PhD Program in Geology & Environmental Science

The Ph.D. is a research degree that represents the highest level of academic accomplishment in any field. Persons with this degree are expected to have demonstrated the ability to conduct independent research and also should have the level and breadth of knowledge about their field that one could reasonably expect of someone who has attained the highest academic degree in their field. Research performance, evidenced by preparation of a dissertation on an independently pursued research topic, is the primary requirement for the Ph.D. degree. Each program is designed in consultation with a faculty advisor to meet the needs of the student.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree requires completion of 72 credits, of which 36 must be formal lecture and laboratory courses. Completion of a preliminary assessment examination is required in order to guide selection of remaining courses.

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). New Ph.D. students previously awarded the Master of Science degree from the Department are exempt from this requirement.

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 prior to the comprehensive examination.

Course Requirements

The minimum requirement for the Ph.D. degree is seventy-two (72) credits. These include lecture, laboratory, seminar, topics courses, and thesis research credits. A minimum of thirty-six (36) credits must be from formal courses and at least eighteen (18) of the 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 minimum grade point level. If a Master of Science degree is awarded from the Department prior to admission, then at least forty-two (42) additional credits are required.

Comprehensive Examination

The graduate student seeking the Ph.D. degree must complete a comprehensive examination administered by the Departmental members of her/his Dissertation Committee in order to demonstrate sufficient mastery of the field of interest and the ability to conduct dissertation-level research. The comprehensive examination should take place no later than the Fall term of the student’s third year of enrollment, although students are encouraged to complete the examination as soon as possible following completion of most required coursework and after beginning dissertation research.

The comprehensive examination for the Ph.D. degree consists of both a written examination and an oral examination. The written comprehensive will take the form of a two (2) day examination consisting of questions provided by the Dissertation Committee members. The principal focus of the questions will be material directly related to the major field of research. Successful completion of the written component of the comprehensive examination permits the scheduling of the oral examination. Oral examination questions will focus primarily on the student’s written comprehensive responses as well as the planned dissertation research and related fields, but may extend to additional subjects. The examination will be judged on the basis of the student’s depth of understanding and knowledge of relevant scientific materials and her/his potential to conduct appropriate research activities.

Dissertation Overview

Each Ph.D. student must prepare a written dissertation proposal for presentation to the Dissertation Committee at a formal dissertation overview meeting. The dissertation proposal will provide a concise statement of the purpose and scope of the student’s dissertation, a detailed plan and timeline of research, and the expected significance of the work. During this meeting, the Dissertation Committee will critique the research plan and proposed methodology and approve or reject the dissertation topic.

Admission to Candidacy

Following successful completion of the comprehensive examination, and completion of the dissertation overview, the student may apply to the Dean for Admission to Candidacy. Admission to candidacy constitutes a promotion of the student to the most advanced stage of graduate study and provides formal approval to devote exclusive attention to research and writing of the dissertation.


Each Ph.D. candidate must prepare a dissertation 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 dissertation must be clearly, logically, and carefully written. The Major Advisor must approve of the content, format, and grammar prior to submission of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee. The dissertation should contain an introductory statement, including appropriate justification of the research, a description of the methods and observations of the investigation, evaluation of the significance and meaning of the results, and a final summary. Each Ph.D. student must submit at least one manuscript to a peer-review journal prior to graduation and present research results at both a departmental colloquium and at a meeting of a national or international scientific organization. Dissertation Defense Each Ph.D. candidate must formally defend her/his submitted dissertation. The defense is a public meeting, and the notice should therefore list the title of the dissertation and the time and location of the event.

The Dissertation Committee conducts the defense of the doctoral dissertation. The student will begin the dissertation defense with a presentation summarizing her/his research topic and results. Following the oral summary and a general question-and answer period, visitors will be asked to leave and the student will then defend her/his research by answering questions posed by the Dissertation Committee. The dissertation will be formally accepted or rejected by the Dissertation Committee at the defense and the committee will decide what, if any, revisions should be made.