Graduate Studies

Aims and Scope of the Graduate Program

Bioengineering research at Caltech focuses on the application of engineering principles to the design, analysis, construction, and manipulation of biological systems, and on the discovery and application of new engineering principles inspired by the properties of biological systems. Areas of research emphasis include: biodevices, bioimaging, bioinspired design, biomechanics, biomedical engineering, cell and tissue engineering, molecular programming, synthetic biology, and systems biology. The goal of the doctoral program is to prepare students to become leading scientists and engineers in academia and industry. The graduate program aims to educate students to be highly competent in their chosen area of research, but also provide them with a broad knowledge foundation in bioengineering. By graduation, students are expected to have a working knowledge of bioengineering in general and an in-depth knowledge of their chosen area, have independently planned and conducted research experiments in their chosen area, and successfully defended their thesis work in an open forum.

BE Master's Degree

Students are not admitted to work toward the M.S. degree. In special circumstances, the M.S. degree may be awarded, provided Institute requirements are met.

BE Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

In addition to satisfying the general Institute requirements, candidates for a Ph.D. in bioengineering at Caltech must satisfy the following requirements.

Course Requirements

Coursework requirements provide maximum flexibility in building on undergraduate training and complementing the research activities of each student. Students take six electives (one-quarter courses totaling at least 54 units; grade of B or higher in each course) selected in consultation with the student’s adviser and the option representative. To maximize the opportunity for research during the early stages of the graduate career, coursework may be spread over the first and second years.

To assist in the selection of a research area, to foster interactions within the entering class, and to discuss ethical guidelines for scientific research, first-year students participate in three discussion courses totaling 9 units: current research topics in Caltech bioengineering labs (BE 167, first term); Reading the Bioengineering Literature (BE 201, second term); Responsible Conduct of Research (Bi 252, third term). A second term of BE 201 is also requred for second year graduate students.

Bioimaging and biomedical devices electives: AM/CE 151 ab, APh 109, APh/EE 130, APh/EE 132, BE/EE/MedE 189 ab, Bi/BE 177, Bi/BE 227, EE/APh 131, EE/BE/MedE 185, EE/MedE 187, Ph 106 abc, Ph/APh/EE/BE 118 abc.

Biomechanics and bioinspired design electives: Ae/APh/CE/ME 101 abc, Ae/AM/CE/ME 102 abc, Ae/BE 242, BE/Bi/MedE 106, BE 159, ChE 103 abc, ChE 151 ab, ChE/Ch 164, ChE 174, MedE/BE/Ae 243, Ph 127 abc.

Synthetic biology, systems biology, molecular programming, and cell and tissue engineering electives: BE 150, BE 153, BE 159, BE/APh 161, Bi 117, Bi 145 ab, ChE/BE 163, BE/CS/CNS/Bi 191 ab, ChE 130.

Biology electives: BE 150, Bi/Ch 110, Bi/Ch 111, Bi 114, Bi 115, Bi 117, Bi 118, Bi 122, Bi/BE 129, Bi 145 ab, BE 153, BE 159, BE/APh 161, Bi/CNS 150.

Math electives: ACM 100 ab, ACM/EE/IDS 116, ACM/ESE 118, AM 125 abc, ChE 105, CDS 110, CDS 140.


The flexibility of the coursework requirements enables research to be the primary activity from the very first term in residence. Students are encouraged to do two or more research rotations during the first year to sample research activities in multiple labs before selecting a Ph.D. adviser. Rotations are arranged by contacting individual faculty.

Adviser Selection

Each student must select a Ph.D. adviser by the end of the spring term of the first academic year. Advisers may be any Caltech faculty member working in an area related to bioengineering.

First Year Conversation

Before the end of the spring term of the first year in residence, each student meets with a faculty committee for a discussion of first-year progress and second-year plans. The committee must be composed of three faculty, plus the Ph.D. adviser(s), including a minimum of two Bioengineering faculty. The student will give a brief presentation on research progress and future plans, as well as discuss fundamentals related to the research area.

Admission to Candidacy

By the end of the spring term of the second year in residence, each student must complete the coursework requirement, prepare a candidacy report, and pass an oral candidacy exam. The report should be brief, describing research progress to date and outlining plans for the remaining doctoral research. The candidacy report should be submitted to the committee members one week before the oral exam. The committee must be composed of three faculty, plus the adviser(s), including a minimum of two Bioengineering faculty. The oral candidacy exam will include presentation of research progress, presentation of a proposed outline for the thesis, and questioning on fundamentals related to the research area. Students that complete the coursework requirement, prepare a candidacy report, and pass the oral candidacy exam will be recommended for candidacy. Students that are not admitted to candidacy by the end of the second year in residence will not be permitted to register in subsequent terms except with special permission from the option representative.

Thesis Advisory Committee Meetings

Once a student has been admitted to candidacy, each doctoral student will select a Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC). The committee must be composed of three faculty, plus the adviser(s), including a minimum of two Bioengineering faculty. This committee should meet at least once each year for the remainder of the student's time at Caltech.

Thesis Examination

A final oral examination will be given after the thesis has been formally completed. The exam will consist of a public research presentation followed by a private defense with an exam committee. The committee must be composed of three faculty, plus the adviser(s), including a minimum of two Bioengineering faculty. The thesis examination will be a defense of the doctoral thesis and a test of the candidate’s knowledge in his or her specialized field of research.

BE Subject Minor

A student may, with the approval of the Bioenginnering graduate option representative, elect a subject minor in Bioengineering. Such a program shall consist of 45 units of upper division course work in Bioengineering, with each course passed with a grade of C or better. Courses used to satisfy course requirements in the student's major option may not be used to satisfy the minor requirements. Approval of each program must be obtained from the Bioengineering graduate option representative.