PhD Thesis Defense

The main purpose of the PhD Thesis Defense is to have a committee of faculty examine the doctoral candidate on the scope of the thesis and its significance in relation to the major subject.

Before scheduling your PhD Thesis Defense you should have completed the following:

  • Two terms of Ph242 - Physics Seminar - This course should be taken during your first two terms of graduate study.
  • Two written candidacy exams - see the basic physics requirement information for details, the exams should be attempted by the end of first year and successfully completed by the end of second year.
  • The advanced requirement courses should be completed by the end of your second year.
  • The oral candidacy exam should be completed by the end of your third year.

How to Schedule Your PhD Thesis Defense

For those students about to schedule their PhD thesis defense, follow these steps:

  • Discuss the exam date and committee with your advisor.  You will need a total of four people, including your advisor.   Tradition has it that theorists should have at least one experimentalist on their committee, and experimentalists should have at least one theorist.  If you want to include people from other departments or even other universities on your committee, this is permitted. You may elect to have the same committee members as for your Oral Candidacy Exam. There are no rigid rules. It may be wise to have some alternates as well, especially for students defending in April & May for June commencement.
  • Send an e-mail to Gil Refael or Frank Porter for pre-approval of your committee.  This will also need to be officially approved online in Regis.
  • After you have your list approved, ask the people on the list if they are willing to serve on your committee.  Remember that no one is obligated to serve on your committee, so it may be necessary to change your committee membership at some point. 
  • Arrange a date and time with your committee for your presentation. An easy online event scheduling tool can be found at  In addition to getting your committee to agree to a time, you also need to make sure a room is available.  You will need to contact the Physics Graduate Office via email about reserving a conference room in East Bridge; you can reserve a room elsewhere if you wish.
  • Well before your proposed defense date you should begin the online process through Regis to set up your exam date, time, location and committee membership.   Getting everyone on your committee to agree on a date can be difficult if your committee members are out of town often, it is best not to leave scheduling for the last minute, especially during April and May for June commencement.
  • Make sure your committee members all know when and where to meet for your defense.  They should receive email notification from Regis, however, you should probably remind them just prior to the defense date.
  • Option Representative Frank C. Porter and Division Chair Fiona Harrison must electronically sign where indicated.
  • Your committee members must all electronically sign where indicated.
  • For students who defend during third term, most teaching, research assignments and fellowships will end on June 30th which means your last paycheck will be issued at the end of June. You must notify the PGO of your future employment start date well in advance of the June payroll date. Graduate and post-doctoral assignments cannot overlap. This is especially urgent for international students and could cause visa issues.
  • As soon as your defense as been scheduled and a room reserved either through the PGO or elsewhere, you must provide the following information to the Physics Graduate Office -- Date, time and location of defense, area of research, year entered program, names of examining committee members, thesis title, future employment information including the start date of your post-doctoral or employment assignment, and if you will be participating in Commencement.

NOTE:  A paper copy of the final thesis should be given to the Physics Graduate Office along with a completed forwarding address form that may be downloaded, completed and sent to the Physics Graduate Office as an attachment, before you leave Caltech. Congratulations!!