III. Departmental Requirements for an M.S. Degree

Thesis option

This section summarizes the standards for the M.S. degree with thesis option. The Department of Geological Sciences does not normally offer the M.S. non-thesis option (see next section). It is important to understand that earning a graduate degree involves much more than just completing a fixed number of graduate classes. The student's Advisory/Examining Committee may require the student to take additional courses if, in its opinion, training or background is needed to reach the degree of proficiency typical of others holding this degree in the student's chosen field of specialization. The number of required classes is really a minimum, because the amount of preparation a student needs for thesis research varies considerably across departments and specialties.

Course Work -31 credits of graduate courses, including:

  • One credit of GEOL 795 Comprehensive exam (1taken second semester for all M.S. programs)
  • 20 course credits (at least 10 credits at the 700 level); 3 of these 20 credits must be GEOL 790 (one credit)
  • 10 thesis credits (GEOL 797)

Course selection will be determined in conjunction with your advisor, committee, and the program graduate director. Examples of possible courses are listed in the University catalog.

Many students will therefore take three semesters of GEOL 790, three or four 700-level courses, one or two 600-level courses, one credit of GEOL 795 and 10 credits of thesis to satisfy these requirements.

The Graduate Seminar (GEOL 790) is required of all students entering MS. and Ph.D. programs in Geology, Geophysics, and the M.S. in Geologic Engineering.  Master’s students must enroll a minimum of 3 semesters. Graduate seminar is a forum for faculty and students from the University and other organizations to present information on cutting edge topics in the geological sciences. The seminar schedule varies each semester.

A minimum of 31 credits of acceptable graduate courses (grade of B or better and listed on the Program of Study) must be completed. A maximum of 9 credits completed elsewhere (Grade B or better) can be transferred and applied to the M.S. degree at the University. Transfer credit can be requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request form available on Graduate School website, and must be signed by the student, major advisor, and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on master’s work (6 years). Thus, if a student took a course five years prior to admission, they would have to complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Fifteen of the 20 credits must be in the major field of study.  The overall grade point average for graduate classwork must be maintained above 3.0.  If the student falls below 3.0, they will be placed on academic probation, they will lose their assistantship, and they will be allowed one semester to bring your grades up to 3.0 or above.  Failure to meet this standard may result in dismissal from the program. See the Graduate School academic standing and dismissal policy for details. Program of Study Requirements (PDF on graduate school web site) for additional details about requirements.

M.S. examinations

Two examinations are required for the M.S. degree.

  1. Comprehensive examination. In their second semester, MS students will be required to sign up for one credit of MS Comprehensive Exam (GEOL 795), under the direction of the Graduate Director. The MS Comprehensive Exam consists of two requirements: 1) a formal thesis proposal including a presentation of the proposed research; and 2) approval of your Program of Study. The thesis proposal is a short (generally <10 page) document describing the question(s) to be addressed by the MS thesis, how the student proposes to address these questions, and the importance of these questions in the context of the broader geoscience community. Students are required to submit a formal thesis proposal to their committee and have a committee meeting to discuss both the proposal and their proposed Program of Study prior to the end of their second semester  (does not include summer semester). Both must be approved by their committee. Once approved, their advisor should email the Graduate Director informing them of the outcome of the exam. Failure to complete this requirement in the allotted time will result in the student being dropped from the program.  Under extenuating circumstances, the student may petition for an extension, but any petition must be approved by their thesis committee before it will be considered by the Graduate Director
  2. Final oral examination. A final Oral Examination (Thesis defense) is held with the Advisory-Examining Committee to evaluate the quality and professional standards of the student's research. The defense must be announced two weeks in advance and open to the public. After successfully completing this examination and approval of the final draft of the thesis, the student is advanced to Master's candidacy and may apply for graduation. The thesis defense is usually about 2 hours long and consists of a public talk (~3045 min) followed by a closed session with the committee where questions are asked and specific recommendations/revisions are suggested for the thesis. The thesis defense should be scheduled in a venue that can sufficiently accommodate the audience (> 30 people). Please contact the department administrators to schedule a room.

Time limits

All requirements for this degree must be completed within six calendar years preceding conferral of the degree.

Non-thesis option

A non-thesis M.S. option is available as an appropriate alternative upon special petition. The non-thesis option is considered a terminal degree and is not recommended for students considering a future Doctoral degree. To pursue a non-thesis M.S., the student must first discuss this option with their advisor and committee. If the advisor and committee deem the non-thesis M.S. to be an appropriate option, the advisor will then submit a memo petitioning the Graduate Committee within the first semester.

For the non-thesis M.S., a minimum of 30 course credits is required with at least 15 credits at the 700-level. In addition to the course work, a Professional Paper (2 credits of GE 796 or equivalent Professional Paper credits) is required. The Professional Paper will demonstrate the student's ability to integrate technical state-of the-art knowledge into a document suitable for professional review and publication. Topics may be of an applied nature and must be approved by the student's Graduate Committee. Format and content of the Professional Paper should be commensurate with those found in professional society proceedings, regional/national symposia and conferences, applied science and resource management journals, and other journals serving as a forum for scientific discussion. The student must also meet with their committee by the end of their 2nd semester. During this meeting, the student will provide a draft summary of what will be included within the Professional Paper. This summary should be circulated to the committee a few weeks in advance of the committee meeting.