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Ph.D. Degree Requirements


15 credits in related sciences Can be taken Pass/No Pass
18 dissertation credits GEOL 603
48 additional credits 3+ years of full-time study (9 credits/term) (includes research or reading credits)
81 credits total

Ph.D. students are required to take 15 hours of graduate-level work in related sciences and/or mathematics (see below), appropriate to their research interests. This related science work may be taken on a graded or pass/no pass (P/N) basis. He/she must also take 18 hours of dissertation credit (GEOL 603). The department does not set any further specific coursework requirements for Ph.D. students. However, students are expected to acquire the graduate geoscience background necessary to successfully complete the comprehensive examination and effectively carry out proposed dissertation research. If the student does not have a strong background in geoscience, substantial geology/geophysics coursework is recommended in order to prepare adequately for the comprehensive exams. Undergraduate courses may, with the guidance committee’s recommendation, be used to fill in the student’s geoscience background, but the majority of the work should be in graduate level courses.

Graduate students at the university may, with adviser and departmental approval, take graduate courses at any of the other institutions in the Oregon University System (except Portland State University who is no longer participating in the program). A student registers for these courses with the University of Oregon registrar, who records each grade on the academic record under Joint-Campus Course (JC 610). The student must be a matriculated UO graduate student in an advanced degree program and registered for UO courses the same term the JC 610 course is taken. A maximum of 15 JC credits may be applied toward a graduate degree program. Forms are available from Vicki.

Students are expected to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better in their course work. If their GPA falls below 3.0 or they fail to show satisfactory progress toward completion of their degree, they are subject to disqualification. Incompletes (grade = I) must be converted into passing grades within one calendar year of the assignment of the Incomplete. Students may request added time for the removal of the I by submitting a petition, signed by the instructor, to the Dean of the Graduate School for approval. This time limit does not apply to Incompletes in Research or Dissertation.

At least 3 years of full-time work beyond the bachelor degree are required, of which at least one academic year (3 consecutive terms of full time study, with a minimum of 9 credit hours per term) must be spent in residence on the Eugene campus. A doctoral candidate may fulfill the residency requirement during the period that he or she works toward a master’s degree on the University campus as long as the doctoral program immediately follows the master’s degree program and both the master’s degree and doctoral degree are in the same major.

The one year of residency required on the Eugene campus, the passing of the coursework, comprehensive examinations, and the completion of the dissertation must all be accomplished within a 7-year period. Graduate students must attend the University continuously, except for summers, until all of the program requirements have been completed, unless on-leave status (maximum time of one calendar year) has been approved. Beyond one year of leave, doctoral students (only) may register in absentia (for a reduced term fee) when the student is doing no work toward the degree and is using no University or faculty facilities. In the term in which the degree is received, all graduate students must register for at least 3 credits of dissertation (GEOL 603).

Related Sciences Requirement: The purpose of the related sciences requirement is to ensure that Ph.D. students have an adequate science and mathematics background to pursue a rigorous research program in their chosen fields of interest. A wide variety of acceptable graduate courses are offered in the mathematics and science departments of the University. Students may also register concurrently for science courses at other institutions such as Oregon State University. The following general guidelines for selecting courses to meet the outside science requirement are offered; however, students should seek approval of their guidance committees before enrolling in any outside science courses.

  • Most 400/500 level courses in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and physical geography are acceptable. Most biology courses are also acceptable, but some biology courses are so narrowly specialized that they may not provide useful background for geologic research. Other biology courses, and some geography courses, may be oriented so strongly toward geological subjects (paleontology, palynology, biostratigraphy) that they may not qualify as an outside science.
  • Certain 300 level courses in chemistry, and physics (as well as some 200 level mathematics courses) may be acceptable if the faculty believes that these courses satisfy the spirit or intent of the 15 hour outside science requirement. Remember that these courses do not carry graduate credit. (Lower division mathematics courses that have counted toward the related sciences requirement include MATH 256, 281, 282, and most 300 level math courses.)
  • Certain reading, conference, and seminar courses (numbered 507, 607, 610) in related science/math departments may be acceptable if the topics covered in these courses are important to your program and are not otherwise available in a regularly scheduled course.
  • (4) Courses taken concurrently at other institutions, or courses that a student seeks to transfer from other institutions must meet the guidelines stated in parts 1, 2, and 3 above.


Comprehensive Exams

1. Propose your oral examination committee to the department head no later than the fall of your second year.
2. Consult your committee to decide on two sufficiently different topics for your research project proposals, accomplished through abstracts submitted to your committee.
3. Write two research project proposals and distribute them to your examination committee.
4. After your final proposals are submitted to your committee, your committee will give you written questions to answer in a three hour closed book session three days later.
5. Within three weeks of the written exam, take your oral exam and defend your two research project proposals.
6. Take a break! Regardless of the outcome of your exams, you deserve it!!
7. If you passed unconditionally, you are advanced to candidacy and can continue your studies. If you did not pass, or passed conditionally, it’s time to get some advice on how to proceed next.

The purpose of this examination is to evaluate a Ph.D. student’s academic background and preparation in his/her field of research. Once the comprehensive exams are passed, the student advances to Ph.D. candidacy, resulting in permission to continue in the Ph.D. program. The comprehensive examination includes both written and oral components. Both parts of the examination are given within a 3-week period usually in February of each year. Ph.D. students should be prepared to take these exams early in the winter term of their second year in the program (their fifth term in residence).

Oral Examination Committee: Early in the fall term of the student’s second year (the fourth term in residence), the student must choose an oral examination committee. Consultation with the prospective research advisor and possibly other faculty members about the choice of committee members is recommended. This committee must then be approved and appointed by the department head. The student’s prospective research advisor can serve on the examination committee but cannot be coordinator of the committee. The committee has 4 members, one of whom may be from another department. At least 2 members of the committee should be faculty whose research interests are outside the student’s primary research field. The role of the committee is to evaluate the student’s research project proposals and to examine the student orally to determine whether or not his/her preparation is sufficient to warrant advancement to Ph.D. candidacy.

Research Proposals: The student must write 2 research project proposals in 2 different research areas. Often, one or both of the proposals becomes incorporated into the student’s dissertation proposal, but neither project need be completed after the comprehensive exams or become the dissertation topic if the student and dissertation committee decide otherwise. The idea is simply to prove that the student can properly design a scientific study and demonstrate breadth of knowledge.

One-page (double-spaced) abstracts of the proposals should be submitted to the oral examination committee early in the fall term preceding the exam so the committee can decide whether or not they are appropriate and sufficiently different from each other. Each proposal should be written in scientific style and be no more than 7 pages long (double-spaced), excluding figures, tables and references, with a 15 page limit for each proposal. Examples of old proposals are available from the Graduate Student Representative. Copies of the research proposals must be submitted to the oral examination committee at least 1 week prior to the scheduled date of the written examination, although the student is advised to consult with their committee members about the proposals well in advance of this time. The proposals will be judged on the quality of writing, the imagination and innovation that went into the design of the proposals, and the student’s ability to synthesize information.

Written Exam: The examination committee designs one broad (and funadmental) question for each proposal. The chair of the committee will email the questions to the student by 5 pm on the Friday prior to the exam. Students will have the weekend to prepare before responding to the questions. The exam lasts approximately 3 hours, in a closed-book session.

Oral Exam: Students should schedule their oral examination to occur within 3 weeks after the written exam, faculty schedules permitting. The orals generally last at least 2-3 hours and focus on questions related to the student’s 2 research proposals, although questioning into the student’s academic background is allowed as well. The orals are private, and only the oral examination committee is present. The usual format is an oral presentation (including visual aids such as slides and/or overheads) by the student about his/her research proposals, followed by or interspersed with faculty questions. Many students find that faculty questioning takes the form of a Socratic dialogue. In other words, faculty members ask the student questions that lead the student to verbalize a particular point or line of reasoning that the faculty wish to get across to them.

After the oral examination, the oral examination committee will evaluate the student’s performance on both the written and oral examinations, as well as the student’s performance in class work. On the basis of total performance, the oral examination committee will decide if the student should be given a pass, fail, or conditional pass. A pass means that the student will be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. If a conditional pass is granted, the committee will require appropriate course work to remedy the perceived deficiency in the student’s comprehensive performance. If a student is judged to fail the examination, the committee will decide if the student is to be terminated from the program or be given an opportunity to retake the examination.


1. Once you have advanced to candidacy, write up your dissertation project proposal.
2. Form a dissertation committee (requires approval of the department chair and the Dean of the Graduate School).
3. Submit your dissertation proposal to the committee.
4. Perform your thesis research while taking dissertation credits (GEOL 603) and write the complete dissertation draft.
5. Apply for the degree with the Graduate School early in your final term.
6. Submit the dissertation draft to your committee and allow them at least 2 weeks to read it.
7. Give 4 copies of your dissertation abstract and apply for the Final Oral Defense at the Graduate school at least 3 weeks before the date of the public defense.
8. Once approval is obtained from your committee, schedule the oral defense to be held at least 2 weeks later.
9. Hold the defense.
10. Once the dissertation is successfully defended, obtain unanimous approval of the final form of the dissertation from your committee.
11. Turn in 2 final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate School and pay fees.
12. Leave a collection of your dissertation materials with the department.

Dissertation Committee: A 4-person dissertation committee is chosen by the student after he/she is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. It must include at least 3 members of the Department of Geological Sciences and 1 additional member of the University of Oregon faculty. Additional committee members are optional. The student’s dissertation advisor is on the committee and is designated as chair for Graduate School records, but he/she is not the coordinator of the committee. The committee must be approved by the department head and the Dean of the Graduate School. Membership of the committee should be proposed to the Dean of the Graduate School as soon as possible after advancement to candidacy and no later than 6 months before the expected date of the dissertation defense. Once the committee has been approved by the Graduate School, changes must be petitioned in writing, so the student should carefully consider their choice of advisor(s) and committee members.

The responsibilities of the dissertation committee are to:

  • evaluate and approve the student’s dissertation proposal
  • provide academic advice and monitor student progress toward completion of the degree
  • provide feedback and advice to the student concerning the student’s research project
  • read the dissertation draft
  • examine the student at his/her dissertation

Dissertation Proposal: Within one term of advancement to candidacy, students are expected to furnish a copy of their dissertation proposal to each member of their dissertation committee. In addition, a single copy of the proposal will be circulated among the remaining faculty. The proposal should be similar in form, although not necessarily in content, to the research project proposals written for the oral examination. After the dissertation proposal has been distributed to members of the committee, the committee will meet to: (1) approve or request revision of the research proposal, (2) ensure that the student has obtained, or is in the process of obtaining, the academic background needed to complete the work, and (3) help the student make plans for completing the project.

Dissertation Credits: After the student has advanced to Ph.D. candidacy, he/she may register for dissertation credit (GEOL 603). At least 18 hours of dissertation credit must be earned in order to obtain the Ph.D. The Graduate School expects the student to register for GEOL 603 during the last 2 terms before completion of the degree. The grade given for GEOL 603 will be an incomplete (I) until the dissertation is completed and approved by the Graduate School.

Degree Application: Early in the term in which the student plans to graduate, he/she must apply for the degree online. Be sure to check the deadline schedule.

Defense: A complete draft of the dissertation must be circulated to dissertation committee members at least 4 weeks before the defense is held (the draft includes text, figures, tables, references, etc.). Scheduling your defense could well be your biggest challenge in graduate school. Frequent communication regarding schedules is advised. Committee members are allowed 2 weeks to read the dissertation before they are required to give approval (or disapproval) to schedule the defense. At least 3 weeks before the date of the public defense, the student must file with the Graduate School (1) an application for the Final Oral Defense and (2) 4 copies of an abstract (not longer than 350 words, and (3) Confirmation of Agreement to Attend). A formal public defense of the dissertation on the Eugene campus is mandatory. During this public defense, the candidate will present the major ideas, findings, and results of the dissertation research, and be subject to questions by members of the dissertation committee and the general public. The candidate’s dissertation committee must attend the oral defense, and the dissertation advisor must certify to the Graduate School that the defense occurred as scheduled.

Final Product: Following the dissertation defense, but before the dissertation is submitted to the Graduate School, each member of the dissertation committee must confirm in writing that he or she approves or disapproves of the final version of the dissertation. Formal approval of the dissertation requires a unanimous vote. In the event that the dissertation fails to gain unanimous approval of the dissertation committee, it becomes the responsibility of the Dean of the Graduate School, after consultation with the student, the department head, and the committee, to determine the review procedure.

Once the dissertation has been approved, the student is required to submit 2 final copies of the dissertation to the Graduate School. Copies of the dissertation will not be accepted unless they meet Graduate School standards of form and style. The student should refer to the Graduate School “Thesis and Dissertation Manual & Writing Resources” web page that defines these standards. Two styles of dissertation are acceptable; a narrative focused on a single problem or group of problems related to one idea; or a “journal”-style dissertation where each chapter stands alone and addresses separate problems. The Graduate School allows published papers to be submitted in lieu of the standard thesis; however, these papers may have to be retyped into the standard Graduate School style. To avoid potential problems, students are cautioned to first check with the Graduate School before adopting this approach. The university archives retains copies of all dissertations on microfilm. Microfilming will be done at the university library for which there is a fee of $6 or $50 (depending on which method is chosen) and $35 additional if the thesis is copyrighted.

Storage of Dissertation Materials: Students who complete a Ph.D. thesis are expected to prepare a representative collection of rocks, thin sections, etc., to be permanently kept by the department. Arrangements for preparing and storing these materials should be made with the faculty advisor as part of the final requirements for the degree. (See Vicki for further information.)

Oral Presentations

Give a seminar or meeting talk or poster at least once every 2 years; more often is preferred. Presentations for classes are not counted toward this requirement.

In order to give graduate students more experience speaking in front of large, formal audiences, every graduate student is required to give a scientific presentation at least once during each 2-year period of residency in the department. Oral or poster presentations at scientific meetings (e.g., AGU, GSA, AAPG, etc.) are encouraged as a means of meeting the requirement. If such a talk or poster is given, documentation (e.g., the published abstract) must be provided to the department office manager. Alternatively, student seminars may be presented during a Friday seminar time slot if space is available in the schedule. Otherwise, students may present their seminar at different time. Such a presentation must be scheduled and advertised a minimum of one week in advance and will meet the requirement only if at least 3 faculty are able to attend. Lunch time slots, when informal seminar series may already be scheduled (e.g., soft rock seminar series), may be appropriate. Students who are judged by the faculty to have presented an unsatisfactory seminar will be advised how the seminar can be improved and will be required to give another (satisfactory) seminar soon after.


1. Guidance committee – 3 Geological Sciences faculty appointed by department head.
2. Oral examination committee – 4 faculty chosen by the student, approved by the department chair. One may be from another UO department and two should have research interests outside the student’s primary field.
3. Dissertation committee – 4 faculty (at least 3 from Geological Sciences and one from another UO department) chosen by the student, approved by the department head and the Dean of the Graduate School.

Guidance Committee

A guidance committee of 3 faculty members will be assigned to each incoming student to (1) provide initial academic advising on coursework, requirements, and research topics and (2) document student progress until that student passes their comprehensive exams and chooses a dissertation committee. At least one member of the guidance committee will be someone in the student’s research field, and the committee coordinator shall be someone who is unlikely to serve as thesis advisor for the student. It is mandatory that faculty committee members attend guidance committee meetings or arrange for a substitute faculty member with the same general academic specialty.

The guidance committee is to meet with the student at least once shortly after the student arrives on campus and before he/she registers. At this first meeting, the committee will examine the student’s academic record, try to identify and point out to the gaps in the student’s preparation or potential difficulties with departmental requirements and regulations, and plan jointly with the student his or her first term’s work. If the student appears to be well prepared and reasonably knowledgeable about his/her aims, further meetings of the student with the guidance committee may be scheduled infrequently. In any case, at least one committee meeting must be held each academic year to provide advice to the student and to examine his or her progress. Usually, this meeting will be held near the end of spring term. After a committee meeting is held, the coordinator will write up the minutes and make a copy for the student and the student’s file. At least once a year, the coordinator of the guidance committee presents a report to the faculty of the department, outlining the student’s progress.

Ph.D. students should form their dissertation committee within one month after passing the comprehensive examination and being advanced to candidacy. A student may (but is not required to) use comp committee members as dissertation committee members. At any rate , students should be thinking about outside members during their first year of study. Once this has been accomplished, the dissertation committee will take over all advising functions for the student, and the student’s guidance committee ceases to exist.