The Master’s Program

Course Requirements

Thirty-two semester hours of coursework are required, 12 of which must be in the area of concentration, 4 of which may be taken in Advanced Studies in Earth and Environmental Sciences (EAES 596). Twelve additional hours must be taken from areas different from the area of concentration. A minimum of 9 hours must be taken in 500-level courses. Up to 8 hours of Master’s Thesis Research (EAES 598) can count towards the degree. In addition, all students must register for EAES 595 (Department Seminar) each semester in residence. Only grades of A, B, C, P, or S can be counted towards the degree. Below are current concentration and specialty areas:

  • Geobiology/Geomicrobiology/Paleontology
  • Geochemistry/ Biogeochemistry/Mineralogy
  • Geophysics/Tectonics/Planetary Science
  • Climate/Hydrologic Cycle

With departmental consent, some 400 or 500-level courses in other departments may be included as specialty courses. Note that these are minimum requirements; your advisor or committee might recommend additional coursework, including courses at the 200 or 300-levels, which do not count for graduate credit.

Timeline of Steps towards the Degree

Below are guidelines for making “satisfactory progress” towards the degree. The example timeline is for a Master’s student who enters the program in the Fall on Full Status without deficiencies in undergraduate coursework. Students who enter on Limited Status will be given additional time to meet the requirements for Full Status. Students entering the program in other semesters should adjust the timetable accordingly.

  1. Fall (first) semester: Complete 9-12 hours of coursework and select an advisor. It is up to the student to select an advisor as soon as possible. Changing advisors and thesis topics will probably delay graduation, and therefore may impact financial support.
  2. Spring (second) semester: A thesis proposal should be completed as soon as possible, nominally by the end of the Spring (or second) semester of the first year. The advisor will help the student select a realistic research project that can be completed within a year. Once the advisor has accepted the first version of the student’s thesis proposal, two other professors are selected to serve on the thesis committee, which should then meet to evaluate the proposal and recommend any modifications. Selection of the other committee members should be based upon their ability to oversee pertinent aspects of the proposed research. In some cases it might be desirable to have additional committee members from other units of the University, or even from outside the University. In all cases, however, the committee must include three people from the departmental faculty (including adjuncts).
  3. Data collection should begin as early as possible.
  4. Most formal coursework should be completed by the end of the first year, with the exception of at most one or two courses. All coursework should nominally be finished by the end of the second Fall semester, leaving the Spring semester for thesis work.
  5. Data analysis and thesis writing should be completed by the second Spring semester. If absolutely necessary, thesis writing may extend into the second Summer; however, the ideal time to defend the thesis is early enough in the Spring semester so that the student can graduate in that semester. The “Thesis Manual” provides guidance for formatting the thesis:
  6. The Graduate College has strict deadlines for graduation each semester. In order to meet the deadlines, give your advisor, committee, and the department sufficient time to evaluate your thesis prior to the thesis examination date and give yourself sufficient time to make any corrections required during the thesis examination. Deadlines for filing the Intent to Graduate, submission of the Thesis to the Graduate College, and submission of Master‘s Certificate of Approval forms are listed under the Academic Calendar.  The procedure is described at

Master’s Thesis Defense

Provided that a student has completed all graduation requirements and is in good academic standing, he/she is then ready to defend the thesis. The procedure involves (1) a readable draft of the thesis available for faculty perusal, (2) a public colloquium, and (3) a nonpublic examination. The student is responsible for scheduling the colloquium and exam at a time agreeable to all committee members. The student is also responsible for informing the departmental office staff of the time of the colloquium and the title of the thesis, as well as arranging a room to hold the colloquium in with the help of the staff.

  1. At least three weeks before the colloquium and exam, (1) the student and advisor must inform the DGS and departmental staff of the date, and (2) the formal Examination Committee must be formed. The committee consists of a minimum of the advisor and two other members of the departmental faculty (including adjuncts). The chair of the committee (usually the advisor) must be a full member of the Graduate College faculty. At least one committee member must be tenured. In some cases, an additional member of the committee can come from outside the Department, academic unit, or University. For a member from outside the University, a curriculum vitae must be provided along with the Committee Recommendation Form (see below). The student fills out the Committee Recommendation Form and arranges for it to be signed by the advisor and the DGS or Department Head, and submitted to the Graduate College. A copy is kept in the student’s file. Within a few days of receipt of the form by the Graduate College, the student will receive notification of access to iThenticate. The student is expected to screen his/her thesis prior to the defense using iThenticate to avoid inadvertently including previously published work in the thesis without proper citation, paraphrasing, or quoting. See and the letter that will be sent to the student’s committee members for more information. After review of the form, the Dean of the Graduate College will send formal notification of the selection of the Examination Committee to each committee member, and also sends the formal Examination Report document to the department office. The Examination Report will be given to the student’s advisor.
  2. At least one week before the colloquium and exam, a readable and reasonably complete draft of the thesis must be made available by the student for perusal by the faculty. This draft should include a complete list of cited references and can be obtained in the department’s front office.
  3. The student presents his/her thesis at a public colloquium. The presentation should take 35-45 minutes but no more than 50 minutes, leaving at least10 minutes for questions from the audience. Scheduling will be arranged by the student and the advisor.
  4. The examination is nonpublic, oral, and typically 1-2 hours long. The exam immediately follows the colloquium and is conducted by the thesis examination committee; however, other faculty members may attend, ask questions, and participate in the final deliberations. The examination committee decides the outcome by a simple majority vote. Three results are possible: Pass, Conditional Fail, or Unconditional Fail. “Pass” means that the examination was passed, but carries no implications about other degree requirements. For example, the committee may vote to “Pass” but may require modification of the thesis before final acceptance, or outstanding course requirements may still need to be fulfilled before the degree is awarded. “Conditional Fail” means the exam can be repeated at a later date agreed upon by the student and the examination committee. “Unconditional Fail” means the exam cannot be repeated. Note that a candidate cannot be passed if more than one vote of “Fail” is reported. The Examination Report must be filled out, signed by all committee members, and returned to the Graduate College within two days of the exam.