Other Requirements

Major Advisor and Committee

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student’s studies as specified in Graduate School regulations; the student may not register for any courses without that advisor’s prior approval. The Chair of the Graduate Student Administrative Committee is a temporary advisor; within the first semester the student selects an advisor within the area of specialization. Each student, preferably after completion of the first year of study, also will select four additional members of the faculty/qualified professions to form his/her advisory committee. A majority of the committee members must be core geography faculty members. Affiliated faculty members from other departments may serve as major advisors.

Graduate Student Orientation

All new students are expected to participate in the department orientation program, offered during the week prior to the start of fall classes. If a student enters the program in the spring, s/he must participate in this program during the subsequent fall semester. New students will be paired with an experienced student mentor during their first year. Instructional opportunities sponsored by the Center for Instruction and Professional Development (CIPD) and the Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) initiative will be offered to all teaching assistants and other interested students enrolled in the doctoral program.


The student must meet minimum Graduate School residence requirements of one continuous academic year of full-time graduate studies at UWM. This can be satisfied by completing 8 to 12 graduate credits in each of two consecutive semesters, or 6 or more graduate credits in each of three consecutive semesters, exclusive of summer sessions. Residence credit cannot be earned at the master’s level or before the master’s degree is awarded.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination

Each student will undergo a comprehensive written and oral examination by the end of his/her sixth semester in the program. The student’s committee, advisor, and proposed dissertation topic must be approved formally by the Geography departmental faculty prior to the scheduling of these exams. A Proposed PhD Program/Plan of Study must be filed with the major professor prior to the preliminary examination. Successful completion of these exams leads to candidacy, when work on the dissertation can commence.

The student’s advisor, as chair of the advisory committee, will organize and administer the examination. In general, the written exam will be “open book” and consist of one “eight hour” question and two “four hour” questions. The content of the examination will be determined by the area of the student’s interest. The scope of the examination will be determined by the student’s advisory committee. A student judged qualified by the majority of the five-member advisory committee will be admitted to candidacy. A student judged not qualified by the majority of the advisory committee will not be admitted to candidacy at the time of the examination but will be given an opportunity to retake the examination once, after a waiting period of at least one semester. At the discretion of the advisory committee, the second examination will be either a complete reexamination or a partial examination over the parts in which the student failed to qualify. A student receiving a negative vote of the advisory committee after the second examination will be recommended for academic dismissal. The student will be informed of the reasons for failure to qualify.


Each student must make two presentations at department colloquia. The first presentation will be scheduled early in the student’s program; it is designed to give the student experience in making formal presentations. The second presentation will communicate the student’s dissertation research topic and preliminary results.


The candidate must write an acceptable dissertation that demonstrates formulation, design, and independent execution of a significant research project. The dissertation must make an original contribution to knowledge in the field of geography. It may focus on geographical theory, methodology, data, or analysis, or it may involve collaborative approaches, interdisciplinary syntheses, and integrative solutions appropriate to the focus of the student’s graduate program of study.

Dissertation Defense

The candidate must, as the final step toward the degree, defend the dissertation before the advisory committee. If the candidate passes the defense, the advisory committee will recommend to the Graduate School that a degree of Doctor of Philosophy be conferred.

For additional information see the Graduate School Doctoral Toolbox.