Graduate Advising

About | Program Requirements | Admissions | Advising | Master's Degree | Doctoral Degree | GPS Minor

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. While professors are the students' formal academic and research supervisors, research advice from and collaboration with other experts is considered 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 remedy course deficiencies, to fulfill the requirements for candidacy, and to reinforce individual research interests.

Advising and Thesis Supervision

The option representative for each incoming student will act as the academic adviser in the first term. An official academic adviser will be assigned by the start of the second term. This appointed adviser will continue as a mentor with broad responsibility for a student's academic welfare throughout the graduate program.

First-Year Graduate Studies

First-year graduate students are encouraged to explore diverse research opportunities within GPS, initiating discussion 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 a student's progress each 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.

Second-Year Graduate Studies

During the second year, students should seek out a professor as thesis adviser, who will normally provide a graduate research assistantship and the opportunity for continuing research.

Before the end of the second year, students will consult with their academic adviser and thesis adviser (or a faculty proposition sponsor if a thesis adviser is not yet determined) to select a thesis advisory committee composed of at least four division faculty, including the academic adviser, who will chair the committee. 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; membership may be changed if a student's research interests change. (See below for more information on the role and responsibilities of the thesis advisory committee).

Questions and Concerns

All students are urged to consult with division faculty in the following sequence if they have any problems: thesis and academic advisers, members of the thesis advisory committee, the option representative, the academic officer, and the division chair. If these division personnel cannot resolve a problem, then the student should turn to Caltech administrative offices.

Thesis Advisory Committee

The thesis advisory committee meets with its student at least once a year for a progress review (the meeting to be scheduled by division staff, with a brief progress report filled in by the division office), 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; the possibility does exist in some options for the two meetings to be merged. 


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 that others 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 the 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.