In addition to the required core classes described on the previous pages, first-year students are encouraged to participate in first-year seminar classes, frontier classes, research tutorials and other research opportunities.
Starting in the 2011–12 academic year, Caltech began offering a series of seminars for first-year students in which 10 to 15 first-year students and a faculty member explore in depth an exciting topic in the lab, around a table, or in the field. These courses cover a wide range of topics, including earthquakes, gravitational waves, and the science of music. Instructors may allow upperclassmen to enroll in these seminars after the conclusion of the pre-registration period for the upcoming term. See section on First-Year Seminars for more information.
Caltech also offers a series of “frontier courses” that involve a weekly presentation by a faculty member on a topic of current research. These courses often meet at lunch time and serve pizza; hence, students refer to the courses as “pizza courses.” The frontier courses are an opportunity for students to meet the Caltech faculty and to hear about state-of-the-art research projects for the summer or academic year. There are a total of 10 frontier courses offered for first-year students in biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, geology and planetary sciences, engineering, computer science, chemical engineering, bioengineering, and electrical engineering.
Currently there are three “research tutorials” for first-year students: one in physics, one in biology, and one in chemistry. These tutorials have many of the same features as the first-year seminars. In physics, the research tutorial includes approximately seven first-year students and extends over three academic terms plus the summer. The purpose is to demonstrate how research opportunities arise, are evaluated, and are tested, and how the ideas that survive develop in larger projects. In biology and chemistry, the tutorials are offered in the winter and spring quarters and involve small group discussions on special areas or problems in biology, biotechnology, and chemistry.
More than 80 percent of Caltech students participate in research at some point in their academic career. Students may embark on research activities by registering for research credits with a faculty member, by working in a laboratory for pay during the summer or academic year, by completing a senior thesis, or by participating in Caltech’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. The SURF program is described Undergraduate Programs and Research.