M.S. Degree - Requirements and Procedures

I. Each student, upon arriving at UNM, will participate in an advisement interview sometime during the week prior to the beginning of classes.

A. The purpose of this interview is to:

  1. Assess gaps in the student's undergraduate training, via the Advisement Form and student transcripts. Note that courses taken to make up deficiencies in math, chemistry, or physics must be taken for a letter grade and cannot count toward required hours for the degree.
  2. Recommend a general plan of course work.
  3. Recommend the scheduling of course work, including first semester courses, and discuss the required Program of Study form.
  4. Discuss the M.S. examination.
  5. Answer any questions the student might have concerning the M.S. program at UNM, and registration procedures.

B. As part of the advisement process, each new student will be informed of the department's general expectations for satisfactory progress towards the M.S. degree, which include:

  1. Two semesters of full time course work (12 hours per semester), followed by a third semester of additional course work, if needed;
  2. Completion of the Program of Study form before the end of the second semester of residence.
  3. M.S. oral exam in the SECOND SEMESTER of residency -- notify Main Office Personnel three (3) weeks prior to the exam for scheduling approvals and room assignment.
  4. Intensive research in the second year, and beyond, if necessary; and
  5. (Recommended) completion of the M.S. within 2 to 2½ years of residency.

C. Other important issues will also be communicated to the student:

  1. Financial support, of any combination of TA and/or RA position, is generally limited to four (4) semesters of full time support.
  2. Each student should attend the get acquainted gathering with the faculty and staff, generally scheduled during the weekend before classes begin.
  3. Each student should attend the first meeting of Earth and Planetary Sciences 401/501 (see schedule of classes for date, time and room number) for an introduction to the Department.
  4. Other activities the student should be aware of (e.g., meeting to assign teaching/grading positions, if the student is a teaching assistant).
  5. The fact that the advisor need not be the permanent advisor, if the student desires a change.

D. Each entering student must meet with his/her advisor within the first week of the 1st semester in order to fill out the Advisement Form. This form will list all relevant coursework completed prior to entering UNM and will identify in writing any deficiencies that must be made up at UNM. Both the student and the advisor will sign this form, and the form will be turned in to the Graduate Committee. This form will serve as an early indication that each student has met with his/her advisor and discussed past and future coursework. In addition to the Advisement Form, the Graduate Program of Study form must also be completed by the end of the 1st semester in residence.

II. Prior to the end of the first semester of residency, each student will select a three-member thesis committee to serve as examiners in the M.S. exam (see below), in areas of special interest to the student. A list of faculty members and their areas of expertise is found on page 3. Students must notify their examiners and the Main Office Personnel of their choices before the end of the first semester.

III. During the last four weeks of the first semester of residency, the student shall complete the Departmental Program of Study Form (Appendix III) which lists the complete academic course schedule proposed to satisfy graduation requirements. The Program of Study Form is to be signed by the three M.S. thesis committee members and the student, and then submitted to the Graduate Committee for approval.

IV. Course Work: The student must complete a minimum of 24 hours of course work at the 400 or 500 level in Earth and Planetary Sciences, with an average grade of 3.0 or above (B average). Note that it is a Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences policy that 300-level E&PS courses do not carry graduate credit. The following distribution is required:

  1. A minimum of 6 hours of 500 level courses,
  2. A maximum of 3 hours of Problems courses, can be taken for credit
  3. Not more than half the minimum hours may be taken with any one professor.

See the UNM Catalog for additional information on course work.

V. Thesis Proposal: Each student shall select, and meet with, a thesis committee in conjunction with preparing for the M.S. oral exam. The thesis committee consists of three members; two of whom must be full-time, tenure-track, E&PS faculty. Each student is required to prepare the thesis proposal as a principal component of the M.S. examination, in the second semester of residency (see above).

  1. The recommendations for the length of the M.S. thesis proposal are: 10 -15 pages of text, 11 point font double spaced excluding references tables and figures. These materials can extend the length of the proposal beyond 15 pages.
  2. A week before the examination takes place, each student is required to receive assurance (through initialing of a copy of the thesis proposal) from each of the three thesis-committee members that the proposal is appropriately constructed for defense during the examination.



The examination emphasizes evaluation of an MS student's understanding of the chosen thesis topic in preparation to successfully complete the MS research, and broad knowledge of the subjects pertinent to the project. The spirit of the examination is to foster interaction among the student and her/his committee members at an early stage in his/her graduate program. The Examination must be taken during the second semester in residence, but may not be scheduled during the last two weeks before final exams, or during final exam week.


Before the Examination

  1. MS students must establish and meet with their 3-member thesis committee and have defined the general nature of the thesis research project before or within the last four weeks of the first semester in residence.
  2. The student will prepare the written thesis proposal with the guidance of all members of the thesis committee. See guidelines on previous page.
  3. Students are encouraged to submit to the Department Chair, as soon as possible, a list of the three examiners comprising the thesis committee so that designation of the fourth examiner can be made and students will have maximum flexibility in scheduling the examination. Students should wait to schedule a time for the examination until after the Chair has informed them of the identity of the fourth examiner. The student is then responsible for checking with all four examiners to select a time for the exam that is mutually agreeable to all concerned. The student will schedule date, time (2-hour time block), and room for the MS Examination, at least two weeks in advance of the examination (i.e. concurrent with submission of the Thesis Proposal to all members of the examination committee, see below). The examination must be taken during the second semester in residence, prior to last four weeks of semester.
  4. The Department Chair's selection of the fourth faculty examiner will represent a specialty interest different from that of the other examiners. Students must write their proposals and orient their presentation so that a less specialized geoscientist (the fourth examiner) is able to evaluate their proposed research.
  5. The student will deliver copies of the Thesis Proposal to each member of the thesis committee, plus one copy to the main office secretary which will be publicly available for reading in the main office no later than TWO weeks prior to the examination. All copies will include, on the front cover, the date, time, and place of the examination.
  6. At least a week prior to the examination, the student is required to have all three principal committee members initial the cover page of a copy of the submitted MS Thesis Proposal, to assure that each member of the committee agrees that the proposal is appropriately prepared for the MS examination and that the exam may take place as scheduled. If two of the three principal members of the committee feel that the proposal is not defensible, as indicated by not initialing the copy of the proposal circulated by the student, the examination must be postponed and the student must revise the proposal according to the concerns raised. With eventual concurrence of the three principal committee members, the examination may be rescheduled.

During the Examination

  1. The student orally presents a concise, well-prepared summary of the proposed thesis research including, but not limited to, the rationale for conducting the research, plans for conducting the research, fundamentals of the methods used to carry out the research, background on previous, related work, and potential implications of the proposed research. This presentation will not exceed 30 minutes in duration and will not be interrupted by questions from the examining committee.
  2. The faculty examination committee will question the student, for a period generally not exceeding 90 minutes, on the thesis-proposal presentation, subject material broadly related to the field(s) of the thesis research, and assessment of the student's basic geologic background to undertake the proposed research. As with all graduate examinations, this exam is open to the entire faculty, but will not be open to other students.
  3. A passing performance on the examination will be based on the student's demonstration of sufficient knowledge of the proposed thesis topic and planned methods of investigation, and preparation to successfully undertake MS-level research as judged by the presentation and the student's ability to address questions from the examination committee. A grade of "Pass" or "Fail" will be assigned based upon a vote of the four members of the examination committee. If a majority of a student’s committee (or a tie) recommend “fail” as the outcome of an oral examination, the student will automatically have the opportunity to retake the examination within three weeks of the original exam date. A second failing outcome will result in termination from the graduate program. If the student passes the examination on the second attempt, the paperwork submitted to the Graduate School will indicate “pass”, with no record of the initial failure.

VII. Program of Studies for the Master’s Degree: After successful completion of the M.S. Examination, M.S. students must submit the University’s Office of Graduate Studies "Program of Studies" form for the Master's Degree. This form may be downloaded from the "Graduation" section of the page located on the web at:


This form is to be completed and submitted through your advisor to the Graduate Committee Chairperson by the end of the second semester. When you have obtained all signatures bring the candidacy form to the Department front office. We will make a copy for your file and the original will be walked over to the Office of Graduate Studies for approval of the Dean.

VIII. Thesis Progress: Each student shall meet with his or her thesis committee (as a group) each semester following successful completion of the M.S. exam. The student shall write a short progress report in the Graduate Student Progress and Advisory Form (Appendix II) each year. The student's advisor must approve the Progress and Advisory Form, which provides a record of the student's continued progress.

IX. Thesis Defense: The thesis research is to be presented before an open meeting of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and other interested individuals. This presentation will not exceed 40 minutes in duration. The student is to notify the Main Office Personnel, three weeks in advance of the defense of the date and time, committee, and title in order to schedule a room and receive appropriate Office of Graduate Studies approval forms. A copy of the thesis must be placed in the main office two weeks prior to the defense date. Questions pertaining to the thesis and supporting material may be asked by any members in attendance. Immediately following the presentation and question period, a closed session will be conducted by the thesis committee. Any questions pertaining to the thesis and supporting material may be asked at this time. Defenses are usually scheduled during the academic year, excluding final exam weeks, but, depending on circumstances and the concurrence of the committee, defenses may take place during examination weeks as well as during winter or summer breaks.

X. Thesis: The student must complete at least six hours of Earth and Planetary Sciences 599 (Thesis), in addition to the 24 hours of course work. The student must submit copies of the final accepted thesis (two (2) unbound final copies to the Graduate School, within ninety (90) days of his/her final examination for the thesis. If the manuscript is not submitted within that time, the student must schedule and complete a second final examination for the thesis. In all cases the results of the thesis defense must be submitted to OGS no later than two weeks after the announced date of the thesis defense. One (1) BOUND copy to the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, all copies and binding charges are at the student's expense. The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences must receive mylar copies, suitable for blue line reproduction, of any plates not included in the text of the thesis (i.e. pocket plates). See Appendix I for details on the University's format requirements for M.S. theses.

Recognizing the fact that in many cases for either MS or Ph.D. degrees, part or all of a thesis or dissertation will be published as a multi-authored contribution in a peer-reviewed journal or similar publication, the Department has established general guidelines that students and their committees should adhere to. These are as follows:

  1. Regardless of the number of authors, the student must have done the bulk (i.e. "51 percent or more") of the research and preparation for publication.
  2. The student must be the first author on the publication.
  3. In the general introduction to the thesis or dissertation, the student should briefly explain the role of each of the authors in any multi-authored section or chapter of the thesis or dissertation.
  4. Any manuscript submitted for outside publication should also be distributed to all members of the committee.

XI. All departmental charges, keys, reading room materials, etc. must be settled or returned before the thesis is approved. A carefully selected and properly curated thesis collection (if applicable) must be left in the department (see p. 28). See the Main Office Personnel for the Departmental Checklist. Students must complete this Checklist; otherwise the degree will not be awarded.

XII. Time Limit: All work offered towards the Master's degree must be accomplished within a seven-year period.

XIII. Please refer to the UNM Catalog for additional information concerning the requirements for the Master's degree.




  1. End of first week turn in interview results and any petitions to Graduate Committee Chair.
  2. End of semester (prior to finals week) select three thesis committee members [notify examiners and Office Personnel by end of finals week]. Write a memo indicating these choices to the Department Chairperson and request assignment of additional examination member. Schedule full thesis committee meeting prior to end of semester to discuss thesis topic.
  3. End of semester (prior to finals week) complete Department Program of Study Form, (appendices III) which must be signed by all three thesis committee members, and submit to Graduate Committee for approval.


  1. Prior to last three weeks of second semester - take M.S. examination and defend thesis proposal/research.



  1. By end of second week complete Universities Office of Graduate Studies“Program of Studies for the Master’s Degree” form and submit through your advisor to the Graduate Committee Chairperson. (web-site http://www.unm.edu/~grad/forms/forms.html)


  1. In order to complete and defend thesis this semester:
    1. Comply with Master’s Thesis/Graduation Checklist
    2. By August 1, for Fall, December 1, for Spring, or May 1, for Summer, the student must inform Department in writing of intention to complete all degree requirements during that semester
    3. Three weeks before thesis defense date arrange with department and Office of Graduate Studies scheduling of exam and place. Two weeks before defense date: Provide copy of thesis in main office for faculty examination.
    4. Turning in Your Electronic Thesis – IMPORTANT: A Plan I Master’s student must submit his/her thesis to OGS within (90) ninety days of his/her final thesis defense or by the specific graduation term degree requirement deadline (November 15, April 15, or July 15, respectively) whichever comes first. Please refer to the OGS Website –Thesis/Dissertation information for format guidelines and the procedures for the electronic submission option to satisfy the program degree requirement. When your thesis manuscript has all revisions completed and approved by your thesis committee, the procedures to submit electronically the manuscript should be completed. Each Master’s student will be required to submit electronically their thesis ONLY at the DSpace digital repository-UNM. All paper forms listed must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies or the electronic manuscript will not be accepted for final electronic thesis submission