PhD Requirements

Students holding a BS, BA, or MS degree in any field of science are encouraged to apply to the PhD program. Financial support is guaranteed for all PhD students who enroll.

Annual Review

PhD students are required to review their progress with their academic adviser each year. The student should update the Annual Review Form prior to meeting with his/her adviser to discuss his/her academic and professional progress. The Annual Review Form must be completed and submitted to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies prior to the last day of classes of Winter term. Students should contact the Graduate Program Office for a blank form.

Course Requirements

Specific Course Requirements for the PhD degree are a minimum of 24 credits at the graduate level of which at least 22 must be in courses (including seminars). Of these 22, at least 12 credits must be in Earth and Environmental Sciences, no more than 4 credits may be in seminars, and at least 4 must be in cognate courses. Cognate courses are those offered by other academic units that broaden expertise in areas related to the student’s research; Rackham requires a minimum grade of B- for cognate courses. EARTH 599 and other independent study courses are excluded from the 12 credits required in Earth and Environmental Sciences courses, but may be used in partial fulfillment of the remaining non-cognate credit requirements.  Research credits (EARTH 990, 995) may be used in partial fulfillment of these requirements but are excluded from the 22 credits of coursework.

The Department may allow certain students to depart from the requirements of a normal PhD program in order that they may take advantage of special cognate science interests and background.  However, in order for a student to qualify for such an exception, he/she must prepare an acceptable plan, which is reviewed and approved by the student’s advisor and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

Rackham Graduate School requires PhD students to complete 18 credits of non-research coursework before advancing to candidacy. As of Fall 2010, Rackham also requires PhD students to be continuously enrolled.

Grade and GPA Requirements

Rackham policy dictates that graduate students may not take courses pass/fail, but can elect to take a course S/U or Visit/Audit. Credit is only given for courses in which a grade of C- or higher has been received. Cognate credit is only given for a course in which a grade of B- or higher has been earned. The minimum required Rackham cumulative grade point average is B (3.00 on a 4.00 point scale). Complete information about grading may be found on the Rackham Academic Policies website, Section 4.5:

Preliminary Examination

The purpose of the Preliminary Examination is to determine the adequacy of the applicant’s abilities and background knowledge, and his/her potential to complete a PhD degree.  The PhD Preliminary Examination includes written and oral components.  The written component of the exam focuses on background knowledge across the Earth and environmental sciences, and the oral component focuses on the student’s potential to carry out the research described in an extended abstract written and submitted by the candidate.

Each student's preliminary examination committee will consist of five U-M faculty members, of whom four must be in The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and at least one from the standing Examination Committee. The student's committee must be approved by his/her advisor and by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies. Students are urged to seek guidance in preparation for this examination from the committee members.

The written portion of the examination consists of questions from each of the student's examination committee members. The written exam will be not more than four hours and will take place on or about the fifth Saturday following the start of the semester in which the student is required to take the preliminary examination.  The exact date, time, and place of the written examination will be announced at the beginning of each semester.

After successful completion of the written part, the student is responsible for scheduling the oral part of the examination with the his/her committee members. The oral examination must be completed in the same semester as the written exam, and students are encouraged to make arrangements for the oral examination as early as possible. The oral examination will begin with a presentation by the candidate of his/her dissertation research topic, not to exceed 15 minutes in length. The student will present the examining committee with an extended abstract up to two pages in length on this topic one week prior to the exam. The presentation will be followed by an open discussion between the examining committee and the candidate based on, but not necessarily limited to, the research presentation. The oral prelim exam is typically three hours.

Upon completion of the preliminary examination, the chair of the Preliminary Examination Committee will submit a written report evaluating the examination and reporting whether the student passed, failed, or passed with stated conditions. This report will be directed to the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, who will inform the Graduate School if the examination was passed. If the student fails any portion of the examination, the Committee must recommend if and when the student will be permitted to take a second examination. If a second examination is granted, it must be taken in the subsequent academic semester and with the understanding that failure of any portion of the examination typically results in immediate termination from the graduate program.

Students entering the PhD program with a BS/BA will take the Preliminary Examination no later than the fourth semester in residence. Students who enter the PhD program with an MS from another institution or academic discipline will take the Preliminary Examination no later than the second semester in residence. Students who have received a MS from this Department and who wish to continue toward the PhD degree, will take the Preliminary Examination no later than the fourth semester in residence.

Candidate Status

Candidacy requirements are listed in detail on Rackham's Academic Policies web site. Students will be advanced to candidacy upon the successful completion of requisite course work and the written and oral portions of their Preliminary Examination. Students entering with a BS/BA are expected to achieve candidacy before the end of their fourth term in residence. Students entering with an MS from another institution are expected to achieve candidacy before the end of their second term in residence. Rackham Graduate School requires that students complete at least 18 hours of non-research graduate credit on the Ann Arbor campus.

Dissertation Committee

Before the first day of classes of the term following the successful completion of the Preliminary Examination, a Dissertation Committee will be nominated in consultation with the student and the potential Dissertation Committee Chair. The chair of the committee must be a tenure-track faculty member, but a research scientist may serve as co-chair. The Committee must have at least four members (however five is recommended), and at least two of these must be regular faculty from The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. One member must be from outside the Department and must be a regular member of the Graduate Faculty in a doctoral program accepted by the Rackham Graduate School. The outside member must hold an appointment in a collateral or related field.

The student must contact the Department Graduate Program Office about completing the Dissertation Committee Form. The Graduate Coordinator will submit the Dissertation Committee Form to Rackham Graduate School once the committee list has bee approved by the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

Annual Dissertation Committee Meeting

The Dissertation Committee shall meet with the student at least once each academic year before the end of Winter semester to review his/her progress. This meeting will begin with an oral presentation by the student on his/her dissertation progress. The student will present the committee with a CV one week prior to the meeting. The presentation will be followed by a discussion between the committee and the student on his/her progress.

Following this meeting, written feedback about the student's performance, expected defense date, and a list of committee members who attended the meeting must be sent both to the student and the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies.

Dissertation Format Requirements

Rackham Graduate school dissertation format requirements may be found on Rackham's website.

Dissertation Defense Requirements

The Rackham Graduate school sets dissertation defense requirements. Doctoral degree deadlines are slightly different for every term and may be found on Rackham's website. Students should consult with the Department Graduate Program Coordinator early in their final term about scheduling the dissertation defense and final requirements.


Consult Rackham's Doctoral Students website for PhD requirements, such as candidacy, cognates, and dissertation defense. See also the Doctoral Steps on Rackham's website.

Still more questions? Contact the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences Graduate Program Office.



On Earning a Doctorate at the University of Michigan

Listen to Laura Sherman, ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award recipient, as she reflects on her graduate student experience in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies

The Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies web site includes essential information for graduate students.