The Institute has a long-standing philosophy that all graduate students should be given the opportunity to be completely focused on graduate studies and research. This is one of the unique aspects of Caltech’s graduate school and a key factor in the high level of productivity and accomplishment by our graduate students. To enable this, the faculty and Institute provide financial aid in the form of fellowships, tuition scholarships, graduate teaching, and research assistantships. The stipend and salary levels for students are modest but sufficient for economical students to live debt-free during their graduate studies. The financial support provided by the Institute and the requirements for continuous enrollment also enable almost all students to complete the degree programs in a timely manner.
In turn, the Institute expects that graduate students should be 100 percent committed to graduate studies while enrolled in a graduate program. Graduate students are expected to be continuously enrolled full-time, year-round, until they complete their degree program. In addition, graduate students should not accept employment, start or run a business, or engage in any activity inside or outside of the Institute that creates a conflict of commitment with their full-time, degree-seeking status.
There are some very limited exceptions to this policy. The Institute encourages extracurricular activities that provide service to the community and do not impact the student’s academic progress or full-time status. The Institute also recognizes that some students desire to gain experience as instructors or work in an educational or research setting outside of Caltech.
Students must have the approval of their adviser, the option representative, and the dean of graduate studies in order to engage in any outside employment activities. Once permission is granted, students may engage in employment of up to one day per week (8 hours) for a limited-duration for these purposes (see Financial Assistance).
Students must declare to the dean of graduate studies all external funding, including fellowships, awards, or employment, part- or full-time, which supports their academic activities/research. The Institute may adjust Institute financial aid allocated accordingly to maintain the stipend within the Institute guidelines and to recover tuition from outside sources whenever possible. A student’s financial aid and/or Institute salary may be reduced if the income is significant, and in the case of long-term, unreported employment activities, the student may be asked to repay financial aid. Students may not hold a position of line responsibility in an outside enterprise for pay or profit.
International students on a visa are further required to consult with the office of International Student Programs to determine eligibility. Students must provide official documentation of the financial award or salary, as well as submit a request to the Graduate Office before accepting any employment. Permission to engage in outside employment is contingent on the student maintaining satisfactory academic progress as determined by the dean of graduate studies in consultation with the adviser and option representative.
Students must have the approval of their adviser, the option representative, and the dean of graduate studies in order to engage in or continue in any outside activities wherein the time committed to those activities may impact the student’s progress toward completion of degree requirements.
Leave of Absence
Students who work full-time off campus in a commercial organization are expected to take a personal leave of absence. They will not be enrolled during this time, and the “clock” will stop on their graduate career. Taking a personal leave in order to work requires the endorsement of the adviser and permission of the dean of graduate studies. A personal leave is always required when the job is not directly related to thesis research. Students who need to stop their studies to address health issues should take a medical leave of absence, which requires the endorsement of Student Wellness Services as well as the permission of the dean of graduate studies.
In some cases, a student may be engaged in research at an external laboratory or research institute under the supervision of a Caltech faculty adviser, and conducting research that is directly related to their degree program. Another situation is that a student may be invited to be a visiting researcher at another university, or the student may need to be working with a faculty member who has left Caltech and is working at another institution.
Students may go on detached duty rather than on leave of absence if the adviser and dean of graduate studies approve and there is documentation of a research program integral to their thesis project and appropriate mentoring. Students on detached duty should have completed their residency requirements and advanced to candidacy prior to moving to the host institution.
The student should submit the documentation and a petition form to the Graduate Office. Students on detached duty are still enrolled as full-time students but are in residence at another location. They may be paid by Caltech or through another organization. It is the student’s responsibility to continue to be in good standing, and registered and in full-time status while on detached duty. Detached duty petitions are usually valid for a limited time, less than one year, and may be renewed upon request.
Consulting and Other Entrepreneurial Activities
Graduate students are sometimes approached to perform paid consulting or are inspired to be entrepreneurs. In these cases, students have to be exceptionally careful not to create conflicts of commitment or conflicts of interest through these activities. Students considering these activities should familiarize themselves with the Caltech policies on conflict of interest, outside employment or business activity, and the Caltech ethics handbook. Students may not engage in any consulting activities that interfere with their primary graduate student activities of learning and research. Scrupulous care must be taken to ensure that Caltech’s name and its letterhead are used neither directly in any correspondence between the student and the company the student wishes to consult for, nor in any reports that student may submit to the company.
Of particular concern are students consulting or accepting employment from a company in which their adviser or other Caltech faculty member is directing a student’s research and has a significant interest or is a paid consultant. In such cases, the division chair must approve any student involvement in the activities performed for the company. The student must submit a written disclosure, and a conflict management plan will be put in place.
Graduate students should not enter into any consulting or employment agreement with intellectual property encumbrances or confidentiality provisions that are in conflict with the student’s commitments to Caltech or that may compromise academic progress.
Please refer to the Graduate Office website for the complete policy and regulations regarding conflicts of commitment and interest. If there are any questions about the propriety of any outside activity or agreements, this should be discussed with the Graduate Office and, if necessary, the Office of Research Compliance and the Office of the General Counsel.