20 Caltech (California) Interview Questions and Answers

Prepare for the types of questions you are likely to be asked when interviewing for a position at Caltech (California).

When it comes to interviewing for a position at Caltech, you can expect to be asked questions that are specific to the company and its culture. This is your chance to show that you’re not only knowledgeable about the company, but that you’re also a good fit for the team.

To help you prepare, we’ve compiled a list of sample Caltech interview questions and answers. These questions will give you an idea of what to expect, and how to craft your own responses.

Caltech (California) Interview Process

The interview process at Caltech can vary depending on the position you are applying for. However, most interviews will involve meeting with the hiring manager and/or a panel of interviewers, as well as completing an excel testing. For some positions, you may also be required to give a presentation. Overall, the interview process is generally professional and straightforward.

1. What is your favorite subject and why?

This question is a great way to show your passion for learning and how you apply what you learn in the classroom. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention a specific class or teacher that inspired you to enjoy the subject.

Example: “My favorite subject was AP Chemistry because I love problem-solving and figuring out solutions to complex equations. My high school chemistry teacher really helped me understand the material by breaking down concepts into smaller pieces. She also made sure we understood why certain processes worked so we could apply them to other situations.”

2. Why do you want to pursue a PhD in this area of study?

This question is an opportunity to show your passion for the field and why you are qualified. When answering this question, it can be helpful to discuss a specific project or experience that inspired you to pursue a PhD in this area of study.

Example: “I have always been fascinated by space exploration and astronomy. I remember as a child watching documentaries about the universe and feeling like I was on another planet myself. My love for space has only grown since then, and I am excited to learn more about our solar system and beyond. I want to continue my education so that I can contribute to the scientific community and help others understand how amazing our world truly is.”

3. Tell us about a research project that you are passionate about.

This question is a great way to show the interviewer that you are passionate about your work and have an interest in research. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention a project or idea that you’ve worked on before and how it has impacted you or others.

Example: “I am passionate about researching ways to improve our understanding of the universe. I recently completed my undergraduate degree in astrophysics and spent much of my time studying black holes. My research helped me develop new theories about the formation of galaxies and how they relate to each other.”

4. Where do you see yourself five years from now?

This question is a great way to learn more about the applicant’s career goals and how they plan to achieve them. It also gives you an idea of what their future might look like if they are accepted into Caltech. When answering this question, it can be helpful to think about your past accomplishments and how you would like to continue growing as a professional in the next five years.

Example: “I see myself working at a research facility or university after graduation. I hope to have published several papers by then and am looking forward to continuing my education with a master’s degree. In five years, I’d love to be teaching a class on quantum physics.”

5. What motivates you?

Interviewers may ask this question to learn more about your personality and how you might fit in with the Caltech community. To answer, think of a few things that motivate you and explain why they are important to you.

Example: “I am motivated by learning new things and being challenged. I love science because it is always changing and there’s so much we don’t know yet. I also enjoy working on complex problems and figuring out solutions. In my last job, I was able to work on some challenging projects, which helped me develop my skills as an engineer.”

6. Describe a time when you had a disagreement with a fellow classmate or professor, how did you handle it?

Caltech is a highly academic institution, and your interviewer may want to know how you handle conflict. This question can also help them understand your communication skills and ability to work with others.

Example: “In my first year of college, I had a disagreement with one of my professors about the way they graded our assignments. I was upset because I felt like I worked hard on the assignment and deserved a better grade. However, I knew that arguing with my professor would not get me anywhere. Instead, I met with her after class and explained why I thought she should reconsider her grading scale. She listened to what I had to say and agreed to re-grade all of our assignments.”

7. How would you approach an experiment if something was not working out as planned?

This question can help the interviewer determine how you handle challenges and setbacks. Showcase your problem-solving skills by describing a time when you had to troubleshoot an experiment or project that was not working out as planned.

Example: “In my first semester of college, I took a chemistry class where we were tasked with creating our own chemical compound. My group and I created a compound that turned into a gas at room temperature. We tried everything to make it solid but nothing worked. Eventually, we found out that the reason why it would not turn into a solid is because it was actually a salt, which meant that it could only be dissolved in water. This experience taught me that sometimes there are things you cannot control, so you have to try different approaches until you find one that works.”

8. Do you have any experience working with mechanical components?

Caltech is a highly technical institution, and the interviewer may want to know if you have any experience working with mechanical components. If you do, share an example of how you used your skills to complete a project or solve a problem. If you don’t have experience working with mechanical components, explain that you are willing to learn new things and develop these skills.

Example: “I worked as a mechanic for my uncle’s garage when I was in high school. He taught me how to work on cars and other vehicles, so I am familiar with basic mechanics. However, I would like to learn more about mechanical engineering at Caltech.”

9. Have you worked on any team projects before? Can you give me an example?

Caltech is a highly collaborative institution, and they want to make sure you’re comfortable working with others. This question helps them determine your teamwork skills and how well you can communicate with others.

Example: “In my last job as an engineer, I worked on several team projects. One of the most challenging was when we had to create a new type of battery that could power a car for 500 miles without needing to be recharged. We split up into groups based on our expertise and started brainstorming ideas. After many hours of research and testing, we finally came up with a solution.”

10. What is the biggest mistake you made during a lab session?

Interviewers may ask this question to learn more about your ability to self-reflect and make improvements. When answering, it can be helpful to explain what you learned from the mistake and how you would handle a similar situation differently in the future.

Example: “In my first semester of college, I was working on an independent research project with a group of other students. We were all responsible for different parts of the experiment, but we had weekly meetings to discuss our progress. During one meeting, I mentioned that I hadn’t started my part of the experiment yet because I was waiting for some supplies to arrive. My professor asked me why I hadn’t ordered them sooner, and I explained that I didn’t know I needed them until later in the process.

After the meeting, my professor pulled me aside and told me that I should have known I needed those supplies before starting the experiment. She said that if I had done so, I could have saved myself time and money by ordering them earlier. After that experience, I learned to always double-check my work and plan ahead.”

11. Are there any specific professors that you would like to work with at Caltech? If so, why?

This question is an opportunity to show your interest in the institution and its faculty. It also gives you a chance to highlight any relationships you have with Caltech professors or alumni.

Example: “I would love to work with Dr. John Smith, who graduated from Caltech in 2005. He was my physics professor for two years at UCLA, and he inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. I’ve kept up with him through social media, and his research interests are very similar to mine. If hired by Caltech, I would be thrilled to work with him again.”

12. What do you think the future of medical technology looks like?

Caltech is a research institution, and they want to know that you have an interest in the future of medical technology. This question also allows them to assess your knowledge of current technologies and how they might be applied in the future.

Example: “I think we are on the verge of some incredible breakthroughs in medicine. For example, I read about a new type of 3D printing that can print out human tissue. It’s still in its early stages, but it could eventually lead to being able to replace damaged or diseased organs with printed versions. Another exciting development is the creation of artificial blood vessels. These vessels are made from stem cells and can help people who need bypass surgery.”

13. Is there anything that makes you nervous about pursuing a graduate degree?

This question is a great way to show your interviewer that you are aware of any challenges or weaknesses and have strategies for overcoming them. When answering this question, it can be helpful to identify one thing that makes you nervous about pursuing a graduate degree and how you plan to overcome it.

Example: “I am a little nervous about the amount of time I will need to dedicate to my studies as a graduate student. However, I know that with proper planning and organization, I can make sure I stay on top of all assignments and projects while still having plenty of time for myself.”

14. What are some challenges that you think will be important for current scientists to focus their efforts on?

This question can help the interviewer get a better sense of your understanding of current scientific issues and how you might contribute to them. Use examples from your own experience or research to show that you are aware of important topics in science and technology.

Example: “I think one of the biggest challenges facing scientists today is finding funding for their projects. I’ve seen many researchers struggle with this, especially when they’re just starting out. In my last position, I helped develop a grant proposal writing workshop that was open to all faculty members at our institution. We were able to secure more than $1 million in grants as a result.”

15. What excites you most about coming to California Institute of Technology?

This question is a great way for the interviewer to get to know you better and see if your personality matches Caltech’s culture. It also allows them to learn more about what attracted you to apply to their school in the first place. When answering this question, it can be helpful to mention something specific that you learned from the school’s website or admissions materials.

Example: “I am most excited about coming to California Institute of Technology because I have always wanted to live in Southern California. I love the idea of being able to go hiking every weekend and having access to so many beaches. I also really like how much Caltech values its students’ well-being. The fact that there are free counseling services available to all students is amazing.”

16. How did you decide to pursue a career in science?

This question can help the interviewer get to know you better and understand your motivations for pursuing a career in science. Use this opportunity to share any experiences that inspired you to pursue a career in science, or how you developed an interest in the field.

Example: “Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by space and astronomy. My parents took me on many trips to visit observatories and planetariums, which sparked my interest even more. In high school, I volunteered at a local observatory where I learned about telescopes and other equipment used to study the night sky. This experience helped me decide to major in physics.”

17. What qualities make someone successful in an academic setting?

Caltech is a highly competitive school, and the interviewer may want to know that you have what it takes to succeed in their academic environment. Use examples from your own experience or those of others who are successful in academia to show the interviewer that you understand what it takes to be successful at Caltech.

Example: “I believe that success in an academic setting comes down to hard work, dedication and passion for learning. I’ve seen many students who excel in their studies because they put in the time and effort to learn and study. They also have a genuine interest in the subject matter, which makes them more likely to stay focused on their studies.”

18. Caltech is committed to fostering diversity and inclusion within our student body. How do you think that you can contribute to the diverse community at Caltech?

Caltech is committed to diversity and inclusion, so interviewers may ask this question to learn more about your background and how you can contribute to the Caltech community. In your answer, try to highlight any experiences that have helped you develop a diverse perspective or skills that will help you work with people from different backgrounds.

Example: “I grew up in a small town where I was one of only two black students in my high school. While I definitely felt like an outsider at times, it also taught me how to be comfortable being myself and developing friendships with people who are different than me. I think that experience has made me more open-minded and empathetic toward others.”

19. Describe a situation where you were able to use your communication skills to persuade others.

Caltech is looking for candidates who can communicate effectively and persuasively. This question allows you to demonstrate your communication skills by describing a time when you used them to persuade others to see things from your perspective or support your ideas.

Example: “In my last job, I was working on a project that required the cooperation of several departments within our company. One department had been resistant to change in the past, so I met with their team leader to discuss how this new project would benefit everyone. She agreed to give it a try, but she also made it clear that if it didn’t work out, they wouldn’t be able to continue participating.

I assured her that we could make it work, and after explaining the process more thoroughly, she understood why it was important to implement these changes. After that meeting, she worked closely with me to ensure that her team members were prepared to participate.”

20. What type of teaching experience do you have?

Caltech is a research institution, so it’s likely that you won’t be teaching students. However, the school may want to know about your experience working with others and helping them learn new concepts or skills. Consider mentioning any previous teaching experiences in your answer.

Example: “I have never taught at a university before, but I did teach an after-school science program for elementary school children last year. The program was designed to help kids understand basic scientific principles through fun activities and experiments. I enjoyed being able to share my love of science with younger students and seeing their excitement when they learned something new.”


20 Bass Pro Shops Interview Questions and Answers

Back to Interview

20 SSM Health Interview Questions and Answers