PhD in Geosciences Program

Students in the PhD in geosciences program at the University of Rochester are expected to spend three to five semesters in intensive coursework (both within the department and in other departments) before taking their qualifying examinations. They are encouraged to start research as early as possible and are expected to spend all their time on research after having passed the qualifying exams.

An integral part of the education at Rochester is the involvement of graduate students in undergraduate teaching in the early years.

Program Prerequisites

Before entering the program, all students are expected to have already completed:

  • Two semesters of calculus differential equations or statistics or linear algebra
  • One or two semesters of physics
  • One or two semesters of chemistry
  • One or two semesters of biology

Overall, students should have completed a total of at least four semesters of physics, chemistry, or biology.

Students entering the program with a geology degree are expected to have completed a program equivalent to a BS in geology from the University of Rochester. This includes courses in:

  • Physical geology
  • Historical geology
  • Mineralogy (including optical mineralogy)
  • Sedimentology and stratigraphy
  • Structural geology
  • Three upper-level elective courses (e.g., geochemistry, geophysics, petrology, paleontology, or paleomagnetism)

Any deficiencies can be addressed through bridging courses, which can be taken here.


The curriculum is designed to ensure that students gain background not only in their own specialty, but are also familiar with concepts in some other aspects of earth sciences. Students can also complete a specialty outside of the department.

See page 10 in the Graduate Student Handbook (PDF) for more information.

Department Courses

Students must complete any three to four courses from the list below. Students may be required to take additional graduate-level courses in their specialties. Talk to your research advisor about additional courses that are not listed here.

  • Specialty: Petrology, Geochemistry, Geochronology
    • EESC 447: Chemical Evolution of the Earth
    • Geochronology, Thermochronology, Geospeedometry
  • Specialty: Earth Materials, Experimental Petrology
    • EESC 404: Earth Materials
    • EESC 463: Introduction to Thermodynamics and Kinetics
  • Specialty: Low-Temperature Geochemistry
    • EESC 468: Chemical and Isotopic Hydrology
    • EESC 416: Environmental Geochemistry
  • Specialty: Geophysics and Planetary Science
    • EESC 456: Paleomagnetism and Global Plate Tectonics
    • EESC 455: Planetary Science
  • Specialty: Structural Geology and Tectonics
    • EESC 488: Geometry and Mechanics of Thrust Faults
    • EESC 481: Microtectonics
  • Specialty: Surface Processes
    • EESC 483: Sedimentary Basin Analysis
    • EESC 464: Paleoenvironmental Reconstructions Using Light Stable Isotopes
  • Specialty: Climatology
    • EESC 465: Paleoclimate
    • EESC 466: Ice Core Records of Climate and Environmental Change
  • Specialty: Climate Modeling
    • EESC 418: Atmospheric Geochemistry
    • Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling
  • Specialty: Oceanography
    • EESC 412: Chemical Oceanography
    • EESC 461: Stable Isotope Geochemistry
  • Specialty: Ocean Modeling
    • EESC 433: Marine Ecosystem and Carbon Cycle Modeling
    • EESC 435: Physical Oceanography
  • Specialty: Earth and Atmospheric Physics
    • EESC 453: Geodynamics
    • EESC 454: Planetary Interiors
  • Specialty: Computational Seismology
    • EESC 414: Earth Science Data Analyses
    • EESC 415: Seismology and Earth Structure

Courses Outside the Department

For students who wish to take one of their qualifying exams outside the department, the following are some examples of courses you can take. Talk to your advisor to find out what is most suitable for your own research program.

  • CHEM 252: Thermodynamics
  • ME 225: Fluid Dynamics
  • BIOL 463: Ecology
  • ME 441: Finite Elements
  • ME 458: Non-linear Finite Element Analysis
  • ME 444: Continuum Mechanics
  • ME 452: 18-Electron Microscopy
  • ME 451: Crystallography and X-Ray Diffraction
  • ECE 446: Digital Signal Processing
  • ECE 241: Signals
  • BST 416: Advanced Statistics

Qualifying Exams

Students will complete qualifying exams in either:

  • Four earth science fields, with no more than two exams from any particular field of specialization, and the other two exams from at least two other fields of specialization.


  • Three earth science fields, with no more than two exams from any particular field of specialization and one exam outside the department (e.g., physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, or computer science).

For more information about qualifying exams, including specialization areas and timeline requirements, see page 12 of the Graduate Student Handbook (PDF).