MS program in Geology & Environmental Science

Preliminary Exam

An initial evaluation is required of all advanced degree candidates. The initial evaluation is designed to explore the student's basic knowledge of the geological and environmental sciences and to identify areas in which improvement may be required. The initial evaluation will therefore guide future coursework. Within the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, the initial evaluation takes the form of a written test administered simultaneously to all new graduate students at the beginning of the first term of residence (during Orientation). The Initial (or Major) Advisor will meet with the student within one (1) week after the examination and, if deficiencies are noted, will determine what course of action is required. The advisor will prepare a written assessment summarizing the results of the examination and the meeting with the student. Deficiencies are typically addressed by taking an undergraduate or graduate class that has an appropriate curriculum to address that deficiency, though other options are available in some cases. In each case a specific plan is developed by the student and his/her advisor. Coursework suggested in this plan must be completed with grades of B or higher .

Course Requirements

The minimum requirement for the M.S. degree is thirty (30) credits beyond the baccalaureate.  A minimum of eighteen (18) credits must be from formal courses.  These include lecture, laboratory, seminar, and topics courses, and research credits. At least twelve (12) of these credits must be taken within the Department of Geology and Environmental Science.  A maximum of eight (8) credits numbered below 2000 may be applied toward graduation requirements with prior approval.  No course numbered below 1000 may be applied toward graduation requirements.

A minimum grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained for all formal courses taken.  Students with full graduate status will be placed on probation if the cumulative grade point average falls below the 3.0 level.

Up to six (6) formal course credits may be applied toward graduation requirements for graduate course work completed in a graduate program at another accredited institution.  However, courses taken at the University of Pittsburgh while not enrolled in a graduate program do not count toward M.S. graduation requirements.

Thesis Committee

The student’s Thesis Committee will consist of at least three persons responsible for scientific guidance and research oversight. The chair of the Thesis Committee is the Major Advisor of the student, and at least two other members must be graduate faculty from the Department of Geology and Environmental Science.

A meeting with the Thesis Committee should be scheduled by the student for the end of the Spring term of the student’s first year, and at least once a year thereafter. At the meeting, the student will provide a short overview of the research goals and objectives of her/his research. The presentation will be followed by a discussion of research directions and progress.


Each M.S. candidate must prepare a thesis demonstrating successful completion of the research project as well as competency in the methods and techniques of scientific investigation in the field of her/his area of specialization. The thesis must be clearly, logically, and carefully written. The thesis should contain an introductory statement, including appropriate justification of the research, a description of methods and observations of the investigation, evaluation of the significance and meaning of the results, and a final summary. The Major Advisor must approve the content, format, and grammar prior to submission of the thesis to the Thesis Committee. The Major Advisor should also ensure that the thesis is in acceptable form before requesting review by the Thesis Committee members. The thesis must be submitted to each member of the Thesis Committee at least two weeks prior to the thesis defense date. The members of the Thesis Committee will review and edit the thesis prior to the final thesis defense. The thesis should serve as a source of publishable material.

All M.S. students must also present research their results at a meeting of a national or international scientific organization prior to the thesis defense.

Thesis Defense

Each M.S. student must formally defend her/his submitted thesis. The student must provide notification of the defense at least two (2) weeks prior to the scheduled date to the Graduate Administrator, the Major Advisor, and each Thesis Committee member. The Graduate Administrator will then advertise the defense and notify the Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies. The defense is a public meeting, and the notice should therefore list the title of the thesis and the time and location of the event.