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.

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 courses outside the department, please see the list of examples below. 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

The Qualifying Examination is a key milestone in the PhD program. This examination typically takes place during your 5th semester in the program, and involves writing a research proposal that is submitted to your exam committee, followed by an oral exam during which you present and defend the merits of your research proposal to the committee and also answer general scientific knowledge questions in areas broadly related to your topic of research.

Graduate Student Handbook

The purpose of the graduate student handbook (which is updated every summer) is to provide you with answers to some of the more commonly asked questions; to inform you of common deadlines and fees; and to lead you through the department’s requirements for MS and PhD students. We hope that you will find this handbook useful as a guide and reference.