both the student and the committee. If there is no communication to the ChE option representative by December 15, a Fail decision will be entered automatically.
5. Thesis Review Committee
After the student passes the candidacy exam, the Candidacy Committee becomes the “de-facto” Thesis Review Committee, which will be responsible for reviewing the student’s progress. The committee must be convened (as a group) during the third year of residency, and every year thereafter to review progress, suggest improvements in research, or resolve any issues that could potentially delay graduation beyond the fifth year of residency. It is the responsibility of the student to organize the annual meetings of the Thesis Review Committee, which may be convened at any time during the year but at least three months before registration for the next academic year is due. Subsequent registration beyond the fourth year is subject to written approval by the Thesis Review Committee and the ChE option representative. In order to expedite the review, the student should submit a two- or three-page concise outline of progress and of proposed future research to each member of their committee before the annual review meeting.
6. Final Thesis and Oral Defense
As a final step in the Ph.D. program, the student is required to submit a satisfactory thesis, present a ChE seminar (open to the general public), and pass a final oral examination.
Procedures for Seminar, Exam, and Committee Selection: At least three weeks prior to the exam date, the ChE Graduate Records Secretary must be given the title of the seminar, date, time and location. Both the seminar and exam should be scheduled on the same day, with the exam immediately following the seminar. The committee members will be determined by the student and their research adviser, and must be approved by the ChE option representative and the dean of graduate studies. The examining committee must include at least four members, of which at least three are voting members of the Caltech faculty and at least two are ChE faculty; one member of the committee may be from off-campus with prior approval of the ChE option representative.
7. Graduate Teaching Assignment Duties
All Ph.D. students are required to perform a minimum of 24 term-hours of GTA duties within the ChE Department during their studies. The GTA duties will normally be assigned after the first year in residence. Most students find the teaching assistantship a valuable experience for their future careers. Teaching assistantships outside ChE are permitted but the hours do not count toward the 24-hour TA requirement.
Additional information about graduate study requirements and procedures is provided in the chemical engineering graduate studies guide, distributed annually to first-year chemical engineering graduate students.