Selecting a Research Advisor, Teaching, and Oral Qualifying Exam

Graduate Program in Chemical Engineering
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Research Advisor

      The choice of a research advisor is perhaps the most important decision a graduate student makes during the first year of graduate study.  This decision must be made before the end of the second term of the first year, and so it is reasonable to devote significant thought and effort to this task before then.

      In the first two weeks of the Fall quarter, all faculty will present overviews of their research program during informal evening sessions.  You are expected to attend all of these sessions because this is perhaps the only time you will be able to obtain a comprehensive idea of the overall breadth of research in Chemical Engineering.

      Following these presentations, the students are expected to meet individually with at least two faculty members to discuss proposed research projects and the possibility of doing a rotation during the first or second terms.  All students must formally join a group by the end of the second term.


      Rotations serve to acquaint the student with a group’s research area and style. Two rotations are required, one each during the first and second terms. During a rotation, the student must participate in research activities in the chosen group for at least nine hours per week under the tutelage of a faculty or senior group member.  At the end of a rotation, the student must produce a research report and give a group presentation within two weeks of the term’s end. Afterwards, a rotation completion form must be signed by the rotation advisor and returned to the ChE Option Representative. At the same time, the student and the faculty member must determine whether the “match” of research interests and personalities is good.  In case of a positive outcome, the student may remain in the same group for a second rotation.  Otherwise, the student should proceed to do a second rotation in another group with the same requirements as above.  Certain funding agencies (e.g. NIH) require a second rotation in a different group.  In that case, the student will be asked to do so, even if she/he desired to remain in a particular group; the student may return to join the first group after completion of the second rotation. All students must find advisors and formally join a group by the end of the second term.  Failure to do so terminates the Ph.D. program at Caltech and the student will be asked to leave.

The Caltech counseling center offers this guidance in choosing an advisor.

Teaching Assistantships

All PhD students are required to perform a minimum of 24 term-hours of GTA duties during their studies.  The GTA duties will normally be assigned after the first year in residence.  Most students find the teaching assistantships a valuable experience for their future careers.  TA'ing classes outside ChE may be allowed at the discretion of the ChE Option Representative.