MS program in Geology & Environmental Science

The Master of Science degree requires completion of a minimum of 30 credits, of which 18 must be formal lecture classes. The student must present a thesis showing marked accomplishment in some part of the field of their major subject as well as competency in the methods and techniques of scientific investigation. The thesis is to be the result of an independent investigation conducted by the student with an oral defense conducted at the end of the project. All MS theses shall serve as sources of published material.

Preliminary Exam

Students admitted to the graduate program take a suite of six courses in their first two years in residence. The “preliminary examination” in the Department of Geology & Environmental Science is based on the student's record of performance in these courses. Students will be considered to pass the preliminary exam when they have achieved a grade of “B” or better in each of the courses. The student must take GEOL 2001 and GEOL 2468, in addition to three “core” courses from the list below, which are relevant to their research. In addition, students should take at least one course from a subfield markedly outside their research area. This course must be approved by the graduate committee.

The courses in the Graduate Handbook are offered at least once every other year. Other classes not on this list may be added upon approval of the student’s advisor and the graduate committee.

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 their 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.