Ph.D. Degree Requirements

From the Grad Guide 2020:

4.0   Ph.D. DEGREE

The Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. student extends beyond that of a Masters student in the individual’s ability to design and carry out original, independent research on a focused topic. At the Ph.D. 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).

4.1 Coursework

15 graded credits
(500 or 600 level)
Must be taken for grade.
18 dissertation creditsGEOL 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.

81 credits total 

Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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. Courses in Research (GEOL 601), Reading and Conference (GEOL 605), and other individualized study options may be a part of the 9 credits, but the majority of the year of residency is expected to consist of regular graduate course work.  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: Ph.D. students must complete three consecutive terms of full-time University of Oregon coursework toward the degree including a minimum of 9 graduate credits per term. Courses in Research (GEOL 601), Reading and Conference (GEOL 605), and other individualized study options may be part of the 9 credits, but the majority of the residency year is expected to consist of regular graduate course work.

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 in the Office of the Registrar.

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 (see section X), they are subject to disqualification. A grade lower than a C- 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 or Dissertation. Dissertation “I” credits only are converted by the Graduate School to passing grades “P” upon awarding of the degree.  Instructors must submit grade changes for Research “I” credits.

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).

4.2 Guidance Committee

A guidance committee of three faculty members will be assigned to each incoming Ph.D. 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 dissertation 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 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. 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. 

4.3 Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of this examination is to evaluate a Ph.D. 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. Ph.D. 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 data to be collected will be used 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 Ph.D. candidacy, resulting in permission to continue in the Ph.D. 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.

4.3.1 Oral Examination Committee: The student must choose an oral examination committee no later than October 15 (or the next week day if on weekend) in the fall term of the student’s second year (the fourth term in residence). Consultation with the prospective research advisor, the Department Head, and/or graduate advisor about the choice of committee members is recommended. This committee must then be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). The committee has four members, one of whom may be from another department.  If two of the members are spouses or domestic partners, an additional committee member could be added, with approval of the DGS.  At least two members of the committee should be faculty whose research interests are outside the student’s primary research field.  Two of the committee members are assigned special roles:

  • Chair: The faculty member in the department who serves as the student’s primary research advisor.
  • Coordinator: A faculty member who oversees the logistics of the exam and drafts a report on the outcome. The student suggests a coordinator and this role is approved by the DGS.

The role of the committee is to evaluate the student’s performance on the written and oral components of the exam and to determine whether or not their preparation is sufficient to warrant advancement to Ph.D. candidacy. Students must meet at least once with each member of their oral exam committee to: 1) discuss their ideas for the two proposals; 2) receive guidance about whether proposals are sufficiently different; and 3) discuss individual faculty member’s expectations on the written and oral exam.

4.3.2 Research Proposals: The student must write two research project proposals in two different areas.  The purpose of developing two distinct proposals is to 1) develop breadth in the student’s research experience and encourage interdisciplinary research, 2) provide a second project to evaluate the student’s abilities, and 3) provide a backup project if the primary project does not come to fruition for the dissertation.  The student should consult their committee as to whether their two projects satisfy this requirement.  However, distinct projects are often advised by different faculty, use different data or methods (i.e., including different modeling and/or analytic approaches), and address separate scientific questions.

Each proposal should explain the scientific problem to be addressed, the tools to be used, hypotheses to be tested, the background and significance of the research, and highlight any preliminary results (data collected, exploratory models, etc.).  It is common that one of the proposals is more developed than the other, with the more developed proposal representing the primary work envisioned for the dissertation.  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 objective of the proposals for the comprehensive exam is for the student to show that they can motivate and design a scientific study, and demonstrate breadth of knowledge.

One-page summaries stating the key elements of each proposal should be submitted to all committee members and the Graduate Coordinator no later than November 7 (or the next week day if on a weekend) of the fall term preceding the exam. The oral examination committee will decide, by November 20, whether or not they are appropriate and sufficiently different from each other. If the committee concludes that a summary is unacceptable, the student must meet with the committee to discuss the reasons for this decision and submit a modified or new summary that is acceptable within one week of this meeting. Committee decisions on the new summary are required within a week of the date it was submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.

Each full proposal should be a concise description of the proposed work, written in a scientific style with figures, captions, and references.  The text of each proposal (abstract and main body) should be no more than 7 pages.  The entire proposal, including references, figures (and captions), and tables should be no more than 15 pages (12-point font, Times New Roman, 1 inch margins, double-spaced, with line numbers). Examples of old proposals are available from the graduate student representative. Copies of the research proposals must be submitted to all committee members and the Graduate Coordinator by the end of the second week in the winter term.  The student is advised to consult with their committee members about the proposals well in advance of this time.  It is customary for students to work through several drafts of the proposal with their advisor before they are distributed to the broader committee.  This process of drafting the proposals is key to more fully developing the detailed aspects of the proposed work. The proposals will be judged on the quality of writing, the imagination and innovation reflected in the design of the proposals, rigor of hypothesis tests, and the student’s ability to synthesize relevant information.

4.3.3 Written Component:  The comprehensive exam committee will prepare critical reviews of the comprehensive exam proposals. These will be similar in nature to reviews of journal manuscripts or grant (e.g., NSF) proposals. The committee coordinator will write a summary of the reviewer comments and deliver it together with the reviews themselves to the student and graduate coordinator, in writing (typically email), by 4 pm on the Friday of Week 4. The student will have one week to assemble clear, concise responses as directed by their committee coordinator and return them to the committee coordinator and the graduate coordinator by 4 pm on the Friday of Week 5. Although strict length guidelines are not appropriate, succinct writing is both valued and encouraged. The goal of this written component of the comprehensive exam is to enable students to demonstrate their knowledge of advanced topics, argue convincingly for the relevance and feasibility of their research plans, and better prepare for the oral exam.

4.3.4 Oral Exam: Students are strongly encouraged to schedule their oral examination during the 6th, 7th, or 8th week of Winter term, faculty schedules permitting. The orals will be scheduled for 3 hours and The oral exam is private; only the oral examination committee and the student are present. The student will be given about 15 minutes to present each proposal using visual aids (typically a PowerPoint presentation).  Usually the student presents the first proposal and answers questions from the committee then presents the second proposal, followed by a second round of questions.  After the oral examination, the committee will evaluate the student’s overall performance on both the written and oral examinations as well as the student’s performance in class work and progress on research. 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 some additional effort, often involving appropriate course work or rewriting of a proposal, to remedy the perceived deficiency in the student’s 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.

4.4 Dissertation

The primary product in fulfillment of the Ph.D. 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 one year (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.

4.4.1 Dissertation Committee: A four-person dissertation committee is chosen by the student after they are advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. The committee must include at least three faculty members of the Department of Earth Sciences, and one additional member of the University of Oregon science faculty outside of the department. The Graduate School requires an outside member in order to ensure that all rules and standard practices governing committee procedures are followed. The four core committee members must hold the rank of assistant, associate, or full professor. Two of the committee members are assigned special roles:

  • Chair: The faculty member in the department who serves as the student’s primary research advisor.
  • Coordinator: A faculty member in the department who facilitates committee meetings and drafts a report of the student’s progress. The student suggests a coordinator and this role is approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

If two of the members are spouses or domestic partners, an additional committee member could be added, with approval of the DGS.  The committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School. Membership of the committee should be proposed to the Director of Graduate Studies within a year after advancement to candidacy and approved by the Graduate School no later than six 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: (1) evaluate and approve the student’s dissertation proposal, (2) provide academic advice and monitor student progress toward completion of the degree, (3) provide feedback and advice to the student concerning the student’s research project, (4) read the dissertation draft, (5) examine the student at their dissertation defense, and (6) read and approve the final dissertation.

Ph.D. students are required to meet with their dissertation committee at least once per year (in spring term), and more often than that if necessary (additional, informal meetings to solicit advice from individual committee members are encouraged). It is the responsibility of the student (with reminders from the Graduate Coordinator) to ensure that the required committee meetings are held. At the annual committee meeting, the student will give a well-organized, semi-formal presentation of their project, research objectives, data, and emerging results – using slides or hard-copy graphics –  followed by an open-ended informal discussion about the science and the student’s progress.  This format allows committee members to provide substantive input to the student’s research, and helps to ensure that the student makes good progress and stays on track.  After each meeting, the coordinator will write up the minutes, circulate them to the student and the committee, and send a copy to the Graduate Coordinator with a request that a copy be added to the student’s file.

4.4.2 Dissertation Proposal: Within one year of advancement to candidacy, students are expected to furnish a copy of their dissertation proposal to each member of their dissertation committee.  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.

4.4.3 Dissertation Credits: After the student has advanced to Ph.D. candidacy, they 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 requires the student to register during any term in which a student is using advisor or committee assistance including feedback. The student must enroll in at least 3 credits of GEOL 603 during their final term. The grade given for GEOL 603 will be an incomplete

4.4.4 Degree Application: By the 2nd Friday in the term in which the student plans to graduate, they must apply for the degree online in GradWeb at:

The deadline schedule should be checked online at:

4.4.5 Defense: A complete draft of the dissertation (approved by the advisor) must be circulated to dissertation committee members at least three 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 two weeks to read the dissertation before they are required to give approval (or disapproval) to schedule the defense. At least three weeks before the date of the public defense, an approved application for Final Oral Defense must be on file with the Graduate School. Students should apply in GradWeb at least 4-5 weeks in advance of the final oral defense to ensure an approved application is received by the 3-week deadline. 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.

4.4.6 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’s DGS, the Department Head, and the committee, to determine the review procedure.

When the student has successfully defended their dissertation, they are required to upload a PDF copy of their dissertation via the Graduate School’s secure website. You can find the submission instructions and forms on the Graduate School’s
web site under Thesis and Dissertation Policies and Procedures (see Uploaded dissertations will not be accepted unless they meet Graduate School standards of form and style. The student should refer to the Graduate School’s Style and Policy Manual (See link on the above page) that defines these standards.  The Graduate School allows published papers to be submitted in lieu of the standard dissertation; however, these papers may need to be reformatted into the standard Graduate School style. To avoid potential problems, students are cautioned to check with the Graduate School to ensure that the appropriate form and style requirements are met.

All University of Oregon dissertations are submitted to ProQuest and then delivered to the University of Oregon Libraries.  ProQuest is a dissertation/thesis service responsible for keeping a scholarly record of doctoral and master’s recipients worldwide.

ProQuest is recognized as the publisher, cataloger, and marketer of theses and dissertations. ProQuest also offers copyrighting services. For more information, visit

In addition to the ProQuest copy, copies of your dissertation and related files are forwarded to the UO Libraries. The UO Libraries archives the dissertation with any related files and makes them available through the university’s institutional repository, Scholars’ Bank. For more information, visit

4.5 Oral Presentation Requirements

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 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).