Ph.D. in Geography

Graduate Committee

The Ph.D. graduate committee consists of at least five members of the graduate faculty, including your advisor. In addition to the permanent advisor as chair, the committee is composed of two or more members from Geography; one or more members from departments in related fields; and, one member outside Geography, who is the Graduate School Representative.

Ph.D. residency requirement

All PhD students must fulfill the Graduate School residency requirement, which requires two consecutive semesters of at least nine (9) graduate credits each. Students on 20 hr/week assistantships require six (6) credits each for two consecutive semesters.

Curriculum for Ph.D. in Geography

Total required credits, including a max of 24 from Masters degree: 72

Of these 72 credits, 30 must be 700-level (seminar) credits, excluding dissertation credits; as many as 18 700-level credits may be used from a Masters degree program.

Required courses



GEOG 700 – History and Nature of Geography (Fall)


GEOG 702 – Professional Development (Spring)


Chose two of the following three courses, totaling 6 credits:



700-level seminar in Physical Geography



700-level seminar in Human Geography


700-level seminar in Human/Environment interactions


Additional credits



Methods courses (2; see Appendix A for suggested list)




GEOG 690 – Colloquium series


GEOG 795 – Comprehensive Examination (S/U)


GEOG 799 – Dissertation


Note: Except for Dissertation, Comp Exam, or the Colloquium series, any of these requirements may be fulfilled by courses taken during the student’s Masters program. The determination of which requirements have been satisfied will be determined by the primary Advisor and the Director of the Graduate Program during the student’s first year.

Comprehensive Examination

Each candidate for the PhD in Geography is required to successfully complete a written and oral comprehensive examination. Comprehensive examinations are designed to ensure that the student has attained a reasonable proficiency level in the chosen field of study. The student must register for the comprehensive examination as GEOG 795 (1 credit) during the semester the exam is to be taken.

The written examination shall be supervised by the student’s advisor and graduate committee. The student, advisor, and graduate committee will identify two or three relevant subfields in Geography to be covered in the examination. The Department has identified two possible scenarios for the written comps:

Option One:

  • A total of five-to-six questions from two-to-three subfields answered over a two-three day period
  • Two-to-three questions per day, selected from a set of 4-5 questions per subfield
  • Two hours per question, closed book, done on a computer in the Department

Option Two:

  • Again, a total of five-to-six questions answered – two-to-three subfields
  • The student will be given the examination and asked to return the type-written answers within a given time period, normally 72 hours – a detailed bibliography is expected for each answer

For both scenarios:

  • Questions to be solicited from the Graduate Committee with the Advisor editing as appropriate
  • All questions to be graded Pass/Fail by all committee members
  • After seeing the grading, the Advisor, in communication with the Graduate Committee, determines whether the writtens are “passed” or “failed.” If a “fail” is given, then no orals follow and another meeting is held to determine the deficiencies that need to be addressed before scheduling a second and final written
  • If a “pass” is given, the oral portion of the comprehensive examination should take place within two weeks of the completion of the written examination and will be supervised by the student’s Advisor and Graduate Committee. The oral portion of the comprehensive examination typically last 2-3 hours and may be based upon the written examination, general knowledge of the field, the student’s capability as an imminent PhD, or other relevant

After the examination, a passing grade (S) will be given for successful completion of both the written and oral parts of the comprehensive examination. An incomplete (X) or failing (U) grade may be rectified at the committee’s discretion. These grades will be recorded by the “Doctoral Degree Admission to Candidacy/Comprehensive Examination Report” form, which raises the student to PhD candidacy status, the equivalent of ABD. There are two items of note for candidacy – first is the successful completion of the written and oral comprehensive examinations, with dates for both; second is verification that the student has completed the residency requirement (as discussed above).


Each PhD student will need to enroll for a minimum of 24 hours of dissertation credits. These credit hours are given a satisfactory or unsatisfactory (S/U) grade. Graduate students should meet with their advisor prior to registering for dissertation credits and gain a clear understanding of what is required to receive a passing (S) grade. In general, inadequate or lack of progress on a dissertation will result in a non-passing (U) grade. Dissertation credits may NOT be taken during the summer semester, except under special circumstances.

The dissertation topic and the methodology are chosen by the student in consultation with the Advisor and Graduate Committee. Students should work closely with their Advisors and Graduate Committee members on their dissertation research and the documentation of the dissertation. For those involved in research dealing with human subjects, be informed that effective February 1, 2003, the University requires the completion of formal on-line training prior to obtaining the necessary authorization (details are available on the UNR Office of Human Research Protection Web site, Similarly, for those students involved in research dealing with animals, an Animal Use and Care Permit is required.

There are options to satisfy the Dissertation requirement for the PhD in Geography. One option is a traditional monograph, including a “methodology” and a “literature review.” Another common option is to produce publication-ready articles or book chapters (typically three [3]), interconnected by a single overriding theme. The determination of which option is most appropriate for the candidate is left to the student’s Graduate Committee.

Students will present and defend their dissertation to their Advisor and Graduate Committee. Typically, the first portion of a dissertation defense is a formal presentation of about an hour, including questions and answers, and this is open to the public. After the presentation and the question/answer period, the defense is closed to the public, and the Advisor and the Graduate Committee will have an opportunity to ask what are typically more detailed questions about the student’s project.

When a dissertation is successfully defended, the “Notice of Completion” must be filled out and turned into the Department’s Graduate Director. The “Notice of Completion” form must be submitted to the Graduate School by mid-December for Fall semester graduation, and by mid- May for Spring semester graduation (check the Graduate School website for exact dates).

The approved dissertation must be sent to the Graduate School. Deadlines for dissertation submission are the same as those for the “Notice of Completion.” It is recommended that each student makes an appointment at the Graduate School to check the necessary format and style before handing in a final dissertation. The Advisor must submit a “Dissertation Final Review Approval” prior to the submission of the dissertation. Further information about dissertation preparation can be found on the Graduate School website.