Once entered into the Geophysics Ph.D. Program, degree requirements explained below include course requirements, the Comprehensive Examination, and the dissertation defense.

Course Requirements

The geophysics Ph.D. course requirements, residency requirements, and the requirements for the Comprehensive Examination are formulated within the regulations of the Graduate School. Students are referred to the document, Graduate School Checklist for Graduation and Other Helpful Information, and the University Catalog for general information on requirements for the Ph.D. degree. In case of a conflict between those documents and the requirements stated here, the rules of the Graduate School apply.

core of graduate courses, included in the minimum of 30 semester hours required for all Ph.D.'s, is specified for students completing the Ph.D. in geophysics. This core coursework is designed to assure competency in appropriate subject matter at the Ph.D. level. The number of required courses is limited, so that the student is free to design an overall academic program that meets his or her needs in terms of specialized scholarly interests.

The required courses for the Geophysics Ph.D. include the following:

  1. A three-semester sequence of geophysics courses: Earth and Planetary Physics I, II, and III (course numbers 6610, 6620, and 6630, cross-listed in the Geology, Physics, and Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Departments). These three courses do not have to be taken in any particular order. A student may petition the Geophysics Program Committee to substitute another course for one of these three core courses, but not for more than one.
  2. One semester of graduate-level applied mathematics selected from the list of Approved Math Courses on the Academics page. The student may petition the Geophysics Program Committee to substitute a comparable mathematics course for one of these courses. It is recommended, though not required, that students fulfill this requirement either before, or at the same time as, they take their first of the three core Earth and Planetary Physics courses.
  3. The student is also expected to take irregularly scheduled seminars on topics in solid earth geophysics, notably ASTR/GEOL/PHYS 6650. 
  4. The student must take additional courses of his or her own choosing. The CU Graduate School requires a total of at least 30 semester credit hours. It is expected that the student, in consultation with his or her thesis advisor, will choose courses that are compatible with the student's research interests. Possible additional courses could include, but are not restricted to those listed on the Academics page. 

Comprehensive Examination

A research project, preferably involving original research, must be written up as a paper (comparable to publishable quality) and provided to the committee members 2 weeks before the oral examination, where the student will briefly present the paper and answer any questions the committee has. Such a research project may be in the student's proposed thesis area but could also be in an unrelated area of geophysics. There should be at least 2 faculty from the geophysics program on the exam committee (which, per Graduate School rules, must have 5 faculty members), the composition of which should be approved by the chair of the geophysics program. Preferably the chair of the committee will not be the student's research advisor. The oral exam can include basic questions of geophysics to test the student's understanding of fundamental concepts. It is recommended that geophysics students complete their comps exam before the end of their 5th semester.

The proposed exam tests both geophysics knowledge as well as research skills. 

By the time of the Comprehensive Examination, the student has applied for and been admitted to the Geophysics Program. Geophysics should be listed as the department on both the candidacy form and the examination report. 

Dissertation Defense

The public defense of the dissertation is conducted in the usual way by a committee of 5 or more faculty, as approved by the geophysics program chair. The chair of the defense committee is normally the student's research advisor. Because the geophysics faculty is broadly interdisciplinary, the requirement that not all of the committee members for the defense be from one department is usually automatically satisfied.


If the student has a grievance that falls within the framework of the Program, every effort should be made to settle the difficulty by the discussion between the student and the faculty member or members directly involved. If such discussion fails to yield a resolution of the problem, the aggrieved student shall prepare a written statement describing the situation and present it to the Committee. The Committee shall meet with the student and the faculty members involved and shall render its decision on the appropriate resolution of the problem. If the student remains dissatisfied with the Committee's decision, he or she may file a formal complaint with the Dean of the Graduate School, who will involve the Graduate School's normal procedures for reaching a final resolution.