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Geociences Ph.D. program


Advancement to Ph.D. candidacy is gained after the successful completion of the Ph.D. preliminary examination. The examination is the culmination of an evaluative process that begins when the student arrives at Stony Brook. In particular, the faculty seeks evidence of scientific creativity, originality, vigor, and flexibility, along with the basic background knowledge, skills, and critical faculties needed to carry out advanced independent research in the student's chosen field. The minimum residence requirement is two consecutive semesters of graduate study. There is no language requirement.                                                                                                             

A. Course Requirements 

Course requirements are flexible, and are determined in consultation with the student's academic advisory committee at the beginning of studies based upon his or her particular needs. Academic advisory committees are assigned to students at the time of their arrival at Stony Brook, and the composition of the committee may be changed at the student's request, with the approval of the graduate program director. During their first two years in the program, students generally take one to three courses per semester. In addition, they participate in appropriate formal and informal seminars. During their first fall semester all students must take GEO 500 Geosciences Research Seminar. In addition, all graduate students must register for GEO 696 Geoscience Colloquium and GEO 697 Geoscience Seminar each semester and GEO 600 Practicum in Teaching at least once. 

Course descriptions and details can be found in the Graduate Bulletin: GEO Graduate Course Descriptions

B. Research Projects

phddEach student must complete two individual research projects with separate faculty members as part of the requirements leading up to the Ph.D. qualifying exam. One of these projects can be an M.S. thesis. The requirements for each of these papers are determined by the professor(s) with whom the research is carried out. When working on such a project, students register for either GEO 590 or 599 Research, after consultation with the appropriate professor. A research paper or M.S. thesis completed before arriving at Stony Brook may substitute for one of the two research papers required before orals, it if is approved for that purpose by the graduate committee.

C. Ph.D. Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination consists of the preparation and oral defense of a thesis proposal. There are three separate steps in this procedure: (1) submission of a proposal abstract to the graduate committee, who then selects an examining committee, (2) submission of the thesis proposal to the examining committee, and (3) oral defense of the proposal.

D. Thesis Proposal Abstract

A one-page document stating the most essential aspects of the student’s proposed thesis, the thesis proposal abstract must be signed by three faculty members before being given to the graduate committee. One of the three faculty members must be identified as a potential sponsor, meaning that he or she is tentatively willing to be the student’s thesis advisor. This implies no commitment, either on the part of the professor or the student. 

Upon receipt of the abstract, the graduate committee selects the members of the student’s Ph.D. preliminary examination committee and sets a deadline (usually six weeks) for the submission of the thesis proposal to the examination committee. This committee is to consist of five scientists holding Ph.D. degrees who are experts in fields related to the proposal, at least four of whom must be members of the department. 

E. Thesis Proposal

researcherThe Ph.D. thesis proposal specifies the scientific rationale for the proposed thesis work, the relevant work done thus far, and the techniques and effort required to reach the research objective. When the thesis proposal is completed, copies are given to each member of the examination committee. Within a week of receiving the proposal, the examination committee will meet to determine whether or not the thesis proposal is defensible. If it is not deemed defensible, the student is informed as to whether a resubmittal will be permitted. If the thesis proposal is deemed acceptable, the examination committee sets a date for the Ph.D. preliminary examination.

F. Oral Preliminary Examination

The student gives a short public presentation of the thesis proposal, after which there is a closed oral examination. Although much of the questioning inevitably focuses on the proposed thesis work, any topic in the geosciences and related fields may be covered in the questioning. At the end of the examination, the student and any others present who are not part of the preliminary examination committee are excused. The committee will then judge whether the student has demonstrated the ability to conceive, plan, and carry out original research.

The examination committee has a range of options open to it. It may vote to deny Ph.D. candidacy, either with or without a second opportunity to pass the Ph.D. preliminary examination. It may vote to accept the proposal, but fail the student on other grounds. In doing so, the examination committee may either bar a second opportunity to take the exam, require specific remedial actions, or schedule a second opportunity to take the examination. The committee has the option to vote to reconvene in order to re-evaluate its decision, based upon actions the student has taken in response to the examination committee's recommendations.

The examination committee may also vote to pass the student contingent upon changes in or rewriting of the proposal. It is free to establish any mechanism it deems necessary to affirm whether or not its requirements have been met. All decisions must be agreed to by a majority vote and must be conveyed in writing to the graduate program director and to the student.

When the graduate program director has been informed by the chairperson of the examination committee that the student has passed the Ph.D. preliminary examination, the department recommends to the Graduate School that the student be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy.

G. Teaching Requirement

All graduate students must register for GEO 600, Practicum in Teaching, at least once, as  outlined in Course Requirements above.                                      

H. Dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is the document summarizing the original scientific research in recognition of which the Ph.D. candidate seeks the doctoral degree. The University has very specific rules about the format of the thesis, but the nature of its scientific content is at the discretion of the student, his or her advisor(s), and the Ph.D. thesis defense committee. In many cases, the thesis consists of a linked set of published or soon-to-be-published scientific papers.

When informed by the student's advisor that the thesis is ready to be defended, the graduate committee selects a Ph.D. thesis defense committee. The defense committee consists of five or six members, a majority of whom must be members of the department. One defense committee member, other than the thesis advisor, is appointed as committee chairperson by the graduate committee. Within two weeks of receiving the thesis, the defense committee chairperson polls the committee members to ascertain that the thesis is actually defensible. If it is, the defense committee chairperson formally schedules the oral defense.

I.  Ph.D. Thesis Oral Defense

The student makes a public presentation of the major results of the thesis. There is then a closed session, during which the student is examined primarily, but not exclusively, on the dissertation topic. The committee has the option of voting to accept the thesis, reject it, or accept it with revisions. If the thesis is accepted with required revisions, the committee will decide the mechanism for determining compliance with its requirements. Voting is by majority.