Requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees in Geoscience
A. General Requirements
This document sets forth the requirements and procedures for graduate students working on the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in the Department of Geoscience. This document includes all departmental requirements and many of the relevant requirements of the Graduate School.
Nothing in this document alters or supersedes the university-wide requirements for the M.S. or Ph.D. degrees set forth in the Graduate Catalog and the Graduate School Academic Guidelines. While many of the Graduate School requirements are contained herein, certain topics (admissions and thesis format for example) are not discussed here. Students should familiarize themselves with the Graduate School requirements set out in the Academic Policies and Procedures https://grad.wisc.edu/acadpolicy/
This document supersedes and replaces Staff Document 2012-06. Changes herein apply to students who entered the program Fall 2014 and after.
A.2 GUIDANCE AND EVALUATION (G&E) COMMITTEE
By the start of the first semester, each student will have an Advisor (or potential Advisors) who will select, in consultation with the student, additional members of the Guidance and Evaluation (G&E) committee. The Department requires a G&E Committee meeting once each year until the Preliminary Exam has been completed. The meetings should occur at least two weeks before the end of classes in the spring semester. For entering students, it is recommended that the G&E committee meet during the first semester.
G&E Committees are composed of 3 faculty members. The Advisor will be the chair. If there are co-advisors for the student’s thesis, one will be appointed chair for purposes of record. The second member will be a regular member of the Geoscience faculty (an Assistant, Associate, or Full Professor) with specialty in an area related to the student’s subject of interest. The third member may be a Geoscience faculty member, an affiliated Geoscience faculty member, or a UW-Madison faculty member from outside the department if appropriate, or may be from any of the following categories: Graduate Faculty, Tenure-track faculty from a department without a graduate program, Academic Staff (including emeritus faculty), Visiting Professors, Faculty from other institutions, externally-funded researchers, postdoctoral scholars, or other individuals deemed qualified by the Graduate Studies Committee.
Members of the G&E Committee, including the advisor, may be changed by obtaining agreement of the prospective member (or advisor) and the advisor and notifying the Graduate Studies Committee in writing of the change.
A.2.2 RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE G&E COMMITTEE
The G&E Committee provides guidance and assistance to students as they work toward a graduate degree. In particular, the G&E Committee evaluates student research to verify that the student is making satisfactory progress. A brief report of required committee meetings should be forwarded by the Committee Chair to the Graduate Student Coordinator to be placed in the student’s file.
The chair of the G&E Committee (i.e. the student’s advisor) has primary responsibility to evaluate student progress in course work to ensure that requirements are met in a timely fashion. The advisor requests from the Graduate Studies Committee any exceptions or variances from regular degree requirements originating from the student, the advisor, or the G&E Committee. For M.S. students, the entire G&E Committee will approve the thesis, and, if asked to do so, will recommend for or against admission to the Geoscience Ph.D. program. Ph.D. students require an expanded G&E Committee for the Preliminary Examination and Final Oral/Defense (see specific requirements for Ph.D. students, section C).
Actions of the G&E Committee or the Graduate Studies Committee may be appealed to the Department faculty.
A.2.3. SATISFACTORY PROGRESS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF GEOSCIENCE
There are two main components to satisfactory progress in our graduate program: academic progress and research progress.
Academic progress is measured through the program of coursework completed and earned grades. Academic probation, triggered by a cumulative GPA below 3.0, is handled by the Graduate School, but the GPA is also a consideration in departmental evaluations.
Research progress is monitored and evaluated by the student’s main Advisor in conjunction with the G&E Committee. Research progress is evaluated on two principal criteria: 1) Demonstrated ability to conduct independent research and produce scientific results through a productive working relationship with a main Advisor; and 2) Ability to clearly and fairly present scientific research results, both orally and in writing (including at G&E meetings, conference presentations, thesis and dissertation defenses, professional publications, etc.).
A.3 GENERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR GRADUATE STUDY
A.3.1 Upon entering the program, the student and the G&E Committee will develop a plan of specific courses and research activities appropriate to the student’s area of interest and specific research topic, and progress toward fulfillment of those plans will be reviewed at each G&E committee meeting.
A.3.2 Students admitted with more than one formally identified coursework deficiency must file a plan for removal of those deficiencies upon arrival for graduate work and remove the deficiencies during the first year. A deficiency in the field course requirement should be removed (or a waiver of the requirements obtained) before commencing graduate study. In some cases, it may be permissible, by petition to the Graduate Studies Committee, to complete deficiency coursework later than the first two semesters.
The plan is to be approved by the student’s G&E Committee, and made a part of the student’s graduate record. Failure to meet the schedule for deficiency removal may be considered as not making satisfactory progress toward a degree. In some cases, promising students with excessive deficiencies may be allowed to enter as Special Students and to petition later for regular graduate student status. They cannot, however, receive financial aid while in the Special Student status. Each case will be judged separately.
A.3.3 If students were admitted on probation and they satisfy the conditions outlined at the time of admission, probationary status will be removed automatically.
A.3.4 Each student must maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 or better for his or her graduate career. Should the overall GPA drop below 3.0 at the end of any semester, the student will be given one additional semester on probation in which to bring it up to the required level.
A.3.5 Grades of incomplete should be removed within the first month of the first semester (excluding summer sessions) following receipt of the incomplete. An incomplete that is not removed by the end of that semester is considered by the Graduate School to be an unsatisfactory grade. All incompletes must be removed before a degree can be awarded.
A.4 CREDIT REQUIREMENTS
A.4.1 The minimum graduate degree credit requirement requires at least 30 credits for Master’s degrees and 51 credits for Doctorate degrees (may include Master’s, minor, and dissertator credits). See Academic Policies and Procedures (https://grad.wisc.edu/acadpolicy/) for minimum graduate residence credit and minimum graduate course work requirements.
The minimum credit residence requirement for Ph.D. students must be completed prior to achieving dissertator status.
A.4.2 Each student is required to take at least a full 8 credits during each semester (excluding summer sessions) on campus, until he or she has attained Dissertator status (see C.1.8). Exceptions to this rule can be granted only by permission from the student’s G&E Committee at a convened meeting of that Committee, except that permission of the Chair of the Committee will suffice for the student’s first semester in residence.
A.4.3 There is no restriction on the number of research credits that can be counted toward the minimum graduate degree credit requirement.
A.4.4 After the first two weeks of each semester, a student may not drop a course if that lowers his or her total credit load below 8.
A.5 CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND STUDENT APPEAL PROCESS
A.5.1 A graduate student’s work is primarily supervised by the Advisor. The Guidance and Evaluation committee is designed to fulfill both roles implied by the name: the members are charged with both advice and support (guidance) of the student’s efforts toward the degree and also with judging and approving those efforts and the progress they represent (evaluation). The other members of the G&E Committee besides the advisor are charged with, among other duties, ensuring that the student’s best interests are protected. In the event that a student feels that there is a potential disagreement with his or her Advisor about expectations, proper academic roles, or progress towards the degree, then the other members of the G&E Committee are the first level of consultation for the student.
A.5.2 Should an academic issue arise that cannot be resolved within the G&E Committee, then the student is encouraged to bring the matter to the attention of either (A) one of the two Geoscience Ombudspersons, or (B) the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee. The Ombudspersons are departmental faculty members named to provide fair third party guidance, consulting, or conflict resolution. The Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee has the responsibility to ensure that departmental policies are fairly and equitably applied to all students and to attempt to resolve issues which might arise between a student and the Advisor and G&E Committee. It is at the student’s discretion whether to appeal to the Ombudsperson or Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee through verbal discussion or in writing. If the student feels it necessary, bringing the matter to the attention of the Department Chair is the next level of academic appeal.
A.5.3 If an issue arises which the student is uncomfortable pursuing within the faculty of the Geoscience Department, then the processes described in the Graduate Schools “Grievances and Appeals” section of the Academic Policies and Procedures Manual should be followed (see https://grad.wisc.edu/documents/grievances-and-appeals/).
B. REQUIREMENTS SPECIFIC TO THE MASTER OF SCIENCE (M.S.) DEGREE
B.1 SUMMARY REQUIREMENTS FOR THE M.S. DEGREE
B.1.1 By the start of the first semester, each student will have an Advisor (or potential Advisors) who will select, in consultation with the student, additional members of the G&E committee.
B.1.2 Each candidate must have an advisor not later than the start of his or her second semester of graduate study. Advisors may be changed at any time with the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee and the new Advisor. An Advisor may cease to sponsor a candidate at any time. The Chair of the Department and/or the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee may, at their discretion, work with the student to find an alternative plan to facilitate completion of a graduate degree.
B.1.3 The minimum number of U.W. Madison graduate level credits that must be taken for a U.W.-Madison degree is 30 for the M.S. (See the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement, Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement, and Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement: https://grad.wisc.edu/acadpolicy/. A candidate who does no graduate work for a period of five or more consecutive years will be considered to have lost all credit.
B.1.4 The normal Master’s degree program takes no longer than two years; candidates working toward a single M.S. degree should obtain their degrees at the latest by the end of five full semesters of credit (summers excluded). Any student who has not finished by then will be considered not to be making satisfactory progress toward a degree.
B.1.5 In order to receive his or her degree, the successful candidate shall:
(a) receive approval of the completed thesis from his or her G&E Committee,
(b) present a public, department-wide oral presentation as part of the formal defense of the results of his or her research before the G&E Committee,
(c) deliver the signed Master’s warrant to the Graduate Student Coordinator (see paragraph B.2),
(d) arrange with the Curator for deposition of selected thesis material and a reference copy of the thesis in the Museum (see para. B.3), and
(e) file the thesis in the Memorial Library not later than the last day of the session or by any other deadline imposed by the Graduate School.
B.2 THESIS APPROVAL
M.S. students must ask the Graduate Student Coordinator to procure the warrant from the Graduate School 3 weeks before defense. The student is required to obtain signatures of all committee members on the warrant and return it to the Graduate Student Coordinator.
B.3 DEPARTMENTAL DEPOSIT OF THESIS AND THESIS MATERIAL
An unbound paper copy and an electronic copy of the thesis must be submitted to the Librarian of the C.K. Leith Library. All samples and other materials referenced in the thesis must be put on permanent deposit with the department. See the Museum Curator well in advance of finishing the thesis, in order to arrange for a specimen file number, and for labeling instructions. The curator must approve thesis samples in writing unless an exception is required in writing by the Advisor.
C. REQUIREMENTS SPECIFIC TO THE DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (PH.D.) DEGREE
“The Doctor of Philosophy degree is the highest degree conferred by the University. It is a research degree and is never conferred solely as a result of any prescribed period of study, no matter how faithful… The degree is only granted on evidence of general proficiency, distinctive attainment in a special field, and particularly on ability for independent investigation as demonstrated in a thesis presenting original research or creative scholarship with a high degree of literary skill.”
U.W. Madison, Graduate School
C.1 SUMMARY REQUIREMENTS FOR THE PH.D. DEGREE
C.1.1 Students may be admitted to enter the doctoral degree program either after completing a Master’s degree or by direct entry from the Bachelor’s degree. University of Wisconsin Geoscience M.S. degree students who request to continue in the Ph.D. program must have been certified to enter doctoral study by their final G&E Committee and have completed the M.S. degree. For M.S. holders from other institutions or other programs at UW-Madison, admission to the department constitutes approval. The M.S. must be completed before entry into the doctoral program. Alternatively, students may be admitted directly to the Ph.D. degree program without first getting a Master’s degree.
C.1.2 Students must have an identified Advisor (or potential Advisors) at the time of admission to the Ph.D. program. Advisors may be changed at any time with the approval of the Graduate Studies Committee and the new Advisor. An Advisor may cease to sponsor a candidate at any time. The Chair of the Department and/or the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee may, at their discretion, work with the student to find an alternative plan to facilitate completion of a graduate degree.
C.1.3 The candidate must have a minimum of 51 U.W.Madison graduate level credits for the Ph.D. (See the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement, Minimum Graduate Degree Credit Requirement, and Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement: https://grad.wisc.edu/acadpolicy/. A student who does no graduate work for a period of five or more consecutive years will be considered to have lost all credit. The normal doctoral program does not take longer than three years beyond the Master’s degree, or 5 years if there was no Master’s degree.
It is very important to file transcripts showing M.S. completion with both the Graduate School and Graduate Student Coordinator.
C.1.4 MINOR FIELD
The student must successfully complete a minor program selected for its relevance to his or her specialty. The purpose of the minor is to give breadth to a Ph.D. major. The overall minor GPA must be 3.0 or better. There are two options:
Option A (external): Requires a minimum of 9 graduate credits in a single department/major field of study outside of Geoscience. Any three classes in a single department outside of Geoscience will count as a minor if approved by the student’s G&E committee and the minor program/department.
Option B (distributed): Requires a minimum of 9 graduate credits taken in multiple departments that form a coherent topic. The distributed minor must contain a minimum of 3 credits outside the Geoscience department (teaching pedagogy classes, such as from the Delta program, count as outside the Geoscience department). Any courses taken inside the department must fulfill the minor’s goal of academic breadth, and thus should not be directly related to the student’s thesis work. Selection of this option requires endorsement by the G&E Committee and final approval by the Graduate Studies Committee.
The minor is intended to represent a coherent body of work, and should not be simply an after-the-fact ratification of a number of courses taken outside the major subject area. To ensure coherence, a Ph.D. Minor form must be submitted within the first year of graduate study. In addition, if the PhD candidate chooses Option B, the minor form must also have a one page description of how the classes form a coherent topic. Copies of the Ph.D. Minor Form to be filled out are available from the Graduate Student Coordinator or can be found here: http://geoscience.wisc.edu/geoscience/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/minorform2014.pdf
C.1.5. ASSESSMENT & QUALIFYING EXAM
The “Assessment and Qualifying Exam” is administered by the G&E Committee. It is intended as an examination of scientific breadth in the broadly-defined discipline, depth of familiarity within the sub-discipline(s) that are most relevant, and overall capacity for scientific reasoning and research design. For students intending to go straight to the PhD (either because of a prior Master’s or through the direct Bachelor’s – Ph.D. path), the exam will be taken by the end of the first year after entry. For students pursuing the Ph.D. after completing the Master’s in our program, the exam will be taken in the first semester after the successful Master’s defense.
There are four possible outcomes of the A&Q exam:
- Pass: the student demonstrated that she or he is well prepared in terms of both breadth and depth to pursue doctoral research and should proceed with prospectus development and preparation for the Preliminary Exam (orals).
- Conditional Pass: the student demonstrated that he or she is generally on the way to being fully prepared for doctoral research. However, some areas were identified in which the student is encouraged to focus on strengthening his or her knowledge and/or skills in order to be ready for the Preliminary Exam. The student may be required to retake the exam or provide additional evidence of qualification (e.g., written documents), as required by the G&E Committee.
- Program track change: This outcome only applies to those who entered the Ph.D. program with a bachelor’s degree (or a Master’s in a substantially different field). In order to continue in his or her studies, the student must first complete a Master’s thesis and then be evaluated for readmission to the Ph.D. program upon successful defense of the Master’s thesis.
- Non-continuation: the student did not demonstrate a satisfactory level of general and specific competency and is not making adequate progress in the program. This is equivalent to a G&E committee designation of “not making satisfactory progress.”
The outcome of the A&Q exam will be reported to the Graduate Student Coordinator in an Assessment memo from the examining committee.
C.1.6 PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION COMMITTEE
The Preliminary Examination (see below) and Final Oral (see C.1.10 and C.1.11) Committees represent the continuing responsibility of the faculty to provide guidance, direction, assistance and evaluation to a Ph.D. student. Their makeup and responsibilities are described below.
In advance of the Preliminary Examination by at least one month, upon the initiative of the Advisor and approved by the Graduate Studies Committee, a Preliminary Examination Committee is appointed which replaces the G&E Committee and assumes its duties. The Preliminary Examination Committee supersedes the G&E Committee. It must have a minimum of 4 members, and at least 3 committee members are required to be from the UW-Madison graduate faculty. One committee member must be from outside the field of geoscience (as defined by the specialties represented in the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience); this person could be from UW-Madison or some other institution. Note that if a committee member is external to UW-Madison, but is still in the field of geoscience (as defined by the specialties represented in the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience), they DO NOT satisfy the requirement of a committee member “outside the field”. Three or more committee members must be from the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience. In some cases, exceptions to this policy will be considered by the graduate studies committee.
At least two weeks in advance of the examination, the candidate must submit to the examination committee a formal prospectus as to the nature and scope of the proposed doctoral dissertation. If the candidate does not pass the Ph.D. preliminary examination on the first attempt, it may be taken a second time at the discretion of the Preliminary Examination Committee.
The Advisor shall be the chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee. Members of the Preliminary Examination Committee can be changed at any time with the approval of the Advisor and the prospective new member.
C.1.7 PRELIMINARY EXAMINATION
C.1.7.1 All candidates are expected to take the preliminary exam within four semesters of entering the Ph.D. program. The candidate must pass a Ph.D. preliminary examination:
(a) within five years after entrance to graduate school at UW-Madison if he or she does not hold a Master’s degree.
(b) within three years after entrance to our graduate school if he or she holds a Master’s degree from another University, or
(c) within three years after attaining his or her Master’s degree at UW-Madison.
Any candidate who has not satisfied these requirements may be considered not to be making satisfactory progress toward a degree. Completion of the minor is certified by the signature of the appropriate professor (the minor professor or the Department Chair) on the preliminary examination warrant.
C.1.7.2 The purpose of the preliminary examination is three fold:
(a) to examine the proposed dissertation topic for originality, scientific importance, and likelihood of completion as an acceptable Ph.D. dissertation
(b) to examine the student’s proposed methodology for pursuing the dissertation research, and
(c) to examine the student’s preparation and knowledge of those subjects and methods that the proposed research may require.
C.1.7.3 The preliminary examination is usually oral, but, at the direction of the examining committee, may be written, or partly oral and partly written.
C.1.8 DISSERTATOR STATUS
Students are formally admitted to status as Ph.D. candidates (dissertators) upon successful completion of the Preliminary Examination, major requirements, minor requirements (C.1.4), and the Minimum Graduate Residence Credit Requirement (32 credits) (see https://grad.wisc.edu/acadpolicy/#minimumgraduateresidencecreditrequirement.
C.1.8.1 Dissertators engaged in research and writing, whether on campus or not, must be enrolled for at least three graduate level credits each semester until the Ph.D. dissertation is filed in Memorial Library. They must also register for at least three dissertator level credits in the regular eight-week summer session during any summer in which they use University facilities such as laboratories, libraries, or faculty time. Students who file a dissertation in the Memorial Library during the summer must be registered for three graduate level credits for the summer. Tuition and fees will be assessed in accord with the actual Wisconsin resident or non-resident status of the student.
C.1.8.2 If dissertators fail to maintain continuous registration, a degree completion fee equal to twelve times the current per-credit dissertator rate is required. The fee will be assessed by the Graduate School at the time the dissertation is brought to the Graduate School for final review. The completion fee is based on the actual Wisconsin resident or non-resident status which existed at the last term of registration. Students who re-enter and complete the degree in less than four continuous terms will pay the 12 credit fee minus all continuous registration credits paid since the time of re-entry and before graduation.
C.1.8.3 For fee assessment purposes, a student who has fulfilled the continuous registration requirements and registers in a given semester or summer session is permitted to complete the Ph.D. degree (including the filing of the dissertation in the Library) on any date before the first day of classes of the next academic session (semester or summer). However, fee assessment and degree conferral periods do not coincide. The Ph.D. degree will be awarded on the first degree granting date following its completion.
C.1.8.4 Fee assessment and registration decisions are made by the Graduate School and dissertators are urged to consult with the Graduate School Catalog, the Graduate School Academic Guidelines, or the Graduate School office for further details.
C.1.9 THE PH.D. DISSERTATION
The Ph.D. dissertation is expected to be an original and creative research contribution presented with a high degree of literary skill.
C.1.9.1 The Candidate should review the Graduate School Academic Guidelines to comply with the detailed rules and regulations of the Graduate School and Memorial Library.
C.1.9.2 The Final Oral Examination Committee is approved by both the Advisor and the Dean of the Graduate School. Candidates are required to present a draft copy (not the final version) of the dissertation to the Ph.D. examining committee one month in advance of a proposed examination date. Examination may not be scheduled until the draft is in the hands of the examining committee.
C.1.10 THE FINAL ORAL EXAMINATION COMMITTEE
The Final Oral Examination Committee must have a minimum of 4 members, and at least 3 committee members are required to be from the UW-Madison graduate faculty. All members of the committee must be a “reader”, i.e. they are required to read the dissertation before the defense. One committee member must be from outside the field of geoscience (as defined by the specialties represented in the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience); this person could be from UW-Madison or some other institution. Note that if a committee member is external to UW-Madison, but is still in the field of geoscience (as defined by the specialties represented in the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience), they DO NOT satisfy the requirement of a committee member “outside the field”. Three or more committee members must be from the UW-Madison Department of Geoscience. In some cases, exceptions to this policy will be considered by the graduate studies committee.
C.1.11 THE FINAL ORAL EXAMINATION
The final oral examination is administered by the Final Oral Examination Committee and is to ascertain the suitability and quality of the Ph.D. dissertation. It is typically given in closed session following a public, oral summary of the Ph.D. research, but may be given at another time.
C.1.11.1 Copies of the dissertation must be provided to all members of the examining committee one month before the scheduled exam. This dissertation draft must have approval of the main Advisor.
C.1.11.2 The final oral examination may not be given until all other requirements are satisfied and any incompletes removed.
C.1.11.3 The final oral examination must be taken within five years of passing the preliminary examination; a student is required to take another preliminary exam and be readmitted to candidacy if more than 5 years has elapsed. Extensions to this time limit are occasionally granted for cause, but must be requested, in writing, by petition to the Graduate School.
C.1.12 Completion Requirements
To complete the degree the candidate will:
- At least 3 weeks before the dissertation defense, ask the Graduate Student Coordinator to request warrant from the Graduate School.
- Present a public, oral summary of the results of his or her research.
- Submit electronic or typewritten copy of the complete dissertation and abstract to the Graduate School Office for approval of mechanicl form and execution, not later than the last day of the session or by whatever other deadline may be imposed by the Graduate School (see http://grad.wisc.edu/currentstudents/degree/)
- Obtain Final Oral Examining Committee signatures on warrant and deliver to the Graduate School Office, and
- Arrange with the Curator for deposition of selected dissertation material and a reference copy of the dissertation in the Library (see para. C.2)
C.2 DEPARTMENTAL DEPOSIT OF DISSERTATION AND DISSERTATION MATERIAL
An unbound copy and an electronic copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the Librarian of the C.K. Leith Library.
All samples and other materials referenced in the dissertation must be put on permanent deposit with the department. See the Museum Curator well in advance of finishing the dissertation, in order to arrange for a specimen file number, and for labeling instructions. The curator must approve thesis samples in
writing unless an exception is requested in writing by the Advisor.
Note: PhD students who wish to submit their dissertation in paper rather than electronically must visit the Graduate School, 217 Bascom Hall, to pick up instructions and an agreement form, which are not available online. Please be aware that it costs more to deposit in paper than electronically ($90 paper, $25 electronic submission).