Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
The ESE graduate program trains doctoral students to solve fundamental problems in environmental science and engineering. The problems cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries and span space scales ranging from global to local. Students are trained to acquire a broad base of knowledge of environmental systems, including Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere. They deepen their knowledge in one or more focus areas, culminating in research leading to a Ph.D. thesis. Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of research in the ESE program, the program unites faculty from the divisions of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Engineering and Applied Science, and Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
Applicants for admission to the ESE program should have undergraduate preparation in science, engineering, or mathematics. Admission is limited to students intending to pursue the Ph.D. degree. Only students who intend to work full-time toward the Ph.D. degree are admitted. The application submission deadline is December 15. The admission process follows Institute regulations. The GRE general test and subject tests are not required. Self-reported scores will not be considered.
In order to be admitted for graduate study, students from non-English-speaking countries are expected to read, write, and speak English and comprehend the spoken language. Although not required for admission, for applicants whose native language is not English or have not received a degree from a university or college where English is the primary language of instruction, it is important to demonstrate a strong capability in English prior to admission to Caltech. This can be done by self-reporting scores from the Educational Testing Service (TOEFL), Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic), the Cambridge Examinations and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or other services that provide a certified English-language proficiency examination. The ESE faculty may also arrange an online interview while assessing applications.
An academic adviser is appointed for each incoming student to assist in designing their academic program. The research adviser is chosen by mutual agreement of the student and adviser during the second year of graduate study, after passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination. The Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), consisting of four Caltech faculty members including the research adviser, should be constituted and meet with the student soon after the student passes the qualifying examination; thereafter, it should meet with the student annually to review progress and provide guidance and support. Committee membership may be changed if the student’s research interests change. The TAC generally serves to recommend the student’s advancement to candidacy; it may also serve as the examining committee for the final thesis defense.
ESE Master’s Degree
Students enrolled in the Ph.D. program may be awarded a master’s degree if they have satisfied the basic Institute requirement of 135 units of work in courses numbered 100 or higher. These courses must include those specifically required in the ESE Ph.D. program.
ESE Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
For the Ph.D. degree, the student must (1) satisfy the course requirements, (2) pass the qualifying examination, (3) advance to candidacy, and (4) complete a thesis and successfully defend it in a final oral examination.
During their first year, students, in consultation with their academic advisers, must design a program of graduate study that includes a minimum of 135 units of graduate work to be completed before the end of their third year. The course program should take into account the students’ individual backgrounds and focus areas, educate them broadly in fundamental questions and methods of contemporary environmental science and engineering, and prepare them for their research. The course program must include the core courses ESE 101, 102, and 103. Attendance at the weekly research seminars (ESE 104 and 110 abc) is required for first-year students and is expected of all graduate students. All students are expected to have knowledge of methods of applied mathematics and statistics on the level of graduate courses at Caltech. In cases of unusual preparation, students may petition to substitute a similar but more advanced course for one of the required courses.
Additionally, students are required to take 36 units of elective courses from two of the three groups below:
- Environmental Biology: ESE/Bi 166, ESE/Bi 168, Ge/ESE 170;
- Environmental Chemistry: ESE/Ch 175, ESE/Ch 176, ESE/Ge/Ch 171;
- Environmental Physics: ESE 130-138, Ge/ESE 139, Ge/ESE 150, ESE/ChE 158.
The remaining units of graduate work can be fulfilled by a combination of elective courses in ESE or related disciplines, reading or laboratory courses (ESE 100), and research (ESE 106, 300). Of the total required 135 units, no more than 45 units may be in research. No more than 27 research units may be taken during the first year of graduate study. Exceptions may be granted by petition.
A grade of C- or better is required for all course work that satisfies these requirements.
It is expected that each graduate student will, as part of the Ph.D. graduation requirement, serve as a teaching assistant for one course per year, following completion of the qualifying exam.
Ph.D. Qualifying Examination
The Ph.D. qualifying examination must be taken during the first term of the student’s second year of residency. This examination consists principally of an oral defense of two research propositions, each advised by a different faculty member. Written abstracts must be submitted for both propositions, and one of them must be described in the form of a research report or proposal. The qualifying exam also covers the material of the ESE core courses and of the elective courses the student has taken. In preparation for the qualifying examination, students are encouraged to register for nine units of research (ESE 106) in their second and third terms of residency.
Advancement to Candidacy
Students are recommended to advance to candidacy following the successful completion of a candidacy exam with their Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC). The exam, consisting of both a written Ph.D. thesis proposal and an oral presentation of this plan is required, and must be approved by all TAC members. Advancement to candidacy, including all required course work, should be completed before the end of spring term in the student’s third year of residency.
Thesis and Final Examination
Copies of the completed thesis must be provided to the examining committee two weeks before the final oral examination. The final oral examination focuses on the work of the thesis and, according to Institute regulations, must be held at least two weeks before the degree is conferred.
ESE Subject Minor
Graduate students majoring in another option at the Institute may elect a subject minor in ESE. The ESE minor is intended to supplement one of Caltech’s graduate degrees and is designed for students who wish to broaden and deepen their expertise with knowledge in ESE. To complete an ESE subject minor, graduate students must enroll in a program of study approved by the ESE option representative, which is to include at least 36 units over two or more terms of graduate-level ESE classes (ESE 100 and above) and 18 units over two or more terms of research under ESE 106 or ESE 300. At least one of the graduate-level ESE classes must be ESE 101, ESE 102, or ESE 103.