Ph.D. Program


A variety of Ph.D. programs can be generated based on selections of major systematic study (e.g. Earth System Science and Human Geography) and minor technique (Modeling, Measurement, and Computation) emphases. All Ph.D. students must major in a systematic area of study and are expected to develop depth in one or more technical areas, but they will be tested only in one technical area. No foreign language is required.

Residency Requirement for the Ph.D. Degree

    Students in doctoral programs must enroll for a minimum of 6 regular academic quarters. Three consecutive quarters of residence must be completed prior to advancement to candidacy. If you were enrolled in the M.A./Ph.D. program and you were registered for 6 quarters as a master’s student (including 3 consecutive quarters), you do not have to enroll for another 6 quarters to satisfy the residency requirement.

    Continuous registration is expected of all graduate students. Under special circumstances students may request a leave of absence from the Graduate Dean. Students who are neither registered nor on an approved leave of absence, lose all status and privileges as students, cannot hold fellowships or other forms of financial support, and must apply for reinstatement (and, where applicable, re-advancement to candidacy).

Required Courses

Students in the Ph.D. program are expected to complete the degree requirements in effect at the time they are admitted to the program, though they may elect to follow a subsequent set of requirements. If that is the case, the Graduate Program Assistant and Graduate Division should be notified.

    Geography 201: Seminar in Geography (required every quarter until doctoral candidacy)
    Geography 200 A, B and C: Introduction to Geographic Research
    Geography 210 A, B, and C: Analytical Methods in Geography
    Geography 500: T.A. Training (Required for all Teaching Assistants. All Ph.D. students are required to gain teaching experience by serving as a TA for at least one quarter during their graduate studies. Therefore, Ph.D. students must enroll in Geog 500 if they haven’t already taken it as an M.A. student.)

    Students must earn a grade of B or higher in Geog 200B, 200C, 210A, 210B, and 210C.

    Geog210A, B, and C: In the Fall quarter of the second year, every graduate student is required to give a talk on his/her research proposal in the Geography Department Colloquium. Please contact the Graduate Program Assistant for information about the date on which your talk will be scheduled during the Fall quarter of your second year. Students may petition out of 210A, B, and C if they have taken the equivalent elsewhere, or will take its equivalent from another department on campus, or their faculty advisor does not feel the student needs the courses.
    In addition, all doctoral students must have basic computational skills and knowledge of spatial analysis. These requirements will be filled through courses selected by the student and his/her major advisor.

    To petition out of a department requirement, you need to submit a Petition for Graduate Degree Requirements which justifies your request for exemption, have it endorsed/approved by your Ph.D. Committee chair and the instructor of the course you are seeking to be exempted from and then submit it to the Graduate Advisor for approval.

Teaching Requirement

All doctoral candidates must teach (usually as a Teaching Assistant) at least one quarter before the Ph.D. is awarded.

Time-to-Degree Standards for the Ph.D. Degree

Time limits for doctoral programs are approved by the Graduate Council. In the Geography Department, students have a time limit of 4 years to advance to candidacy and 6 years to complete the Ph.D. degree. It is important to understand that the time-to-degree standards for the Ph.D. are measured from the time a student first begins graduate study at any level in any program at UCSB. This means that, if you did your master’s degree at UCSB, the entire time used to complete the M.A. degree counts toward the time limits for the Ph.D. In the case of a Leave of Absence for medical, family emergency, pregnancy/parenting, or military reasons, a maximum of three quarters Leave of Absence are permitted which will not accrue toward the time limits. However, any additional Leaves of Absence or periods of lapsed status beyond three quarters will be counted toward the time limits. The Department will enforce these rules and approve exceptions only under unusual circumstances.

If you exceed the Time-to-Degree limits for the Ph.D. program, you will enter the Graduate Division Time-to-Degree monitoring or probation process as described at The Department will deliver written notification to students if the time standard for completing a master’s degree has been exceeded. The departmental Graduate Advisor and the student’s faculty advisor will consult with the student to develop an Academic Progress Plan (signed by the faculty advisor and the student). After Graduate Division receives a copy of the written notification and Academic Progress Plan, the student will be on departmental progress monitoring status for the remainder of the academic year or until the degree milestone is completed. For a student who has not advanced to doctoral candidacy or completed the degree after the period of probation, the Graduate Dean will ask the department to recommend and justify (a) continued academic probation, which must involve extenuating circumstances, or (b) academic disqualification. Students who are beyond the Time-to-Degree limits for advancement to doctoral candidacy or degree complete in are not eligible for central fellowship support.

The Ph.D. Committee

Ph.D. committees in Geography follow the campus-wide regulations of Graduate Council. A Ph.D. committee consists of at least three UC Academic Senate members, with a tenure-track faculty member from the student’s major (home) department serving as chair or co-chair. At least two members of every doctoral committee must be tenure-track faculty. The majority of the three members shall be from the student’s UCSB major (home) department. Faculty who hold an Affiliated appointment in the Geography Department may be considered to be from the “home” department. Additional members may be added to the committee beyond the minimum required where appropriate.

Any three UC ladder faculty members of the Ph.D. Committee (including the chair of your committee and at least one additional member from the Geography Department) constitute an examining committee for administering the oral or written exams. The dissertation requires the signatures of all members of the Ph.D. Committee, as nominated on Ph.D. Form I. If one or more members of your committee (after the first three) will not be participating in your written or oral examinations, but will be serving only as a reviewer for your dissertation, this must be indicated clearly on Form I (Nomination for Qualifying Examinations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy). The Committee requires the approval of the Department Graduate Advisor, Chair, and the Graduate Dean. A Conflict of Interest Form (COI), signed by the student, the Ph.D. Committee Chair, and the Department Chair must accompany this form.

Ladder faculty who retire when a student’s dissertation is still being written may continue to serve on and chair the committee in question for up to two years without further approval. Exceptions for additional years may be granted with Graduate Council approval. In instances where the faculty member retires before the Doctoral Committee is nominated, Graduate Council approval is required for the retired faculty member to begin chairing or serving on committees after retirement. Retired faculty who continue with the University as “research professors” may chair committees without special approval.

Requirements of the Ph.D. Program

    Prior to advancement to candidacy, the Geography Department requires:

  • A diagnostic interview
  • A written comprehensive examination
  • An approved dissertation proposal
  • An oral qualifying examination

Diagnostic Interview

All incoming Ph.D. students will be required to take a diagnostic interview to assist in the preparation for undertaking a doctoral program in Geography. Graduate students who have completed the M.A. in our Department and are continuing to the Ph.D. are exempt from the Diagnostic Interview requirement. The interview will normally be oral and last about an hour. Two professors, appointed by the departmental Graduate Committee, will be responsible for administering it; however, any department faculty member may also participate, should he or she so elect. Although the student’s primary area of interest will be emphasized, students should anticipate questions which will probe their general knowledge of the entire field of geography; thus, a systematic review of geography coursework may be helpful in preparing for the interview. Within ten days of completion of the diagnostic interview, the student will receive an analysis of the results of the interview from the chair of the examining committee, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting coursework or independent study by which such weaknesses may be strengthened. A copy will also be lodged in the department files. The interview will normally be administered during the first year of the student’s residence.

Students must be registered during the quarter in which they take qualifying exams.
Registration as a graduate student in the Spring Quarter maintains graduate status until the beginning of the next Fall Quarter. A student who registered in Spring Quarter may, therefore, take examinations or file a dissertation during Summer without additional fees. A student who did NOT register Spring Quarter, however, will have to use filing fee status to file a dissertation and may NOT take Ph.D. qualifying examinations in the summer unless he/she registers in summer session.

Written Comprehensive Examination

The student’s Doctoral Committee will administer the written comprehensive examination. Ph.D. written exams will conform to the following standards, as voted on and approved by the faculty on 5/18/99:

3 days, 3 examiners, 2–3 questions per day. Student should be given 24 hours to answer each day’s questions.

The questions should be coordinated and reviewed by the Chair of the committee before being given to the student.

Open book, including access to the Web and the Library/Melvyl: the Department should provide special assistance for disabled students.

Questions will not be given in advance.

The exam should be structured to test the student’s knowledge, research skills, problem solving skills, and the student’s ability to do academic work. The content of the questions is a matter of suggestion, but, ideally, it should include general geography, techniques, and the student’s systematic area of study.

Past examination questions are maintained in a department file so that you may see the types (and relative difficulty) of questions asked. To aid in preparation for the examination, the Department will provide a reading list (see Appendix B). The reading list is simply a guide for study and should not be interpreted as a catalogue of required knowledge. Consult with the chair of your committee for additional suggested reading. The written qualifying examination will normally be administered in the student’s fourth, fifth, or sixth quarters of his/her residence. Following administration of the examination, the faculty will evaluate the student’s performance in each section. Except in unusual circumstances, the chair of the student’s dissertation committee will provide the student with a written evaluation of the examination within 2 weeks and, in all cases, no longer than 6 weeks of finishing the exam. It is expected that all committee members will grade all questions, although a member may skip questions well outside his/her expertise. Each member will assign one of the following grades to each question: Excellent; Satisfactory; Unsatisfactory

If one or more committee members grades a question as Unsatisfactory, it must be rewritten according to feedback from the committee. An Unsatisfactory section may be rewritten once, in the same quarter or the quarter immediately following the receipt of the written evaluation.

Dissertation Proposal

Prior to the student’s oral qualifying examination, the student will prepare a dissertation proposal which describes the dissertation topic, summarizes the relevant background literature, and presents a comprehensive research plan for the student’s doctoral dissertation, including a timetable and budget which identifies any financial support essential to preparation of the dissertation. All members of the student’s Doctoral Committee must approve this proposal. Students should be aware that the first draft of the proposal is unlikely to be accepted as is. Several drafts are usually necessary. Proper and correct use of the English language is required for the proposal.

A list of theses and dissertations is posted at the department’s website at Copies of most theses and dissertations are available for check-out in the department – those that are not available in the department can be found in the Special Collections Department of the main Library. Theses and dissertations are cataloged and searchable in Pegasus, the Library’s online catalog.

Oral Qualifying Examination

Having successfully completed the diagnostic interview and written comprehensive examination, the student’s doctoral committee will conduct an oral qualifying examination, based on a draft proposal for doctoral research. It is expected that the oral exam will take place soon after the written exam, normally within four months following the successful completion of the written exam. Graduate Division regulations require that three consecutive quarters of residence must be completed prior to taking the oral qualifying exam. Thus, the oral exam will normally be taken in the fourth, fifth, or sixth quarters of residence. The general objective of this examination is to ensure that the student has a satisfactory proposal for dissertation research, and that the student possesses the full knowledge and competence required to carry out his or her dissertation research. Upon successful completion of the oral exam, a student who carries out the program of research agreed upon by the committee will be entitled to the Ph.D. degree, assuming the research is carried out with demonstrated quality, is written up satisfactorily for the dissertation, and is defended satisfactorily at the doctoral defense. Thus, the examination will emphasize (but not necessarily be limited to) the systematic and technical areas relevant to the student’s proposed dissertation research and the viability and relevance of the specific elements of that research. Following the examination, the committee members shall vote “Pass” or “Fail” on the student’s level of preparation. A unanimous passing vote is required for advancement to candidacy. This examination is usually open only to voting committee members.

Advancement to Candidacy

A student is advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. after completing all course requirements and residence requirements, passing the written comprehensive and oral qualifying exams, filing Ph.D. Form II, and paying the $50.00 advancement to candidacy fee. Students with Incompletes, NG, or NR grades on their record are ineligible to advance to candidacy until such grades have been removed. Following advancement, the student will normally devote a full-time effort during the academic year to carrying out the research for, and writing of, the doctoral dissertation. Graduate Division regulations require that the student be registered and enrolled continuously during this time.

Students are reminded that they have until the last working day before the next quarter officially begins (as indicated in the Graduate Division calendar) to officially advance to candidacy, including paying the $50.00 advancement fee. After advancing to doctoral candidacy, a student’s class level changes to P2 the next registered quarter, non-resident supplemental tuition is waived for three years (9 academic quarters), if applicable, and additional borrowing privileges are granted at the Davidson Library.

International Students: The non-resident supplemental tuition is reduced by 100% for graduate doctoral students who have advanced to doctoral candidacy, subject to the understanding that (a) a graduate student may receive the reduced nonresident fee rate for a maximum of three continuous years (9 academic quarters), and (b) any such student who continues to be enrolled or who re-enrolls after receiving the reduced fee for three continuous years will be charged the full nonresident tuition that is in effect at

Graduate Council has set a four-year time limit for advancement to Ph.D. candidacy for all graduate students. Any exception to the policy must be requested by the home department on behalf of each graduate student.

Dissertation and Open Defense

Following the completion of doctoral research, each candidate for the Ph.D. degree must present a dissertation demonstrating the ability to contribute significantly and independently to the major field. The candidate’s Doctoral Committee guides the student in this work and judges the merit of the completed dissertation. Approval of this dissertation by each member of the Doctoral Committee is required for the degree (Academic Senate Reg. 355B). After receipt of the final draft of the dissertation, a formal oral defense will be scheduled and announced to the department as a whole. The purpose of the defense will be to clarify segments of the dissertation and/or acquaint the candidate with the nature of any further work that needs to be undertaken prior to approval of the dissertation. The Graduate Division cannot award a degree until a Doctoral Form III is received from the department indicating that the student has successfully defended the dissertation. All approved committee members must sign Form III. These signatures must be the same as the signatures appearing on the approval pages of the dissertation (it’s a good idea to circulate Form III at the same time that the approval pages are circulated for signatures). A public lecture (colloquium) is encouraged to present the results of the doctoral research to the entire University community. The defense may be waived only in unusual circumstances, with the unanimous consent of the candidate’s Doctoral Committee and the Department Chair, using Doctoral Form III-A (Senate Regulation 355C).

Filing your Ph.D. Dissertation

In the quarter when you plan to file your Ph.D. dissertation, you should meet with the Graduate Program Assistant to get advice on the process of completing your degree and to obtain a copy of the current Ph.D. Dissertation Filing Checklist.