Ph.D. Program

Graduate Catalog Program Description and Requirements


Students entering the Ph.D. program with a B.S. or B.A. degree who do not elect completion of a master's thesis must take the non-thesis M.S. comprehensive examination in the semester in which they complete 30 hours of graduate study. Based on the result, a decision will then be made by the student's M.S. examination committee to:

  • Grant the non-thesis M.S. and approve the student for the Ph.D. program or,
  • Approve the student for the M.S. program, but not the Ph.D. program or,
  • Fail the student and recommend discontinuance from the program.

Students entering the Ph.D. program with a master's degree will have an interview with a faculty committee during their first or second semester. This interview will assist the advisor and student in preparation of a program of courses. At this time a member of the department graduate committee will be assigned to monitor the research progress of the student independently. The individual assigned may change with changing membership of the graduate committee.

Credit Requirements

  • You must complete 90 semester hours of course work beyond the baccalaureate degree, with a minimum GPA of 3.00.
  • Not more than 24 semester hours of credit will be in graduate courses numbered 400-499.
  • A maximum of 30 semester hours may be included from the M.S. or equivalent program and a maximum of 39 semester hours may come from GEOL 699 (dissertation hours). See the NIU graduate catalog for further details.
  • Transfer credits are at the discretion of the department and the graduate school.
  • Course work outside the geology department will be considered at the discretion of the graduate committee.

Language/Research Tool Requirements

There is no general foreign language or research tool requirement for the Ph.D. degree in geology. Each doctoral student's advisor will identify any language or tool competencies to be required for that student and will decide when satisfactory competence has been achieved.


Before or during tenure in the Ph.D. program, you must serve an internship for a minimum of one semester with industry, a private or governmental research organization or other governmental agencies. This requirement may be waived at the discretion of the graduate committee. Up to 9 semester hours of credit may be attributable to internship.

Candidacy Examination

You must successfully complete the candidacy examination, usually following completion of most or all required course work. The examination consists of two to three written exams, with the possibility of an oral follow-up exam if the written examination results do not justify an unconditional pass. The examination committee will consist of 3-5 faculty members. Normally, a majority of these (including the advisor) will be specialists in areas closely related to that of the proposed dissertation and will serve as the core of the dissertation committee. You nominate your committee in consultation with the advisor and it is subject to the approval of the graduate school and the graduate committee prior to the candidacy examination.

For the examination, at least two subject areas should be taken from the following:

  • Hydrogeology
  • Sedimentology/Sedimentary Petrology
  • Mineralogy
  • Tectonics/Geodynamics
  • Resource Geology
  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry
  • Paleontology
  • Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
  • Geomorphology
  • Climatology/Paleoclimatology
  • Pedology
  • Surface Water Hydrology
  • GIS/Remote Sensing
  • Meteorology
  • Stratigraphy
  • Engineering Geology
  • Volcanology

A third subject area may be selected from the list above or may be in another subject area, pending approval by the graduate committee. Subjects outside of "geology" are sometimes permissible. The graduate committee must approve the subject areas of the examination.

The written exams must all be taken within a period of one week. The examination committee determines whether the student passes or fails the examinations and whether or not an oral exam is required. The examination committee must report the examination results to the department Graduate Director within one week of the last written exam.

The oral portion of the candidacy examination, if required, must be taken within two weeks following the last written exam. If the candidacy examinations are failed, they may be taken a second time after an interval of one semester. If the student fails this second set of examinations, he or she will be dropped from the Ph.D. program.

Presentation of Dissertation Proposal

Following successful completion of the candidacy exam, a dissertation committee of three to five members will be appointed, which normally contains the three specialists from the examination committee. The dissertation committee will be nominated by the candidate and his or her advisor, subject to the approval of the graduate school and the graduate committee.

Candidates will present and defend their dissertation proposals to their dissertation committees in the semester following successful completion of the candidacy examination.

Assessment of Progress

You are required to make at least one public presentation of your research results through a departmental colloquium.

You are required to give a written report of progress in the Ph.D. program and in your research in February or March of each year to an assigned member of the graduate committee.

Dissertation Defense

Following completion of the dissertation and approval by all dissertation committee members, you will schedule your defense in consultation with the committee, preceded by a formal, public oral presentation of results. The defense is a closed proceeding unless you and the dissertation director agree otherwise.