PhD Degree

The PhD degree program, with interwoven components in lithospheric and hydrospheric science, is problem oriented rather than specialty oriented: this program is designed to produce scholars and practitioners capable of applying their training to achieve sound and pragmatic solutions to real problems in the earth sciences. Students in the doctoral program will normally spend a minimum of two years of formal course work, not including dissertation research.


To be considered for admission to the program, an applicant must meet Graduate School Requirements plus the following program requirements:

  1. Hold a master’s degree in one of the natural sciences, engineering, or mathematics or have equivalent experience.
  2. Have an appropriate background in aspects of the geosciences relevant the intended field of study.
  3. Submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (General Test).
  4. Arrange to have at least three (3) letters of recommendation sent to the Graduate Coordinator of the Department of Geosciences.

Exceptional students without a MS degree may be considered for admission. A student who holds a master’s degree from UWM must formally reapply for admission to the Graduate School before continuing studies toward the PhD.

Course of Study

Doctoral students must earn 54 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree, of which 24 credits may be taken from formal course work completed as part of the master’s study. At least 21 graduate credits beyond the master’s degree must be earned in formal coursework through at least 7 courses.

Courses are selected in consultation with the student’s advisor with approval from the Doctoral Committee. Students are strongly advised to take courses from each of their committee members prior to taking the doctoral preliminary examination. For full time students, coursework should be completed within 4 semesters after admission to the Ph.D. program. In unusual situations, this timetable may be extended beyond 4 semesters. A timetable for coursework completion for part time students will be established on an individual basis.

Residency Requirement

The Graduate School requires satisfaction of a residency requirement. This involves completing at least 8 graduate credits in 2 consecutive semesters or 6 graduate credits in 3 consecutive semesters (exclusive of summer sessions) while in full doctoral status at UWM. In addition, at least half of the graduate credits required for the PhD must be earned at UWM.

Quantitative Skill

A working knowledge of computer programming, statistics, numerical methods, or GIS appropriate to the student’s field of study is required. Standards for this requirement will be established by the student’s Doctoral Committee. Undergraduate courses taken to meet this requirement do not apply to the course requirements for the PhD.

Doctoral Committee

The membership of the Doctoral Committee will be established in the student’s first semester. The Committee must consist of the following: the doctoral student’s advisor as chair (or co-advisors as co-chairs) and at least three additional graduate faculty members. The student is required to arrange a meeting with the Doctoral Committee at least once each year. An annual meeting is required regardless if the student is full or part time.

The student may request a change of advisor if another faculty member is available, willing, and able to assume that role. If this change involves a significant modification of the area of specialization or research, the student’s record will be reexamined to determine whether the student’s background is sufficient for the new specialty. If it is not, it may be necessary for the student to withdraw from the program and reapply in the new specialty. Normally such a change of direction will not be allowed once the dissertation proposal has been defended.

Dissertation Proposal and Preliminary Examination

Advancement to dissertator status requires that students must submit a dissertation proposal to their committee and pass a doctoral preliminary examination.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal needs to be submitted prior to the preliminary exam (at least one month prior to exam unless the Doctoral Committee agrees to a shorter time frame). It should be written as a typical length and format of an NSF proposal. At a minimum, it should provide an overview of and approach to the problem being addressed, a budget, and appropriate bibliographic references.

Doctoral Preliminary Exam

The doctoral preliminary examination consists of a set of written exams from the Doctoral Committee and a follow-up oral examination. The structure of the examination will be established by the student’s Doctoral Committee. Topics of the examination are generally related to the dissertation proposal, as defined by the committee.
As part of the oral examination, the student must successfully defend their dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal must be approved by your doctoral committee via the oral examination process. Committee approval of the dissertation proposal establishes agreement on your chosen research and indicates that you have adequate preparation to complete the research. Please note that the Geosciences Department requires the Dissertation Proposal Defense and the Oral Preliminary Exam to be conducted simultaneously.

Scheduling Doctoral Preliminary Exams

The student is responsible for scheduling the preliminary exams including the Preliminary Written Exam and the Preliminary Oral Exam/Dissertation Proposal hearing. The Dissertation Proposal should be submitted to the Doctoral Committee one month prior to the Preliminary Written Exam (unless the Doctoral Committee agrees to a shorter time frame). Under no circumstance should the Doctoral Committee members receive the dissertation proposal with less than one week prior to the Preliminary Written Exam. The Preliminary Oral Exam should take place within 1-2 weeks after the Preliminary Written Exam.

The preliminary examination must be passed prior to the completion of 24 credits in the program and must demonstrate knowledge in the fields of geology and related sciences defined by the Doctoral Committee. The preliminary examination is taken after the residency requirement is fulfilled. At the beginning of the semester that a student is eligible to take the preliminary examination, the student must complete the electronic Application for the Doctoral Preliminary Examination AND the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing Form, both located in the online Doctoral Milestones System.

Outcome of Preliminary Exams

If the student passes the preliminary exams including the proposal defense and all other Graduate School requirements, they may apply to become a dissertator.

If the student fails the preliminary examination including the proposal hearing, the Doctoral Committee must provide the student a written plan regarding continuation. If the student misses any component of the scheduled preliminary examination within the proper timeframe, the student must request an extension from their Doctoral Committee and file a new application for the next semester if approved by the Doctoral Committee. The Graduate School requires that students pass preliminary exams within five years of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

Dissertator Status

Students are eligible to become a dissertator when they have:

  • Submitted the Proposal to the Doctoral Committee.
  • Completed all course requirements.
  • Passed the doctoral preliminary examination including the written and oral components (including proposal defense).
  • Submitted an online proposal hearing form in the online Doctoral Milestones System.
  • Met residence requirements.
  • Cleared incomplete and “progress” grades/reports in non-research courses.
  • Achieved a 3.0 or higher cumulative GPA.

Students must submit an online Application for Doctoral Dissertator Status, located in the online Doctoral Milestones System, for this information to be verified and approved by the Graduate School and Geosciences Department. This application should be submitted before the semester begins in which dissertator status is sought.

Note that the Geosciences Department requires the proposal to be completed and defended prior to the student obtaining dissertator status.  This is a departmental requirement beyond the minimum requirements of the Graduate School.

Annual Presentation of Results

Each student is required to present the current status of their research at the Geosciences Student Research Symposium each spring.  If students are unable to present at the Symposium, they may request to present as part of the Department Colloquia instead.  This request should be made to the faculty member organizing Colloquia as soon as possible.


The candidate must present a written dissertation reporting the results of independent, original research carried out under the direction of the major professor. Prior to a defense, the dissertation must be read by the Doctoral Committee. The student is responsible for providing the Doctoral Committee a copy of the entire dissertation one month prior to the defense, unless the committee agrees to review the dissertation in a shorter time frame.  Under no circumstance should the Doctoral Committee members receive the dissertation with less than one week prior to the defense.  Information regarding dissertation deadlines, preparation, and review of the dissertation is available from the Student Services Office of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Defense

The student is responsible for scheduling the dissertation presentation and defense.  The student will present their research results in a public dissertation presentation that must be advertised within the department at least one week in advance. Immediately after the presentation, the dissertation must be orally defended before the entire Doctoral Committee. The defense may include questions related to the conducted research and any of the dissertator’s fields of study. If the dissertation is defended and the oral examination is passed to the satisfaction of a majority of the Doctoral Committee, the candidate is passed and recommended for the degree.

Time Limit

All degree requirements must be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

Additional Requirements and Information

Detailed information about program requirements is provided to each student following admission and is available from the Department office. For additional information on Graduate School PhD Requirements, see the Doctoral Requirements webpage.

Appealing Doctoral Committee Decisions

If the student wishes to appeal a decision made by their Doctoral Committee, they must do so in writing to the Chair of the Department.  The student may appeal decisions regarding the Preliminary Exam, Proposal, or Defense within one month of each of those decisions.  The Chair will forward the petition to a subset of the Department’s Executive Committee consisting of all Executive Committee faculty who are not serving on the student’s Doctoral Committee.  This subset of the Executive Committee will make a decision regarding the petition.

Graduate Grievance Procedures

Federal law and UWM policy require programs and departments to have procedures for graduate students to appeal academic decisions such as grades or scholastic standing. These procedures ensure the protection of students’ rights. These pages serve as a reference on procedures for graduate student academic appeals.

For more information on the PhD program, please contact the Graduate Committee Chair:

Dyanna Czeck
Lapham Hall 354
(414) 229-3948