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Graduate Program

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 16 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
    • EES 447: Chemical Evolution of the Earth
    • Geochronology, Thermochronology, Geospeedometry
  • Specialty: Earth Materials, Experimental Petrology
    • EES 404: Earth Materials
    • EES 463: Introduction to Thermodynamics and Kinetics
  • Specialty: Low-Temperature Geochemistry
    • EES 468: Chemical and Isotopic Hydrology
    • EES 416: Environmental Geochemistry
  • Specialty: Geophysics and Planetary Science
    • EES 456: Paleomagnetism and Global Plate Tectonics
    • EES 455: Planetary Science
  • Specialty: Structural Geology and Tectonics
    • EES 488: Geometry and Mechanics of Thrust Faults
    • EES 481: Microtectonics
  • Specialty: Surface Processes
    • EES 483: Sedimentary Basin Analysis
    • EES 464: Paleoenvironmental Reconstructions Using Light Stable Isotopes
  • Specialty: Climatology
    • EES 465: Paleoclimate
    • EES 466: Ice Core Records of Climate and Environmental Change
  • Specialty: Climate Modeling
    • EES 418: Atmospheric Geochemistry
    • Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling
  • Specialty: Oceanography
    • EES 412: Chemical Oceanography
    • EES 461: Stable Isotope Geochemistry
  • Specialty: Ocean Modeling
    • EES 433: Marine Ecosystem and Carbon Cycle Modeling
    • EES 435: Physical Oceanography
  • Specialty: Earth and Atmospheric Physics
    • EES 453: Geodynamics
    • EES 454: Planetary Interiors
  • Specialty: Computational Seismology
    • EES 414: Earth Science Data Analyses
    • EES 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.

  • CHM 252: Thermodynamics
  • ME 225: Fluid Dynamics
  • BIO 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 18 of the Graduate Student Handbook (PDF).