The following information pertains to requirements and procedures within the Department of Geological Sciences. We make every effort to keep these guidelines current. Be sure to check with your faculty advisor or the Graduate Program Assistant for up-to-date information.
Initial Advising and Orientation
Incoming graduate students should report to their faculty advisors for academic advising prior to initial registration.
Orientation is scheduled the week before fall classes start. The department holds a mandatory orientation meeting Tuesday, followed by TA training and workshops Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Orientation typically concludes with a two-day field trip to a local destination as an introduction to the department and area geology.
Each incoming student will consult with his or her faculty advisor to choose an appropriate three-person committee, which is to meet sometime during the first semester. For master’s degree candidates this committee should be their advisory committee (see below). For PhD students this committee may be a subset of their eventual five-person advisory committee, which must be constituted by the end of the student’s third semester (see below). The initial three-person committee should include the advisor, a faculty member with related research interests, and a faculty member who adds breadth outside the student’s subdiscipline.
The committee will meet with the student during the first semester to discuss the student’s goals, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The committee is to help the student develop an initial plan (courses, research activities, milestones) that will guide the student toward a timely and successful master’s thesis defense or comprehensive exam. The student will obtain signatures from the protocommittee and submit 1) the 1st Semester Meeting Summary form and 2) a copy of the signed Committee Meeting Log to the associate chair for graduate affairs for inclusion in the student’s academic file.
General Department Policies
Admission to Degree Program
The department admits applicants directly into the doctoral program with the approval of the faculty advisor and the graduate admissions committee. Some applicants joining the graduate program with a bachelor’s degree may choose to enter the master’s degree program and then transfer to the doctoral program after their first year.
Choosing Research Topics
Doctoral students will begin the process of selecting a research problem during their first semester of graduate study in consultation with the advisory committee. Formal consideration of the research proposal will constitute the comprehensive examination (see Ph.D. section).
Master’s degree students will select thesis or independent study topics before the end of the second semester of graduate study. The thesis topic is selected in consultation with the advisory committee.
The department regards a course load of 6-9 credit hours as average for graduate students. Programs should be designed with this in mind. A graduate student who wishes to make changes to the degree plan must consult with the advisory committee and then obtain written approval from the associate chair for graduate affairs.
There are two required classes to obtain a MS or PhD in Geological Sciences. During the first year all new MS and PhD graduate students are required to take two sections of the 1 credit graduate seminar "Introduction to Geological Sciences Faculty.” This course runs in both the Fall (1 credit) and Spring (1 credit). These two credits are required to graduate from the Geology Department. Beyond this, it is a flexible program that you and your Faculty Advisor agree upon during your first semester in the program.
All graduate students should attend and participate in the departmental colloquium, generally offered weekly throughout the academic year (fall and spring).
Full-time Student Status
Full-time graduate students in good standing are eligible for Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships, regardless of financial need. Graduate students must maintain at least a B (3.00) average in all course work attempted.
For the purposes of determining full-time registration status, a student must meet one of the following criteria.
A master’s degree student must carry one of the following course loads: at least 5 credit hours of graduate course work, 8 credits of combined undergraduate and graduate course work, 12 hours of undergraduate course work, at least 1 credit hour of master’s thesis (GEOL 6950), or at least 1 credit hour of Master’s Candidate for Degree (GEOL 6940).
Doctoral students who have not yet passed the comprehensive examination are considered full time during the spring and fall semesters if they register for at least 5 credit hours of course work at the graduate level or at least 1 credit hour of doctoral dissertation (GEOL 8990) during the semester in which they pass the comprehensive examination. Students who have passed the comprehensive examination must continuously register for at least 5 credit hours (typically dissertation hours through GEOL 8990) each fall and spring semester. Ph.D. candidates must be registered for a minimum of 5 dissertation credit hours the semester (including summer) in which the dissertation defense is passed.
Please note that full-time standards differ for graduate students receiving federal or state financial aid. Students should contact the Office of Financial Aid (email@example.com) to determine which standards apply for student loan eligibility, if applicable.
Graduate School Forms
See Graduate School's Graduate Student Forms (ALL)
All Graduate School forms must be submitted to the graduate program assistant in a timely manner to ensure submission to the Graduate School by the posted deadlines. These forms include:
Master’s Degree Forms
- Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree
- Graduate Program Dual Degree/Program Discontinuation/Master’s to PhD (if applicable)
- Request for Transfer of Credit (if applicable)
- Signature Page (second page of thesis)
- Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree (submit prior to comprehensive exam)
- Signature Page (second page of dissertation)
Requirements for Advanced Degrees
Graduate students are expected to be fully acquainted with and observe all rules and procedures set forth by the Geological Sciences graduate program and the Graduate School. Ignorance of a rule does not constitute a basis for waiving that rule.
Please read the Graduate School rules, posted on the Graduate School website, as they may factor into your decision to pursue graduate study at CU-Boulder:
A candidate for the master’s degree in geological sciences may complete a Plan I (thesis) option, or a Plan II (course work) option. The Department of Geological Sciences typically does not admit students into a coursework masters. For either option the minimum requirement is 30 credit hours total, which includes 2 required credit hours of "Introduction to Geological Sciences Faculty" class. Of this 30, a maximum of 6 credit hours (either plan) may be completed at the 3000 or 4000 level with the approval of the faculty advisor and the associate chair for graduate affairs. At least 24 credit hours must therefore be completed at the 5000 level or above. This 24 credits includes a minimum of 4 but not more than 6 hours of GEOL 6950 (Plan I Master's Thesis), or exactly 3 credit hours of GEOL 6960 (Plan II Master’s Research) under the supervision of the advisory committee. No more than 6 credit hours of Independent Study may be counted toward the total requirement in either plan.
Advisory Committee Requirements
During the first semester in the graduate program, the master’s degree student will form an advisory committee in consultation with the faculty advisor and the associate chair for graduate affairs. The advisory committee must consist of three faculty members. The faculty advisor, who serves as committee chair, must hold a regular or tenured graduate faculty appointment. The other members must hold either regular or special graduate faculty memberships.
Admission to Candidacy
To be granted a master’s degree, a student must become a candidate for the degree by submitting a completed Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree by the posted Graduate School deadline during the semester in which the student plans to have the degree conferred.
Plan I (Thesis) Option
A master’s degree student electing the thesis option must demonstrate an ability to conduct original research and present the findings in a purposeful manner by submitting a thesis that is deemed by the examining committee to be a significant contribution to knowledge.
Typically, a student enrolled in the Plan I option completes 24 credit hours of formal course work and 6 hours of thesis credits. Plan I students must register for a minimum of 4 but not more than 6 hours of thesis credit (GEOL 6950). A grade of IP (in progress) is reported for thesis credit until the defense is successfully passed and/or final revisions to thesis are completed, at which time a final grade is assigned.
Prior to undertaking research, the student will submit a thesis proposal to the faculty advisor outlining the nature of the problem, its relevance to earth science, and techniques proposed to solve it. The proposal should be documented by references to literature wherever applicable. The faculty advisor and the student should meet informally to discuss the thesis proposal.
Upon completing the thesis, the student will take an oral comprehensive examination (thesis defense) and will be examined primarily over the thesis and related topics. The thesis defense also will include general questions related to course work as part of a broader examination on comprehension.
The student must be enrolled in at least one credit hour on the CU-Boulder campus the semester the defense is passed.
By the posted Graduate School deadline the semester of the defense, the student must submit a completed Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree to the graduate program assistant. It is the responsibility of the student to notify the graduate program assistant of the defense date, time, location, and committee members at least three weeks prior to the examination, in addition to providing the thesis title and an abstract not to exceed 350 words in length.
Well in advance of the defense, the student should submit a first draft of the thesis to the committee chair for initial evaluation. A final draft must be approved by the faculty advisor at least 10 days before the date of the defense and must be available for inspection by members of the examining committee prior to the examination. The thesis is then approved by the examining committee upon successful completion of the defense and fulfillment of any additional requirements, which should take place at least 30 days prior to the date on which the degree is to be conferred.
The thesis must conform to specifications available on the Graduate School website, colorado.edu/graduateschool.
The student must submit the final copy of the thesis to the Graduate School electronically by the posted deadline, with the thesis submitted and approved at http://www.etdadmin.com/colorado. A student whose thesis is received after the deadline must apply for graduation during the following academic term.
Plan II (Non-thesis) Option
The Department of Geological Sciences typically does not admit students into a coursework masters. A current, enrolled Geological Sciences student who elects the non-thesis master’s degree option must talk with their Faculty Advisor and the Graduate Program Administrator to make this change. To obtain the MS Plan II degree, a current student must complete at least 30 credit hours (27 minimum of formal course work (which includes 2 required credit hours of "Introduction to Geological Sciences Faculty" class) and 3 hours of Plan II Master’s Research (GEOL 6960)) under the supervision of his or her advisory committee.
The Plan II student must submit a written report on a mutually agreed topic to be retained in the student’s file.
Upon completion of the course work, Plan II students will take written and oral comprehensive examinations administered and evaluated by the examining committee. The written portion consists of questions of broad scope. Answers shall not exceed 3000 words and shall be submitted within two weeks. The results will be judged in relation to the general performance expected from a student at the master’s degree level. The oral portion includes topics covered by the written examination and fields related to the student’s general area of interest. The oral examination will be administered as soon as it can be arranged after the student submits the written examination.
Doctor of Philosophy Degree
The Doctor of Philosophy degree (Ph.D.) is the highest academic degree conferred by the University of Colorado. Doctoral students must demonstrate proficiency and knowledge in a broad field of learning and an ability to intelligently evaluate the works of others in the field of geological sciences. The Ph.D. is awarded only after a student has exhibited a capacity to work independently and productively in a chosen field of specialization within a broader field and has made an original contribution of significance to the sum of knowledge in the field.
The minimum course requirement for the Ph.D. is 30 credit hours of course work at the 5000 level or above, which includes 2 required credit hours of "Introduction to Geological Sciences Faculty" class. Most students will be required to complete courses in excess of the 30-hour minimum requirement. Also, doctoral students must register for a minimum of 30 dissertation credit hours (GEOL 8990). No more than 10 dissertation credit hours taken before the student is admitted to candidacy shall count toward the minimum 30 dissertation hours required for the degree. A grade of IP (in progress) is reported for dissertation credit until the defense is successfully passed and/or final revisions to the dissertation are completed, at which time a final grade is assigned.
For doctoral students, the minimum registration requirement is six semesters beyond the attainment of an acceptable bachelor’s degree.
While Graduate School rules allow a maximum of 21 semester hours of course work from accredited institutions to be transferred toward the Ph.D. degree, the department permits no more than 10 hours of course work as transfer credit. However, under certain circumstances, an exception may be made to transfer up to the maximum allowed by the Graduate School. A letter from the student’s faculty advisor to the associate chair for graduate studies should accompany any request for an exception. Credit may not be transferred until the student has completed 6 credit hours of graduate course work as a regular, degree-seeking student on the CU-Boulder campus with at least a 3.00 GPA.
During the first semester in the graduate program, the student should contact his or her faculty advisor and begin the process of putting together a protocommittee and the protocommittee (1st semester) meeting.
The major advisor acts as a mentor to guide the doctoral student through the program of study. It is the advisor’s responsibility in conjuction with the Committee Chair to inform the student of the standards expected for the comprehensive examination and to review the student’s proposal and suggest improvements in format, focus, etc. This should not include extensive editing or rewriting of the research proposal by the advisor. The advisor also is responsible for discussing and formulating course work necessary for the degree in consultation with other committee members. A Regular GEOL faculty member will serve as the lead committee member (chair) for the comprehensive examination, assist in setting its format, and, in conjunction with one's Faculty Advisor, the Chair will assist in reviewing initial drafts of the research proposal and the dissertation prior to submission to the committee for review.
In consultation with the associate chair for graduate affairs, the student and the faculty advisor will select four additional committee members who are faculty or research scientists. The advisory committee shall be constituted so as to represent a broad spectrum of related academic interests as well as the special interests of the student.
Doctoral students should be aware that the comprehensive examination committee must include a Regular faculty member (Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, or Research Professor) whose expertise lies outside of the student’s primary research interests. The committee shall guide the student throughout his or her graduate career. The members of the advisory committee may be changed if deemed appropriate. The committee will have the authority to establish formal course requirements and to address any deficiencies in the student’s educational background. The chair of the committee must have Regular membership on the graduate faculty.
Matters under debate within the committee shall be resolved by a majority vote.
Protocommittee Form and Committee Meeting Log
The protocommittee meeting is to take place during the first semester a graduate student begins the gradute program. It can be run jointly by the student and the student’s faculty advisor, or the student and another faculty member on the student's protocommittee. Either way, it is recommended that incoming grraduate students meet with one's Proto-committee (Main Faculty Advisor plus two other Faculty members) and discuss where they came from, what they are interested in, where theywant to go. The proto-committee should suggest 25-30 credits of coursework for the graduate student to take in their first 2 years here. Also discuss recommended research activities for the first year and plan preliminary milestones to hit to prepare for MS defense or PhD Comprehensive Exam. Student should write the suggestions down on the 1st Semester Meeting Summary form. The grad student then gives the form to their Faculty Advisor for review and reconciliation (to verify if they may have missed or misunderstood anything that was said, or to verify if everyone is on the same page). When reconciled/complete, the Faculty Advisor and student then sign off on form and email the signed, completed form to GeoGPA@colorado.edu.
Topics recommended to be covered during the protocommittee meeting are listed on the “First Semester Meeting Summary”.
They include the following:
“…to discuss the student’s goals, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The committee is to help the student develop an initial plan (courses, research activities, milestones) that will guide the student toward a timely and successful master’s thesis defense or comprehensive exam. The student or the advisor will submit this signed form summarizing the meeting’s outcomes to the Graduate Program Assistant for inclusion in the student’s academic file.”
- Recommended coursework
- Recommended research activities for the first year
- Additional milestones to prepare for a timely Comps exam
Another item to consider discussing between Faculty Advisor(s) and with advisees is:
- Funding for this and future academic years. Coming up with a joint funding plan.
Committee Meeting Log (update annually)
The goal is to meet with one's Committee and complete this form annually, at minimum once every year that a graduate student is in the program. The student should write in the names of all the faculty and Committee members at one's Committee Meeting. Send the form through DocuSign to have Committee members sign or initial at the end of meeting to show that they were present. It is important to input the DATE the meeting occurred in the correct place on the form. Contact GeoGPA@colorado.edu with questions about how to use DocuSign to send this form around to Committee members. Note that by the second year/second Committee meeting, it is recommended that PhD students have their full committee of 5 members present and participating in the second Committee meeting.
It is also recommended that ALL graduate students have a full Committee meeting 6 months - 1 year before graduation to assess if one is on track and to provide an accurate target graduation semester.
Admission to Candidacy
A Ph.D. student must formally apply for admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree by submitting a completed Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree to the graduate program assistant at least three weeks before attempting the comprehensive examination. Before being admitted to candidacy, a doctoral student must earn at least three semesters toward the minimum registration requirement and pass the comprehensive exam.
Ph.D. students with a master’s degree in geological sciences or a closely related field (geophysics, geochemistry, etc.), should take the comprehensive examination by the conclusion of the fourth semester after completing at least 24 credit hours (preferred 27-30 credit hours) of formal course work. For students who do not hold a master’s degree in geosciences, the examination should be taken by the conclusion of the fifth semester of study.
The comprehensive examination will be administered by the student’s five-member advisory committee, with the approval of the dean of the Graduate School. Three members must be CU-Boulder faculty. The remaining members may be from other universities, research laboratories, museums, etc. The chair must hold regular membership on the graduate faculty, and the other four members must hold regular or special graduate faculty memberships. At least two CU-Boulder faculty members must be tenure-track faculty from Geological Sciences, while one must be from outside the student’s field of study. All members must be active in research, with a minimum of three or more peer-reviewed publications within the last two years prior to appointment to the committee. All non-CU members must be formally appointed as outside members of the graduate faculty.
The committee should be constituted by the end of the student’s third semester in the graduate program and must meet as a group during the semester preceding the anticipated administration of the comprehensive examination to discuss the student’s progress, skills, preparation for the examination, etc. The committee is required to meet with the student on a yearly basis following the passing of the comprehensive exam to discuss progress toward the degree.
The comprehensive examination consists of a research proposal outlining the Ph.D. research, written in a style appropriate for a major funding agency such as NSF, NASA, DOE, ACS-PRF, etc. An oral examination follows two weeks after submission of the research proposal to all members of the advisory committee, at which time the doctoral student must present the proposal and respond to questions by committee members.
A Ph.D. student must be registered for dissertation credit hours (up to 10) during any academic term he or she is engaged in research, with the number of hours approved by the advisory committee. A doctoral student must be registered on the CU-Boulder campus for at least one credit hour of course work or one dissertation credit hour during the semester the comprehensive exam is passed.
It is the student’s responsibility to notify the graduate program assistant of the comprehensive examination at least three weeks in advance, providing the date, time, and location of the exam, along with the names of the committee members. Additionally, the student must submit a completed Candidacy Application for an Advanced Degree to the graduate program assistant at least two weeks before the date of the exam. (See Admission to Candidacy section.)
The goal of the oral examination is to provide an opportunity for the dissertation committee to evaluate the student’s general knowledge base and understanding of research methods, and the significance and feasibility of the proposed research to advancing knowledge in the Earth Sciences. While questions posed by the committee may relate to any general topic in the Earth Sciences, the focus will be on topics related to the student’s chosen field of study.
Possible outcomes of the comprehensive examination include:
- Unconditional Pass – Student passes both the proposal and oral components to the satisfaction of the majority of committee members
- Conditional Pass – Student passes most of the examination but has significant deficiencies. In this case, the committee shall decide upon a course of action, such as additional course work, preparation of a research paper, rewriting the research proposal, etc., to be completed within six months of the examination, excepting further course work, which may not be offered during the following semester.
- Failure – The committee determines by majority vote that one of the following applies:
- The Ph.D. candidate is unlikely to complete the doctoral degree satisfactorily. In this case, the student will be awarded a Plan II master’s degree, provided that 30 credit hours of graduate course work has been completed, and the student will be asked to leave the graduate program.
- The student should be allowed to retake the examination within the next 12 months. In this case, the committee shall define major deficiencies and suggest means for improvement.
The committee’s decision on the comprehensive examination is decided by majority vote, whereby three of five committee members and two of three CU faculty on the committee must agree to advance the student to candidacy.
After passing the comprehensive examination, the student will meet informally with the advisory committee to discuss the dissertation proposal.
Continuous Registration Requirement
A doctoral student who has passed the comprehensive examination must register continuously for at least 5 dissertation credit hours each fall and spring semester, beginning with the semester following the passing of the comprehensive examination and extending through the academic term (including summer) during which the dissertation is successfully defended. Students not making use of campus facilities may register for 3 dissertation credit hours, claiming off-campus status. Off-campus students are considered part-time, and all CU-Boulder considerations for part-time status apply. A doctoral candidate must be registered as a full-time student (minimum 5 dissertation credit hours) during the semester in which the dissertation defense is passed.
A final oral examination (also referred to as a defense) on the dissertation and related topics is administered by the dissertation committee after the student’s committee accepts the dissertation for defense.
The student must be enrolled in at least one credit hour on the CU-Boulder campus the semester the defense is passed.
A first draft of the dissertation should be submitted to the examining committee chair well in advance of the date on which the degree is to be conferred. The final draft of the dissertation must be approved at least 10 days before the date of the final oral examination and must be available for inspection by members of the examining committee prior to the examination.
The Ph.D. candidate is responsible for scheduling the defense with the graduate program assistant at least three weeks in advance, providing a completed leaflet with the names of the committee members, along with the date, time, and location for the exam, biographical information, the dissertation title and an abstract not to exceed 350 words in length.
The chair and a majority of the committee must be present on the CU-Boulder campus for the examination. More than one dissenting vote disqualifies the candidate.
At the conclusion of the defense, the chair will confer with other members of the examining committee, and all committee members will sign an examination form. A doctoral candidate who fails the final examination may retake the examination upon the recommendation of the examining committee. A Ph.D. student may not attempt more than two final examinations.
A Ph.D. candidate must write a dissertation based on original research that demonstrates academic maturity and critical judgment, as well as familiarity with tools and methods of research, and must present the findings in a purposeful manner deemed by the final examining committee to be a significant contribution to knowledge. The topic must be approved by the student’s advisory committee.
The dissertation must conform to Graduate School specifications available on the Graduate School website, colorado.edu/graduateschool.
The student must submit the final copy of the dissertation to the Graduate School electronically by the posted deadline, with the dissertation submitted and approved at http://www.etdadmin.com/colorado. A student whose dissertation is received after the deadline must apply for graduation during the following academic term.
Final Examining Committee
Formed by the primary advisor and the student, with approval from the associate chair for graduate studies and the dean of the Graduate School, the dissertation committee consists of at least five members. Three of the members must be CU-Boulder faculty, one of whom must be from outside the student’s major department. The chair and outside member of the committee must have regular graduate faculty appointments. The other committee members must hold either regular or special graduate faculty memberships.
Submission of Dissertation Title
A Ph.D. candidate must submit the exact title of the dissertation by the posted Graduate School deadline for the semester during which the degree is to be conferred. This title appears in the commencement program and on the transcript. The dissertation title may be submitted through the Buff Portal.
If you need to speak with someone in the Grad School face-to-face, the Graduate School Student Services Office is located in the basement of the Regent Administrative Center, Room 1B53.
Leaving the Graduate Program
Upon exiting the graduate program, students should return all University property, including keys, and provide the department office manager a permanent address.
The Graduate School encourages students who elect to leave the graduate program without completing a degree to withdraw formally by contacting the Office of the Registrar. Detailed information on withdrawing is provided at: http://www.colorado.edu/registrar/students/withdraw-cu