Ph.D. Program - Requirements and Procedures

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences accepts students directly into both MS and PhD programs. All applicants are asked to indicate whether they are applying for the MS degree, for the PhD degree without an MS degree, or for the PhD degree following attainment of an MS degree at UNM or elsewhere. Applicants wishing to enter the PhD program without first obtaining an MS degree must explicitly discuss their motivation for this decision in their original application.

Students eligible for admission directly into the PhD program without an MS degree must be in the top 25% of the ranked applicant list, as determined by the graduate admissions committee and approved by the faculty.

Financial aid is guaranteed for four years (eight semesters) for PhD candidates. Students who exceed this time limit are eligible to apply for additional funding, but there is no guarantee of further support. Guaranteed support will typically represent a combination of TA, RA, and/or Fellowship funding. We regard preparation of grant proposals as a critical part of PhD-level education. As a result, all PhD students are expected to work with their advisors to seek external funding, with the hope of moving from TA to RA funding whenever possible.

The PhD examination consists of two parts. Extended abstracts for two unrelated research projects must be submitted to the faculty for approval during the second semester in residence. The research topics proposed in the abstracts should be sufficiently different in scope as to warrant interaction with two different principal advisors with different research interests; one of the abstracts normally focuses on the student’s proposed dissertation topic. During the third semester in residence, a PhD student must submit and orally defend two research proposals developed from his or her abstracts. A PhD student who lacks an MS degree and whose abstracts are not formally approved in the second semester will automatically be transferred to the MS program and will need to complete the MS exam. The total funding commitment in such cases will be reduced from four years to two years. PhD students are normally expected to submit and defend the dissertation in their 8th semester.

  1. Advisement: Students will participate in a formal advisement interview sometime during the first week of classes.
    1. The interview will consist of a meeting with the advisor, who is either the potential Ph.D. advisor, if the student's interests are known, or a faculty member with broadly similar interests, if the student has not specified his or her research interests.
    2. The purpose of this interview is to:
      1. Formally assess deficiencies (gaps in the student's previous training). The student should be aware of possible deficiencies from his or her application file which includes the graduate advisement form spelling out the department's expectations of undergraduate background and a list of possible deficiencies, based on the student's transcripts.
        Note that courses taken to make up deficiencies 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. Identify members of a tentative Dissertation Committee.
      5. Discuss the format of the Ph.D. examination and the schedule of expected accomplishments leading up to the examination.
      6. Answer any questions the student might have concerning the Ph.D. program at UNM, and registration procedures.
    3. Other items should also be communicated to the student, including:
      1. Students may wish to take Earth and Planetary Sciences 420 (Advanced Field Geology) in order to better understand complex geologic problems and become familiar with the geology of the Southwest United States. Graduate credit is available for this course. E&PS 420 is taught during the summer, immediately following E&PS 319.
      2. Financial support is generally limited to eight semesters of full time support.
      3. Each student should attend the get acquainted gathering with the faculty, generally scheduled during a weekend early in the semester.
      4. Each student is expected to attend the first meeting of Earth and Planetary Sciences 401/501 (see schedule of classes for time and room number) for introduction to the department.
      5. Other activities the student should be aware of (e.g., meeting to make teaching assignments, if the student is a teaching assistant).
      6. The fact that the initial advisor need not be the permanent advisor, if the student desires a change.
    4. The advisor will record the results of the interview and convey these results, in writing, via the Advisement Form to the Chair of the Graduate Committee by the end of the first week of the semester. This report should include specific recommendations about courses that the Graduate Committee assessed as deficiencies prior to the student's arrival. The student will receive a copy of this report and a copy will go into his or her file. Any recommendations concerning deficiencies should be requested via the Graduate Student Petition Form (see Appendix III) and submitted to the Graduate Committee, which will make recommendations to the faculty as a whole.

II. Students entering the Ph.D. program from the E&PS M.S. program are expected to have a permanent advisor, and to consult with the advisor concerning the initiation and progress of work towards the Ph.D. degree.

III. Dissertation Committee:

Tentative Dissertation Committee: During the FIRST semester of residency, the student is expected to select a permanent dissertation advisor, and three additional Committee members.

Permanent Dissertation Committee: During the THIRD semester of residency, the student is expected to finalize their dissertation committee (committee on studies). The “Appointment of Dissertation Committee” form. ( must be signed by the candidate, the dissertation director, and the chairperson or graduate advisor.

Composition of the Dissertation Committee:
The committee will consist of at least four members approved for graduate instruction at UNM and with established competence in the field of the dissertation or some aspect of it.

  1. The director of the dissertation must be a regular UNM faculty member approved by the student's graduate unit; he or she must have demonstrated research or professional competence in the general area of the dissertation and in the methodology applied. Individuals whose primary employer is UNM and who hold the titles of research professor, research associate professor, research assistant professor, may only chair committees if within the student’s major.
  2. Two members must hold regular, full-time faculty appointments at UNM. One committee member must be an UNM faculty member from within the student's graduate unit.
  3. A third member must hold regular, full-time appointment in a graduate unit at UNM other than that of the student, or at another accredited institution.
  4. The Dean of Graduate Studies must approve all committee members who are not regular UNM faculty for graduate instruction, specifically for the student's graduate unit.
  5. Graduate students may supplement the minimum committee membership described above. All supplemental appointments must be identified on the "Appointment of Dissertation Committee" form, and must be approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies.
  6. Graduate units may supplement the minimum committee membership of four with qualified members from outside the University. The Office of Graduate Studies will facilitate such efforts whenever possible. These supplemental appointments must be requested at the time of the formation of the dissertation committee, identified on the Appointment of Dissertation Committee form, and approved by the Dean of Graduate Studies.

IV. Ph.D. Examination Schedule. The Ph.D. program in Earth and Planetary Sciences includes several meetings and deadlines related to completion of the Ph.D. Examination. The deadlines described in this program are intended to ensure rapid progress toward defining a dissertation topic, completing candidacy requirements, and successfully completing the Ph.D. Examination. In circumstances where it is deemed inappropriate for a student to maintain this schedule, petitions should be submitted to the Graduate Committee to establish specific deadlines that are consistent with the individual student's situation.

  1. A MANDATORY Dissertation Committee meeting will take place during the last four weeks of the first semester in residence. This meeting will take place among the student and all members of the Dissertation Committee (perhaps only tentatively identified) and will be scheduled during the last four weeks of the first semester in residence. Topics to be covered at the meeting include but are not limited to:
    1. A potential dissertation topic and the specific topics for the two proposals required for the comprehensive examination.
    2. The Ph.D. Examination and its format.
    3. Formal course of study planned in sufficient detail to complete the required Program of Study Form and to allow the student to prepare the form for candidacy to the Office of Graduate Studies. This is a plan of course work for the remainder of the student's tenure at UNM, including final clarification of and action on any deficiencies. The plan of course work will be included in the student's file and deletions from this course plan will require dissertation committee approval.
    4. Consideration of potential difficulties with the student's progress that necessitate submission of a petition to the Graduate Committee to delay the completion of the Ph.D. Examination beyond the third semester.
  2. Submission of extended abstracts for the two proposals that must be prepared as part of the Ph.D. Examination to the Graduate Committee, following approval by the Dissertation Committee, prior to the last six weeks of the second semester of residence (on or before April 1 or on or before November 1). The extended abstracts should consist of no more than three, double spaced pages of text, including any tables and figures. As a general guideline, each abstract should consist of the following:
    1. a) The name of the main advisor for the abstract followed by the names of all committee members.
    2. b) A very brief summary statement, no more than a few lines in length, clearly outlining the significance of the proposed research, in terms that are understandable to nonspecialists (e.g. the full graduate committee).
    3. c) A short introduction to the problem (1-2 paragraphs).
    4. d) A summary of how the proposed research will contribute to solving the problem (2-3 paragraphs).
    5. e) A brief description of the methodology (1-2 paragraphs)
    6. f) A final paragraph summarizing the expected outcome of the research.
  3. The student should inform the Department Chairperson of the four members of the Dissertation Committee, and request assignment of a fifth ("generalist") member of the exam committee. The identity of this examiner should be made known to the student, who then provides copies of the proposals to the additional examiner. The extended abstracts must be recommended for approval by the Graduate Committee and in turn approved by the Faculty. The research topics proposed in the abstracts should be sufficiently different in scope, to warrant two different principal Ph.D. advisors with different research interests, based on a consensus view of the Graduate Committee, and full E&PS faculty.
  4. In the third semester, the student must prepare the two written proposals in consultation with members of the Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee should review at least one draft of each proposal to assure that the proposals are appropriately organized and to make the student aware of weaknesses that should be addressed.
  5. The student should schedule a three-hour block of time and room for the examination, that meets with the entire Committee's approval, with the Department Secretary so that necessary forms can be approved by the Office of Graduate Studies.
  6. Ph.D. Examination - Approval of Proposals
    Dissertation Proposals must be submitted to and approved by the Dissertation Committee prior to taking the oral component of the Ph.D. Examination. The proposals must be submitted to the Dissertation Committee prior to the last six weeks of the third semester in residence (on or before November 1 or on or before April 1). An additional copy of each proposal is placed in the main office at this time for inspection by other interested faculty. Comments by any non-committee faculty member should be directed to the student's major advisor. The Dissertation Committee members must read the proposals and indicate approval or rejection to the student's major advisor within a two-week period of receipt. If a majority of the committee finds both proposals unacceptable, the examination is considered to have been failed. If one proposal is acceptable, but the other is rejected, the student is given one additional attempt to prepare an acceptable proposal. This may require petitioning to postpone completion of the Ph.D. Examination for a semester. Once both proposals are accepted by the committee, the written component of the examination is considered to have been passed.
  7. Ph.D. Examination - Oral Examination
    The oral component of the examination will be completed before the last four weeks of the third semester in residence. The Examination Committee consists of the four members of the Dissertation Committee (as defined in the Graduate sections of the UNM Catalog and not exceeding one Senior Research Associate or Adjunct Faculty Member) and an additional examiner assigned by the Department Chair after the examination is scheduled. If there are more than four members of the Dissertation Committee, then the four voting members (as per criteria noted) must be designated (all members of the committee, if greater than four, may participate in the examination, as well as any other interested faculty members). The role of the additional examiner is to assure that the student's work is communicable to generalists in the geosciences and to help assure that questions cover a reasonable range of fields.
    1. The student will separately present both proposals in talks not to exceed 20 minutes each.
    2. Questions by the examination committee will originate out of the science discussed in the two proposals and presentations.
    3. The student has the option to request the order of the presentations and questioning periods.
    4. After completion, the student is requested to leave the examination room and the committee discusses the student's performance on the oral examination and agrees on an assessment of pass, pass with distinction, or fail. The final designation of pass (with or without distinction) or fail must be based on both written and oral components of the exam, although the student must clearly pass both components in order to pass the exam (i.e., an inadequate performance on the oral component cannot be compensated for by exceptionally well-written proposals). Failing performance will lead to termination from the program.
    5. A student who feels that the examination was not administered fairly or believes that circumstances exist for reconsidering a negative decision or administering a second examination should meet with the Department Chairperson within one week of the examination to discuss consideration of an appeal of the Examination Committee's decision.
  8. Procedures for students entering Ph.D. Program immediately following their M.S. exam.
    A student who enters UNM in the MS program but who subsequently wishes to convert the MS project into a PhD dissertation must inform his or her committee of this desire prior to taking the MS exam in the second semester. The committee will then use the oral examination as a tool to probe the student’s readiness to advance directly into the PhD program, and will make an appropriate recommendation to the full faculty. If the faculty endorses the recommendation, the student will then prepare a second proposal and defend it in the third semester in residence. Assuming a successful outcome of the third semester exam, the students will be guaranteed a total of eight semesters of funding to complete the PhD degree.
    1. Exam must occur prior to the last 4 weeks of the 3rd semester.
    2. These students would receive a maximum departmental commitment of 4 years of funding: 1 year while MS candidate, 3 additional years as Ph.D. candidate.
    3. If student fails the Ph.D. exam, he/she may revert back to the MS program.

V. Graduate students in the United States on a foreign student visa, must command English as a second language and must have achieved a satisfactory score on the TOEFL exam (550 or above)

VI. Course Work: The student must complete a minimum of 48 hours of coursework beyond the Bachelor's degree that carry graduate credit in geology and other subjects relevant to his or her specialty. A maximum of 30 hours of coursework completed for the Master's degree, including 6 hours of thesis credit, may be applied toward the 48-hour requirement. A minimum GPA of 3.0 (B average) must be maintained. The following requirements hold:

  1. At least 18 hours of 500 courses,
  2. No more than half the total graduate course hours counted toward the required total may be taken with any one professor,
  3. A maximum of 3 credits of problems courses.
  4. No more than six hours of C grades may be included in the degree program.

See the current UNM Catalog for other information on Ph.D. course requirements.

VII. Graduate prerequisite policy:

  1. Entering graduate students must demonstrate via their transcripts that they have received rigorous scientific preparation in courses relevant to graduate study in earth, planetary, atmospheric, or environmental science. Because the E&PS Department offers graduate training in many aspects of the earth sciences, there is no single list of courses that must have been completed prior to graduate study. Necessary background courses must instead be mutually agreed upon by the student, thesis advisor, and thesis committee, and must be approved by the Graduate Committee. It is expected that some students will need to take one or more 300-level EPS courses in order to prepare them adequately for their graduate programs; such courses must be taken as early in those students’ programs as possible. No graduate credit can be earned for 300-level classes in E&PS.
  2. Entering graduate students are expected to have completed the equivalent of Math 162 and 163, Chemistry 121L and 122L, and Physics 160 and 161 (calculus I and II, general chemistry I and II, and calculus-based physics that includes mechanics, electricity, heat, and magnetism). Additional coursework in math, chemistry, physics, statistics, or biology is encouraged. An applicant who has not completed the required math and science classes will receive a letter shortly after admission to our program that formally identifies the missing classes as deficiencies. The letter will encourage the student to take the necessary classes in summer school prior to enrolling at UNM, and will also state that the courses must be made up within the first year in the graduate program. No graduate credit can be earned for 100- or 200-level math and science classes.
  3. 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.
  4. A student may petition to remove a deficiency by substitution of an alternative class. The student must have a compelling reason to request such a course substitution, and the petition must be submitted as soon as possible following entry into the graduate program.

VIII. ADVANCEMENT to CANDIDACY: After completion of at least 12 hours of course work beyond the M.S. and after the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination, Ph.D. students must submit the "ADVANCEMENT TO CANDIDACY" form for the Doctoral Degree. This form is located on the web at: This form is to be completed and submitted through your advisor to the Graduate Committee Chairperson (Dr. Tobias Fischer). 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.

IX Dissertation: At least 18 hours of Earth and Planetary Sciences 699 (Dissertation) must be taken. A final copy of the dissertation must be in the hands of all members of the committee at least two weeks prior to the scheduled defense. A final copy of the dissertation must be placed on file in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences main office at the time the defense is scheduled (three weeks before the defense). The final copy of the dissertation is one that is ready for signature (that is, it has been reviewed by all members of the committee and all the necessary revisions have been completed). Two unbound copies of an acceptable dissertation must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies, within ninety (90) days of their final examination for the dissertation. If the manuscript is not submitted within that time, the student must schedule and complete a second final examination for the dissertation. In all cases the results of the dissertation defense must be submitted to OGS no later than two weeks after the announced date of the dissertation defense. One BOUND copy to the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and one bound copy to each of the committee members (all copies and binding charges are the student's expense). In addition, the department must receive mylar copies, suitable for blue line reproduction, of any plates not included in the text of the dissertation (i.e., pocket plates). See Appendix I for details of the University's format requirements for Ph.D. dissertations.

X. Oral Defense of Dissertation: An oral presentation dealing with the dissertation will be given by the student; this is open to the public. The Committee on Studies will then have a closed period for questioning the candidate. Dissertation defenses are typically scheduled during the academic year, excluding finals week. Again, notify the Main Office Personnel three weeks in advance of the date, time, committee and title to gain a room and appropriate approval forms.

Recognizing the fact that in many cases for either MS or Ph.D. degrees, part or all of a thesis or dissertation is to 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 has to be the first author on the publication.
  3. In 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 and so forth must be settled or returned before the dissertation will be approved. A carefully selected and properly curated collection (if applicable) must be left in the department (see p. 30). See the Main Office Personnel for the Departmental Checklist. Students must complete this Checklist; otherwise the degree will not be awarded.

XII. Five year time limit: The doctoral dissertation must be completed within five years following formal advancement to candidacy (i.e. residency, and comprehensive exam requirements).

XIII. Please refer to the appropriate sections of the UNM Catalog for additional information concerning the requirements for the Ph.D.




  1. Meet with advisor during 1st. week of 1st. semester to complete Advisement Form and identify any deficiencies.
  2. Advisory meeting at beginning of first semester in residence. Identify membership of a tentative Dissertation Committee.
  3. Formulate possible dissertation topics in preparation for MANDATORY Dissertation Committee meeting before the last four weeks of the first semester.
  4. Submit completed Program of Study Form prior to finals week of the first semester in residence.


  1. Submit extended abstracts of two dissertation proposals to the Graduate Committee, prior to the last six weeks of second semester.


  1. Submit Dissertation Proposals to and obtain approval by Ph.D. Committee prior to last six weeks of third semester. Place copies of each proposal in Main Office at this time.
  2. Set tentative date for Oral Component of Ph.D. Examination.
  3. Complete Oral Component of Ph.D. Examination prior to last four weeks of third semester.
  4. Submit “Application for Doctoral Candidacy” form.
  5. Submit “Appointment of Dissertation Committee” form


  1. Complete M.S. exam with entire committee recommending expansion of M.S. project into Ph.D. project.
  2. Petition Graduate Committee to advance to Ph.D. program; petition includes letters of support from each M.S. committee member.
  3. Modify/expand M.S. proposal to one of Ph.D. caliber in consultation with Ph.D. committee (acts as first Ph.D. proposal).
  4. Submit second Ph.D. abstract to Ph.D. Committee and Graduate Committee by first week of the third semester.
  5. Once second abstract passed by Ph.D. Committee and Graduate Committee, follow guidelines for traditional Ph.D. students starting with third semester.


  1. Comply with Doctoral Graduation/Dissertation Checklist.
  2. By September 22, February 16, or June 15, respectively student must inform the department and Office of Graduate Studies in writing (“Notification of Intent to Graduate” form) of intention to complete all degree requirements for graduation.
  3. Two weeks before dissertation defense date arrange with department scheduling of the exam and place complete final copy of dissertation in main office for faculty review.
  4. Turning in Your Electronic Dissertation - IMPORTANT: A doctoral student must submit his/her dissertation to OGS within (90) ninety days of his/her final dissertation 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 Manuscript Procedures for the electronic manuscript submission option to satisfy the program degree requirement. When your dissertation has all revisions complete and approved by your dissertation committee, the procedures to submit the manuscript electronically should be completed. Each doctoral student will be required to submit their dissertation electronicallyat two different electronic ETD sites
         1) ProQuest/UMI Administrator-UNM,
         2) DSpace digital repository-UNM.
    All paper documents listed must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Studies or the dissertation manuscript will not be accepted for final electronic dissertation submission.