PhD Requirements

The PhD program provides students with experience and training in all aspects of scientific research, including the formulation and testing of hypotheses, acquiring skills needed for their chosen project, collection and interpretation of original data, and writing up the results as a set of published papers. The expectation for a PhD student extends beyond that of a master’s student in the individual’s ability to design and carry out original, independent research on a focused topic.

At the PhD level, the advisor provides guidance and input, but the student is expected to take the lead in designing, executing, and writing up the results of the work. This requires a reliable work ethic, intellectual and emotional maturity, and commitment to (“ownership of”) the chosen research project. In addition, a successful advisor/advisee relationship requires initial and ongoing mutual consent and open communication; students are encouraged to solicit advice and support from other faculty as well (e.g. committee members, graduate advisor, department head).

Doctoral candidates must complete 81 credits total.

  • 15 graded credits (500 or 600 level): Must be taken for grade.
  • 18 dissertation credits: GEOL 603, with a minimum of 3 credits must be taken in the last term.
  • 48 additional credits: 3+ years of full-time study (at least 9 credits/term may include research or reading credits). Students are expected to register for and attend the department seminar and graduate student seminar (607) each term.

Earth Sciences Graduate Guide


PhD students are required to take 15 graded classroom credits at the graduate-level (500-600 level). These courses must be approved by the guidance/dissertation committee chair to ensure that they are geared toward achieving balance between increasing the breadth of their academic experience and maintaining focus on areas of relevance to their research. They must also take 18 hours of dissertation credits (GEOL 603).

The department does not set any further specific coursework requirements for PhD students, within the 81 total minimum credits required by the UO Graduate School. However, students are expected to acquire the graduate Earth science 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 relevant areas of Earth science, substantial course-work may be recommended. Undergraduate courses may, with the guidance committee’s recommendation, be used to fill deficiencies in the student’s background, but the majority of the work should be in graduate level courses.

At least 3 years of full-time work beyond the bachelor’s 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. (See Residency Requirement below.) 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, the master’s degree is officially awarded, and both the master’s degree and doctoral degree are in the same major.

Residency Requirement

During their first year of study, PhD students must complete 27 credits at the University of Oregon while classified as a doctoral student. These should be a majority of lecture-based coursework. Research (ERTH 601), Reading (ERTH 605), and other individualized study options may be part of the 9 credits each quarter, but should not be the majority. Residency must be completed before a student can advance to candidacy.

Graduate students at the UO may, with advisor and departmental approval, take graduate courses at institutions in the Oregon University System participating in the Joint Campus 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. Joint campus coursework cannot be used to meet the doctoral year of residency requirement. Forms are available from the Office of the Registrar.

Grade Requirements

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. A grade lower than a B- or a N (no-pass) will not be counted toward fulfilling the credit requirement. Students must score at least a B- to earn a P (pass) in a non-graded course. Graduate School policy requires that students must convert a graduate course grade of Incomplete (“I”) into a passing grade within one calendar year of the term the course was taken. After one year, the student must petition to the Graduate School for the removal of an incomplete. The petition is not necessary for Incompletes in Research. Instructors must submit grade changes for Research “I” credits.

Time Requirements

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, as required by the Graduate School. Graduate students must attend the University continuously, except for summers, until all the program requirements have been completed, unless on-leave status has been approved (maximum time six academic terms). In the term in which the degree is received, all graduate students must register for at least 3 credits of dissertation (GEOL 603).

Back to Top

Guidance Committee

A guidance committee of three faculty members will be assigned to each incoming PhD student to:

  • Provide initial academic advising on coursework, requirements, and research topics.
  • Document student progress until that student passes their comprehensive exams and chooses a dissertation committee.

The guidance committee is to meet with the student at least once shortly after the student arrives on campus and before they register. At this first meeting, the committee will review the student’s academic record, try to identify gaps in the student’s preparation or potential difficulties with departmental requirements and regulations, and plan jointly with the student their first term’s work. If the student appears to be well prepared and reasonably knowledgeable about their aims, further meetings of the student with the guidance committee may be scheduled infrequently, though students are encouraged to keep individual committee members informed of their progress and challenges and see advice and input on an informal basis between meetings.

In any case, at least one guidance or dissertation committee meeting must be held each academic year to provide advice to the student and to examine their progress. Usually, this meeting will be held near the end of spring term. After each meeting, the coordinator will write up the minutes, circulate to the student and the committee, and send a copy to the graduate coordinator with a request to have a copy put in the student’s file.

Back to Top

Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of this examination is to evaluate a PhD student’s academic background and preparation in their field of research. The exam also reveals whether the student has the scientific, intellectual, and professional maturity required to advance the research with a sustained effort over many years. PhD students should be prepared to take this exam early in the winter term of their second year in the program (their fifth term in-residence). The exam consists of:

  • Two written proposals.
  • A written exam focusing on background material related to the research.
  • An oral defense of the proposed research.

The comprehensive exam tests the student’s ability to:

  • Identify, define, and clearly state a scientific problem.
  • Understand and summarize literature relevant to the problem.
  • Understand the underlying processes and fundamental concepts in their field.
  • Concisely state the significance of the problem, with reference to the literature and basic principles.
  • Become skilled in the techniques and methods needed to solve the problem.
  • Explain how the research plan will be implemented to test competing hypotheses.
  • Execute the research as exemplified by the presentation of preliminary results.

Students should work closely with their advisor prior to the exam to ensure sufficient development of the proposals and preparation for the exam. Students are strongly encouraged to seek feedback from faculty and senior graduate students about the written and oral components of the exam. It is critical that the student understands the expectations of their advisor and committee who evaluate their performance. Therefore, good communication between all parties is imperative. Once the comprehensive exam is passed, the student advances to PhD candidacy, resulting in permission to continue in the PhD program.

Outline of Exam Procedures

  1. Propose your oral examination committee to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) by early fall of your second year.
  2. Consult your committee to decide on two sufficiently different topics for your research project proposals, accomplished through summaries submitted to your committee and the Graduate Coordinator by Nov. 7.
  3. Write two research project proposals and distribute them to your examination committee and the Graduate Coordinator by the end of the 2nd week of Winter term.
  4. By Friday of week 4 of Winter term, your committee coordination will give you a summarized critical written review of your project proposals.
  5. You have one week to write a concise response to these reviews for your committee (by Friday of week 5 of Winter term).
  6. During weeks 6-8 of Winter term, take your oral exam and defend your two research project proposals.
  7. Take a break! Regardless of the outcome of your exams, you deserve it!!
  8. If you pass unconditionally, you are advanced to candidacy and can continue your studies. If you do not pass, or if you pass with conditions, you’ll want to get some advice from your advisor and committee on how to proceed next.

Back to Top


The primary product in fulfillment of the PhD degree is a dissertation that summarizes the scientific research performed by the student. The dissertation should represent a unique scientific contribution with the expectation that much of the work will be published as a set of research papers. The volume of work that constitutes a dissertation is highly variable by discipline. However, the overall body of work is valued by its scientific impact. It is critical that the student understands the expectations of their advisor and committee, who evaluate and approve the work. Therefore, good communication between all parties is imperative.

Outline of Dissertation Procedures

  1. Once you have advanced to candidacy, write up your dissertation project proposal within one year.
  2. Form a dissertation committee within nine months (requires approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School). The Graduate School must approve the committee at least 6 months before the defense.
  3. Submit your dissertation proposal to the dissertation committee for approval.
  4. Near the end of your research, take dissertation credits (GEOL 603) while completing the dissertation draft.
  5. Apply for the degree with the Graduate School by the Friday of the second week in your final term.
  6. Submit the dissertation draft to your committee and allow them at least two weeks to read it.
  7. Once approval is obtained from your committee, schedule the oral defense to be held at least three weeks later in GradWeb. The approved oral defense application needs to be in 3 weeks before the defense. We recommend students start the process in GradWeb at least 4-5 weeks in advance of the defense to ensure an approved application is in by the 3 week deadline.
  8. Hold the defense. It is the student’s responsibility to be aware of defense deadlines. Please refer to the Graduate School calendar for details.
  9. Once the dissertation is successfully defended, obtain unanimous approval of the final form of the dissertation from your committee.
  10. Submit an electronic version of your dissertation to the Graduate School and pay fees.

Back to Top

Oral Presentation Requirements

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 graduate coordinator.

Alternatively, student seminars may be presented during a departmental seminar time slot if space is available in the schedule. Otherwise, students may petition to present their seminar at an informal 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 three faculty are able to attend. Lunchtime slots, when informal seminar series are often already scheduled, 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. Additionally, each graduate student is expected to attend the weekly Graduate Seminar and give an informal talk to their peers on their research once a year (except during their first year).

Back to Top

Apply to our Graduate Program

Ready to apply? Start your application on Slate, the centralized application portal for graduate admissions at the University of Oregon.

Apply Now

Back to Top