For your convenience information regarding the PhD Qualifying Exams and Candidacy are noted on this page. This information and more is available in the Chemical Engineering Graduation Guide.


Candidacy Exam and Approval of Research Progress Report

All students are required to pass the candidacy examination ideally before the official start of the second year or at the latestby the second week of the second academic year (i.e. only in case of faculty schedule conflicts).  This oral exam is administered by the candidacy committee and consists of two parts:

a.    Presentation by the student based on the contents of a research progress report.

b.   Background questions broadlyrelated to the research problem presented.

      The research progress report must be submitted to the candidacy committee members and the ChE Option Representative by August 31stof the first year in residence. The report should expound on the research pursued by the student and is expected to exhibit originality and a professional quality of exposition.  It should outline the research problem, proposed approach, the expected contributions in the general problem area, and the progress of the student at the time of writing.  It should also provide clear evidence of the student's understanding of the research topic the underlying science and technology related to that research, and the student’s mastering of the relevant techniques and methodology necessary to pursue the proposed research.

      The candidacy committee should consist of no fewer than four votingmembers of the Caltech faculty, with at least three being Chemical Engineering faculty.  To ensure the impartiality of the committee, the Chair of the committee and at least one more of the committee members must have no direct advisory relationship with the candidate.  The choice of the committee will be made by the student and his/her research advisor. A list with the committee member names must be submitted to the ChE Option Representative for approval, indicating the proposed Chair (cannot be the advisor). It is the responsibility of the student to obtain approval from each proposed committee member for the date and time of the oral exam.  The list of the recommended committee members must be submitted to the Option Representative at the same time as the research progress report.

      There are no explicit guidelines to the oral exam itself.  During the research presentation the student should strive to:


a.    Convince the committee that she/he has a clear idea of the pursued research

b.    Demonstrate good understanding of the literature and the challenges posed

c.    Ascertain the novelty and soundness of the proposed approach

d.    Substantiate the progress made by her/him along the chosen research path


The second component of the oral exam consists of chemical engineering background questions relating broadly to the student’s research topic. The Chair of the committee shall be responsible for ensuring that the questions are at an appropriate level, consistent with that of undergraduates at Caltech. For example, if you are studying heterogeneous catalysis, you must be able to answer questions on basics such as: surface reaction mechanisms, diffusion/reaction in porous media, and multi-component gas-phase transport, etc. Similar considerations apply to Ph.D. projects related to fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, basic biology, physics, chemistry, etc.  The advanced courses taken during the first year should help you prepare well for this part of the exam.  Serious gaps in the understanding of classical chemical engineering concepts, approaches, and methodologies applicable to your research may lead to failing the exam even if research progress is deemed adequate. Furthermore, for interdisciplinary projects going beyond classical chemical engineering, you will be expected to demonstrate good understanding of the fundamentals in other areas directly relevant to your project. The candidacy exam may have three outcomes:  Pass, Conditional Pass, or Fail.  Passing the candidacy exam admits you to Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.  Failing the candidacy exam terminates a student’s Ph.D. program at Caltech. When course requirements are met, the student may be awarded an M.S. degree at the recommendation of the candidacy committee.  Conditional Pass is a special outcome granted only when the student has clearly passed the background questions component, but the committee deems that more is needed on the research front.  In this case, the committee chair will put in writing what is required and the time frame to meet those requirements.  Under no circumstances is this time to exceed one term.  Meeting the stipulated requirements must be reflected in a revised candidacy report, which must be submitted to and approved by the candidacy committee by the set deadline.  It is at the discretion of the committee to request a re-examination.  In any case, a Pass or Fail decision must be reached at the latest by December 15thof the second year in residence.  This is a hard deadline for both the student and the committee. In case of no communication to the ChE Option Representative by December 15th, a Fail decision will be entered automatically.