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General Requirements   |   Master's Degree Requirements   |   
Ph.D. Degree Requirements
  |   Teaching Requirements   |   Grades   |  
Transfer Credit
  |   Course Credit   |   Travel

General Requirements

All graduate students are expected to have minimum levels of proficiency in related disciplines before undertaking their graduate studies. These are:

A.     One year of calculus-based physics (equivalent to Physics-135-1, -2, -3 or 190-1, -2, -3)

B.     Mathematics through calculus of several variables (Math-214-1, -2, -3) and elementary differential equations (equivalent to Math-221) (a statistics course can be substituted upon approval of the Graduate Advisor and the student's advisor).

C.     One course in thermodynamics (equivalent to Chemistry-342-1, Earth-301, Physics-331, or Materials Science-314). In selecting one of these courses in consultation with the Advisory Committee, the student should note the different prerequisites for each.

D.    One year of college chemistry (equivalent to Chem-101, -102, -103).

E.     Students are expected to have full literacy in scientific computer programming, such as FORTRAN or a comparable language. (The department endeavors to offer such remedial courses for graduate students.)

F.      Students from non-English-speaking countries must achieve a passing score of 50 on the TSE (Test of Spoken English) or 26 on the speaking portion of the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). This requirement, which is set by the Graduate School, must be met before students can accept a teaching assistantship, receive a Master's Degree, or take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination. Students who have not received a 50 on the TSE (or the TOEFL equivalent) by the time of matriculation must enroll in Linguistics 380 every quarter (excluding Summer) until receiving a passing score. Similarly, students must also take the TSE on a quarterly basis (including Summer) until the required score is attained. Please note that the TSE requirement is waived for students holding an undergraduate degree from an accredited U.S. college or university.

Any deficiencies must be made up as early as possible in the graduate program.

A first-year graduate student in the doctoral program may take 499 Independent Study credit for no more than one-half of the total credits for any given quarter.

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Master's Degree Requirements

Students who pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination may apply to receive a Master's Degree from the Graduate School. Students who do not achieve Ph.D. candidacy by passing this exam may also earn the Master's Degree pending approval of the faculty. In each case, the student must meet requirements for the Master's Degree established by the Graduate School and EPS. Graduate School requirements are summarized here. Departmental requirements for the M.S. in Earth and Planetary Sciences are the following:

A.     Twelve courses from among those bearing graduate credit in science or engineering. From the specific courses listed under General Requirements, only one of the following courses: Chemistry 342-1, Earth and Plan.Sciences 301, Physics 331, or Materials Science 314. All other courses completed in fulfillment of the Master's Degree requirements may not include any courses listed in the General Requirements section.

B.     A Master's thesis approved by the student's Advisory Committee. The thesis is ordinarily the result of Independent Study course work (Earth 499) taken by the student within the 12-course total and should be formulated as a manuscript of publishable quality, submitted or ready for submission to a geoscience journal.

Note: The Graduate School stipulates that no more than one-third of the courses qualifying for credit can be Independent Studies (499). 590 Research is the only course for which the Pass/No Pass option is acceptable.

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Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Students in the Ph.D. program should enter with a background in basic sciences and mathematics as noted above. Any deficiencies should be made up as soon as possible after admission to the program, and students should know that 100- and 200-level courses and some of the 300-level bear no graduate credit. Consequently, they do not count towards full-time registration.

Complementing the Graduate School general degree requirements (Policy and Course Catalog) are the department's specific Ph.D. requirements, which aim to acquaint students with an appropriate spctrum of subjects and help them develop professional breadth through exposure to areas of faculty expertise, as represented in course group A) below; at developing a deeper knowledge of other scientific or engineering disciplines, as represented in course group B); and at developing research skills and additional knowledge, as represented in course group C).

There are a total of 16 courses (13 with transfer of credit, as explained below) that should be taken in the first 4 or 5 quarters of residence. Of the 16 courses, only 8 graded courses are explicitly required, as given in course groups A) and B) below. The remaining 8 (or 5) courses include Independent Study courses 499 and other courses to be chosen in consultation with the student's Advisory Committee.

The degree requirements include:

A.     Six 300-level courses in Earth and Planetary Sciences;

B.     Two 300- or 400-level courses in mathematics, statistics, natural sciences or engineering;

C.     Eight other courses bearing graduate credit in science or engineering, including Independent Study courses (499's) and other courses in Earth and Planetary Sciences. From the courses listed under General Requirements, only Chemistry 342-1, Earth and Planetary Sciences 301, Physics 331, or Materials Science 314 may be counted toward requirements A), B), or C). Other courses may be considered by written application to the Graduate Advisor.

D.     A dissertation under the direction of a faculty member and approved by a dissertation committee appointed by the Graduate Advisor. See Also Final Examination.

Note:  From the courses listed under General Requirements, only Chemistry 342-1, Earth and Planetary Sciences 350, Physics 331, or Materials Science 321 may be counted toward requirements A), B), or C).

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Teaching Requirements

Teaching experience is a crucial aspect of graduate student  training and is required each year of all Ph.D. students. For example, students are expected to lead discussion or lab sections and grade homework and exams for an introductory class for one quarter in their first year. Our students have found such experience a valuable asset, and potential employers, especially in academia, often specifically inquire about the quality of teaching performed by job candidates. 


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Not more than two courses outside Earth and Planetary Sciences among those of group C) above may be taken for a P/N (Pass/No Pass) grade. All other courses, including Independent Study courses (499's), are to be taken for letter grades (A, B, C, or F). The Graduate School requires that students maintain a B average; that is, any C grade must be balanced by an A. If a student receives an F or fails to make up an X or Y incomplete grade within one year, the student will need to register in the future for an additional course at his or her own expense.

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Transfer Credit

Important rules concerning the transfer of credit for graduate work completed elsewhere are listed in the Graduate School's General Degree Requirements and Policy and Course Catalog. Transfer credit assigned by the Graduate School for Master's degree work completed at another institution is viewed only as residency credit toward the nine quarter residency requirement. Generally, a student with a Master's degree now needs to complete six quarters of full-tuition registrations. The department reserves the right to require students with transfer credit to complete the full 16 courses required for Ph.D. students.

The student may petition the department for a waiver of up to three courses, which will be counted toward the requirements of the course group C) for the Ph.D. In some circumstances, the student may also petition for the transfer of credit to be counted toward some of the six-courses in group A). The total number of credits that may be approved against the courses in group C) and /or A) will not be greater than 3 courses. In such a case, the student will need to successfully complete a total of 13, not 16, courses before the Qualifying Examination.

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Course Credit

Only the courses listed in the Graduate School Bulletin bear graduate credit. In sciences and engineering these are ordinarily 400-level and 300-level courses, although not all 300-level courses bear graduate credit. Students taking courses that do not bear graduate credit (e.g., courses to obtain the minimum proficiency levels in mathematics and science given above) must take at least three graduate courses each quarter to maintain eligibility for financial aid.

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Financial assistance is available to help defray expenses for students traveling to meetings to give presentations. First-year students presenting research completed at NU may receive departmental support of up to $600 to attend meetings. Students who have completed the first 3 quarters of full-time registration should apply for a Graduate School Conference Travel Grant (one award of $500 per year) that may be further supplemented by $300 from the Department. For travel to a second annual meeting, departmental support of up to $300 may be awarded upon application to the Department Chair.

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