Five-Year Ph.D. with M.S. in Geography

The Ph.D. is a different kind of degree from the master’s degree. A doctoral candidate in Geography must be capable of making original contributions to knowledge and scholarship. It is unlikely that a person will make such contributions unless he or she concentrates on a narrow and clearly defined field of study. We require, however, that doctoral candidates know more of geography than their particular specialties; thus, any aspirant for a doctorate must obtain master’s training or its equivalent before being admitted to doctoral candidacy. In short, admission to doctoral candidacy is official recognition that a student’s general foundation in the breadth of geography is satisfactory. Students then devote their attention to developing depth in chosen specialties. 


The general requirements for a doctoral degree in geography are more rigorous than those for a master’s degree. At the same time, the greater flexibility of the doctoral program allows advanced students to pursue programs of study tailored to their special interests and needs. 


Progress through the degree is marked by: 

·       a successful performance in a verbal candidacy exam; 

·       a four-day written comprehensive exam, with a verbal portion after the written answers have been assessed by the committee;  

·       a formal dissertation proposal; and 

·       a verbal defense of a completed dissertation. 


The Five-Year Ph.D. with M.S. degree program is for students without a master’s degree from another program.  

Students without master’s degrees choose either to enter the five-year Ph.D. program or the M.S. program when applying. Students can opt out of the five-year Ph.D. at any time and choose to finish the M.S. only. Students who enter the Geography graduate program by originally choosing the master’s degree path can apply to shift to the five-year Ph.D. program.


Students opting to continue from the M.S. to the Ph.D. must submit an intent-to-continue form with three faculty letters of recommendation in October of their second year. The faculty reviews these materials by early November and approves continuation in the Ph.D. program. 


If a student is approved for continuation in the Ph.D. program, he or she must take the doctoral candidacy exam. A committee from three of the four fields of geography and appointed by the Graduate Program Officer will administer the doctoral candidacy exam to students admitted to the Ph.D. program. The doctoral candidacy exam can take place any time during the second year of the five-year Ph.D. program, but students typically take the exam during spring semester. 


A student on the five-year Ph.D. path may elect—with approval of his or her advisor—one of two options for satisfying the M.S. degree requirements: 

(1) The M.S. thesis option, which requires completion of at least 30 graduate credits and a thesis during the first four semesters of study 

(2) The M.S. paper option, which requires completion of 35 graduate credits and a research paper during the first four semesters of study; the master’s research paper must be submitted to a scholarly journal upon completion of the M.S. 


The master’s program committee is not the same as the doctoral candidacy committee. The master’s program committee consists of an advisor and a second and third reader. Unlike the M.S.-only degree program, all three members of the M.S. committee in the five-year Ph.D. program must be members of the Geography Graduate Faculty. The student will work with this committee throughout the master’s portion of the five-year Ph.D. program. 


All three committee members must approve the final thesis or paper, at which point there are two options for the committee: 

(1) approve the M.S. degree and approve continuation into the Ph.D. program; or 

(2) approve the M.S. degree but do not approve continuation into the Ph.D. program. 


Students in the five-year Ph.D. program complete a comprehensive exam and defend their dissertation proposal in the third year. Depending on the needs of their research, and in agreement with their doctoral committee, students can fulfill these two requirements in either order. Once students have successfully passed their comprehensive exam and defended their proposal, they typically take two years to research, write, and defend their dissertations.


More Details

Additional information about the five-year Ph.D. with M.S. degree in Geography is available in the Graduate Handbook, which is distributed during orientation.


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