III. General University and Departmental requirements for an advanced degree at the University of Nevada, Reno

Graduate students enrolled in either the M.S. or Ph.D. programs in the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering are obliged to comply with the requirements of both the Graduate School and the Department. As in most other universities, it is the sole responsibility of the student to become aware of all policies, procedures, and deadlines appropriate to their degree program. All graduate students need both to consult their advisors and to check the latest updates on policies. A visit to the Graduate School’s webpage is strongly recommended to review information on requirements and all forms that will eventually be needed by the student. It is best to plan ahead and meet often with your advisor to ensure that all are aware of timing and procedures.

Annual registration

The University Graduate School requires that students must register for at least three credit hours each semester or obtain a written leave of absence approved by the student's advisor and the Department chair. Please note that unless these approved leaves are in the Graduate School's records (that is, recorded on the Program of Study), extensions of the 6- and 8-year requirements for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees will not be approved by the Graduate Dean. To receive benefits and the tuition waiver of an assistantship, a student needs to be enrolled in a minimum of 6 credits per semester.

Major advisor and committee

An approved application for graduate standing lists the name of the student's temporary Advisor. Usually the temporary Advisor becomes the student’s permanent Advisor through the completion of Program of Study paperwork (Graduate School form) during the first committee meeting. The student also selects members of the Advisory-Examining Committee, who are recorded on and sign the Program of Study* (*Note that the PDF versions of the forms can be used as a template, but all final versions should be launched in the DocuSign forms available on the Graduate School website). The Program of Study is then formally approved by the Graduate Director and then the Graduate Dean. All committee members are involved in the determination of appropriate coursework and approval of the thesis or dissertation proposal.  They also help design and administer the relevant examinations and eventually approve the final thesis or dissertation.

  • Declaration of Advisor/Major Advisor/Committee Chair form
    • For M.S. students, the completed form must be submitted to the Graduate School by the end of the student’s second semester.
    • For Ph.D. students, the completed form must be submitted to Graduate School by the end of the student’s fourth semester.


When you arrive as a new graduate student in Geological Sciences, you will be assigned a temporary Advisor, who will help you get started, and who will likely become your research Advisor.  Your temporary advisor in most cases selected you from the applicant pool as a promising student. We strongly encourage new students to select a general research area and a permanent Advisor sometime during the first semester of residence, and the full advisory/examining committee before your first committee meeting. Your thesis or dissertation Advisor will help you: 1) plan your course schedule, 2) identify a research project, 3) seek funding, and 4) find office or desk space.

You are free to change Advisors or committee members at any time during your graduate work; however, this may affect your research and stipend funding.  However, if you decide to change Advisors, some discussion with your present Advisor is essential. You may have an obligation to provide your present Advisor with data, reports, or other information related to research for which you received funding.  If you already have a permanent Advisor and Advisory/Examining committee, a change can be made by submitting a written agreement signed by the student, former Advisor or committee member, new Advisor or committee member, and Department Chair. The Graduate School must also be notified of this change, using their Change of Advisory Committee form.

Advisory-Examining Committee composition

The Advisory-Examining Committee needs to be formed in time for the first committee meeting convened before the end of the 2nd semester. This committee provides guidance during graduate research.

For the M.S. degree, this committee is composed of 3 or more faculty members:

  • the principal advisor (a.k.a. committee chair, thesis advisor, or major advisor)
  • an additional member from the the DGSE graduate faculty list
  • a faculty member from outside of the DGSE graduate faculty list that serves as the Graduate School representative

Doctoral committees require at least five members:

  • the principal advisor
  • two additional members from the DGSE graduate faculty list
  • one faculty member from outside of the DGSE graduate faculty list that serves as the Graduate School representative
  • one additional committee member which may be from inside or outside of DGSE graduate faculty list.

The committee members provide additional counseling and expertise beyond that of the thesis advisor, maintain standards, and can help with problems that may arise. A list of all UNR graduate faculty may be found on the Graduate School website, and a search bar allows you to call up those in a specific degree program, if needed.

Both M.S. and Ph.D. committee meetings should be arranged by the student, and should take place a minimum of once each year. Students should be in contact with committee members on a semester basis to keep them apprised of their progress. The role of the Graduate School representative is to provide an objective external perspective and to assure that Graduate School policies are being followed. The role of the Advisory-Examining Committee in graduate examinations is described later. 

Program of study

Advanced degrees are conferred by the university following approval of the graduate faculty, the graduate dean, and completion of an approved Program of Study. The Program of Study form (Graduate School form) documents the members of the Advisory-Examining Committee, coursework, and research the student has chosen for their advanced degree work.

Development of a Program of Study is an important component of the graduate program in the Department of Geological Sciences. The Program of Study, as implemented in this department, serves a variety of purposes:  (1) it defines the classes and the Advisory-Examining Committee; (2) it is produced sufficiently early in the student's stay in our Department to guide the student and to remind the faculty of student needs; (3) it enables students to take charge of their graduate program.  The graduate student is free to choose their research direction or area of specialization, Advisor, and committee members, but the experience of the these faculty members is crucial to judicious selection of appropriate coursework and thesis topics.

The Program of Study should be approved by the Department of Geological Sciences and then turned into the Graduate School by the end of the 2nd semester for M.S. students and by the end of the 2nd year for Ph.D. students. Typically, the Program of Study form is presented and signed at the committee meeting during the comprehensive exam meetings (end of the 2nd semester for M.S. students and the end of the 4th semester for Ph.D. students).

Changes to the program of study

Once the Program of Study is filed with the Graduate school, the student is obligated to take all of the courses listed in the program. Any changes must be made by filing a Change in Program of Study form (Graduate School form).

M.S. thesis proposal (comprehensive exam)

The Department of Geological Sciences requires that a draft thesis proposal be submitted to the Advisory/Examining committee at the first committee meeting by the end of the second semester. This draft should be circulated to the committee a few weeks in advance of the committee meeting. Copies of the draft thesis proposal go only to the committee and are not submitted to the graduate school. The final thesis proposal is usually produced shortly after the first committee meeting, taking into account any suggestions made during that meeting, before his/her first field season starts.

Dissertation proposal (Qualifying and Written Comprehensive Exams)

For Ph.D. students, the initial draft proposal presented at the first committee meeting is a short 2-page summary (see Qualifying examination instructions below). The final draft of their dissertation proposal is modeled after a NSF research grant proposal in length and style (see Comprehensive examination instructions below).

Foreign language

The Department of Geological Sciences has no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree.