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Swenson College of Science and Engineering
Department of Geology at the University of Minnesota Duluth
Home >> Graduate Program in Geological Sciences
Graduate Program in Geological Sciences
General Outline For A Two-Year Graduate Program ↓

First Year

  • Application and admission to graduate school
  • Read UMD general bulletin and information sheet During first week 3. Meet with your advisor, meet the Director of Graduate Studies of 1st semester 4. Initial registration
  • Course work, including Professional Issues
  • Formulate a research project and begin background work necessary to write a thesis proposal; begin writing your thesis research proposal
  • With help form your advisor put together a degree program; file a copy with the DGS for Department Faculty approval, at least 2 weeks before finals week. Make sure that your faculty advisor has signed the form

During 2nd semester

  • If you have not already done so, finalize your thesis examination committee see electronic form
  • Make any necessary changes to your degree program; file a department approved Graduate degree plan form with the Graduate School see electronic form
  • Become a certified candidate for M.S. degree at which time your committee becomes official
  • Continuing course work
  • Complete your thesis research proposal; submit to your advisor, and once approved, to your committee
  • Defend your thesis research proposal in a closed oral exam

Second Year

  • Provide a Thesis Progress Report to your committee
  • More course work
  • Thesis research (field and lab work; Plan A)
  • Thesis writing; communicate with your advisor! (Plan A)
  • Register thesis with Graduate School Office (Plan A)
  • Certification of thesis by Thesis Examining Committee
  • Present thesis research in a public oral presentation
  • Meet with committee for final (closed) exam, immediately following public presentation
  • File completed thesis with Graduate School and Department (Plan A)
  • Graduation
  • If you have not completed your degree by your 4th semester to graduate by August you must register for Grad 999 every semester to remain active
Admission and Orientation ↓

Admission, Degree Programs and Deficiencies

The master of science degree is offered under Plan A (thesis) and Plan B (non-thesis). Courses are selected with approval of the student's adviser and the director of graduate studies. All courses must be at the 4xxx, 5xxx or 8xxx levels. For Plan A, a candidacy exam that involves oral defense of written thesis research proposal during the second semester of residency is required. Plan A requires 31 credits, including (14 course credits in the major, 6 course credits in a minor or related field , a 1 credit course (Geol 8200), and 10 thesis credits (8777). For Plan B, A written candidacy exam during the second semester is required. Plan B requires (31 credits in approved courses, including three Plan B papers. Almost all our students have taken Plan A.

Our graduate degree program is designed to be completed in two years even if students hold graduate assistantships. Such timing necessitates careful course planning from the onset and assumes you have no major academic deficiencies at the time of admission (discussed below).

Generally, Master’s degree candidates are expected to have the equivalent of our B.S. major in geology (see UMD Catalog). Minor undergraduate deficiencies in geology may be made up by taking a course for credit or as an auditor, or by studying the material yourself. This is determined by agreement with your advisor, taking your individual program into consideration.

Major undergraduate deficiencies in geology or deficiencies in the basic science requirements (college chemistry, physics and mathematics through calculus) must be made up by course work, and must be taken for credit. Students with a substantial number of deficiencies will generally require more than two years to complete the M.S. program.

Advisor Selection

Typically students come to UMD with plans to work with a particular faculty member as her/his advisor. If you do not have an advisor in mind, then the DGS serves as your advisor until you determine the direction of your graduate program, and you identify an appropriate advisor during your first semester in residence.

Use your advisor! In addition to seeking his/her advice regarding planning of your program, you should meet with your advisor several times each semester to review your program and your progress. You, not your advisor, should initiate such conferences.

Academic Programs and Candidacy ↓

Thesis Examination Committee (Plan A)

You should settle on a research problem during your first semester in residence (you must do so before the end of your first full year in residence). Once you have determined a research problem, you and your advisor should meet to select a thesis examination committee. The committee consists of at least three (standard) members, including your advisor as chair. Your committee should compliment your thesis research; your committee is meant to be useful! One committee member comes from the related fields or minor area—this person should hold a faculty (or rarely, staff) position outside the Department; they must have graduate faculty status. At least one of your committee members must be a full-time (i.e. not adjunct) Department Faculty member. Your advisor (chair of your thesis committee) can, however, be an adjunct Department Faculty member.

It is up to you to ask a faculty member to serve as your advisor or on your thesis examination committee. You should notify the Director of Graduate Studies in writing as to the personnel requested for your committee.

Bench Marks

There are several benchmarks in work toward the MS degree.

Fall Semester #1: a) pick advisor, research problem, thesis exam committed; b) submit Degree Program Form for Department Faculty approval.

Spring Semester #1: a) Submit a written research proposal to your thesis examination committee two weeks before meeting with your committee and; b) successfully defend your proposal to your thesis examination. c) File your degree program with the graduate school for approval by the Dean of the Graduate School. (You can file your Degree Program Form sooner, but once filed you must petition for change). Once the form is accepted and approved by the graduate school, you officially become a degree candidate for the M.S. degree. Note that both your advisor and the DGS must sign the form before it is submitted to the graduate school.

Summer: This is a great time to really sink you teeth into your thesis research.

Fall Semester #2: a) Write a thesis update that outlines your problem and presents a brief overview of your proposed research, as well as an up-date of current progress;

Spring Semester #2: a) Submit your completed thesis to your advisor and your committee; b) after advisor and committee approval set a date to defend your thesis; c) present public defense of your thesis research; d) file necessary paper work to the graduate school so that you can officially graduate and receive your degree.Steps

to completing your degree, applying to graduate, and submitting your thesis are outlined by the Graduate Student Services office.

It is probably useful to begin writing your thesis proposal during Fall Semester #1 so that you can have a good start on it when various research grant deadline come up—generally in earliest January or February at the latest.

Degree Program Form / Formal Course Program (Degree Program Form)

The purpose of the Graduate degree plan form (download here) is to put together a logical, doable, focused program that moves you toward your goals, an M.S. Degree in Geological Science. All Degree Program Forms must be submitted to the DGS two weeks before the start of finals week during your first semester. Be sure to have your advisor sign the form prior to submitting it to the DGS. The Degree Program Forms are reviewed individually, but collectively, by the entire Department Graduate Faculty at the end of Fall Semester or the beginning of Spring Semester. Any change to your degree program, required for Department approval, is communicated to you by your faculty advisor. You are responsible to make any required changes.

Upon completion of at least half of the coursework required for your specific degree, you must submit the form (the content being previously approved by the Department Faculty), signed by your advisor, to the DGS. The DGS then submits your Graduate degree plan form to Renae Faunce ( for Graduate School review/approval. Upon receiving approval of your program, you officially become a candidate for the M.S. degree. In addition, your thesis examination committee is officially appointed.

Once approved, your academic program and thesis title may be amended, should the necessity arise. You may take any course not listed on your program, but you must take all courses listed. In the event that you need to change your committee members and/or the courses in your program, you must complete and return a petition to the UMD Graduate Office. You are not allowed to defend your thesis research until this is approved. This can take 3 or 4 weeks; the Graduate School on the Twin Cities campus grants final approval.

Oral Defense of the Thesis Proposal

Students pursuing the Master of Science degree in the Department of Geological Sciences are required to write a formal proposal describing their thesis research, and to defend the proposal in an oral exam conducted by their thesis examination committee. The proposal should elucidate the scope, significance, and nature of the proposed research, describe in detail the research methodology, and provide an approximate timeline for completion. A target length for the proposal is ten pages, 1 inch margins, single-spaced 12-point font text, excluding figures, figure captions, and references. The student will meet with his/her committee to clarify details of the proposal structure. Copies of the proposal must be submitted to each committee member a minimum of two weeks prior to the scheduled oral examination. The exam, which is closed to the public, must be completed by the end of spring semester in the student’s first academic year. If a student starts during spring semester the exam must be taken during or before the following fall semester. Possible outcomes of the exam are pass, pass with reservation, and fail. Students failing the exam may be dropped from the graduate program.

Interview for Continuing Students

All continuing students should schedule a meeting with their advisor early in the fall to assess their specific program and progress.

Thesis ↓

As a candidate for the Plan A Master’s degree, you complete a thesis on some aspect of earth or planetary science. Students are responsible to coordinate research activities and summer employment, which can constitute a very real time constraint. We encourage students to seek outside funding sources for research support early in the academic year. As with other issues, talk to your advisor for ideas and possible direction.

Putting a thesis together is costly so be prepared and do not hesitate to consult frequently with your advisor regarding progress on your thesis work. You do not want to suddenly submit a ‘completed’ thesis to your advisor, because he/she might be not accept it. On-going communication is key.

In addition to the written document, your thesis must be presented orally to the Department as a seminar immediately before your formal defense (also known as the Master’s Oral exam). We also encourage you to present your thesis, or part of it, at a professional meeting.

Master's Oral Exam

Once your advisor and committee members have read your thesis and agree that it is ready for defense, you need to set up an oral exam with your advisor and your committee. It is your responsibility to find an appropriate meeting time. The exam consists of an oral presentation of your research work, which is open to the public, and a closed oral exam by committee members, which immediately follows the oral presentation.

These are the steps you need to take when you are ready to take your Master’s oral exam.

  1. After your advisor has read the thesis, and with your advisor’s approval, give the thesis to your committee to read. This must be done at least 2 weeks before the day of your defense. Your committee must agree that the thesis is ready for defense.
  2. The student needs to contact Steve Frickstad at in the Duluth Graduate School Office at least one week prior to the examination to ensure that the forms can be prepared and delivered before the examination date. The student and/or advisor is responsible for bringing the forms to the final examination.
  3. Make sure that the appropriate room is reserved at the right time. Make sure it is large enough to accommodate the faculty and graduate students.
  4. Make sure that you give one week advance notice of the exam to all geology faculty and students. Do this in the form of a flyer or e-mail.
  5. After your oral exam, the reviewers’ report form and the signed examination report form should be given to Laura Chapin. She will make copies for our files and mail forms back to Steve Frickstad.

Preparing the Master's Thesis/Project

Thesis submission:

Thesis Submission is (Electronic) - Students submit a PDF of their thesis (properly formatted and include last name, first name, month/year of graduation in subject line) to; a paper copy of the thesis is no longer needed by the Graduate School. There is no cost associated with this option. Students submitting electronically are required to participate in the University Digital Conservancy (

See this pdf brochure for more detailed information.

In addition, you must submit, on CD, a final, complete copy of your thesis to the Geological Sciences Department.

Contact information If you would like to have your thesis bound on (MS) maroon cover & white letters, PhD black cover & gold letters. Duluth Ruling & Binding Co, 108 N. First Ave. W, Duluth, MN 55802 (218) 722-1048.

Teaching Assistant Evaluations ↓

When you T.A. a lab/class, you are required to have your students do course evaluations at the end of the semester. Ask the professor you are for to explain the procedure to you. Evaluations should be done during your second to last lab, or the second to last week of classes if your course does not have a lab.

Forms ↓
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Last modified on 07/22/14 11:30 AM
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