Division requirements and program overview
Advising and Thesis Supervision
The option representative for each incoming student will act as the academic adviser in the first term. An academic adviser will be assigned by the start of second term. This appointed adviser will continue as mentor with broad responsibility for a student's academic welfare throughout the graduate program. During the second year, after passing the qualifying examination, each student should identify a professor as thesis adviser, who will normally provide a graduate research assistantship and the opportunity for continuing research. In consultation with the two faculty advisers, each student then forms a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC), composed of at least four Caltech professors (chaired by the academic adviser). External scientists closely involved in the student’s research may also be appointed. Members of the TAC serve as advisers, counselors, and resources, and its membership may be changed if a student’s research interests change.
The thesis advisory committee meets with the student at least once each year for a progress review, and informally whenever the student needs or requests assistance or guidance. In addition, the faculty members in each option have their own systems for annual evaluations of student progress. A few months before completion of the thesis dissertation, the thesis advisory committee evolves into the thesis examining committee.
All students are urged to consult with division faculty in the following sequence if they have any problems: thesis and academic advisers, thesis advisory committee, option representative, academic officer, and division chair. If these division personnel cannot resolve a problem, then the student should turn to Institute offices.
Students enrolled in the PhD program may be awarded a master’s degree when they have satisfied the basic Institute requirement of 135 units. These courses must be numbered 100 or higher, and must be part of those used to satisfy the PhD requirement in one of the options of the division. Specifically required are Ge 109 and any two of Ge101, Ge 102, Ge 103, Ge 104, or ESE 101.
An application for admission to candidacy for a master's degree must be submitted to the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies according to the academic calendar in the Caltech catalog
(see pages 4-5).
Doctoral Degree: Division Requirements
For a PhD degree the student must (1) pass the qualifying oral examination, (2) satisfy course requirements of the division and of an option, and (3) complete a thesis and successfully defend it in a final oral examination. Admission to candidacy occurs after the student has satisfied the first two requirements and has been accepted for thesis research by a division faculty member, who then becomes the student’s thesis adviser.
The qualifying examination consists of oral and written defense of two research propositions, supplemented by a written description of one of them. Students are encouraged to consult with various faculty members concerning their ideas on propositions, but the material submitted must represent the work of the student. There must be a different faculty member associated with each of the two propositions. The exam is normally taken early in the first term of the second year of residence and is administered by the qualifying examination committee, which has members from the six options of the division, and is normally taken early in the first term of the second year of residence. A more detailed outline of the qualifying examination appears towards the end of this page
Before the end of the second year, the thesis advisory committee
will be selected, as outlined above.
The division encourages students to engage in research early in their graduate careers. A student making normal progress will submit to referred journals papers that have been approved by a faculty member of the division. Doctoral candidates must complete a thesis and submit it in final form by May 10 of the year in which the degree is to be conferred. The final oral examination for the doctorate by the thesis examining committee will be scheduled no sooner than two weeks following submission of the thesis (approved by the thesis adviser) and, in conformity with Institute regulations, it must be scheduled at least two weeks before the degree is to be conferred.
Candidates are expected to publish the major results of their thesis work. The published paper should have a California Institute of Technology address. Published papers may be included in the thesis.
- By the end of the first academic year (third term): submission by the student of (1) tentative titles of propositions for review by the qualifying examination committee and (2), a list of courses planned to satisfy the PhD requirement, for review by the option.
- By the end of the second academic year: (1) passage of oral exam; (2) approval by the option of courses planned to satisfy candidacy requirements; (3) submission of a tentative thesis topic and adviser, and thesis advisory committee.
- By the end of the third academic year: (1) satisfactory completion of course requirements; (2) satisfactory completion of other requirements including selection of thesis topic and adviser, and thesis advisory committee; (3) admission to candidacy. A student who has not been admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year will need permission of the Academic Officer to register.
- End of the fourth academic year: satisfactory progress toward completion of thesis.
- After completing the fifth academic year, the student must formally petition to register for each subsequent year. Financial aid will normally not be extended beyond the sixth year.
The student’s program and progress will be reviewed annually by his or her option and by the thesis advisory committee. In cases where, in the opinion of the faculty in the option, the student is clearly not showing adequate progress, they may recommend to the division chair that the student be denied permission to continue in the PhD program based upon their overall assessment of the student’s performance.
Basic Divisional Course Requirements
During the first year, every graduate student will take two of the seven basic introductory courses Ge 101-104, and ESE 101-103, in areas in which the student has not had substantial training. Also required is one term of Ge 109. These should be completed during the first year. Throughout their graduate careers, students are expected to attend departmental seminars and seminar courses led by visiting scientists.
Requirements of the Major Subject Options
Minor in GPS
A student from another division of the Institute may, with the approval of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, elect a minor in any one of the major subjects listed above. Such a subject minor will include at least 45 units in courses at the 100 level or higher. Normally, a member of the division faculty will participate in the student’s oral thesis defense.
Oral Examination Core Committee
The core committee, consisting of five members of the teaching faculty, is charged with the responsibility for administering and overseeing the oral examinations on behalf of the division. The core committee members for the academic year 2014 are:
John Eiler (Chair), Jean-Philippe Avouac, Alex Sessions, Bethany Ehlmann, and Victor Tsai.
PhD Qualifying Oral Examinations
Your Qualifying Oral Examination will be scheduled in Fall 2013. In preparation for this, the Core Committee will meet with you in the Spring to discuss the requirements. You will be notified of this date.
The following requirements apply to the 2013-2014 academic year:
A. General Comments
The current formal requirements for the PhD qualifying oral examination are described in the Caltech catalog, page 359. The following comments are intended to be useful to GPS students in preparing for this examination.
The examination's purpose is to provide a structured and, as far as possible, objective basis to determine if a student can successfully complete the requirements for a PhD in the division in a reasonable period of time. The examination is meant to represent a formidable challenge to the student, providing both a test of their general knowledge in their field and of their ability to formulate problems.
The members of the core committee are John Eiler (Chair), Jean-Philippe Avouac, Alex Sessions, Bethany Ehlmann, and Victor Tsai.
B. The Examining Committee
The membership of the student’s examining committee will be assigned by the core committee. The examining committee will be composed of from five to seven faculty members and will include the student's academic adviser, two professors involved in supervising the two propositions, and one member of the core committee in the interest of maintaining uniform standards. The chairman of the examining committee will be a core committee member. In special circumstances, where the knowledge or expertise of another professional scientist is crucial to the proper evaluation of the student, the chairman of the examining committee, with the approval of the core committee, may invite that person to participate in the examination. Only members of the Caltech professorial faculty may be voting members of the examining committee.
C. The Examination
The exams will be conducted September 17 through October 14, 2013. Elizabeth Boyd will organize and coordinate the exam schedule for the division with the Core Committee.
One week prior to the student's exam date, the student submits one-page written abstracts of two propositions on diverse topics (see Section D) and a completed Academic Summary. In the exam, the student is questioned in turn on these two propositions. The student will first present a 10 to 15 minute carefully prepared summary describing objectives, results, conclusions and implications that follow from the research carried out on each proposition. The presentation of a summary will be followed by detailed or general questions concerning the proposition itself and fundamental questions underlying the proposition or fundamental to the student’s option.
The format of the exam is flexible. The student will be allowed to answer questions without frequent interruptions. The subject of the questioning may change rapidly when it is apparent that the student knows the material. Inevitably the questions will probe to the limit of the student's knowledge and abilities. The chairman will control the discussion to ensure that all major aspects of each proposition and of the student’s major interests are aired.
Immediately after the examination, the student will be informed by the chairman of the committee as to the outcome of the examination. The examination committee will decide whether the student passes or fails the exam. In the case of failure, the student must petition the core committee to re-take the exam. The core committee will decide on the petition at the end of the normal exam period. Oral exams that are to be re-taken should be done before the end of the Fall Term unless there are exceptional circumstances that prevent this. In all cases, the examining committee will prepare a written memo to the student and his or her adviser, which states the result of the exam and makes recommendations regarding the student's preparation. The response to recommendations will be reviewed by the division faculty when the student applies for admission to candidacy.
D. Choice of Propositions and Preparation of Abstracts
A student's propositions are based on small research projects usually carried out during the first year of residence. It is important that the student demonstrate the ability to carry out meaningful research on a given topic and the ability to place the work in the context of previous knowledge and recognize the implications and possible interpretation of the proposition. It is not necessary
to have final results, a working computer program, a functioning piece of equipment, or fully analyzed data in order to have a successful proposition. More often, the proposition will be a carefully worded statement based on what has been learned up to the time of the examination, together with a discussion of the implications that might be forthcoming with either more data or more sophisticated analysis. Naturally, the proposition may be supported by evidence: maps, graphs, photographs, samples, etc., but these need not be in final form or represent the last word on the subject and should be limited in number.
The student must choose propositions dealing with subjects pertinent to more than one research area within the division. The student should demonstrate versatility by endeavoring to choose proposition topics, which will allow employment of different types of tools or methods. The propositions defined by the student should not deal with the same topic as investigated by different techniques, nor should they represent different research problems all studied with the tools of one discipline. In the course of developing successful propositions, it is essential that each student seek the advice of members of the faculty. Consultation with post-doctoral scholars and senior graduate students is also encouraged. The name of the faculty member most closely involved should appear on the written abstract of each proposition. The same faculty member should not be most closely involved with both propositions.
The written abstract and the 10 minute presentation by the student summarizing the proposition should be carefully designed by the student to concisely convey to the examining committee the motivation behind the research project, the results of the investigation, and any implications for broader issues in geology, geobiology, geochemistry, geophysics, or planetary science. The organization of the presentation is up to the student, but the student should understand that the presentations will be the principal vehicles by which most of the examining committee is introduced to the proposition, and by which the initial questions are motivated. Some students have found it useful to introduce the proposition by a statement that he/she will defend, but this is not the only acceptable approach.
E. Requirement of a Written Paper
One of the two propositions described above must be accompanied by a short, snappy research paper on the subject of the proposition. This requirement aims to provide greater insight into the student's writing ability, scholarship, and general knowledge of the research field involved. The paper should include an informative and appropriate bibliography. It may be useful to regard the paper as a proposal for funding to the National Science Foundation or as a short research note prepared in the format of one of the following five journals: Geology, Science, Nature, Geophysical Research Letters, or Astrophysical Journal Letters
. The length of the paper (excluding references, tables, and figures) must not exceed six double-spaced typewritten pages, and the number of figures and tables must not exceed four each. The list of references should give complete titles and pagination of cited papers.
The complete paper in final form must be in the hands of all of the members of the student’s examination committee and the entire core committee no later than one week prior to the time of the scheduled exam
. The paper must be received in the division office by that firm date, and will be immediately distributed to the student’s examining committee.
Although it is not a definite requirement, we believe it is desirable that early-stage or preliminary drafts of the paper should be looked at and critiqued by at least one Caltech faculty member. This should be done well in advance of the one week deadline referred to above.
Also, in addition to interactions with and critiques from the proposition adviser, the student is encouraged to interact with and seek advice from as many other faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars as possible, both on this paper and on the other research proposition. The student should give proper acknowledgment to these various reviewers.
Both propositions are to be treated with equal weight in the oral exam, and the written paper can be attached to either the first or the second proposition. We do not wish this written proposition to be considered necessarily as the "main" research subject of the student.
Each member of the examining committee is expected to have read and reviewed the student’s manuscript. The examining committee’s assessment of the quality of the paper will enter into the decision on the outcome of the exam and will be noted in the committee’s memo to the student.
F. Due Dates
Hand in two tentative proposition titles to Elizabeth Boyd in the division office. Include a paragraph or two explaining the general nature of the work you intend to do. Indicate the faculty members with whom you have discussed the project and who are providing supervision of the work. This information is intended to allow the core committee to assess your progress and help you remedy any major potential problems at an early date.
One week prior to your scheduled exam: Submit final typed abstracts of the two propositions and a final typed copy of research paper to the division office for distribution to the examining committee, and a completed Academic Summary. Each abstract should be no more than one page in length.
G. Meeting with First-Year Students
The Core Committee will meet with the group of students taking exams to explain and discuss the requirements, and to answer any questions about the examination or the examination procedure. At this meeting we will welcome inputs from any of these students regarding any aspects of the examination procedure.
Thesis Advisory Committee
It is the duty and privilege of Caltech professors to assume responsibility for the academic welfare, financial support, and quality of research programs of graduate students. Whereas professors are the students' formal academic and research supervisors, research advice and collaboration with other experts is established as appropriate.
Each incoming graduate student is assigned an academic adviser with broad responsibility for the student's academic welfare. Student and adviser should select a working plan to satisfy course deficiencies, to fulfill the requirements for candidacy, and to reinforce individual research interests. During the first year, students should explore research opportunities within the division, initiating discussions with faculty members at every opportunity. Two research propositions for the oral qualifying examinations should arise from these discussions.
The faculty members in each option function as a committee-of-the-whole for all students, and each option has its own system for evaluating student progress every year.
After passing the oral qualifying examination, students should move rapidly into a research topic for a PhD program. This is commonly developed from one of the research propositions. During the second year, students should identify a professor as a thesis adviser who will normally provide a graduate research assistantship and the opportunity for continuing research.
Before the end of the second year, students consult with their academic adviser and thesis adviser (or a faculty proposition sponsor if thesis adviser is not yet determined) to select a thesis advisory committee composed of at least four division faculty members (chairman is the academic adviser). If the research topic warrants, key specialists from outside the division may be asked to join as advisers, and it may be deemed appropriate to reduce the number of professors to three, but not less than three. The committee membership should be approved by the faculty advisers and the option representative. Members of the committee will serve as advisers, counselors, and resources; they should be kept informed about research progress. The thesis advisory committee meets with the student each year, for a progress review (meeting to be scheduled by division staff, with a brief progress report filed in the division office), and informally whenever the student needs or requests assistance or guidance. The annual review by the committee is in addition to whatever reviews are conducted by the different options (although the possibility exists in some Options for the two to be merged). The members of a thesis advisory committee may be changed if research directions change.
When the student and advisers have determined a realistic date for completion of the thesis dissertation, the thesis advisory committee evolves into the thesis examining committee. Some advisory committee members may leave the committee, and division policy may require others to be added. The examining committee consists of at least four Caltech professors. Other scientists can be committee members in special circumstances. A special circumstance would, for example, be possession of an essential expertise otherwise unrepresented or a person whose absence might unduly jeopardize adequate assessment of the thesis. Involvement in and partial guidance of the thesis research does not by itself constitute a special circumstance. The division chairman and dean have final discretion on committee membership. If it proves impossible to schedule a date for the thesis examination suitable for all members, additional faculty members may be invited to join the examining committee.
To allow time for grades to be finalized and the processing of option approval, Applications for candidacy will be on the agenda for the second faculty meeting of each academic term. Candidacy applications will be reviewed at the meetings scheduled in November, February, and May.
By the end of the third year, students should have their Application for Candidacy form completed, approved by their advisers, and delivered to the academic committee representative for their option during the first week of the term. A copy of the core committee's qualifying exam letter should be attached to the application, along with a short paragraph describing the student's thesis proposal/research. This should provide sufficient time for the option faculty to review the application package. The approved application form, signed by the option representative, must reach the division office two weeks before the designated division faculty meeting. These applications will be submitted for the faculty meeting agenda. The effective dates of the candidacies approved by the division faculty will be the first day of the following term.
After approval by the divisional faculty, the student should complete a second form, which makes it official with the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies. This form is available in the divisional office.
If you have any questions, please contact Elizabeth Boyd.
Application for Approval of Candidacy Forms:
PhD Procedures for Thesis Defense
One Month Before the Defense (Minimum)
1. Let the division office (Elizabeth Boyd) know the title of your thesis, the names of the committee members, the date, and the time of your thesis exam at least one month before the date. Remember that each committee has a minimum membership requirement of four Caltech professors. A minimum of three members must be from within the division. Your academic adviser will serve as chairman of the committee. According to division policy, other scientists can be committee members in special circumstances. A special circumstance, for example, would be possession of an essential expertise otherwise unrepresented or a person whose absence might unduly jeopardize adequate assessment of the thesis. Involvement in and partial guidance of the thesis research does not by itself constitute a special circumstance. The division chairman and dean have final discretion on committee membership. Travel support for external committee members should be taken into consideration when the defense committee chairman, thesis adviser and student are in the process of determining committee make-up. If divisional support is proposed, a case should be made to the division chairman by the student's thesis adviser or defense committee chairman PRIOR TO FINALIZING THE COMMITTEE MEMBERSHIP. Any such request will be considered by the Division Chairman on a case by case basis.
2. The division office will send a memo to your committee confirming the time and date.
3. Pick up the rules and regulations on how to type your thesis from the graduate office.
Two Weeks Before the Defense
4. A copy of your completed thesis should be given to each of your committee members at least two weeks before your examination date. This gives them time to review your paper in depth. These preliminary copies may be double-sided.
5. After the date and time are confirmed by the members and at least two weeks before the defense date, the Office of Graduate Studies will notify Public Relations to put your thesis exam into the weekly calendar.
6. The student is responsible for obtaining the petition from the Office of Graduate Studies and collecting all signatures required. (Before you hand your form to the division chairman to be signed, make sure you pick up an additional form
from Elizabeth Boyd. This form will be signed by your thesis adviser. The division chairman will not sign your petition until he is certain that your thesis adviser has been informed of your petition.) The form must be returned to the Office of Graduate Studies with the required signatures at least two weeks before the week in which the exam is to be taken.
7. One copy of the thesis is due in the Office of Graduate Studies for review by the Dean of Graduate Studies and by the Institute proofreader no later than two weeks before the defense. These preliminary copies may be printed double-sided.
One Week Before the Defense
8. The division office will send a seminar announcement to the faculty one week before the thesis defense date.
9. The student is responsible for posting a seminar notice in all three buildings one week before the defense.
Day Before the Defense
10. Make sure you pick up your form at the Office of Graduate Studies before your defense date so that all the members of your committee will be able to sign the form after the examination.
Following the Defense
11. After the defense, the student is responsible for obtaining the remainder of the signatures on the petition form and for making copies of the thesis.
12. Please make sure Elizabeth Boyd has your forwarding address.