The Ph. D. Degree

The Ph.D. degree program is intended to provide the student with a broad knowledge of geological and geophysical inquiries applied to Earth and planetary systems and the necessary research and analytical skills to pursue successful careers in academia, research, industry, and alternative careers using their scientific expertise.  By providing the necessary research tools, the program facilitates the student's transition to a scientist capable of developing high quality, independent research and investigatory skills required to make original discoveries and contributions to the Earth and planetary sciences and to society as a whole.

Overview of Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree

The Ph.D. degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences requires 72 credits overall by state mandate; a minimum of 24 course and 24 research credits are required – the remaining 24 credits can be either course or research credits to be decided by the student’s research committee. To successfully advance to Ph.D. candidacy, the student must 1) pass a qualifying exam and 2) prepare, orally present, and defend a written Dissertation Proposal. For completion of the Ph.D., the candidate must complete a comprehensive written dissertation and successfully present and defend an open presentation of the dissertation.

In most cases, the student who has been admitted with a B.A. or a B.S. degree in Earth and planetary sciences or related fields, with no major deficiencies, will complete their Ph.D. within 5 academic years. The normal maximum time allowed by the Graduate School is 7 years (including time for a masters degree if the masters is done at Rutgers). The student must file an application for a diploma (obtained from the Registrar) before April 1 preceding the May commencement or Sept. 1 preceding the Oct. commencement in the proposed year of graduation.

Dissertation Advisor

If the student has not already done so prior to acceptance into the program, during the first year, preferably the first semester, the graduate student must select a Dissertation Advisor and define an area of research. During the first year, the Dissertation Advisor and the GPD will help the student design a curriculum to meet program requirements and to address any perceived deficiencies in the student's scholastic background.

Dissertation Committee

A Dissertation Committee should also be formed in the first year, but no later than the third semester. In consultation with the Dissertation Advisor, at least two other internal members (a total of three) must be selected who can help advise the student on their intended area of research, oversee the student's progress, and objectively critique the student's dissertation research. The Dissertation Committee is chaired by a full member of the Rutgers graduate faculty, normally the Dissertation Advisor. One of the committee members must be from outside the Department (the “external” member), chosen in consultation with the student's Dissertation Advisor and approved by the GPD and GAC. The external member, either from another Rutgers department or other outside institution, may be included at this stage, though this is not a requirement.  If the external member is not a member of the Rutgers graduate faculty, the GPD must provide the Dean's Office with the name, address, and Curriculum Vitae of the person appointed.

The Dissertation Advisor and Dissertation Committee will serve to advise the student on selection of course work and Dissertation research. The Dissertation Committee is formed by the student by 1) discussing potential committee members with the advisor and/or GPD, 2) asking potential members to serve on the committee, and 3) submitting the Dissertation Committee Form to the Department's GPD.  Students must meet with their Dissertation Advisor and members of their Dissertation Committee at least once a semester.

Changes in the committee once formed are possible by petitioning the GAC. Final approval for a change in the Dissertation Committee membership rests with the Dean of the School of Graduate School (SGS). If a member leaves the university, they may continue to serve on the committee with the approval of the GPD. 

In year 1, all PhD students will write a short proposal of the potential thesis topic (2-5 pages; 800-2,000 words, not including figures and references) typically due May 15. In year 2, PhD students will submit full proposal (7-12 pages; 3,000-5,000 words) due near end of year 2, typically May 15. Every graduate committee should meet twice a year, ideally late May and early January.  Any exception to this rule must be requested by the full Dissertation Committee and approved by the GAC.  The entire faculty will review the progress of graduate students and should provide written feedback to each student commenting on their progress ideally each semester but at least annually.

Course work

In consultation with the Dissertation Advisor and GPD, an outline of course work is to be selected, individually designed toward the student's interest and area of study, and intended to augment the student's prior undergraduate and graduate study. The Ph.D. degree requires a minimum of 24 course credits.

Up to 24 credits of graduate course work taken at other institutions can be transferred with the approval of the GPD and SGS using the forms obtained from SGS. Approval will be granted only for courses related to the student's proposed area of study for the Ph.D. Up to 12 credits of advanced undergraduate courses (300- or 400-level equivalent) taken at Rutgers or other institutions may be applied to the 24 credits required. The student is required to complete a minimum of 12 course credits at Rutgers before they can transfer course credits from another institution.  A minimum grade average of 3.0 is required in classwork taken during a student’s time in the program. There is no language requirement beyond showing proficiency in English for those with English as a second language. Ideally, most of the course work should be completed in the first two years of study, the remainder focused on dissertation research.

Advancement to Ph.D. Candidacy

Qualifying Exams and Dissertation Proposals

In addition to coursework, each student must pass a Qualifying Examination and successfully defend a Dissertation as requirements for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy. The Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Proposal Defense are to be administered by a Qualifying Exam Committee, normally the Dissertation Committee, which must consist of at least three (including the advisor) internal members of the graduate faculty in EPS and a Chair; the external member, either from another Rutgers department or other outside institution may be included at this stage, though this is not a requirement. The Chair for both the Qualifying Examination and Dissertation Proposal Defense is normally not the Dissertation Advisor; rather, another full member (preferably a senior member) of the graduate faculty and will be chosen by the GPD to chair the examination and proposal defense in consultation with the GAC and Dissertation Advisor.

The Qualifying Exam and Dissertation Proposal Defense are to be scheduled at or prior to the end of the second academic year, ideally during the last two weeks of May (or first two weeks in January for January admits). All members of the Dissertation Committee participate in person or virtually except for the “external” member as noted above. Requests for substitution of a committee member because of absence or scheduling difficulties may be considered by the Dissertation Committee and GAC.

The Qualifying Examination is oral, should target 2 hours, and should not exceed 3 hours. A written exam can be added in specific cases based on special needs as approved by the Graduate Program Director.  The Qualifying Exam is designed 1) to test the student's basic knowledge of Earth and planetary sciences that are pertinent to the student's area of specialization and proposed dissertation topic, with the focus on the area of proposed research, and 2) to determine if the student possesses the necessary training and tools to carry out the proposed research. Qualifying exams are typically open only to the Qualifying Exam Committee and to members of the graduate faculty.

The student successfully passes the Qualifying Examination upon approval of members of the Qualifying Examination Committee with a maximum of one dissenting vote. Under special circumstances and under recommendation of the Committee, a student may be required to retake all or part of the Qualifying Examination or defend the Dissertation Proposal again before advancing to candidacy. In certain cases, the student may be required to take additional courses to fill any determined areas of weakness. In the event of a failed Qualifying Examination, members of the Qualifying Exam Committee will discuss specific reasons for failure with the student and determine a course of action. The Committee may allow a student failing the Qualifying Examination or Dissertation Proposal only one opportunity to retake one or both components. Two failures will terminate the student's application for candidacy for the Ph.D. If agreed upon by the student's Advisor, Qualifying Exam Committee, and Graduate Program Director; students failing the exam my be able to complete either a M.S. in Earth and Planetary Sciences (if not having done so already).

The Dissertation Proposal

Congruent with preparation for the Qualifying Exam, the student will work with the Dissertation Committee to prepare a Dissertation Proposal. The Dissertation Proposal is intended to lay the foundation for the proposed dissertation research and to serve as guide to the Dissertation Committee as to the student's intended dissertation research goals. The Dissertation Proposal must be approved by the student's Dissertation Committee at least 2 weeks prior to the Qualifying Exams. A relatively complete Dissertation Proposal must be submitted to the student's Advisor and Dissertation Committee at least 1 month prior to the scheduled date of the Dissertation Proposal Defense.

The Dissertation Proposal shall be a comprehensive document that clearly outlines the area of intended research, prior or background studies, problem(s) to be addressed, hypotheses to be tested, and methodology to be. The Dissertation Proposal must clearly state all aspects of the proposed research the student will be engaged in, the student's role or contribution to any joint or collaborative aspects of the research, which data are to be collected by the student and those to be collected by advisors, collaborators or outside contracts. The Dissertation Proposal must be fully referenced and any collaborators and outside contractors should be clearly identified. A time-table or estimate outlining the timing and completion of the proposed research must be included in the Dissertation Proposal. Necessary funding, collaborative agreements, or timing restrictions (research cruises, field access, permits, etc.) should also be included.

The Dissertation Proposal presentation should be scheduled as soon as possible after the oral exams, either in concert with the exam or following soon thereafter (e.g., not later than end Sept. for May exams). In the Dissertation Proposal Defense, the student will describe and discuss their dissertation topic in an approximately 30-minute presentation, and then answer questions related to the proposed dissertation research, first from the community and then from the Dissertation Committee. The student's oral presentation of the Dissertation Proposal will be open to all faculty, staff, and students. The remainder of the oral session that follows the presentation and questions will be open only to members of the Qualifying Committee and graduate faculty members. The proposal may be accepted, accepted with modification, or returned for revision.

After successful defense of the Dissertation Proposal, a final version of the Dissertation Proposal incorporating any recommended changes must be submitted to the GPD and Dissertation Committee. A copy of the approved proposal is part of the student's permanent record and will be filed by the GPD.

Advancement to Candidacy

The student advances to Ph.D. candidacy following completion of at least 30 hours course and/or research credits, passing of the Qualifying Examination, the Dissertation Proposal Defense, and filing of the Dissertation Proposal. Applications for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. can be obtained from the School of Graduate Studies. Support offers require satisfactory progress, which normally assumes completion of exams in year 2. Deadlines are subject to change at the request of the committee and approval of the GPD.

The Dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is to be an independent, original research contribution in the Earth and planetary sciences. The dissertation will be prepared in accordance with the regulations and guidelines outlined by the Graduate School and will ordinarily be in the style of manuscripts submitted for journal publication preceded by a general introduction, which describes the rationale of the overall work and how it extends from background material in the field. All aspects of the Dissertation are to be advised by and overseen by the Dissertation Advisor and Dissertation Committee. Contributions of colleagues in multi-authored publications/chapters and/or the student's contribution to collaborative studies must be clearly identified, normally in an introductory chapter of the dissertation. All work must be properly cited and referenced. Publication-based dissertations must consist of a minimum of two chapters/publications and an introductory chapter discussing the student’s contributions to the study (if jointly authored) and discussion as to how the chapters/publications interrelate. Chapters need not be published, and the senior authorship on published papers by the candidate is not required, with final determination by the Dissertation Committee. A final version of the Dissertation to be defended must be distributed to the Advisor and members of the Dissertation Committee at least one month prior to the final Oral Presentation and Defense of the Dissertation and deposited in the department office at least one week prior to the defense.

Oral Presentation and Defense of the Dissertation

Once the Dissertation is approved by the Dissertation Advisor and Dissertation Committee, and in agreement with the Dissertation Advisor, a date is scheduled for an oral presentation and defense of the dissertation. The presentation is open to all and is followed by an open period of public questioning followed by the dissertation defense administered by the student's Dissertation Committee and open to all members of the graduate faculty. A minimum of three Dissertation Committee members must be present in person or electronically at the defense; the fourth (external) member may provide written questions and need not be present. At the conclusion of the Dissertation Defense, the Dissertation must be approved by all members of the candidate's Dissertation Committee or by all but one member.  In the event that the defense cannot be scheduled at a time that is “convenient” for departmental attendance, the Graduate Program Director may require the student to present the dissertation findings to the department at a later date. Electronic defenses are acceptable.

Completion and Filing of the Dissertation

Assuming acceptance and that minimal modifications are required to the dissertation, the Advisor and Dissertation Committee members should sign the title page of the original copy of the dissertation and a copy of the Graduate School Dissertation approval form. If substantial changes are required, the advisor and members of the Dissertation Committee may choose to wait until recommended changes are completed. Any revisions or edits of the dissertation as recommended by the Dissertation Advisor and Committee must be completed within 30 days. Substantial changes requiring longer periods may be considered, which may require approval of the GPD and scheduling of a second oral defense by the Dissertation Committee.

The final, signed Dissertation must be approved by and filed electronically with the Gradate School. Bound paper and electronic (PDF) copies of the dissertation must also be filed with the Department, Dissertation Advisor, and Dissertation Committee members. Committee members may choose to receive electronic copies only.

Overview of Ph.D. Program Requirements and General Program Timeline

The following is a suggested timeline. Students may accelerate this timeline.
For those students entering with a B.S./B.A. in Earth and planetary sciences or related fields, with no advanced graduate study.

  • The Ph.D. requires a total of 72 credits, consisting of at least 24 course and 24 research credits. Most course credits should be taken by end of the 4th semester.
  • By the end of the 1st semester, a Dissertation Advisor should be chosen.
  • By the end of the 2nd semester a dissertation topic should be identified and discussed.  A preliminary proposal is due at the end of the 2nd semester, ideally 15 May.
  • Ideally by the end of the 2nd semester but no later than the end of the third semester, a Dissertation/Qualifying Exam Committee should be formed in consultation with the student's Dissertation Advisor.
  • The Qualifying Exams should be taken at the end of the 4th Semester, typically late May
  • By the end of the 4th Semester but no later than the 5th Semester, the oral presentation of the Dissertation Proposal should be scheduled and successfully defended.
  • Successful advancement to candidacy is required by the end of the 5th Semester.
  • 5th Semester plus.  Continued work on dissertation research, writing, etc.
  • By end of the 5th year, completion of the dissertation and satisfactory oral presentation and defense of the dissertation
  • Final corrections, edits and final submission of the dissertation due within 30 days of defense.
  • Submission of an electronic (PDF) copy of the completed dissertation, signed cover page, and signed candidacy form filed with the Graduate School Office.
  • Electronic and paper copies of the dissertation filed with the Department office and copies of the dissertation presented to Dissertation Advisor and members of the Dissertation Committee.
  • All variances from the above must be approved in writing by the student's Dissertation Advisor and Department's GPD.

An Ideal Schedule and Timeline for the Ph.D. Degree

Year 1

Fall (1st) Semester
Courses: two to three 3-credit courses
Research: Select dissertation advisor, develop research topic

Spring (2nd) Semester
Courses: two to three 3-credit courses
Research: Work on preliminary thesis proposal, form Dissertation Committee
Preliminary proposal due at end of semester

Research: Work on dissertation research

Year 2

Fall (3rd) Semester
Courses: two to three 3-credit courses, 3 to 6 research credits
Research: Work on dissertation topic / work on dissertation proposal

Spring (4th) Semester
Courses: 3 to 6 research credits
Research: Scheduling of Qualifying Exams, Dissertation Proposal Defense,
and Submission of Dissertation Proposal to Advisor and Committee
Completion of Qualifying Exams

Research: Work on dissertation research; Dissertation Proposal and Defense by end September

Year 3

Fall (5th) Semester
Courses: 3 to 6 research credits
Research: if not done so, Dissertation Proposal Defense
Advance to Candidacy Work on dissertation research

Spring (6th) Semester
Courses: 3 to research credits
Research: Work on dissertation research
At this point and forward, student should be “All but degree” ABD and eligible for reduced credit load

Research: Work on dissertation research

Year 4 plus years

Final Semester
Research: submit final version of dissertation to be filed
Present and Defend Dissertation
Complete all corrections, submit copies of signed dissertation to Dissertation Advisor and Committee members, and Department, file electronic copy and all signed forms with the Graduate School.