Application deadline: January 1
For students who have earned a master's degree, the minimum number of course credits required for the PhD is 40 units. No more than four of these units may be earned in 794 Doctoral Dissertation. For students who have not earned a master's degree, the minimum number of course credits required is 60 units, including a maximum of eight units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation. The qualifying exam committee may require additional course work to insure a sufficient background in the student's area of specialization. At least two-thirds of the number of units presented for the degree must be 500 level or higher. Although the official minimum GPA for all graduate work attempted at USC is 3.0, the department does not consider a doctoral candidate in good standing unless the graduate GPA is considerably higher than the minimum (approximately 3.25 or above in graduate courses taken within the department).
Students in the PhD program must pass the screening procedure before their 25th unit of graduate credit. Screening consists of a review of the student's progress and is usually done by the chair following a written recommendation by the student's adviser(s).
Qualifying Exam Committee
The doctoral qualifying exam committee is formed after the student has passed the screening procedure. The committee is appointed by the department with the advice of the student's research adviser. The five-member committee consists of the adviser, a minimum of three other members from the Department of Earth Sciences, and one from outside the department. The committee consults with the student, recommends an appropriate program of study and administers the written and oral qualifying examinations.
This examination consists of two parts, one written and the other oral. The written exam, which precedes the oral, includes questions submitted by committee members on current geological problems and theory. The oral portion of the exam consists of the defense of two propositions written by the candidate prior to the oral exam. In addition, general questions are posed to test the student's breadth of scientific and earth science background. The student's performance is evaluated by the qualifying exam committee, with a pass based on not more than one negative vote or abstention. Those who intend to take the exam must meet all the conditions specified in the section on general requirements for the PhD.
Defense of the Dissertation
When the candidate has passed the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee replaces the qualifying exam committee. The latter is appointed by the adviser and qualifying exam committee in conjunction with the student. The dissertation committee administers the final defense of the dissertation.
The defense takes place after the dissertation is substantially complete, and upon unanimous approval by the dissertation committee. It is conducted in the form of an open departmental seminar, but is evaluated by the dissertation committee alone.