PhD Degree

The PhD degree program is designed to produce scholars capable of independent research that deepens humanity’s understanding of science, as well as practitioners capable of applying their training to achieve sound and pragmatic solutions to real problems in the field. As a PhD student, you will become an expert and scholar in your field who is starting to generate an international reputation as an independent scientist that can devise and conduct creative research, mentor and teach, and contribute to the advancement of your field.


UWM’s Graduate School lists the minimum eligibility requirements including GPA and English language proficiency on its website:

Please note that these are minimum requirements. Our graduate programs have become very popular, so acceptance is on a competitive process based on the pool of applicants to the Geosciences Department. Meeting the minimum eligibility requirements does not guarantee your acceptance into our program.

We do not have a required set of prior coursework for admission. However, most students admitted to our PhD program have MS degrees in Geosciences or closely related disciplines. Their preparation includes broad training in geosciences including field training and one year each of college chemistry, physics, and calculus.  Most have GPAs in their MS program significantly above 3.5.  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.

Please see the Application Procedures page for further information:

Doctoral Requirements

UWM Graduate School doctoral requirements including credits, residency, committee, and dissertation are here:

Here, we provide a short summary of some of those requirements. More detailed explanations can be found in the Geosciences Graduate Student Handbook:

Courses and Credits

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.

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 (inclusive 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.

Major Professor as Advisor

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student’s studies and research. Students are encouraged to contact potential research advisors prior to their application and request a specific advisor(s) on their application Reasons Statement. Based on specialized research interests, the student is assigned an advisor at the time of initial enrollment. 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.

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. One of these members may be graduate faculty external to UWM.

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.

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.  These must be done prior to the completion of 24 credits in the program and after the residency requirement is fulfilled. Please note that the Geosciences Department requires the Dissertation Proposal Defense and the Oral Preliminary Exam to be conducted simultaneously.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal needs to be submitted prior to the preliminary exam to the Doctoral Committee. 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. As part of the oral examination, the student must successfully defend their dissertation proposal. Committee approval of the dissertation proposal establishes agreement on your chosen research and indicates that you have adequate preparation to complete the research.

More details about the scheduling and format for the Dissertation Proposal and Doctoral Preliminary Exam should be consulted in the Geosciences Graduate Student Handbook:  Information regarding proposal and exam scheduling and use of the Milestones website is available from the Student Services Office of the Graduate School.

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 and approved by the Doctoral Committee.

Students must follow guidelines in the Geosciences Graduate Student handbook for providing the dissertation to the Doctoral Committee. Information regarding dissertation deadlines, preparation and review of the dissertation, and use of the Milestones website is available from the Student Services Office of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Defense

The student will present their research results in a public dissertation presentation. 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.

Students must follow guidelines in the Geosciences Graduate Student handbook for scheduling the defense.  The Graduate School provides rules for scheduling the defense and applying for graduation.


The typical timeline for completion of a PhD degree is 8 semesters for funded, full-time students. In all cases, all degree requirements must be completed within ten years from the date of initial enrollment in the doctoral program.

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. UWM Graduate School Academic Appeal Procedures can be found here:

Additional Requirements and Information

UWM Graduate School doctoral requirements including credits, residency, committee, and dissertation are here:

Further details including a typical timeline for PhD students and appeals processes can be found in the Department of Geosciences Graduate Student Handbook:

For further questions, please contact the Graduate Committee Chair.

Julie Bowles
Lapham Hall 358
(414) 229-6110