• Prof Reisman meeting

Graduate Program in Chemistry

Graduate Admissions | Course List | Academic Calendar

The primary objective of the Chemistry PhD Program is the development of an individual's ability to perform original, creative scientific research. The program requirements are governed by the chemistry faculty's strong belief that a graduate student is best trained in a research environment.

Students are encouraged to begin their thesis work early in their first year. For links to other important information for graduate students, view the student resource page.

Catalog Information for Chemistry Grad Students

First Year - Selecting an Advisor and Research Project

Most students will decide on their research advisor and begin their thesis research by the end of the fall (first) term. During the first three weeks of the fall term, there are a series of orientation seminars where faculty present their research to first-year students. Students are required to join a group by end of winter (second) term. Many students work on collaborative projects with joint advisors, and a few select a research advisor outside the chemistry option and still obtain a PhD in chemistry. Students are required to take at least 5 courses in their first year.

Second Year - Examination for Advancement to Candidacy

Each student must demonstrate scientific and professional competence in order to advance to candidacy by the end of his or her second year. Chemistry requires an oral candidacy examination held before three faculty members including the research advisor, a second in-field chemistry faculty member and a third out-of-field faculty member. Students also have the option of inviting a non-Caltech faculty to be on their committee, in addition to the required 3 members. In the oral examination students defend a written research progress report and two original research propositions, one of which is considered out-of-field. 

Third Year - Ph.D. Thesis Committee and Annual Meetings

Begining in the third year, students will have an annual meeting with their thesis committee. A fourth thesis committee member is chosen by the Chemistry Graduate Study Committee after the student consults with their advisor and submits a list of possible candidates at the end of their third year of residence. The meeting is an opportunity for students to share their research, describe their progress, and discuss future plans.

Fourth Year - Thesis Research Progress Meeting

Before the start of their fifth year of residence students are expected to demonstrate satisfactory progress in their research through an informal meeting with the four members of their thesis committee. At the meeting, students present a brief summary of their research progress and a timetable for completion of the degree to be discussed and agreed upon. If the completion of the Ph.D. is deemed inappropriate, the student will received a Master's Degree for their completed work.

Final Requirements - Thesis, Final Examination, and Thesis Defense

The final examination consists of two parts, a Propositions Examination and a Thesis Defense and Seminar. The Props Exam is a separate examination on three propositions by your thesis committee and is held at least ten weeks before the Thesis Defense and Seminar. No more than one of the propositions may be carried over from the candidacy examination. 

The Thesis must be submitted to your Thesis Committee no later than two weeks before the Thesis Defense.  The Thesis Defense and Seminar is a public, one-hour presentation followed by a closed-door examination by the thesis committee.  The final version of the Thesis must be submitted to the Graduate Office no later than two weeks before the end of the Spring Term prior to commencement.  The average time to Ph.D. is five and a half years.  Students in their sixth year or later must, prior to the beginning of each new academic year, meet with their Thesis Committee to present a plan for completion, and then petition to the Division and to the Graduate Office to continue study at Caltech.


Program Requirements
Completing your Ph.D.
Other Related Information
Chemistry Graduate Studies Committee
Women in Chemisty
Diversity in Chemistry Initiative (DICI)




Alison Ross
Graduate Option/Program Manager, Chemistry
Phone: (626) 395-6110
Office: 167 Crellin
          Brian Stoltz
Option Representative
Phone: (626) 395-6064
Office: 301C Schlinger Lab Chem-Chem Eng
Sarah Reisman 
Executive Officer
Phone: (626) 395-6044
Office: 301B Schlinger 
          Jacqueline Barton
          Division Chair
          Phone: (626) 395-3646
          Office: 164 Crellin