Graduate Advisement-Current Students

Regular advising will ensure steady progress towards completion

Making steady progress through your coursework and research is key to successful completion of the M.S. or Ph.D. degrees. Many faculty schedule weekly meetings with their students, which enables them to regularly assess the student's progress and for the student to present tangible progress on a weekly basis. In general, the meeting schedule is up to the student and their primary advisor. In addition to presentations at scientific or engineering conferences, publication in first-rate peer-reviewed journals is expected and strongly encouraged of graduate students in this Department, especially for those pursuing their Ph.D. A typical milestone for a Ph.D. student is three papers published, or submitted, prior to scheduling the dissertation defense.  If students are not making satisfactory progress the faculty advisor and student are encouraged to meet with the Graduate Director.

Graduate Handbook

The current DGSE graduate handbook will be provided electronically to all new student and is linked here. Students should work closely with their advisor to assure they are meeting Departmental requirements. General guidelines are provided here and in case of any discrepancy the graduate handbook is the ultimate authority on requirements.

Required Course Work

All MS candidates are required to take GEOL 790 (Graduate Seminar, 1 credit) a total of three times during their tenure at UNR. All PhD candidates are required to take this course a total of five times. The remainder of required coursework is defined by the student in close collaboration with the primary advisor and their committee. The graduate school and current handbook provide the breakdown of total course and thesis/dissertation credits and the minimum number of course credits at the 700-level for each degree.

Master of Science (M.S.) Comprehensive Exam

In their second semester, MS students will be required to sign up for one credit of MS Comps (GEOL 795), under the direction of the Graduate Director.  The MS Comp 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. 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 in residence. 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. Additionally, Geological Engineering requires the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying and given twice a year (typically October and April).

Ph.D. Qualifier Exam

The exam includes both oral and written sections. The goal of this exam is to assess the student's geoscience background knowledge and the student's progress toward defining a thesis topic and plan of study.

The student must meet with their dissertation committee and complete the qualifying exam by the end of their second semester.

Two weeks prior to the meeting with their dissertation committee, the student will submit to the committee 2 different two-page, single-spaced written documents. One will summarize their proposed dissertation research. The second is a mini proposal on any research topic other than that included within their dissertation research. The goal of the second proposal is to determine the student's ability to formulate and test research questions independent of their advisor. During the meeting, the student's committee will assess the student's general knowledge of geology and research topics surrounding his/her proposed dissertation to determine if the student has the necessary skill set and knowledge to proceed with a Ph.D. The examination will consist of 1) the student giving two ~15 minute presentations, one on their written thesis plan and the other on their 2nd proposal; and 2) 1-2 hour oral questioning on the research plan and on fundamental concepts in geosciences that would be expected for a doctoral candidate at the end of their first year.  The committee will report either "pass", "conditional pass" or "fail" based on a simple majority vote in writing to the Graduate Program Director.  With an outcome of "fail", the student will not be allowed to continue in the department's doctoral program, but may be eligible to complete the requirements of a Master's degree.

Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

The exam includes both oral and written sections. The purpose of the written and oral examinations is to assess the candidate's accumulated background in geoscience and progress toward conducting original and independent research. The written portion of the exam will consist of preparation of a full thesis proposal and, at the discretion of the advisor and committee, a suite of closed book exams to assess the student's comprehension of specific disciplines related to the proposed research. The oral exam will consist of an oral presentation of the research proposal by the candidate followed by questions from the dissertation committee directed toward clarification of issues in both the thesis proposal and closed book exams in addition to general questions of a wide variety of geoscience themes. If this examination is passed, the student is advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Students sign up for 1 credit of GEOL 795 the semester they take their exam.

The student must schedule and complete the written and oral comprehensive exams by the end of their fourth (if the student already has an M.S. degree) or fifth semester (if the student does not already have an M.S. degree). The written exam needs to be given to the committee in a timeline that allows for the student to also complete their oral exam within the same semester. Any request to deviate from this timeline must be presented in the form of a petition (email) to the Director of Graduate Studies no later than the end of the semester before the written exam was required to be taken. Significant delays in this schedule will not be accommodated except in extenuating circumstance. Failure to complete the comprehensive examination in this timeline will result in the student being dropped from the program.

Written Examination:
The research proposal will outline the background, methodology, any preliminary results, and anticipated implications of the proposed research. The student's research must be presented in terms of how it is relevant to a broader geoscience community; what is the broader importance of the research? The department insists that the proposed research exhibit originality and that the candidate display a full command of the questions and logistics that will need to be addressed during the course of the proposed research problem. The format of the proposal should conform to the standard suggested by a suitable funding agency.  It should have a one-page summary page that includes 2 sections: Overview and Intellectual Merit. The proposal must also have a list of references cited. The summary and references are not counted towards the 15-page limit. A hard-copy example is available from the Graduate Director. In addition to writing of the research proposal, the student can be required by the dissertation committee to sit for timed, closed book exams to assess the student's comprehension of specific disciplines related to the proposed research. The closed-book exams will be taken at the same time that the proposal is submitted to the dissertation committee. The exams will be graded on a pass-fail basis. Within three weeks of receiving the proposal and, if required, after the student has taken the closed-book examination, the committee will vote on whether the student has passed the written exam. The student will be informed in person by their advisor whether they have passed and/or whether they need to make revisions/take a new closed-book exam. The student will then be given two weeks to complete these changes before moving onto the orals. If the committee still deems the proposal to be in poor shape after revision and/or the student to have failed the closed-book exam, the student will fail the overall comprehensive exam.

Oral Examination:
The general goal of the oral examination is to provide an opportunity for the dissertation committee to evaluate the student's general knowledge base and understanding of research methods, and the significance and feasibility of the proposed research to advancing knowledge in the Earth Sciences. The exam consists of a formal, 20-30 minute presentation of the thesis proposal by the student. The presentation is followed by ~1-2 hours of questions from the committee. Questions may range from those directly related to the thesis proposal and presentation to general geoscience knowledge relevant to the student's field of study. The committee determines if the candidate (1) has sufficient ability and comprehensive knowledge to conduct the research, (2) has sufficiently reviewed the literature, (3) has proposed research which has a reasonable scope and which should produce an original and acceptable research contribution; and (4) has a general grasp of geoscience knowledge.

Results of the Comprehensive Examination
Once the student has passed the written and oral exams, the student must submit an Admission to Candidacy Form, which is available from the Graduate School. The student's advisory committee, Director of Graduate Studies of the program, and the Graduate Dean must approve the form.

Ph.D. Final Oral Exam

The final oral examination (i.e., thesis defense) must be announced two weeks in advance and open to the public. The exam is held with the Advisory-Examining Committee to evaluate the quality and professional standards of the student's research. The defense is usually ~2-3 hours long and consists of a public talk (~45 min), with general questions from the audience, followed by a closed session with the committee where questions are asked and specific recommendations/revisions are suggested for the dissertation. The exam should be scheduled by the student in a venue that can sufficiently accommodate the audience (usually 30 or more people).

Important Dates and Deadlines

Be sure you are aware of the deadlines you must meet during your graduate career; these are maintained by the Graduate School.