Candidacy Exam

The Candidacy Exam is typically held in the third year.
It is an oral examination lasting 90-120 minutes, at which The Candidate should plan to speak for about 40-45 minutes.
The remainder of the time is filled with interruptions for clarification during the presentation, and then general discussion upon completion of the prepared talk.

Each student going into the Candidacy Exam should distribute (electronically) a written report about a week in advance, to both the committee members and the option rep.

The report is essentially a thesis proposal and should include:

  • The thesis topic, its motivation, and its scientific context.
  • An overview of the methods to be used, including particular challenges that may arise, the scope of work, and the anticipated outcomes of the project.
  • A timeline with milestones (e.g. data acquired, software written, papers published,etc.) that leads to a thesis defense.
    The plan must be robust and include reasonable contingency plans as relevant, e.g. in case the appearance of new hardware,
    the production of new software, or the realization of new science, do not work out as anticipated.

    The entirety of the thesis proposal should be understandable by astronomers in a different area of specialization. Note that your thesis commitee should have some of these!

    The suggested length is 4-10 pages. There are no hard limits, as we want to give you space to explain yourself, but we also do not want to see a proto-thesis at this stage.
    You may structure the report however you wish, so long as the key elements above are present.
    Please do not use "apjemulate" or any such similar journal style formatting in your submission. This is not a paper being published in a journal, but your proposal for thesis research at Caltech.

    Regarding the exam itself, there are four possible outcomes:

  • pass and admission to candidacy (also requires that all other course and departmental requirements, e.g. TA, have been met),
  • conditional pass, meaning that additional demonstration of research competency is required, such as submitting a paper (usually within a 6-9 month time scale),
  • non-pass, with opportunity for re-examination (usually on a 6-9 month time scale),
  • fail with recommendation to leave the program.

    Going forward, it is important to note that you are not bound to execute exactly the research program you propose in your report; we all recognize the rapid pace of the field at its frontiers.
    However, should there be major changes in direction, you should be sure to consult and possibly re-convene your committee members for advice and for approval of the change in scope or time line.

    You are always free to "check in" with your committee members to discuss your research progress and plans.
    We are all invested in your successful navigation of the path to PhD.