Degree of Master of Science
The Master of Science degree is a professional degree designed to prepare a student for teaching, for further graduate studies, or for more advanced work in industry. Detailed requirements are based primarily on professional studies, and the program should be planned in consultation with the faculty in the appropriate discipline. Under normal circumstances, the requirements for the master's degree can be completed in one academic year. Students must declare candidacy for the master's degree no later than the academic year in which the final degree requirements have been met or upon separation from the Institute. Students who are pursuing a doctoral degree and obtain a Master’s along the way, must declare candidacy for the Master’s no later than two weeks prior to conferral of the Ph.D.
A student who enters the Institute holding a master's degree from another institution will not normally be awarded a second master's degree in the same field. A student will not be awarded two master's degrees from the Institute.
Special regulations for the master's degree are listed under each graduate option. Several options do not offer a master's degree except in special circumstances.
Residence and Units of Graduate Work Required
At least one academic year of residence at the Institute and a minimum of 135 units of graduate work at the Institute subsequent to the baccalaureate degree are required for the master's degree. Included in these units are at least 27 units of free electives or of required studies in the humanities numbered 100 or above. Advanced courses taken while enrolled as a Caltech undergraduate student in excess of the bachelor’s degree requirements may be counted toward the master's degree requirements with the approval of the academic option representative and the dean of graduate studies.
To qualify for a master's degree, a student must complete the work indicated in the section on special regulations for their option with a grade-point average for the approved Master’s candidacy courses of at least 1.9.
In special cases, with the approval of the instructor, option representative, and the dean of graduate studies, courses taken elsewhere before enrollment at the Institute may be offered in place of specifically required courses. An examination may be required to determine the acceptability of such courses. Course credit, if granted, shall not count toward the 135-unit and residency requirements.
Admission to M.S. Candidacy
By the third term of the academic year in which the student expects to receive the degree, candidates should have completed a plan of study in Regis, which must have the approval of the option representative and, in some cases, of the research adviser. This approved plan of study will constitute requirements for the degree. Any modifications to the plan of study must be approved by the option representative no later than two weeks before the degree is to be conferred. Some options require a thesis or research report in addition to course requirements. The thesis or research report must be approved by the research adviser and option representative no later than two weeks before the degree is to be conferred. For additional information and option-specific requirements, please refer to the section “Special Regulations for Graduate Options.”
Joint B.S./M.S. Degree
In exceptional cases, undergraduate students may be eligible to pursue a joint B.S./M.S. program of study to be completed within the four years (12 terms) of the undergraduate program. Students should contact the graduate option representative to find out if the joint B.S./M.S. degree is offered in a particular option. If so, students must follow the normal procedures for admission to the graduate program. Students admitted to the joint B.S./M.S. degree must complete a minimum of 486 units for the B.S. program and an additional 135 units for the M.S. program with no overlapping of courses. In addition, a written plan of study must be submitted to the Registrar’s Office for approval no later than the fall term of the senior year. The plan of study should provide detail of the courses that are proposed to satisfy each degree requirement within the 12 terms of the B.S. program and once approved shall constitute the requirements for the degree. Any changes to the plan require written approval by the Registrar. If not completed within the four years, students will be removed from the joint program and they, and all their courses, will be attached to the B.S. program. Students enrolled in the joint B.S./M.S. degree will be considered undergraduate students and will not be eligible for graduate financial aid, graduate housing, or other graduate student privileges.
Engineer’s degrees are awarded in exceptional circumstances. The work for an engineer’s degree must consist of advanced studies and research in the field appropriate to the degree desired. It must conform to the special requirements established for that degree and should be planned in consultation with the members of the faculty concerned. Students who have been admitted to the terminal master's degree and wish to pursue further studies leading toward either the engineer’s or the Ph.D. degree must file a petition (and in some cases must file a new application) to continue graduate work toward the desired degree. Students who have received an engineer’s degree will not be admitted for the Ph.D.
At least eight terms of graduate residence subsequent to a Bachelor’s degree equivalent to that given by the Institute are required for an
engineer’s degree. Of these, at least three terms must be at Caltech. It must be understood that these are minimum requirements, and students must often count on spending a somewhat longer time on graduate work.
To qualify for an engineer’s degree, a student must complete the work prescribed by the supervising committee with a grade-point average of at least 1.9. Research work and the preparation of a thesis must constitute no fewer than 55 units. More than 55 units may be required by certain options, and the student should determine the particular requirements of their option when establishing a program.
Admission to Candidacy
Before the midpoint of the first term of the academic year in which the student expects to receive the degree, they must complete a proposed plan of study and, in consultation with the chair of the appropriate division, will select a committee comprised of at least three members of the professorial faculty to supervise the student’s work and to certify its satisfactory completion. The student should consult with this committee in planning the details of their work. The plan of study shall then constitute the requirements for the degree. Any modifications must be approved by the option representative at least two weeks before the degree is conferred.
The student will be admitted to candidacy for the degree when the supervising committee certifies (a) that all the special requirements for the desired degree have been met, with the exception that certain courses of not more than two terms in length may be taken after admission to candidacy; (b) that the thesis research has been satisfactorily started and can be finished at the expected date; (c) that the candidate demonstrates competence in oral and written English.
Admission to candidacy should be obtained by the midpoint of the term in which the degree is to be granted, but no later than the academic year in which the final degree requirements have been met or upon separation from the Institute.
At least two weeks before the degree is to be conferred, each student is required to submit a thesis in accordance with the regulations that govern the preparation of doctoral dissertations. These regulations may be obtained from the Graduate Office website.
The use of “classified’’ research as thesis material for any degree will not be permitted. Exceptions to this rule can be made only under special circumstances, and then only when approval is given by the dean of graduate studies before the research is undertaken.
At the discretion of the option in which the degree is desired, a final examination may be required. This examination would be conducted by a committee appointed by the candidate’s supervising committee.
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
The degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is conferred by the Institute primarily in recognition of breadth of scholarship, depth of research, and the power to investigate problems independently and efficiently, rather than for the completion of definite courses of study through a stated period of residence. The work for the degree must consist of research and the preparation of a thesis describing it, and of systematic studies of an advanced character, primarily in science or engineering. In addition, the candidate must have clear self-expression in both oral and written English.
Subject to the general supervision of the Committee on Graduate Study, the student’s work for the Ph.D. degree is specifically directed by the division in which they have chosen the major subject. Each student should consult with their division concerning special divisional and option requirements.
With the approval of the dean of graduate studies, students are admitted to graduate standing by the option in which they choose their major work toward the Ph.D. degree. In some cases, applicants for the Ph.D. may be required to complete requirements for the M.S. degree first; however, this is not a general prerequisite for the Ph.D. Students who have received an Engineer’s degree will not be admitted for the Ph.D. degree.
A student who holds a Ph.D. or the equivalent from another institution will not normally be admitted to graduate standing at Caltech to pursue a second Ph.D. degree. A student will not normally be awarded two Ph.D. degrees from the Institute.
Minor Programs of Study
The Institute does not require a minor for the Ph.D. degree, but the individual options may have minor requirements as part of their requirements for the major.
A student may undertake a minor program of study in most options as specified in this catalog under the section “Special Regulations of Graduate Options.” Completion of a minor program of study is recognized on the diploma by the statement “…and by additional studies constituting a minor in [name of option].”
A minor program of study should be at a level of study in the minor substantially beyond that typically acquired by students as part of their major requirements. Most options require 45 units or more, including at least one 200-level course and a coherent program of the supporting 100-level courses. The faculty of the minor option may approve a proposed minor program on the basis of overall class performance and/or by an oral examination.
Detailed requirements for minor options are listed under the individual options. Students cannot use courses required by their major option in fulfillment of the minor requirement.
At least three academic years (12 terms) of residence subsequent to a baccalaureate degree equivalent to that given by the Institute are required for the Ph.D. Of this, at least one year (4 terms) must be in residence at the Institute. It should be understood that these are minimum requirements, and students must usually count on spending a somewhat longer time in residence. A student whose undergraduate work has been insufficient in amount or too narrowly specialized, or whose preparation in their special field is inadequate, should plan upon spending increased time in work for the degree.
However, no student will be allowed to continue work toward the Ph.D. degree for more than six academic years (24 terms) of graduate residence, without a petition approved by the dean of graduate studies. This petition must include a plan and schedule for completion, agreed upon and signed by the student, the thesis adviser, and the option representative.
Continuity of registration must be maintained until all requirements for the Ph.D. have been completed, with the exception of authorized leaves. Registration is typically required for the term in which the thesis defense is undertaken.
Thesis Advisers and Committee Chairs
The thesis adviser must be a professorial faculty member, defined as professor, associate professor, or assistant professor on a full-time, tenure-track appointment at Caltech. Research faculty and emeritus faculty can supervise research, but the official thesis adviser must be a member of the professorial faculty. Expectations for the relationship between graduate students and faculty advisers are discussed under Guidelines for Graduate Student Advising.
Progress through the graduate program is monitored in part by the candidacy, thesis advisory, and thesis examination committees detailed in the following sections. Each committee has a chair who is responsible for running the meeting, summarizing the outcome, and working with the graduate student and adviser as appropriate. The chair of each committee is a professorial faculty member distinct from the adviser.
Admission to Candidacy
On the recommendation of the option concerned, the dean of graduate studies will admit a student to candidacy for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy after the student has been admitted to work toward the Ph.D. and has been in residence at least one term; has initiated a program of study approved by the major option and, if needed, by the minor option; has demonstrated, by written or oral examination, a comprehensive grasp of the major and minor subjects and of subjects fundamental to them; has displayed the ability for clear self-expression in both oral and written English; and has shown ability in carrying on research in a subject approved by the option concerned. Option regulations concerning admission to candidacy are given in a later section.
Depending upon option regulations, candidates will either be assigned a candidacy committee by the option representative or must independently select appropriate members to serve on the candidacy committee. A candidacy committee consists of a minimum of three members, two of whom must be professorial faculty. Emeritus faculty, research faculty, JPL staff and external scholars may serve on the candidacy committee, with approval of the option representative and the dean of graduate studies in advance of the candidacy examination. The student should ensure that all members of the committee are available during the examination period and that they are willing to provide timely and appropriate feedback.
A student not admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year or twelfth term of graduate residence at the Institute must petition the dean of graduate studies for permission to register for further work.
Candidacy (and permission to register) may be withdrawn by formal action of the option from a student whose research is not satisfactory, or for other compelling reasons. However, the option must petition through its division chair to the dean of graduate studies before taking such action.
Thesis Advisory Committee
Each Ph.D. student is assigned a Thesis Advisory Committee consisting of a minimum of three professorial faculty members. Emeritus faculty, research faculty, JPL staff and external scholars may serve on the thesis examination committee with approval of the option representative and the dean of graduate studies. Following candidacy, or by the fourth year of graduate study, a student will have an annual meeting as specified by the option with either the thesis advisory committee, the committee chair, or the option representative (if not the advisor), to discuss progress towards completing the thesis and future plans.
Each Ph.D. candidate shall undergo broad oral examination on the major subject, the scope of the thesis, and its significance in relation to the major subject. The thesis examination, subject to the approval of the dean of graduate studies, may be taken after admission to candidacy whenever the candidate is prepared; however, it must take place at least three weeks before the degree is to be conferred.
The thesis examination may be written in part, and may be subdivided into parts or given all at one time at the discretion of the options concerned. The student must declare their intent to defend by completing the examination notification in Regis not less than two weeks before the date of the examination. A thesis examination committee consists of four members, with a minimum of three professorial faculty. Emeritus faculty, research faculty, JPL staff and external scholars may serve on the thesis examination committee with approval of the option representative and the dean of graduate studies in advance of the thesis examination.
At least two weeks before the final oral examination, the candidate should provide a draft copy of a completed thesis to the Graduate Office for proofreading and to the members of the thesis examination committee. The date of the examination and the composition of the thesis examination committee should be posted in Regis at least two weeks before the final defense is scheduled. In general, registration is required for the term in which the thesis defense is undertaken. Approval of the dean of graduate studies is required for any student seeking to enroll for a subsequent term following the thesis defense. This enrollment will be limited to one term, and cannot be granted after the degree has been conferred. A student not receiving Caltech funding, may petition the dean of graduate studies for a tuition waiver if the student schedules the examination by the third Friday of the term in which the examination will be taken.
Before uploading the final, corrected thesis to CaltechTHESIS, it is the candidate’s responsibility to obtain approval of the thesis by the option representative and all members of the thesis examination committee.
The last date to deposit the thesis in it’s final form to CaltechTHESIS is June 1 if the thesis defense occured during the current academic year. Students who cannot meet this deadline are required to petition the dean of graduate studies for an extension to keep the thesis active. In such cases, the degree would be conferred in the following year’s commencement. It is required that all Ph.D. candidates submit an electronic copy of their dissertation, which the Caltech Library will then archive and make available online as part of the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD), an international organization that allows researchers to globally search a database of electronic theses and dissertations. For special option regulations concerning theses or the exam composition, see specific graduate options.
With the approval of the option concerned, a portion of the thesis may consist of one or more articles published jointly by the candidate and members of the Institute staff or other coauthors. In any case, however, a substantial portion of the thesis must be the candidate’s own exposition of their own work.
The use of “classified’’ research as thesis material for any degree is not permitted. Exceptions to this rule can be made only under special circumstances, and then only when approval is given by the dean of graduate studies before the research is undertaken.
Regulations and directions for the preparation of theses may be obtained from the Graduate Office website, and should be followed carefully by the candidate. Thesis templates are also available on the Library website, as is information regarding thesis deposits, embargo policies and copyright issues.
Satisfactory Academic Progress
In order to continue in a degree program and to receive financial aid at Caltech, graduate students must maintain satisfactory academic progress toward completion of their degree. A fulltime graduate student must register for (and complete) 36 units per term, including the summer term. Continuity of registration must be maintained until all requirements for the degree being sought have been completed, with the exception of authorized sabbaticals.
The Master of Science degree requires at least three terms of residence at the Institute and a minimum of 135 units of graduate work with a grade-point average of at least 1.9. A master's degree cannot take more than two years without a petition approved by the dean of graduate studies.
The Engineer’s degree must consist of advanced studies and research in the field appropriate to the degree desired. At least eight terms of graduate residence are required with a minimum 1.9 overall grade-point average. The Engineer’s degree cannot take more than 12 terms to complete without a petition approved by the dean of graduate studies.
For the Doctor of Philosophy, at least 12 terms of residence are required, but the necessary study and research typically can be completed in six years or less. The work for the degree consists of research and the preparation of a thesis describing it, and of systematic studies of an advanced character, primarily in science or engineering. All doctoral students must have a thesis adviser to remain in good academic standing. The timeline for securing a thesis adviser varies by the specific graduate option (see Special Regulations for Graduate Options). A student’s thesis adviser must be an active member of the Caltech professorial faculty and is responsible for general advising, approving and guiding a research topic, monitoring the student’s progress until all degree requirements have been met, and in most cases, providing student support for the duration of the degree program.
The requirements for each degree include special regulations established by each option and detailed in the Institute Catalog for the year of initial registration. Many options require a C grade or better in particular courses or groups of courses. Hence, a limited number of courses may be repeated while still maintaining a status of satisfactory academic progress and would count toward the 36-unit-per-term requirement. Approval of the dean of graduate studies is required before dropping any course that brings a student below 36 units. The treatment of incomplete grades and withdrawals is specified in Grades and Grading. Satisfactory academic progress is checked each academic term by the Graduate Office.
The special regulations for the options typically include the completion of specific courses, oral and/or written examinations, petitions, research requirements, etc., by specific times. Satisfactory academic progress is judged by the options against these regulations, and revocation of permission to register may be recommended by the option to the dean of graduate studies prior to or in response to the student’s petition for admission to candidacy. Further, even after admission to candidacy, the candidacy (and permission to register) may be withdrawn by formal action of an option for a student whose research is not satisfactory, or for other compelling reasons. However, the option must petition through its division chair to the dean of graduate studies before taking such action. A decision to revoke or withdraw permission to register may be appealed in writing within ten days to the vice president for student affairs or designee.
A Ph.D. student who has not been admitted to candidacy by the beginning of the fourth year (12 terms) must petition the dean of graduate studies for permission to register for further work. In addition, no Ph.D. student will be allowed to register for more than 24 terms without a petition approved by the dean of graduate studies.
This petition must include a plan and schedule for completion, agreed upon and signed by the student, the Thesis Advisory Committee chair, and the option representative.