Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
The Caltech Ph.D. program in social science prepares students for a research career in economics and political science. It is designed to produce scholars who are well grounded in the theoretical perspectives, the quantitative techniques, and the experimental methods of economics and political science.
SS Master’s Degree
Students who are enrolled in the Social Science Ph.D. program may earn a M.S. degree after successful completion of 36 units of course work, completed with a grade of B or better in each class, in addition to completing the coursework required for the first year of the Ph.D. program.
Detailed information on admission requirements can be found at hss.caltech.edu/academics/graduate-studies/social-sciences-phd-program/admissions.
First year. The first-year curriculum consists of the following three-quarter course sequences: Analytical Foundations in Social Science (SS 201abc); Political Theory (SS 202abc); Foundations of Economics (SS 205abc) and Econometrics (SS 222abc). Each class must be completed with a grade of B or better. In addition, students must register for SS/Psy/CNS 285 each quarter it is offered during the academic year.
At the end of the first year, the faculty will review the overall class performance of each first-year student and assess the student’s ability for clear self-expression in both oral and written English. A positive assessment of class performance is required for a student to remain in good standing in the program. If class performance is judged unsatisfactory by the faculty, they may terminate the student from the program. In case of language deficiencies, the student is required to take and pass a remedial English class, SS 299, during the summer quarter.
Before the start of the second year, students are required to take a written preliminary examination, which has four components, each corresponding to one of the first-year course sequences (SS 201, SS 202, SS 205, and SS 222). The grades given are Honors, Pass, and Fail. Students must achieve at least a Pass in all four parts. Students who fail the exam may be given the opportunity to retake the exam before the start of the fall term by the faculty. The Social Science faculty will then review the student’s performance on the exam(s), and progress, to date. If it is not satisfactory, they may terminate the student from the program by the beginning of the second year.
Second year. Second-year courses provide additional training in various subfields of the social sciences.
In the fall quarter, all second-year students are required to enroll in SS 224 and at least 27 additional units of advanced social science courses. In the winter quarter, all second-year students are required to enroll in 36 units of advanced social science courses. In the spring quarter, second year students must enroll in at least 27 units of advanced social science courses (three typical courses) and enroll in 9 units of Research in Social Science (SS 300) to work on their second-year paper, for the units remaining to reach 36 units
Appropriate courses in other options, such as mathematics and computer science, can be substituted for advanced social science classes, with the permission of the HSS division’s option representative. All classes offered for grades must be completed with a grade of B or better. Students may take independent reading and study courses, but during the second year such courses do not count toward the above requirements.
Students can tailor their second-year curriculum to their specific research interests but are expected to include at least two second-year course sequences. Such course sequences include Foundations of Political Economy (SS 210abc), Advanced Economic Theory (SS 211abc), Experimental Economics (SS 212abc), Financial Economics (SS 213abc), Topics in Theoretical and Applied Econometrics (SS 223abc), Applied Empirical Methods in the Social Sciences (SS 228abc), Theoretical and Quantitative Dimensions of Historical Development (SS 229abc), American and Comparative Politics (SS 231abc), and Experimental Methods of Political Economy (SS 260). Students may partially fulfill the second-year sequence requirement by taking a sequence of courses in mathematics, such as Ma 108abc, Ma 110abc, Ma/ACM/IDS 140ab, or Ec 181ab.
Third year. Beginning in their third year, and in all subsequent years, all students must enroll in the 3-unit graduate student pro-seminar (SS 282abc) every quarter. Every student must make a presentation in this class at least once a year. Students in the third year may also enroll in additional courses, with the approval of their adviser. Third year students are required to take SS 281 in the fall quarter. In each quarter, third year students should enroll in Research in Social Science (SS 300) for the units remaining to reach 36 units.
Fourth and fifth years. Students need to register for 33 units of SS 300 and 3 units of the graduate student pro-seminar (SS 282abc).
Progress in the program, and advancement to candidacy
In addition to the coursework and examinations described above, students must enroll in at least 36 units every quarter, including summer (SS 300) and complete the following requirements.
By May 1 of the second year, each second-year student must submit an outline describing a planned paper to their paper adviser, their second reader, and the option representative. The second-year paper can be co-authored. If the co-author is another graduate student, only one of the students on the joint project can use the paper to fulfill the requirement. The person using the paper for fulfilling the requirement is expected to do most of the actual writing of the paper that is sub-mitted. The final paper is due on September 15. If the paper adviser and the second reader both find that a student’s second-year paper is satisfactory, the student advances to the third year. If they do not, the social science faculty, as a whole, will review the student’s paper. If they decide that the paper is not satisfactory, they may terminate the student from the program. At the end of the second year, the social science faculty will also meet and assess each second-year student’s ability for clear self-expression in both oral and written English. In case of language deficiencies, the student is required to take and pass a remedial English class, SS 299, during the summer quarter. Also, starting their second year, students are expected to TA a minimum of three quarters total during their graduate career.
Third-year students must write a research paper and present it to the faculty before the start of the fourth year. The third-year paper cannot be co-authored but should be worked on in consultation with and under the direction of the student’s primary adviser. The option representative will appoint a second third-year paper reader, who must be a member of the social sciences professorial faculty. The adviser and second reader will monitor progress and advise the student on the third-year paper. The paper and the presentation must demonstrate to the faculty that the student is capable of undertaking original research and presenting it to a scholarly audience.
After completion of the third-year paper presentation, the social science faculty evaluates the student’s overall performance and research potential. This review is based primarily upon the third-year paper, but the faculty also verifies that the student has satisfactorily completed all previous requirements.
If this evaluation is favorable, the student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. If the faculty evaluation is unfavorable, the student may be terminated from the program.
Organization of Thesis Committee
By October 1 of the third year, each student selects a primary adviser. The adviser must be a professorial member of the social science faculty at Caltech. It is possible to change advisers, in consultation with the option representative, if a student’s research interests change. Students, in consultation with their adviser, must select two additional thesis committee members after the student has advanced to candidacy (normally by the beginning of their fourth year). After a student advances to candidacy, the division chairperson, in consultation with the option representative, shall select a fourth member of the committee with an eye to representing the diverse interests of the social science faculty. One of the four members of the thesis committee may be emeritus faculty, research faculty, or an external scholar, with the approval of the option representative and the dean of graduate studies. The chair of the thesis committee must be someone other than the primary adviser, who will be appointed by the social science option representative in consultation with the primary adviser. The thesis committee will also serve as the examination committee at the thesis defense.
SS Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
By November 1 of their fourth year, students must complete a dissertation prospectus that outlines the proposed dissertation work and present a tentative schedule detailing when the components of the dissertation are to be completed. The prospectus must clearly identify a project, or dissertation components, that should culminate in a job market paper at the beginning of the student’s fifth year (August before the start of the fifth year, in the case of students who seek a position in political science). The prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the thesis committee by November 1, and the status communicated by the principal adviser to the option representative.
By May 1 of the fourth year, the student is required to convene a thesis prospectus seminar with their thesis committee. In this seminar, the student is to report on the current status of their dissertation research and outline a plan and timeline for completing it. The seminar must be based on the student’s planned job market paper, and a draft of this paper must accompany the proposal. The student and the the-sis committee should reach a clear, mutual under-standing as to what additional work needs to be done to complete and to successfully defend their dissertation.
After the dissertation is completed, the student, in consultation with their adviser, must schedule an oral thesis examination to defend their dissertation. The student must provide a written copy of their dissertation to the option representative and all members of the examination committee, and complete the examination notification in Regis, not less than two weeks prior to the thesis examination date. The dissertation is expected to represent publishable, original research.