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Academic Policies

Academic Program Overview

The aim of graduate education in this Department is to prepare scholars and professionals capable of conducting independent research at the forefront of the geosciences. A program of graduate education dedicated to this end has three major ingredients: (1) formal courses and seminars; (2) independent reading and study; and (3) Original and independent research on a topic of current interest.  While all three ingredients are important, the third represents the major component of graduate education in this department.

It is essential that a student's performance in all these activities be evaluated and recorded in the Departmental files. The student’s advisory committee has the responsibility for recordkeeping, as well as for maintaining student-faculty communication concerning the evaluation of the academic programs. Students can ask for written evaluations (or at least a grade) of their performance, if these have not been provided, and may at any time request a meeting with her or his advisory committee for the purpose of discussing recorded evaluations. Such evaluations for the previous semester's work must be available for consideration by the advisory committee at its regular meeting at the beginning of each semester.

Courses and Independent study

Course work requirements are flexible and depend on the track chosen. All incoming students are required to follow an introductory course on the fundamental questions in the geosciences, covering both solid earth and environmental problems. An important part of graduate education arises from independent research, which begins in the first year. Course work in other departments that strengthens students’ background in biology, chemistry, engineering sciences, mathematics and physics is encouraged.

Courses must be taken for a grade when the graded option is offered, and the average of the graded courses is expected to be B or higher.

Pre-generals students are normally expected to enroll in and complete two to four courses or seminars, either within or outside the department, per term. The actual load may vary depending on a student's background, interests, the availability of courses, the number and nature of other academic activities, etc.  Students are expected to have completed eight courses, or the equivalent, by the end of the semester in which they take the General Exam.  The eight courses must include GEO 505 and 506, – Fundamentals of the Geosciences I and II, and at least two graduate-level or appropriate-level undergraduate courses outside their field of expertise, chosen with approval of the advisory committee.  Students must also take GEO/AOS 503 – Responsible Conduct of Research in Geosciences, which does not count towards the eight courses.

Pre-Generals Requirement(s):

Research paper and thesis proposal:

A high-quality research paper summarizing the first two years of research is required prior to taking the general exam.  The research paper does not need to be ready for publication, but the paper should have a scholarly level close to that of a paper submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The research accomplishments should indicate a reasonable level of productivity, and the interpretation should indicate knowledge of the literature and excellent critical thinking. The thesis proposal should clearly express the justification and the research plans. In response to questions, students should show a broad knowledge of the relevant literature, an understanding of the underlying principles, and knowledge of analytical modeling.  A research progress report is also required near the end of the student’s first year.

Post-generals students are encouraged to continue to take occasional courses as a useful means of filling gaps in knowledge appropriate to their research and other professional interests. Active participation in departmental seminars is considered especially important, as these provide exposure to a broad range of research at the forefront of Earth Sciences.

Course worksheets must be approved and signed by a student's advisory committee chair before submittal for final approval by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Independent reading and study is an important part of graduate education, and will continue to be important in later professional life. It is one of the responsibilities of the advisory committee to assist the student in formulating a suitable independent study program.

Students are expected to begin work on a research project of their choosing early in their first year. Near the middle of Fall Term, they will be asked to turn in to the Graduate Work Committee a brief description of their proposed first-year research project together with the name of a faculty or research staff member who has agreed to supervise it.  This project will normally be part of, or related to, an ongoing departmental research activity.

As an alternative to a single project, students can instead choose to carry out two smaller research projects, with two different advisors.  This choice is best made early in the first year, and students are encouraged to discuss both options with faculty members.

In September or October of the second year, a final report is due, preferably in the form of a short research paper (~10 pages) and a 15 minute presentation.  Students doing two projects will present written reports on both projects ath this time, but give the oral presentation on the second topic only.

Research activity in the second year may be a continuation of the first year's research, or it may be a new project, possibly with a new research advisor, if the first year's project is essentially complete or if a student's scientific direction has changed.  Although changing advisors may be difficult, the department is committed to ensuring each student is matched with the most suitable advisor before thesis research begins in earnest.  Post-generals research will be on a student's thesis topic or topics. Typically, the first year project leads directly to the thesis research, but the flexibility to change direction, if needed, is essential.