About Caltech

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Get familiar with Caltech's history, policies, student demographics.

About the undergraduates

The Houses

On-campus housing at Caltech consists of eight undergraduate houses (which they sometimes spell with a “V”) mostly on the southeast corner of the campus along with Marks and Braun Houses on San Pasqual. The student houses, combining the freedom of dormitories with the camaraderie of fraternities, resulted from extensive research in the 20’s on student accommodations. The south houses, Blacker, Dabney, Fleming and Ricketts, were built in the 30’s and are arranged in a rectangle around a central kitchen where board contract meals are served. Blacker and Dabney each house about 65 students, while Fleming and Ricketts house about 80 each. The newer houses - Lloyd, Page, and Ruddock were built in the 60’s and are north of the Olive Walk. They were built when the population explosion caught up with Caltech’s student housing. They hold about 90 students each, for an on-campus total of about 560. They are also arranged around a central kitchen which serves the Chandler Dining Hall. Each house has its own unique government, traditions, customs, and atmosphere. The process of selecting new students into a house is known affectionately as Rotation. Rotation is basically an all-week party during which each new student visits all eight student houses for lunch and dinner, encouraging social mingling so that new students get to know the residents and characteristics of each house, and conversely for house members to familiarize themselves with each new student. In addition to the eight on-campus houses, there are approximately fifteen Institute-owned off-campus houses and three apartment buildings for undergraduates. Some off-campus buildings are considered extensions of the on-campus houses and hold only members of a particular on-campus house; these are called “off-campus alleys”.

<display_map searchmarkers="all" height=500px width=500px> Fleming House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA 34.137372, -118.122473 Avery House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA Blacker House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA Dabney House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA 34.137039, -118.122838 Ricketts House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA Page House California Institute of Technology Pasadena CA </display_map>

Ditch Day

Ditch Day- the Super Bowl of college pranks- usually happens in May. The seniors keep the date secret until Ditch Day morning, when they must leave or risk being taped to a tree if they are caught on campus before 5pm. To prevent their rooms from being “trashed”, they will leave behind a sumptuous feast or “bribe’’. There are three varieties of “stacks” (locks). First there is the “brute force” stack. As the name implies, it must be broken with jackhammers, drills or any kind of tool that can penetrate concrete or steel. The “finesse” stack is a lock that can be opened with lasers, heat, sound, water pressure, or computers. The underclassmen have to solve clues telling them what to do and then have to figure out how to do it. A treasure hunt is another form of finesse stack in which the senior sends the underclassmen all around campus and even the state, looking for clues that will eventually open the door. The ultimate is the “honor stack”. One year a senior left his room unlocked with a single physics problem taped to his door. The room was never entered because the problem wasn’t solved, even by Richard Feynman.


Just before dawn several decades ago, the world-famous HOLLYWOOD sign was draped with plastic and left to read CALTECH. That was just one in a long line of pranks performed by Caltech students, which have included stealing a fighter plane and towing it to a professor’s home, switching green and red lenses on city stoplights and rigging the 1984 Rose Bowl scoreboard to show Caltech beating MIT handily instead of the score between the teams actually on the field. To read about more famous Caltech pranks, pick up a copy of Legends of Caltech or More Legends of Caltech at the bookstore.

More Info

The Wikipedia Page for the houses has a fairly extensive history of each house. For the real juicy stories you'll have to talk to the undergrads themselves.

Academic divisions

Caltech is divided into six academic divisions: Biology and Biological Engineering, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Engineering and Applied Science, Geological and Planetary Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy. A few options (such as Biochemistry and Applied Math) comprise each division. The professor in charge of a division is the Division Chair; contact him or her regarding inter-option issues. Each option has an executive officer (the professor who is in charge of administering the option), an option representative (the official faculty supervisor of graduate students in the option), and an option secretary (who assists the option representative, and is usually the first person that grad students talk to when they have academic questions). Each option and division works a little differently. For more information about your option, contact your option secretary. The contact information for each division and option can be found on the Caltech webpage under “Academic Divisions.”

Campus resources

Places for activities

Reserving Rooms on Campus

There are a number of auditoriums, conference rooms, and lecture halls on campus that groups or clubs may reserve. There are also several small-group study/meeting rooms and a conference room available in the Sherman Fairchild Library (SFL).

Available Resources

Making Reservations

The Athenaeum

(Bldg. 61, x8200) Grad students and postdocs can become members for $8 and $15 per month, respectively. Membership applications are available at the front desk or online. You need an Athenaeum member (preferably your advisor) to sponsor you by signing the application. not true right? Once your application is approved, you will be assigned a number and billed monthly. Only you and your spouse can sign the chits. Membership is not transferable, but you can bring non-member guests. Breakfast is served in the main dining room weekdays from 7-9 a.m., lunch is served from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., and dinner is served from 5:30-9 p.m. Dinner upstairs is somewhat formal, a dress code is enforced, and reservations are recommended. The Wednesday night buffet is awesome: all-you-can-eat prime rib and seafood and a wonderful salad bar. The wine list is good and offers a tremendous value. Downstairs is the Rathskeller, which has good sandwiches and salads, a good selection of drinks, and reasonable hot specials. The Rathskeller is much more informal and is open weekdays for dinner from 5-9 p.m. Thursday night is Mexican buffet night. The bar is open Monday-Thursday from 5-9 p.m., and Friday from 4:30-10 p.m. Dinner hours may change during the summer. Many groups make it a Friday afternoon ritual to head for the Ath to discuss the week’s activities over a few pitchers of the various beers stocked by the bar. Rooms are available for Athenaeum members or their guests. Rates are usually less expensive than nearby hotels.

Dabney Lounge

Dabney Lounge is a nicely decorated hall. Its high ceiling and wooden floor make it ideal for chamber music concerts and dance parties. Combined with an evergreen garden, it has hosted many official and private events. Because of its popularity, reserving the location has been quite difficult. If you are planning to have a weekend event there, make your reservation months in advance.

Reserving Dabney Lounge

Contact Deborah White at Public Events (x3910 or x4688, dmw@ope.caltech.edu) for a reservation. You will need to fill out an application form and a party form with the dean’s signature (for student parties). Caltech Custodial Services charges a mandatory fee for cleaning associated with events in Dabney Lounge. The fee is dependent on the event and usually starts at around $39. This is probably much higher now

Student Activities Center

Located in the basement of the South Undergraduate Houses, this complex is open to all members of the Caltech community, with priority going to the student body. For more information about reserving rooms, call x2935. This doesn't seem so true anymore, and where was this number supposed to go?

Houses the Bike Shop, Club/meeting rooms, Libraries, Music rooms, Undergraduate student government, and Undergraduate publications.

Center for Student Services

The Center for Student Services hosts International Student Programs, the Diversity Center on the second floor, and the Career Development Center on the third floor.

International Student Program (ISP)

See International Student Information. Will look in old Techique for what this page had.

Caltech Center for Diversity

Composed from the former Minority Student Education office and Women's Center. Old info has been cut out and new info needs to be written


Braun Athletic Center is located on S Wilson Ave, south of California Blvd. (past Central Plant). All Caltech-enrolled undergraduate and graduate students can show their ID to enter.

Highlights of the facilities include:


See Local Sports Related and Sports Clubs.

More stuff here

Caltech Libraries

  • Printing: Caltech students, faculty, and staff get $25 per quarter for printing at the Caltech libraries. The policy is found here, and you can check your balance during the semester here.

Caltech Y

(x6163, caltechy@caltech.edu) The Caltech Y is an independent yet integral part of the Caltech community. The Y, not affiliated with the YMCA, has organized numerous programs including noon concerts and the annual Y Hike as well as day hikes, leadership seminars, International Week, Decompression, volunteer opportunities, trips to the Philharmonic and museums, distinguished speakers, broomball, and other assorted diversions from studying and research. Noon Concerts on Fridays have featured groups ranging from new wave to jazz to classical. The Y operates a used book exchange for students who wish to sell or buy used textbooks at reasonable prices, an emergency loan fund, where a student may borrow up to $50 interest free for 30 days, an inexpensive backpacking rental service with sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, cooking kits, and other items necessary for life in the outdoors, discount movie and amusement park tickets, a copier and fax machine, and a lounge where students can relax, read, and listen to music and watch TV. The office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Stop by and talk sometime; they are there to help. This fall, look for announcements and posters around campus for Y events. If you are interested in helping the Y with its programs, drop in and offer them ideas and assistance.

Conflict Resolution and Grievance Procedures

Institute Policies and Procedures

There may be times in your career as a graduate student at Caltech when something in your lab sparks a question or concern. You may refer to the Human Resources website at https://hr.caltech.edu/services/policies for policies and procedures on areas such as:

  • Vacations and leaves
  • Conflict of interests
  • Patent policy
  • Violence prevention

and other topics.

Caltech’s Policies

Formal Grievance Procedures Use the formal grievance procedures if you have a problem and feel that a formal complaint is necessary. Refer to this and this document for the procedures.

Sexual Misconduct The policy of Caltech is to not tolerate sexual misconduct of any kind, whether directed at males or females, in accordance to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 https://titleix.caltech.edu/. There are three major types of sexual misconduct of concern at Caltech: sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination. Stalking or “glomming” behavior is considered sexual harassment. Also, be alert for subtle forms of discrimination that you may not immediately recognize but that can lead to problems if not identified, such as excessive attention because you stand out as the lone member of your sex, or your co-workers judging your work too harshly. To learn more about Title IX, and relevant policies refer to https://titleix.caltech.edu/. If you have questions or problems, you maybe go to the Title IX website https://titleix.caltech.edu/Filing to file a report formally or informally. You can file a complain anonymously if you choose to.

Caltech’s Resources

There are several people and offices who can assist you if a conflict or grievance arises. For academic problems, your faculty option representative and executive officer, as well as members of your thesis committee (if you have one) can be valuable resources. The Graduate Dean's Office, the Postdoctoral Scholars Office, and the International Students Program Office can also assist you with a wide variety of problems.

The Graduate Honor Council

The Graduate Honor Council (https://www.gradoffice.caltech.edu/current/hc) should be contacted concerning all suspected Honor System violations. They can be contacted via email at GHC@caltech.edu. They are also happy to be consulted regarding any questions about the Honor Code at Caltech.

Grad Student Information

The Graduate Student Council (GSC)

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) represents and supports graduate student interests at Caltech in all facets of life including academic issues, library and computing facilities, quality of campus life, extracurricular activities such as clubs and intramurals, and social events. Our mission is “to work to maximize the quality of graduate student life at Caltech.” The GSC is governed by a Board of Directors (BoD) composed of graduate student representatives from the various academic options. The GSC has a number of standing committees which address all facets of graduate student life. These committees are Academics, Budget, Advocacy, Publications, and Social. Finally, the GSC keeps graduate students at Caltech informed of important information and campus events through directory emails. The GSC provides annual funding for 30 student clubs and organizations and up to $300 in Quickfunding for individual events from social activities to campus literary publications. More information about the GSC budget and funding can be found at . The BoD meets once a month. All members of the Caltech community are invited to attend our meetings. If you are interested in participating in the GSC but do not want to join the BoD, it is possible to join one of the standing committees in order to be involved in an issue that is important to you. For more information about the GSC, please see our website at http://gsc.caltech.edu.

Guidelines for Student-Advisor Relationships

The relationship between a faculty advisor and graduate student should be founded on mutual respect and open communication. Advisors and students should discuss the nature of their working relationship early and continue this discussion throughout their period of collaboration to ensure mutually understood and compatible expectations. These discussions should be frequent and open, and should include not only work, research goals, and performance reviews, but also change of status, time for personal and family responsibilities, time off, and concerns about academic or work situations. Both the student and advisor have the obligation to initiate meetings as necessary to ensure the success of the relationship. The graduate student-faculty advisor relationship should be guided by fairness and professionalism. Both faculty and graduate students should avoid relationships that conflict with their respective roles and duties at Caltech. Both are bound by the prevailing policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment. Concerns relating to academic or work situations should be raised promptly between the persons directly involved and handled informally if possible. Both students and advisors have the responsibility to raise and address concerns and conflicts without delay and in a manner that conforms with academic integrity and professionalism. Caltech policy requires that students’ concerns be addressed fairly and promptly and prohibits retaliation or discrimination against students for appropriately voicing concerns. If a problem remains unresolved or if direct discussion is not possible, a student can seek assistance from Division officers (e.g. Option Representatives and Executive Officers), the Dean of Graduate Studies, the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, or the office of International Student Programs. At any time a student may request that discussions remain confidential. For more details about sources of assistance consult the graduation option regulations and the Student Grievance Procedure sections in the Caltech Catalog.

To review a list of suggested questions that you ask a faculty member before deciding to work with the, please see: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~gscacad/html/advisor.pdf

Need to find a replacement link

If you are interested in learning more about a specific faculty advisor, many labs have been reviewed by students who have graduated from those labs. The GSC has compiled their responses to exit surveys at: http://www.its.caltech.edu/~gscacad/html/lab_review_survey.html

Are we still doing lab exit surveys?

History of Caltech

In September 1891, Pasadena philanthropist Amos Throop rented the Wooster Block building in Pasadena for the purpose of establishing Throop University, the forerunner of Caltech. In November of that year, Throop University opened its doors to 31 students and a six-member faculty. Throop might have remained just a local vocational school had it not been for the arrival in Pasadena of astronomer George Ellery Hale. The first director of the Mount Wilson Observatory, Hale became a member of Throop's board of trustees in 1907, and envisioned molding it into a first-class institution for engineering and scientific research and education. Under his leadership Throop's transformation began.

By 1921, Hale had been joined by chemist Arthur A. Noyes and physicist Robert A. Millikan. These three men set the school, which by then had been renamed the California Institute of Technology, firmly on its new course. For the next century, Millikan and his successors -- Lee DuBridge, Harold Brown, Marvin Goldberger, Thomas Everhart, David Baltimore, and Jean-Lou Chameau -- led the Institute as it achieved preeminence in the scientific community. During this time programs were added in geology, biology, bioengineering, aeronautics, astronomy, astrophysics, the social sciences, computer science, and computation and neural systems. For more information on the history of Caltech, refer to the Caltech webpage http://www.caltech.edu/content/history-milestones .

Maps and Tour

Campus maps are available in the Graduate Office, the Graduate Housing Office, the libraries and most departmental offices. The on-line interactive map can be found at the Caltech webpage http://www.caltech.edu/map/. Tours of the Caltech campus are conducted Monday through Friday at 1:45pm Is this true? (except on Institute holidays, during winter break, and on rainy days). http://www.admissions.caltech.edu/content/prospective-student-tours Tours begin at the Admissions Office, 383 S. Hill Ave. Architectural tours of the campus are conducted the fourth Thursday of each month except December, July and August (in November, tours are held on the third Thursday). Tours leave at 10:30am from the front hall of the Athenaeum, 551 S. Hill Ave. For reservations or more information about these tours, https://cats.caltech.edu/

Studying at Other Universities

The Los Angeles area has many institutions of higher education. Caltech has an exchange program with Occidental College, the Art Center, the Scripps Research Institute, and University of California at San Diego I don't think we do those last two anymore, so that Caltech students can take classes in these institutions for free. For more information, contact the Graduate Office (x6346).

Pasadena area

Art Center College of Design

1700 Lida St., Pasadena; 396-2200 http://www.artcenter.edu

Pasadena City College

1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 585-7123 http://www.pasadena.edu

Pasadena City College: Community Skills Center / Extended Learning

1570 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 585-7608 http://www.pcclearn.org

Los Angeles area

Occidental College

1600 Campus Rd., LA; (323) 259-2500 http://www.oxy.edu

California State University, Los Angeles

5151 State University Dr., LA; (323) 343-3000 http://www.calstatela.edu

University of California, Los Angeles

405 Hilgard Ave., LA; (310) 825-4321 http://www.ucla.edu

University of Southern California

3535 S. Figueroa St., LA; (213) 740-2311 http://www.usc.edu

The Honor System

The following pages contain a brief introduction to the Caltech Honor System. A complete description may be found in the handbook The Honor System: Graduate, https://deans.caltech.edu/documents/55-hch2012.pdf which you should receive by the time you register. Please read the Honor System handbook thoroughly, as it is the definitive source for all Honor System information. Please keep your copy of the Honor System handbook for future reference. Remember that your participation in the Honor System is vital to its success.

For more details and samples, see https://www.gradoffice.caltech.edu/current/hc.

Key Points of the Honor System

The Honor System is based on the following principle: Never take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community; to do so is a violation of the Honor System. The Caltech Honor System is not just a set of rules or “key points” that must be followed. Rather, it is a system of conduct through which you can trust and be trusted by others. Actions that might constitute an Honor System violation should be self-evident to someone who asks himself, “Does this act take unfair advantage?” In the following sections, examples are given of conduct in both academic and nonacademic areas which can be violations of the Honor System. These examples are not meant to serve as a list of rules, but rather to give examples of behavior that is incompatible with the Honor System.

Academic Issues

Most academic violations of the Honor System are obvious (for example, cheating on exams). The following list is meant to serve as a reminder of some of the possible violations of the Honor System, and to introduce you to some of the unique benefits (such as take-home tests) of the Honor System.

  • Cheating on exams Possible cheating violations include consultation of prohibited references, exceeding the time limit on self-timed exams without indicating so, or consulting with a student who has already taken the exam.
  • Unauthorized collaboration on homework or lab assignments. Most professors allow a certain degree of collaboration on assignments. Students should seek a clear explanation of the professor’s collaboration policy, and teaching assistants and professors should provide one.
  • Plagiarism of another’s work, including using material without appropriate citation.
  • Falsification or invention of lab results, which takes unfair advantage of students who actually performed the lab work and reported real data, even for experiments that didn’t work.
  • Disregard for the rules of any of the libraries on campus. Each library is regulated differently; some even allow self-check-out of books. Failure to follow the library rules takes unfair advantage of other library users.
  • It is also important to consider the honor system when teaching at Caltech. At the start of a class, it’s a good idea to explicitly tell students what sorts of collaboration and outside help are allowed on problem sets and exams. Most professors at Caltech give take-home exams and rely on the students’ sense of honor to avoid cheating.

Nonacademic Issues

The basic premise of the Honor System, that one must not take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community, applies to nonacademic as well as to academic areas. The following list gives some examples of possible nonacademic Honor System violations. This list is in no way intended to be complete.

  • Many students have Caltech master keys. Unauthorized entry into any room normally considered private can be a violation. Allowing a master key to fall into the hands of a non-Caltech person who is not part of the Honor System may be considered a serious violation.
  • Use of research accounts on campus photocopying equipment for personal copying, thus taking unfair advantage of one’s research group.
  • Use of campus computing equipment in a manner that takes unfair advantage of others, including removing from Caltech any software (or manuals) for which Caltech has a site license.
  • Performance of research with careless disregard for the experiments or personal safety of others.
  • Theft of Caltech property or the property of a member of the Caltech community.
  • Defacement or abuse of property not solely one’s own.

Reporting Suspected Violations

If the suspect is a graduate student, contact one of the GHC co-chairs (https://www.gradoffice.caltech.edu/current/hc). If the suspected violator is an undergraduate, contact the BOC Chair (http://donut.caltech.edu/ascit/BoC_Reps). You may discuss a suspected violation in the abstract if you are unsure whether or not a violation actually occurred. The GHC has been asked to consider complaints as minor as excessive party noise to violations serious enough to result in possible criminal charges. A student may approach both the GHC and the police with complaints regarding another member of the Caltech community. Legal action does not preclude action by the GHC and vice versa. The Graduate Honor Council (GHC) and the undergraduate Board of Control (BOC) work together as two branches of the same Honor System. The goal of the Honor Boards when reviewing suspected violations is not to punish but to reintegrate the individuals into the Honor System. Strict confidentiality is observed in all Honor System proceedings, and breaches of secrecy by anyone other than the defendant are Honor Code violations. All individuals are presumed innocent until judged guilty. Suspension or even expulsion are possible consequences of violations. They are invoked only in rare cases when one has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to live within the Honor System or has committed a particularly grave violation. The Honor System is much more than a list of possible violations. Please consult the handbook for a complete description of the Honor System. The Dean of Graduate Studies (x5802) and the GHC co-chairs can provide you with more information.

See Also