Research in the field

5-year Doctor of Philosophy (M.S. + Ph.D.)

The 5-year Ph.D. with M.S. degree program is for students without a master’s degree from another program.  

Students without master’s degrees choose either to enter the five-year Ph.D. program or the M.S. program when applying. Students can opt out of the five-year Ph.D. at any time and choose to finish the M.S. only. Students who enter the Geography graduate program by originally choosing the master’s degree path can apply to shift to the five-year Ph.D. program.

Students opting to continue from the M.S. to the Ph.D. must submit an intent-to-continue form with three faculty letters of recommendation in October of their second year. The faculty reviews these materials by early November and approves continuation in the Ph.D. program.

If a student is approved for continuation in the Ph.D. program, he or she must take the doctoral candidacy exam. A committee from three of the four fields of geography and appointed by the Graduate Program Officer will administer the doctoral candidacy exam to students admitted to the Ph.D. program. The doctoral candidacy exam can take place any time during the second year of the five-year Ph.D. program, but students typically take the exam during spring semester.

A student on the five-year Ph.D. path may elect—with approval of his or her advisor—one of two options for satisfying the M.S. degree requirements: 

(1) The M.S. thesis option, which requires completion of at least 30 graduate credits and a thesis during the first four semesters of study 

(2) The M.S. paper option, which requires completion of 35 graduate credits and a research paper during the first four semesters of study; the master’s research paper must be submitted to a scholarly journal upon completion of the M.S.

The master’s program committee is not the same as the doctoral candidacy committee. The master’s program committee consists of an advisor and a second and third reader. Unlike the M.S.-only degree program, all three members of the M.S. committee in the five-year Ph.D. program must be members of the Geography Graduate Faculty. The student will work with this committee throughout the master’s portion of the five-year Ph.D. program.

All three committee members must approve the final thesis or paper, at which point there are two options for the committee: 

(1) approve the M.S. degree and approve continuation into the Ph.D. program; or 

(2) approve the M.S. degree but do not approve continuation into the Ph.D. program.

Students in the five-year Ph.D. program complete a comprehensive exam and defend their dissertation proposal in the third year. Depending on the needs of their research, and in agreement with their doctoral committee, students can fulfill these two requirements in either order. Once students have successfully passed their comprehensive exam and defended their proposal, they typically take two years to research, write, and defend their dissertations.


Our online Graduate Student Handbook explains the requirements for all degree programs.