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Graduate Curricula

Beginning Fall 2022, see the new graduate curricula below.

If you are a student using the prior guidelines, please see the old Graduate Curricula.

Foundational Course Requirements

Incoming students must have completed or will complete (within their first year in the program) three years total of courses in foundational sciences including Math, Statistics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, or Earth Science.

A formal and documented degree audit at the start of the program between the student, the DGS, and the faculty advisor(s) will be implemented to identify necessary foundational course work and formulate a course plan for the first year. The Degree audit must be completed no later than 1 week before course registration opens for incoming Graduate Students in their first quarter.

Ph.D. Requirements

The PhD requires a total of 16 courses that should be taken by the 12th quarter of the program, of which 13 courses must be taken within the first 8 quarters.

These courses are as follows:

  1. Six 300- level EARTH courses.
  2. Zero to four graduate-credit bearing courses in other STEM departments. Two courses are recommended for students with Earth Science backgrounds
  3. Zero to six other courses bearing graduate credit in EARTH
  4. Four to six Earth 499 courses (Independent Study) with two different faculty members within the first 8 quarters. Recommended pacing is one per term with two in the term prior to the qualifying exam. No more than six count towards degree requirements.

All courses taken to satisfy these requirements should be graded.

Graduate Advisory Committee

This committee is comprised of a minimum of two NU Graduate Faculty members and a minimum of one additional expert(s) in the pertinent field of study. Typically, the student’s primary research advisor serves as the chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee. The committee needs to be formed by the 3rd quarter (typically the Spring Y1).

At least two members of the committee must be faculty from EPS. At least one member of the committee must not be directly involved with the student’s research.

Regular meetings between the student and their Graduate Advisory Committee are encouraged. Students are required to at minimum meet synchronously with their full committee in Spring Quarter Y1, Fall Quarter Y2, and annually in the spring after their qualifying exam.

The Graduate Advisory Committee will advise and provide feedback on the first-year proposal (see below) and administer the qualifying exam.

Dissertation Committee:

Members of this committee read the student’s dissertation, suggest corrections and other enhancements, and conduct the Final Examination, during which the student defends their dissertation and answers questions from the committee members. The composition of this Committee may, but is not required to, be Graduate Advisory Committee.

Members of one or more of these committees can be replaced upon request at any time, but only with approval from the DGS.

First Year Proposal

Each student will write a primary research proposal due to the advisory committee end Q4 on the topic of their primary proposition, written in consultation with the primary research advisor. The student and qualifying committee must meet in Q5 to discuss and provide feedback on all aspects of the proposal. The committee will provide substantive feedback on this proposal, and it should be revised for the qualifying exam. The proposal must be well thought-out, carefully written, and edited, and with appropriate references and illustrations. The scope of the proposed work should be achievable within the timeline of a typical Ph.D. thesis and may range from a single to multiple chapters of work. It may be appropriate to outline field logistics, equipment needs, instrument time, computation needs and other relevant details in an appendix. Guidelines for standard length and formatting of this proposal can be found in the graduate guidebook.

The Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Exam consists of an oral defense of a primary and a secondary research proposition. Students entering are required to take the Qualifying Examination by the middle (Wk05) of their seventh quarter as a full-time graduate student (typically spring quarter Y2).

Possible outcomes of the examination are: full pass, conditional pass, fail with the option to retake, and outright fail. Students who pass the Qualifying Examination are admitted to PhD candidacy.

The Propositions should be on different subjects, each prepared under the guidance of a different faculty advisor. The topic of both the primary and secondary proposals should be discussed and agreed upon by the graduate advisory committee in the fifth quarter (typically fall Y2). Written propositions should be delivered to the Qualifying Examination Committee not less than ten working days before the examination.

Primary: The primary proposition will consist of a research proposal or paper describing a substantive body of scholarship and research derived from the first-year proposal. The student should have command of their research question and hypothesis, the relevant literature, research methods and approaches, and expected outcomes that may optionally include some preliminary analysis of data.

The research proposal must provide a concise review of the background literature, and must discuss the proposed problem, its importance, and the methods to be applied to its examination.

Secondary: The secondary proposition will also consist of a research proposal or paper describing a substantive body of scholarship, but the topic can be wide ranging including another topic of research in Earth Sciences, scientific communication, a diversity, equity, and inclusion topic, a geoscience education project, or something else approved by the advisory committee.

The qualifying exam is oral and consists of three parts:

  1. A presentation of each proposition (no more than 20 minutes duration);
  2. An examination of the candidate on the merits of the proposition, including but not limited to the aspects listed in the written proposition; and
  3. An examination of any subject matter judged by committee members to be relevant to the student’s ability to carry out the proposed research.

The entire examination is typically 2.5 hours to 3.5 hours long. No part of examination is public.

Note: There is no exemption for previous Master's work.

Individual Development Plan

The student will draft and submit and Individual Development Plan by Q9 (typically Fall Y3) to their committee (see student schedule). The purpose of this plan is to formalize an agreement between the student and committee to 1.) address deficiencies noted in the qualifying exam process, 2.) identify educational and professional development goals and objectives of the student, and 3.) identify a path to graduation.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense consists of a public presentation of their dissertation work and a closed-door defense of that work with the dissertation committee. Members of the department and public may ask questions after the public presentation. After the Final Examination, the committee recommends to pass or fail the student. Usually, but not always, a student passes conditionally upon completing a final set of corrections to the research and/or dissertation.

Scientific Communication

Each Ph.D. Candidate will present their work in a 30+ minute talk in year 3, 4, AND 5. This requirement may be filled either through internal seminar series participation or in external venues. The presentation date, length, venue, and title should be logged in GSTS and reported on at the annual committee meeting.

Teaching Requirement

A minimum of 2 quarters TAing over the PhD, preferably spanning more than one class

Student Schedule