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Completion Timeline for Ph.D. Program

Ph.D. requirements should be completed within four years. The Graduate School sets upper limits for completion of six years after first registration for the course work and five years after admission to candidacy for the dissertation work. For the Ph.D. program the Graduate School requires at least 16 hours of 8000 or higher level courses in addition to research (GEOL 9000), dissertation (GEOL 9300) and directed studies. It is your responsibility alone to complete all necessary requirements as listed here and to stay on schedule for a two-year completion. The schedules given below do not count summer as a semester; for example, the third semester for a student that started in the fall would refer to the fall of the second year.

Schedule for Degree Completion

First semester

  • Select your major professor, who must be a member of the Regular or Provisional Graduate Faculty.

Second semester

  • Select advisory committee and submit committee form to Graduate School through the Degree Program Assistant.
  • Submit program of study to Graduate School through the Degree Program Assistant.
  • First draft of dissertation proposal.

First summer

  • Begin pilot field and laboratory work related to your research.

Third semester

  • Prepare dissertation proposal and distribute to advisory committee after approval by your major professor. All Ph.D. proposals must be submitted prior to the oral comprehensive examination.
  • Inform Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks ahead of the date on which you plan to take your comprehensive examination. Permission to take comprehensive exam must be granted by major advisor.
  • Inform Graduate School, through the Degree Program Assistant, at least two weeks ahead of time of date of oral comprehensive exam. Geology faculty should also be informed of the date of this exam through the Degree Program Assistant.
  • Take written and oral comprehensive exams.
  • Submit admission to candidacy form to the Graduate School, through the Degree Program Assistant, immediately after successful completion of qualifying exams.

Fourth semester

  • Complete most of required course work.

Second summer

  • Begin field and laboratory work on your proposed research.

Final semester

  • File Application for Graduation form with Registrar’s Office.
  • Obtain dissertation formatting instructions from Graduate School.
  • Submit copy of dissertation to major professor for approval. Upon approval, submit copy of dissertation to advisory committee at least three weeks before the defense.
  • Take dissertation to Graduate School for format check.
  • Defend dissertation.
  • Report results of defense to Graduate School, through the Degree Program Assistant.
  • Submit electronic copy of completed dissertation to Graduate School and to the Degree Program Assistant.

Comprehensive Examination


The Ph.D. comprehensive examination is given at an early stage of a Ph.D. program, generally before the completion of the third semester following matriculation, which allows time in the fourth semester for retaking the exam if needed. The comprehensive exam includes a written and an oral part. The Ph.D. written and oral exam constitute a logical whole designed to take place over a period of no more than three weeks.

Written Examination

The advisory committee has the responsibility to schedule the written examination. The student must inform the Graduate Coordinator at least a month before the exam date. There are only two exceptions to this schedule. (1) Former M.S. candidates who decide to work directly toward the Ph.D. should take the examination as soon as the Graduate School has approved their request for a change in degree objective. (2) New Geology majors having non-geology M.S. degrees and thus inadequate backgrounds, should take the examination in the semester following the completion of coursework required to satisfy core-curriculum deficiencies.

The written examination will consist of 5 to 10 questions chosen by the major professor from a pool of questions written by the advisory committee. Normally, each committee member submits 2 to 4 questions to the advisor. The exam will be designed to take no more than 20 hours of work and may be open or closed book.

After receiving written pass or fail votes from each advisory committee member, the major professor will make the results of the written exam available to the student no fewer than three days before the scheduled date of the oral exam. The student is encouraged to contact members of the advisory committee informally for advice on how best to prepare for the oral exam. If the performance on the written exam is unsatisfactory, the advisory committee may by unanimous vote cancel the oral examination. If the written exam reveals deficiencies in training, the committee may require the student to take specific remedial actions, such as additional coursework or guided study.

Oral Examination

The oral exam is designed as a comprehensive examination of the breadth and depth of your knowledge in the geological sciences generally, and in your chief area of interest particularly. Your knowledge of your area of interest will include an oral defense of your written thesis proposal. The oral exam will also test your ability to think clearly, synthesize ideas, and express them coherently. The oral examination will be formally scheduled with the Graduate School by the Graduate Coordinator, through the Degree Program Assistant, and will be open to all members of the Faculty. You will make a short ora l presentation of your thesis proposal, after which faculty members will question you on the proposal and related subjects. At the end of the oral exam, the advisory committee will consult and vote on the outcome of both the written and oral exams. Results will be communicated to the student and forwarded to the Graduate School.

If the performance on the written or the oral exam is unsatisfactory, the student will normally be allowed to retake that exam. The advisory committee may, however, decide by unanimous vote to terminate the student's degree program at the conclusion of the semester in which the comprehensive exam was administered. Termination of the degree program encompasses all aspects of the degree program, including office space, teaching or research assistantships, computer and network access, and library use.

To aid in understanding the various outcomes of the written and oral examinations, a summary table is available.

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