Selecting a Research Advisor and Topic

Graduate Program in Chemistry
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Selecting an Advisor and Research Project

Soon after a new graduate student arrives in the laboratories, he or she attends a series of orientation seminars that introduce students to the active research interests of the faculty. 

Students then meet with each of five or more faculty whose fields attract them, to discuss in detail potential research problems. They eventually settle upon the outlines of a research problem that interests them and select a specific research advisor (or set of co-advisors).
Neither students nor faculty can make a commitment to an advisor-advisee relationship prior to the end of the first month of the fall term. Students typically begin research during their first academic year.

Course Requirements

Chemistry students are required to complete at least 5 courses (minimum of 9 units each) in science or engineering. These courses may be within or outside the chemistry option. Coursework taken outside of the scientific area in which the dissertation research is performed is encouraged. A wide selection of classes is offered that cover all areas of modern chemistry and chemical engineering as well as interdisciplinary topics such as biological chemistry, environmental science and applied physics. See Chemistry Course listings.

The research advisor and Chemistry Graduate Study Committee must approve the final program of courses. Alternately a student may pursue a subject minor in another option. Please see the Caltech Catalog for more information on minors.


Students have the opportunity to attend a wide range of seminars, from weekly informal group seminars to named lectureships. Graduate students actively participate in the regularly scheduled seminars. These seminars are organized and operated by graduate students who select and invite the speakers as well as arrange appointment schedules. There are also seminar series in physics, biology, and biochemistry that may interest chemistry graduate students. Please see the Master Calendar for a listing of these seminars


There are no specific teaching requirements, though nearly all graduate students are involved in teaching at some level. Those students who are interested in teaching are encouraged to continue their involvement. Assignments may consist of leading a recitation section in an undergraduate course or acting as an assistant in an undergraduate laboratory course. Advanced graduate students often help with graduate level courses. Class sizes at Caltech are small thus enhancing the teaching experience.