Like all graduate programs at Caltech, the program in Mechanical Engineering is small, highly selective, and research oriented. Admission is preferentially granted to applicants who ultimately intend to pursue the Ph.D. degree.
Ph.D. graduates in Mechanical Engineering have gone on to successful careers both in industry and in academia. Among recent graduates, approximately 30% entered tenure-track academic positions upon graduation, 50% went into industry, and 20% entered postdoctoral research programs. Some of our recent Graduates currently hold tenure-track or tenured faculty positions at MIT, Princeton, Purdue, Johns Hopkins, UCLA, U. Texas (Austin), U. Michigan, U. Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon, and other universities worldwide. Graduates who choose an industrial career find employment both in large firms (primarily in the aerospace, energy, and semiconductor industries) and with small high-technology startup companies.
Virtually all graduate students in Mechanical Engineering receive financial support for the duration of their studies, which fully pays tuition and provides a stipend for living expenses. This support may take the form of a fellowship, a teaching assistantship, a research assistantship, or a combination of these options.
Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program
Mechanical Engineering (ME) research and study are offered through the Department of Mechanical and Civil Engineering (MCE). The degrees of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Master of Science (M.S.) are offered. The M.S. degree is normally only awarded to students who expect to pursue the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering and who do not already have an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering. In general, students who intend to work full-time toward the Ph.D. degree as a final degree objective are admitted to the mechanical engineering graduate program.
The aim of the graduate program in mechanical engineering at Caltech is to prepare students for research and professional practice in an era of rapidly advancing interdisciplinary technology. The program combines individual depth of experience and competence in a particular chosen major specialty, with a strong background in the basic and engineering sciences. It strives to develop professional independence, creativity, leadership, and the capacity for continuing professional and intellectual growth.
Preparation for the Graduate Program
Students who have not specialized in mechanical engineering as undergraduates, as well as those who have, may be admitted for graduate study. As preparation for advanced study and research, entering graduate students are expected to have a thorough background in undergraduate mathematics, physics, and engineering. An outstanding four-year undergraduate program in mathematics and sciences may provide a suitable background as well. The qualifications of each applicant will be considered individually, and, after being enrolled, the student will arrange his or her program in consultation with a member of the faculty.
Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Description and Requirements
The Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering is focused on research. Study and research programs for the Ph.D. degree are individually planned to fit the interests and background of the student. A comprehensive research project resulting in an original contribution to the field documented by a dissertation is required. A minimum of three academic years in residence as a graduate student are required by the Institute, and two or more additional years are usually needed for preparation of the thesis.
ADVISING AND THESIS SUPERVISION
An interim adviser is appointed for each student upon admission to a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. The interim adviser will serve as the primary mentor until the student finds a research adviser. It is the responsibility of the student to find an academic and research adviser within three terms of graduate residence at Caltech. In consultation with the adviser, the student must form a Ph.D. thesis advisory committee within four terms of graduate residence at Caltech. This committee shall consist of at least three members of the Caltech professorial faculty, with at least two members from the faculty in mechanical and civil engineering. The committee shall meet as requested by the student. Further, the committee shall meet annually to review progress and to approve the registration of the student beyond the fifth year of graduate residence at Caltech.
The adviser and the thesis advisory committee provide the majority of mentoring to the student. In addition, the option representative and other members of the faculty are always available to provide advice and mentoring on any aspect of research, progress toward the Ph.D., future careers, and other aspects of life in graduate school and as a professional scientist.
ADMISSION TO CANDIDACY
To be recommended for candidacy for the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering, the student must, in addition to meeting the general Institute requirements, do the following:
- Obtain the agreement of a professorial faculty member to serve as his or her academic and research adviser before the end of the third term of graduate residence at Caltech. In consultation with the adviser, the student must form a Ph.D. thesis advisory committee before the end of the fourth term. This committee shall consist of at least three members of the Caltech professorial faculty, with at least two members from the faculty in mechanical and civil engineering.
- Pass both subject and research components of the oral candidacy examination before the end of the eighth term of graduate academic residence at Caltech. If the student has chosen a subject minor, an examination on the subject of that program may be included at the request of the discipline offering the subject minor.
- Complete a minimum of 195 units of courses numbered 101 or above, that meet the required PhD program listed below. All units must be taken for grades and passed with a grade of at least a C, except for courses offered only on a pass/fail basis. The course work towards the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering is typically completed within the first three years of residency at Caltech.
REQUIRED PHD PROGRAM
- ME Core Subjects(54 units): Course work in core mechanical engineering subjects selected from the courses below. Pass with a grade of at least C, 36 units must be in a single track (Depth requirement). An additional 18 units must be from the courses below but can be in any track, including the chosen Depth track.Tracks:Thermal-fluid sciences: ME119ab, Aph 115-116, ChE 164-165, ME 118, Phys 127abc, APh 105, ME 120ab, Ae/APh/CE/ME 101abc, ME/CE 163
Mechanics of solids, structures, and materials: Ae/AM/CE/ME 102abc, Ae/APh 104 abc, AM/CE 151, Ae/Ge/ME 160ab, ME/CE 163, Ae 165ab, ME/CE/Ge 174, Ae/AM/MS/ME 213ab, Ae/AM/CE/ME 214ab, Ae 220, Ae/CE 221, Ae/AM/ME 223, AM/CE/ME 252, ME/MS 260, ME/Ge/Ae 266ab
Robotics, Controls and Dynamics: CDS 112, CDS 131, CDS 141, CDS 231, CDS 232, CDS 233. ME/CS/EE 133 ab, CMS/CS/CNS/EE/IDS 155
- Electives or Minor (54 units): Additional engineering or science courses with course number 101 or above. Pass with a grade of at least C, courses that are approved by the thesis advisory committee. These courses are intended to provide further depth and incorporate breadth. These units can be used to satisfy a minor requirement in another option.
- Advanced mathematics or applied mathematics (27 units): Pass with a grade of at least C, chosen in consultation with adviser from the following list: ACM 101 or higher, CDS 232, Ma 108 or higher, Ph 129. The requirement in mathematics is in addition to the requirements above.
- Graduate engineering seminar (6 units). Pass six terms of AM/CE/ME 150abc, within the twelve terms, 3 years, in residence at Caltech.
- Research (54 units).Successfully complete at least 54 units of research and demonstrate satisfactory research progress.
The requirement of a minimum grade of C will be waived for an advanced course which is offered only pass/fail. The faculty will evaluate the student’s research progress, class performance, adviser’s input, and oral candidacy exam results to determine whether a student will be admitted to or be able to maintain candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.
REGISTRATION BEYOND THE FIFTH YEAR OF GRADUATE RESIDENCE
The annual approval of the Ph.D. dissertation supervision committee is necessary for registration beyond the twentieth academic term of graduate residence at Caltech.
THESIS AND FINAL EXAMINATION
The thesis examination will be given after the thesis has been formally completed. This examination will be a defense of the doctoral thesis and a test of the candidate’s knowledge in the specialized field of research. The format of the examination can be chosen from the following two options, by the student, in consultation with their research advisor: (i) a public seminar presented by the candidate, with an open question period, followed by a private examination by the examining committee or (ii) a private presentation to the examining committee followed by the examination, with a public seminar on another date. The examining committee shall consist of a minimum of four voting members, three of whom must be Caltech faculty; two members must be from MCE. The thesis defense committee shall be chaired by a committee member who is an MCE Caltech professorial faculty member and not the student’s advisor.
A student majoring in another branch of engineering or another division of the Institute may, with the approval of the faculty in mechanical engineering and the faculty in his or her major field, elect mechanical engineering as a subject minor. The program of courses must differ markedly from the major subject of study or research, and must consist of at least 54 units of advanced courses (101 or above) approved by the faculty in mechanical and civil engineering.