Get your PhD in Geography

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a 4 to 5 year graduate program that prepares students in geographic research and teaching. Our program is research-focused, and designed for students seeking a career in academia, and for public, private, and non-profit sector positions that require advanced research skills. Students can enter the program with advanced standing from their previous graduate education (e.g., MA or MS), and in limited cases directly from the BA or BS. The PhD program of study leads to:

  1. Knowledge of the discipline of geography
  2. Broad knowledge of a subfield of geography and its literature; and
  3. Specific expertise in the subfield

The first provides a basis for communication with professional colleagues across the discipline. The second represents the general area in which the PhD holder seeks employment, and the third represents the area of most active research involvement. Typical areas of concentration for students in our department include spatiotemporal data modeling, environmental modeling and simulation, geovisualization, spatial decision support systems, health-environment interactions and disease outcomes, ecosystem services, ecological diversity and function, environmental remote sensing, and environmental hazards.

Program requirements

Admission to candidacy occurs after two years of coursework and successful completion of a comprehensive examination (written and oral components). Prior to the comprehensive examination, each doctoral student submits an Area of Concentration Bibliography to their PhD committee. The bibliography is a critical synthesis of research in the student's subfield. Following completion of the comprehensive exam, the student submits a dissertation proposal to the dissertation committee for critical feedback and approval. After proposal approval, the student then completes and defends the dissertation.

The PhD is a four- to five-year, post-baccalaureate program. Progression toward degree completion occurs through a set of sequential program milestones. These include coursework, an Area of Concentration bibliography, written qualifying examination, dissertation proposal and oral defense (comprehensive), dissertation research and writing, and the dissertation defense.

Timeline for completion of the PhD

To fulfill program course requirements, students must take:

  • GEOG:5010 Fundamentals of Geography
  • GEOG:5070 Research and Writing in Geography
  • GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium taken each semester
  • 2 additional courses numbered above 5001
  • 2 research seminars in Geography from among GEOG:6100 – GEOG:6500 

Each 5000+-level class is meant to provide breadth for students and provide insight into how research is done at a deep level on a specific topic. Each should provide opportunity for students who specialize in 6 that area to do more in depth work while simultaneously providing an opportunity for students who are new to the topic to discover the nature of its questions and methodology and contribute from their perspectives. Research seminars are intended to engage students in cutting edge research either individually or in a team setting. Students who are not specialists in a particular area are encouraged to participate in research seminars in which they can contribute outside perspectives to team projects or develop new avenues of research on the topic themselves. Additionally, each semester they are in residence, students must register for the department’s colloquium series, GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium. 

Before receiving the PhD degree, students are expected to serve as both teaching assistants (possibly serve as a classroom instructor) and research assistants. 

Students can enter the program with advanced standing if they have had previous graduate training equivalent to that in the department’s MA program. Students entering the program directly from the BS or BA must complete a minimum of 72 semester hours of graduate work, of which 9 can be thesis hours. Students entering with an MA degree may be able to transfer credits that meet GSS requirements.

The PhD degree is the highest degree the University offers and is awarded only to those who demonstrate a high level of scholarship. This means that students must specialize in a fairly specific area of the discipline and demonstrate a high level of competence in that area. The department therefore requires that its PhD students declare an Area of Concentration, give serious thought to the scope and current state of development in that area, demonstrate knowledge of the relevant literature, and be examined on their knowledge of the area of concentration. 

See Chapter 4, Section 1 of the Graduate Student Handbook for more information on selecting an Area of Concentration and creating an Area of Concentration Bibliography

A written qualifying examination ensures that a student is fully prepared to undertake a dissertation in their field of interest and complete their plan of study for a doctoral degree. This examination focuses on, but is not necessarily limited to, the student’s area of concentration. A student must pass this qualifying exam to progress to the dissertation proposal and oral comprehensive examination. 

See Chapter 4, Section 2 of the Graduate Student Handbook to learn more about the written qualifying examination. 

The research problem that forms the basis for a student’s doctoral dissertation should evolve out of discussions with their departmental advisor. This topic should be based on knowledge of the area gained through a thorough search of the literature, in courses within the department and in related areas of study, seminars, independent research, and supervised reading in the area.

After passing the written qualifying examination, the student should develop a proposal for their dissertation in close cooperation with their advisor. Commonly such a proposal includes: 

  1. A clear statement of the purpose of the research and research questions to be investigated
  2. A brief review of the literature the research area that links to the literature presented in the Area of Concentration Bibliography
  3. The hypotheses to be tested, sources of data, and proposed procedures for analyzing the data, or
  4. The general nature of the theoretical or technical work to be undertaken
  5. A statement on how the student’s research will contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the selected area of study and the novel contribution of the work 

The expected format and length for a dissertation proposal should follow the National Science Foundation’s Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement (DDRI) grant guidelines. With the full committee’s approval, a student’s proposal may vary from these models as appropriate to the problem or topic to be researched.

See Chapter 4, Sections 3 and 4 of the Graduate Student Handbook for more details on the doctoral dissertation proposal & oral comprehensive examination. 

Candidates for the PhD degree must adhere to certain deadlines with respect to submission of dissertations if they expect to receive their degree at a particular commencement.

Students should work with their advisor to prepare a draft of their dissertation and to prepare a timeline for dissertation preparation that ensures adequate time for revisions based on Graduate College deadlines. Dissertations will be given to the committee when the advisor determines them to be in a satisfactory form.

The Final Examination must be held prior to a date established and published each semester by the Graduate College. Members of the Examining Committee must each receive a copy of the dissertation in revised or final form at least three weeks prior to the date of the Final Examination. Students who submit their work outside of the academic year schedule may be required to wait until the academic year commences for faculty written reaction to their work. Notice of the final exam will be made and all faculty and students will be invited to attend all but the committee deliberation section of the exam.

A digital copy of the complete, finished dissertation must be deposited to the Graduate College by the College’s deadline, which is normally two to three weeks prior to the end of classes; see the official schedule published by the Graduate College for dates.

The above deadlines apply to the academic year only and cannot be guaranteed for the Commencement at the end of the summer session. Faculty members are often off-campus during the summer session and may have obligations that result in an inability to adhere to the above deadlines. 

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