Graduate Degree in Mechanical Engineering
Graduate Option Rep
Holly L. Golcher
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.
Master's Degree Description and Requirements
The degree of Master of Science in mechanical engineering is only awarded to students who do not already have an M.S. degree in mechanical engineering. The degree will be awarded upon request by students who have fulfilled the requirements. Only in exceptional cases is there admission to the M.S. program as the final degree objective.
A minimum of 138 units of courses numbered 100 or above, that meet the required master's program listed below, must be passed with a grade of at least C for completion of the master's degree in mechanical engineering. All units must be taken for grades, except for courses offered only on a pass/fail basis. The M.S. degree in mechanical engineering is typically completed within the first two years of residency at Caltech.
Each student's program must be approved by the advisor and option representative in mechanical and civil engineering before registering for the course.
Required Master's Program
Graduate mechanical engineering core (54 units). These units should provide a solid base for the student's engineering interest. The courses should be selected from the core subjects list Areas 1-3 of the mechanical engineering Degree of Doctor of Philosophy Description and Requirements section.
Mathematics, engineering, and research electives (54 units). Students who have not taken the equivalent of ACM 100 abc are required to take ACM 100 abc for 36 units. Courses may be taken in Ae, AM, ACM, ME, MS, EE, ESE, APh, CDS, CS, ChE, and CNS. Students are encouraged to take research units, ME 300, up to a maximum of 27.
Free electives (27 units). These units may be selected from any course with a number of 100 or greater, except that research units may not be included.
Graduate Engineering Seminar, AM/CE/ME 150 abc (3 units).
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
Mechanical engineering core subjects (54 units). Course work in three core mechanical engineering subjects, 18 units each of the three subjects, spanning at least two broad areas listed below. Most students prepare for the subject candidacy exam by taking the recommended set of courses listed below in Areas 1-3, plus math. These 54 units may also be used in the student's program for the master's degree. Examples of suitable courses are given in parentheses.
Core ME Subjects
Fluid Mechanics (Ae/APh/CE/ME 101 abc)
Mechanics of Structures and Solids (Ae/AM/CE/ME 102 abc)
Continuum Mechanics of Solids and Fluids (Ae/Ge/ME 160 ab)
Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (ME 117, ME 118, APh 105, Ch/ChE 164, Ch 166)
Heat and Mass Transfer (ME 119 ab)
Combustion (ME 120 ab)
Dynamical Systems (AM/CE 151 ab or CDS 140 & CDS 240)
Mechanical Systems and Design (ME 115 ab)
Controls (CDS 110, CDS 112, CDS 212)
The student may petition the mechanical and civil engineering Option Representative to accept alternate subjects or areas. These changes should retain core mechanical engineering knowledge, should not be a sub-specialty of one of the listed areas, and should represent sufficient breadth. The approval is not automatic; such petitions are submitted rarely and many have been denied in the past. The petition must be submitted to the option representative and approved before the student registers for the course.
Additional engineering or science courses, with a course number 101 or above (54 units). Pass with a grade of at least C, courses that pertain to the student's specialty and are approved by the thesis advisory committee.
Advanced mathematics or applied mathematics (27 units). Pass with a grade of at least C, chosen in consultation with the adviser from the following list: ACM 101 or higher, CDS 140, 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.