Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate School Student Handbook

This manual describes the procedures and policies for graduate students in the Department of Geological Sciences as administered by the department's Graduate Committee and individual student advisors. ALL STUDENTS MUST REFER TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL MANUAL of the Graduate School of Binghamton University, for which the present manual is only a supplement.

Director of Graduate Studies
David M. Jenkins
(607) 777-2264

Graduate School Office
134 Couper Administration Building
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY, 13902-6000

  • Scope and Objectives of the Graduate Program in Geological Sciences

    The graduate program in the Department of Geological Sciences offers advanced studies leading to the degrees of Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in a wide variety of fields in the earth sciences. These include: environmental geology; geochemistry; geomicrobiology; geomorphology-quaternary-geology; geophysics; hydrogeology; mineralogy-petrology; stratigraphy-sedimentology-paleobiology; and structural geology-tectonics. Students are encouraged to obtain a broadly based geological background before undertaking specialized research projects. This philosophy emphasizing the breadth of the earth sciences is achieved through graduate course electives.

    Students in the MS program are required to complete a thesis involving significant research in the geological sciences. MAT students with an earth science emphasis also commonly take graduate courses in the department. The PhD degree program provides students with opportunities to pursue advanced studies in the geological sciences and to conduct original research in one of the fields mentioned above. Students need to plan their course programs carefully in consultation with their adviser and the Graduate Committee. Course requirements (see below) should be satisfied early, before beginning full-time work on thesis or dissertation. This is to avoid loss of effort and time in pursuing course work which later might not be approved. Decisions on thesis and dissertation research topics should be made as early as possible to leave ample time for planning and carrying out required research. For example, MS thesis proposals should be submitted by the middle of the second semester of study to facilitate acceptance before full-time research begins in the summer. Drafts of completed work should be submitted early to allow sufficient time for review and for scheduling examinations.

  • Department Policies on Use of Equipment and Facilities

    The facilities and equipment of the department that are used principally for instruction are available also for student research in most cases. Use of facilities and equipment implies acceptance of responsibility for replacement or repair in the event of damage or loss. Specialized research equipment is accessible only with permission from the faculty member or technical staff in charge. Some specific examples are set out below.

    A. Equipment

    With few exceptions, departmental equipment may not be removed from the building, nor transferred from one student to another.

    1. Keys. Students may have one key for their assigned office and one for the outside building door. These must be signed for in the department office or from the building supervisor, and must be returned when a student vacates his/her office space, or when a prolonged absence is anticipated. A refundable fee is assessed at the time of key check-out. Short-term key loans for other facilities are available with permission from the faculty/staff in charge of that facility. Such keys must be signed for and returned when the specific task has been completed.

    2. Computers. Computers are scattered throughout the department. Some are dedicated to specific areas, e.g. analytical equipment, seismology, etc.. Others are available for general analytical, word-processing, and e-mail use in room 262C. Research and e-mail accounts can be established through the department office. The computer PODs in the Computer Center, Science 2, and Science 3 have a large number of micros, terminals, and laser printers for general use. Academic Support in the computer center gives short-courses on the use of micros, word-processing, e-mail, internet access, etc. The Science Library has workstations for Internet access for bibliographic searches and other information retrieval. Binghamton University's GIS Core Facility can provide support for projects requiring use of GIS for spatial analysis of data.

    3. Research facilities. The Department has extensive analytical research facilities. Equipment includes two heating-freezing microscopes with video recording capabilities for fluid inclusion studies; a recirculating flume for experiments in sediment transport; an experimental petrology laboratory with various high-pressure and high-temperature equipment; a paleomagnetism laboratory; a seismology laboratory with computer workstations, a local seismograph station, and shallow seismic exploration equipment; a Dionex ICS-2000 ion chromatograph; two scanning electron microscopes; a DCP-atomic emission spectrometer and a Varian Vista-MPX ICP-optical emission spectrometer for whole-rock and mineral-separate analyses; an ICP-mass spectrometer for trace element analysis; a JEOL-8900 electron microprobe; a Philips automated X-ray diffractometer; GPS surveying equipment; stereoscopes and a zoom transfer scope for study of aerial photographs. Permission to use equipment must be obtained from appropriate faculty and/or technical staff.

    4. Brunton compasses. The Department has a small number of Bruntons to support field courses. These may be borrowed for limited periods, provided they are returned at a predetermined date, in good condition. Since Bruntons are basic tools for geologists, students should obtain their own for extended summer thesis/dissertation work. Arrangements for short-term loans only can be made with the department secretary.

    5. Microscopes. Student microscopes, stored in Room 254, may be used there but not borrowed or removed. Research microscopes are available elsewhere; make inquiries with the appropriate faculty supervisor.

    6. Thin-section supplies. Because of the difficulty for students in securing thin-section supplies, these are normally provided by the department. Faculty will provide such supplies through research grants where large quantities are involved. Supplies and instruction in their use will be provided by staff in charge of the thin-section/rock preparation laboratory.

    7. Department vehicles. These are intended for field trips in instructional support. Students may obtain limited short-term use of vans on a stand-by basis, always with the understanding that instructional needs come first, sometimes on short notice. Department vehicles may not be used for personal purposes. Department vehicles may only be driven by students with a valid N.Y. State driving license and holding research or teaching assistantships.

    8. Other. Other items of research and instructional equipment occasionally can be loaned, with approval by and with supervision of the faculty or staff in charge.

    B. Facilities

    1. Laboratory. Students may use thin-section laboratory, polished-section and impregnating laboratory, SEM laboratory, microprobe laboratory, and other facilities with approval of faculty/staff in charge, provided that instruction in the use of equipment has been obtained previously. Photomicroscopy facilities and aerial photograph interpretation facilities are available; inquire with your faculty supervisor.

    CAUTION: By using equipment, students accept responsibility for the care and safety of its use. Some equipment is potentially hazardous and all safety regulations must be strictly followed. Any equipment not operating normally must be reported immediately. Students using equipment in evening or weekend hours must adhere to a 'buddy' system in which they notify fellow students of their intent to use any potentially hazardous equipment. It is advisable to keep the machine shop door open when in use to permit easy exit in the case of injury.  Failure to clean up one's mess, and/or gross negligence in use of equipment will result in revocation of privilege of use.

    2. Short-term storage of current research materials. Rock samples, thin-sections, fossils, and other working materials in current use may be stored only temporarily in the various laboratories according to the availability of space. Do not clutter working areas with storage items. Periodic clearings may result in materials being discarded unless clearly marked and properly shelved.

    C. Technical and Secretarial Services

    The Department does not provide drafting, photography, typing, etc. for student class work, research, theses, dissertations, etc.. Students requiring such work in support of their teaching responsibilities must submit requests through their supervisors. The Department has facilities for students to perform their own drafting, typing, photographic, thin-section, etc. work. Technical staff include a photographer, thin-section technician, electronics technician, and an analytical instruments technician.

  • Academic Policies

    A. Registration And Related University Requirements

    Consult the Graduate School Manual or the Graduate School when in doubt about these requirements.

    1. General requirement. The department requires that all full-time PhD students complete a minimum of 33 course credits and the general oral examination by the end of the third semester.  This includes at least 6 formal 4-credit graduate courses.  In so doing, each student also must satisfy the University residence requirement and the Department breadth requirement.  Typically PhD students register for 12 credits each in the first two semesters and 9 credits in the third semester when they would arrange to take the general oral examination.  After this, students would register for one credit of GEOL 698 until they defend their PhD dissertation proposal.

    2. Continuous registration. Graduate students may wish or need to absent themselves from campus. To satisfy the continuous registration requirement, such off-campus students must notify the Graduate School of their intent to continue in the program. This is generally done by registering for Continuous Registration (GEOL 700). Note that during the semester of completion of all degree requirements, all students must register for 1 credit-hour of Continuous Registration or Thesis.

    3. Residence requirement. All graduate students must be in residence for at least two semesters and must accumulate a minimum of 24 credit hours of course work to qualify for any graduate degree. For doctoral students, the 24 credit hours residence requirement must be accumulated before candidacy can be granted. Credit hours earned as College Teaching of the Discipline (591), Thesis (599), Pre-dissertation Research (698), and Dissertation (699) do not count towards this university requirement. Doctoral students entering with the MS degree from Binghamton University have already completed this requirement.

    B. Course and Grade Requirements

    1. The mandated course load of the first-year MS student is 12 credit hours per semester. For all other students with tuition scholarships, the required course load is 9 credits per semester. However, current practice is that a student who has completed all course requirements for the degree and is working full-time on a master's thesis (Course Complete, or CC) or PhD dissertation (All But Dissertation, or ABD) may register for 1 credit per semester, subject to approval by the adviser and Graduate Director. These students are considered full-time by the University once they have filed the appropriate full-time equivalency form with the Graduate School. Students wishing to take more credits may petition through the Graduate Committee, with an explanation of their needs, but additional financial assistance is subject to the availability of tuition scholarship funds.

    2. Transfer credits. Students may petition the Graduate School through the Graduate Committee for transfer credit for graduate courses taken elsewhere. Up to 6 credit-hours of transfer credit may be approved for the MS student. Transfer credits are not normally accepted for doctoral students. The petition for transfer credit should be drawn up in consultation with the adviser and according to the restrictions and regulations described in the Graduate School Manual. Please note that transfer credits, among other things, may not be used to satisfy the residence requirement.

    3. Grade Requirements. A cumulative minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) is required in graduate courses. The GPA is obtained by dividing qualified graduate grade points by the corresponding total credit hours. Excluded from the calculation are research credits and courses taken under non-standard grading options (e.g., audit, S/U, P/NP). This information can readily be accessed through the This information can readily be accessed through the university's BU Brain Self Service website.

    4. Graduate credit for undergraduate courses. Students may petition the Graduate Vice Provost for graduate credit for up to two high-level undergraduate (400 level) courses. Petitions may be granted if: a) the course is required by the Graduate Committee to overcome deficiencies and/or augment a student's background in a specialization in which no appropriate graduate course is offered; and b) the work completed by the student is at a level substantially higher than for undergraduates enrolled in the course, with a supporting statement from the instructor.

    5. Incompletes. The University requires that Incompletes must be made up by the end of the following semester. Incompletes not made up will be given final grades of WF (withdrew, failing).

    6. Matriculation from Non-Matriculated status. Non-matriculated students may apply for matriculation into the graduate program. If admission is granted, up to a maximum of 12 course credits may be applied toward the degree requirements pending the approval of the Graduate Committee.

    C. Status in Program

    1. Provisional status. Well-qualified students may be accepted into the graduate program on a provisional basis if deficiencies exist in their undergraduate record. Deficiencies are specified by the Graduate Committee, which also recommends courses and deadlines to remedy deficiencies. Deficiencies are normally satisfied during the first year of graduate work. Upon fulfilling the recommendations of the Graduate Committee to make up the deficiencies, the provisional status is removed and the student is admitted on a regular basis. During the provisional period, the student must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better, or he/she will be dropped from the program.

    2. Probationary status. Students acquire probationary status automatically when the cumulative GPA falls below 3.0 (B). Students on probation must show significant improvement in the next semester following -- i.e., obtain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or better -- or they will be dropped from the program.

    3. Leave of absence. A leave of absence is allowed only in cases of severe personal hardship, and requires justification. Leaves of absence may be requested from the Graduate Office only in advance of the beginning of the semester, preferably at least one month prior. Up to one year of leave may be granted. The period of leave of absence is counted against time limits for completion of degree requirements. Leave of absence is not granted for temporary absences for research purposes. Such periods must be covered by registering for at least one credit of continuous registration. Students who complete all course requirements and leave the University to complete thesis/dissertation research must also register for continuous registration (see above).

    4. Withdrawal.

    a) Withdrawal from courses. Students who find for reasons of personal urgency that they must leave in mid-semester must formally withdraw from the courses for which they have registered. Such withdrawals are initiated at the office of the Registrar. If a student who withdraws intends to return at a later date, he/she may petition for leave/inactive status for the next semester(s).

    b) Withdrawal from program. Lack of satisfactory progress towards the degree at any time may result in a recommendation for termination from the program. Failing to maintain continuous registration will result in automatic withdrawal from the program. To resume the graduate program, the individual must reapply for admission. Students on probation for academic reasons who fail to show significant improvement will be dropped permanently from the program.

    c) Five-year rule. The Graduate School requires graduate degree candidates to complete all graduation requirements within 5 years of admission to the Graduate School for master's students, or within 5 years of admission to candidacy for PhD students.

    5. Transfer from MS to PhD program. Students may petition the Graduate Committee to be advanced from the MS to the PhD program. Only exceptional students will be allowed to do so directly. In most cases, the student will be required to complete all MS requirements including a thesis before being admitted to the PhD program. The MS thesis is viewed by the Department as important in evaluating a student's ability to perform independent research for the PhD dissertation. The petition to the Graduate Committee must provide an explanation of the intended program; a letter of recommendation and evaluation by the student's MS adviser is also required. Satisfactory completion of an MS program does not guarantee admission into the PhD program. Admission is on a competitive basis with other PhD applicants.

    D. Assistantships And Fellowships

    1. Appointments and renewals. All enrolled students not holding assistantships are eligible for support as funds become available; students wishing to be considered for support should file a formal request with the Department chairman or the chair of the Graduate Committee. Qualified recipients are assigned teaching, research, or administrative tasks as required by the faculty supervisors; these may include supervising and grading laboratory exercises and examinations in undergraduate classes, delivering occasional lectures for faculty attending meetings, helping in the Department office, assisting with organizing Department map and other collections. Students should make clear to the department chairman their intent to continue as full-time students so that their eligibility status for support is known. Neither funding nor renewal is automatic. Other sources of funding, in addition to teaching and graduate assistantships (state-supported) and research assistantships (grant-supported) include University fellowships and other assistantship positions around the campus (such as at the Graduate School office, Overseas Studies office, Library, etc.). Students on assistantships must abide by the Terms and Conditions statement signed at the time of acceptance of the appointment.

    Initial awards of assistantships are competitive and are based on academic performance, letters of recommendation, scores on standardized tests, and needs of the Department. Renewal of awards for subsequent years is contingent on demonstrated performance, both in terms of course work and previous assistantship record, if any. Assistants are evaluated in writing by their supervisors at the end of each semester. Continuation of an award depends on supervisor evaluations, length of funding eligibility, and availability of funds. Full-time assistantships require 20 hrs/week on the average, with some workloads fluctuating seasonally, as with field trips, etc., and depending on the nature of the assignment. Students are notified of their assignment at or before the start of the semester or as soon as possible thereafter (the final assignment may change from the initial assignment due to class enrollments and schedule conflicts, for example).

    2. Graduate student union. Students supported by State-funded assistantships (T.A. and G.A. positions) are represented by a bargaining unit, the Graduate Student Employees Union. The terms of the Agreement between the GSEU and the University govern elements of salary, benefits, and working conditions.

    3. Funding durations. Funding durations. MS students in Geological Sciences can be funded for up to two years (4 semesters). Funding for the full time depends on maintaining satisfactory progress toward the degree, as defined in this handbook, and is contingent on the availability of funds. PhD students in Geological Sciences can be funded for up to four years (8 semesters) beyond their MA/MS degree. PhD students entering with the BA/BS degree and proceeding directly into the PhD program may be funded up to four years (8 semesters) on state funds (i.e. as TA/GA appointments) and up to an additional two years (4 semesters) if funded through the Research Foundation or other non-Graduate-School
    funding sources. The maximum funding duration for a PhD student entering with a BA/BS degree is 12 semesters.  Funding for the full time depends on maintaining satisfactory progress toward the degree, as defined in this handbook, and is contingent on the availability of funds.

    4. New York drivers license. Each teaching or graduate assistant must obtain a N.Y. State driver's license within 3 weeks of the beginning of the term if at all possible. A N.Y.S. drivers license is required of assistants on departmental field-trips, as for any driver of New York State vehicles. Note: N.Y. State insurance (N.Y. State is self-insured) may not cover drivers lacking N.Y.S. drivers license.

    5. Tuition scholarship. A tuition scholarship usually accompanies assistantship awards. The usual support is 12 credits for first-year MS students or first-year PhD students entering from another institution and 9 credits or the minimum credits necessary for all others; however, the level of the scholarship is dependent on availability of funding.

  • Advising
    MS and PhD students are assigned an initial academic adviser immediately upon entering the program. The Graduate Committee assigns this adviser based on information in the student's application, the indicated intentions of the student, or the likely area of research specialization. Students should consult with this adviser regularly for advice relating to their intended program. The assignment of an initial adviser is not intended to imply that a student must select that adviser as the research director. In fact, graduate students are encouraged, indeed urged, to seek the advice of numerous faculty members on academic and research issues. The initial adviser will be replaced by the MS thesis or PhD comprehensive examination committee upon approval of the MS thesis proposal or PhD examination committee, respectively (see below).
  • Department Grievance Procedures
    Grievances regarding grading or discriminatory treatment in a specific course or by a specific instructor should be directed to the Department chair. In general, grievances are initially referred to a Department grievance committee. In the event of significant disagreements regarding thesis/dissertation between a student and the adviser or advisors, it is recommended that the student request a meeting with the thesis or dissertation committee to resolve the matter. If the outcome proves unsatisfactory, the student might then request a meeting with the Graduate Committee, which will review the matter. The committee may make its decision known immediately or may pursue the matter in depth, interviewing the principals, as the situation demands. Grievances that cannot be resolved at the department level may be brought to the Grievance Committee of the Graduate Council as described in the Graduate School Manual. 
  • Additional Department Requirements

    Breadth Requirement

    The Department recognizes that graduate students need to achieve a broad perspective in the Geological Sciences in order that they not be too limited to one specialty. This is a department objective in addition to the usual graduate objective of developing a professional specialization. Both MS and PhD students are expected to demonstrate their breadth of knowledge in the geological sciences. This is normally done by coursework, here at Binghamton or at another institution. Specific application of this requirement is as follows:

    1. All students must complete at least 24 credit hours of courses at Binghamton. This usually involves six (6) four-credit or equivalent courses in the Geological Sciences. Geol. 597 (Independent Study) and courses from other departments may be counted toward this requirement only if recommended by the student's adviser and approved in advance by the Graduate Committee. An average of B or better must be maintained, and only grades higher than C can be counted, in these six courses.

    2. The program of courses will be established through consultation with the student's adviser and approved by the Graduate Committee. The student will meet with his/her adviser to develop a proposed course program. The exact makeup of the course program should be based on the student's prior background and the training necessary for the student's planned program. However, in each case a student is expected to demonstrate advanced knowledge in at least three of the areas that define the breadth of the geological sciences (e.g., petrology/geochemistry, surficial geology/sedimentology/geobiology, and structure/tectonics/geophysics.  Students will meet periodically with the Graduate Committee and/or their academic progress will be reviewed by the Committee to be certain that an appropriate level of breadth is maintained.

  • MS Degree Program and Requirements

    In addition to the Graduate School's residence and course-credit-hours requirements, there are specific MS requirements of the Department of Geological Sciences. These include the course requirement and the thesis requirement.

    A. General course requirements
    The department requires that all full-time PhD students complete a minimum of 33 course credits and the general oral examination by the end of the third semester.  This includes at least 6 formal 4-credit graduate courses.  In so doing, each student also must satisfy the University residence requirement and the Department breadth requirement.  Typically PhD students register for 12 credits each in the first two semesters and 9 credits in the third semester when they would arrange to take the general oral examination.  After this, students would register for one credit of GEOL 698 until they defend their PhD dissertation proposal.

    B. Thesis requirements
    MS students in Geological Sciences are required to complete a thesis involving independent research in their chosen area of specialization. Associated with this is the requirement to register for no less than 6 credits of Thesis Research (Geol. 599). A final public defense and oral examination is required on the thesis. The MS thesis is intended to demonstrate the capacity for independent work of high quality.

    1. Submittal of MS thesis proposal. Early upon entering the program, the MS student should discuss thesis possibilities with potential faculty advisers having specializations related to the student's area of interest. After deciding upon a topic, the student, in consultation with the adviser, prepares a thesis proposal during the second semester, or earlier if possible. The student should discuss this proposal with two other faculty members in the department and obtain their consent to serve on the thesis committee. Two copies of the thesis proposal with the signatures of the adviser and two additional faculty who have agreed to serve on the thesis committee should be submitted to the Graduate Committee for approval. Generally the proposal is about 5 pages in length (see below). The Graduate Committee must approve both proposal and committee early in their research program.
    2. Scheduling. MS thesis work generally occupies the summer months full time and academic months part time. To obtain approval to begin research during the first summer following entry into the program, the MS thesis proposal must be submitted no later than 6 weeks before the end of the second semester (approximately March 15). This allows time for review, revision and resubmittal if necessary. Similarly, students contemplating graduation should submit the final thesis draft no later than 6 weeks before the end of the semester in which graduation is desired (approx. November 1 or March 15). Adherence to these deadlines allows time for reading, examination, revision, and submittal of the thesis and completion of all paperwork before the semester's degree completion deadline.
    3. MS thesis proposal. The proposal, of five pages or less, double spaced, should include:
      • a statement of the objectives
      • a description of the relevance and significance
      • general background on methods, previous work, etc.
      • a time-table of the intended work plan
      • short bibliography
      • adviser's signature of approval and date, plus signatures of two additional departmental faculty who have agreed to serve on the committee
    4. MS thesis defense. The defense draft of the thesis, complete in all respects, should be as near to final draft form as possible with respect to figures, tables, bibliography, abstract, index, pagination, grammar, etc. One copy should be supplied for each examiner. Early drafts should be reviewed by the adviser and by other committee members to improve as much as possible the style and content. In order for a student to defend an MS thesis, all members of the thesis committee must agree that the thesis is ready for defense. Obviously, that means that they need a chance to read it. The committee members should be given at least two weeks to read the thesis before a thesis defense can be scheduled. The oral examination can be scheduled only after all committee members have read the thesis and approved that it is ready for defense. Because the oral examination is a public presentation and defense, and because most students and faculty are absent during the summer period, oral exams should not normally be scheduled during semester holidays, recesses, or during summer periods when most faculty and students are absent. The conditions for exceptions to this rule are described in the last section of this handbook. The adviser with consent of the advisory committee will arrange a time and place for the oral examination and distribute announcements to faculty and students through the department at least one week in advance of the defense. The student is allowed 20 to 30 minutes to present the results of the investigation. Examiners then question the student on the thesis and related topics. The adviser communicates the results of the exam to the Graduate Committee indicating pass with no revision, pass with minor revision, pass with major revision, or fail, with no recommendation for revision.
    5. MS Thesis Final Copies. Final copies are submitted to the Graduate School in electronic form and to the department as a bound paper copy. Guidelines on the preparation of final drafts of MS theses are available from the Graduate School Manual and procedures for submitting an electronic thesis or dissertation (Graduate School's ETD Procedures). Consult the Graduate School Manual for important information relating to University requirements for graduation. Students must provide a bound copy of the thesis to the department and may also wish to provide the thesis adviser with a bound final copy of the thesis. NOTE: STUDENTS ALONE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SUBMITTING REQUIRED THESIS COPIES AND PAPERWORK TO THE APPROPRIATE OFFICE, AND FOR MEETING ALL OTHER GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS AND DEADLINES.
    6. Final Disposition of Research Materials.  Masters students are required to leave a suitably labeled set of representative specimens from any collections made during the thesis research, together with copies of maps and other relevant materials, for permanent reference in the department. Materials acquired through departmental or grant support must be left with the adviser unless other arrangements are made.
  • PhD Degree Program and Requirements

    The Department of Geological Sciences' requirements for the PhD degree include the general course requirements, breadth requirement, the comprehensive examination, the research skills-language requirement, and the PhD dissertation.

    A. General Course Requirements

    The department requires that all full-time PhD students complete a minimum of 33 course credits and the general oral examination by the end of the third semester.  This includes at least 6 formal 4-credit graduate courses.  In so doing, each student also must satisfy the University residence requirement and the Department breadth requirement.  Typically PhD students register for 12 credits each in the first two semesters and 9 credits in the third semester when they would arrange to take the general oral examination.  After this, students would register for one credit of GEOL 698 until they defend their PhD dissertation proposal.

    B. Breadth Requirement

    To satisfy the departmental breadth requirement, PhD students should demonstrate advanced knowledge that spans three different subfields of the Geological Sciences, including petrology/geochemistry, surficial geology/sedimentology/geobiology, and structure/tectonics/geophysics).  PhD students may use graduate level courses taken in another department at this University or courses taken at another University in partial fulfillment of this requirement. Such use of courses outside the Department must include a detailed course outline, a statement of the grade and credits obtained, a declaration that the course was taken for graduate credit, and relevant supportive material such as copies of the syllabus or catalog description, name of textbook used or assigned reading list, and summary of lab topics (if a lab course).

    C. Comprehensive Examination

    The comprehensive examination is designed to assess the ability of a PhD student to define and develop a research problem using scientific methodology and to assess the breadth of the student's knowledge in various subdisciplines in the geological sciences relevant to the student's research goals. Thus, the examination is administered in two parts: 1) a general oral examination; and 2) an oral defense of a PhD proposal. Discussion of the comprehensive examination and possible PhD topics with advisors, other faculty, and other students is encouraged.

    1. Time Schedule. Students must take the general oral portion of the comprehensive examination before the middle of their third semester, although they are encouraged to take the examination earlier. The oral defense of the PhD proposal must be completed by the middle of the fourth semester. The two portions of the examination are given separately (i.e., not in the same day).

    2. General Oral Examination. The general oral examination comprises up to 3 hours of questions from a committee of 4 faculty members of the Department of Geological Sciences and is open to other faculty. These four members include the dissertation advisor and one faculty member in each of three breadth areas. An additional faculty member from outside the department may be invited to serve on the committee. The student, in consultation with her/his adviser, should submit a list of proposed examiners to the Graduate Committee no later than three weeks prior to the examination date. The proposed committee should reflect the breadth of the Geological Sciences; thus, the specializations of the faculty should not concentrate in one or two subdisciplines. Commonly this is best achieved by recommending a committee representative of the areas of academic work that the student has used to satisfy the breadth requirement. The examining committee is then appointed by the Graduate Committee. The student's adviser is responsible for arranging a time and place for the exam and informing other faculty with several days' notice.

    The objective of the general oral examination is to assess the breadth and depth of a student's professional knowledge. In general, this involves questioning that reflects the breadth of the student's course work, disciplines that are relevant to the student's academic and research interest, and the emphases of the examining faculty.

    The student's adviser is the chair of the examination committee. Each faculty member is allotted approximately a half hour for questions, although the exact format of the examination is at the discretion of the examining committee. Upon completion of the examination, the examining committee votes on the results of the exam. A majority vote of the committee determines one of the following results: PASS; CONDITIONAL PASS, with the requirement that the student complete specified remedial work prior to defense of the PhD proposal; FAIL, with the opportunity to RETAKE the general examination before the end of the semester; or FAIL, with termination of the student's program. A second failure requires termination of the student's program. The committee immediately advises the student of its decision, and the adviser notifies the Graduate Committee in writing of the result of the examination.

    3. Oral Defense of PhD Proposal. The second portion of the comprehensive examination comprises an oral defense of a dissertation proposal. The student should commence investigation of possible dissertation research topics as soon as possible upon entry into the PhD program. There are two steps in the examination process.

    a. The student, in consultation with the advisor, recommend to the Graduate Committee three other faculty members to constitute the examining committee of four faculty members. The student prepares a detailed dissertation proposal and submits written copies to the members of the examining committee. The members of the committee are responsible for reading the proposal, critically commenting upon the proposal, and returning it to the student in a timely fashion if revision is necessary. When the proposal is in defensible form, an oral defense is scheduled. Note that this process commonly requires several weeks.

    b. The student prepares a detailed dissertation proposal and submits written copies to the members of the examining committee. The members of the committee are responsible for reading the proposal, critically commenting upon the proposal, and returning it to the student in a timely fashion if revision is necessary. When the proposal is in defensible form, an oral defense is scheduled. Note that this process commonly requires several weeks.

    Format of Proposal. The proposal attempts to demonstrate two related aspects of dissertation research: (a) that the student has developed the ability to define a scientific problem on which research can be completed for a PhD; and (b) that the student knows how to proceed with that problem. Six important elements need to be included.

    1) Summarize the essence of the proposed research in a brief abstract.

    2) Define the PhD research as a scientific problem of importance in a field of the earth sciences. Discuss and justify this importance.

    3) Summarize the current state of knowledge about the problem. This involves a thorough review of relevant scientific literature.

    4) Present a detailed outline of the research plan, describing the scope and procedures to be employed in the dissertation research. Justify how the research program will yield insight into the scientific problem. Include a proposed timetable.

    5) Demonstrate the feasibility of the dissertation project. As with any scientific proposal, it is desirable that some preliminary feasibility work be conducted. Thus, the proposal may offer some preliminary research results involving, for example, an application of proposed laboratory or modeling techniques, reconnaissance field investigations to demonstrate familiarity with the proposed study area, or any other appropriate preliminary research.

    6) Cite appropriate literature and provide a reference list.

    The proposal should be more than simply a list of proposed research techniques, although this is a necessary part of the document. Rather, the proposal must stress the significance of the scientific problem. The proposal must follow standard scientific journal format, such as that of the Geological Society of America Bulletin or the Journal of Geophysical Research. Total length, excluding figures and tables, should not exceed 15 pages. Figures must be carefully prepared and/or reproduced, legible, and fully attributed if copied or modified from other sources.

    c. The oral defense of the PhD proposal comprises up to 2 hours of presentation and questioning and is open to all faculty. The student's adviser, who will chair the examination, is responsible for arranging a time and place for the exam and informing other faculty with several days notice. The examination itself begins with a 15- to 20-minute summary of the proposed research by the student. This is followed by questions from the committee, and the committee may invite questions from other faculty attending the examination. In contrast to the general exam, the questions here are aimed at assessing the student's specific background to undertake the proposed research. A majority vote of the committee determines PASS or FAIL. A student who fails has 6 school weeks to retake the defense, and a second failure results in termination from the program. The successfully defended proposal is submitted to the Graduate Committee as the dissertation prospectus.

    D. Research Skills-Language Requirement

    PhD students in Geological Sciences must satisfy a research skills requirement. The specific scope of the requirement is set by the general oral examination committee. It may involve translating one or more technical papers from a foreign language into English in order to demonstrate the student's ability to utilize literature in another language. The committee may also identify other research skills that are essential for the student to master. A student may petition the Graduate Committee to substitute some other research skill for a language requirement upon recommendation of the guidance committee. The research skills-language requirement must be completed before admission to candidacy, within one semester of completion of the comprehensive examination in order for the student to maintain satisfactory progress in the program.

    E. Candidacy

    Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examination and the research skills-language requirement, the student is admitted into candidacy for the PhD degree. Full-time research on the PhD dissertation may begin only after admission to candidacy, although considerable background work and preliminary research should be completed prior to this time. PhD research normally takes no less than one year and typically requires two or more years. The dissertation committee should be consulted regularly during the course of the dissertation research. Dissertation research and the PhD dissertation must be complete within five years of admission to candidacy (University Five-year rule). Note that full-time assistantship/fellowship support may be limited by the department or University to a period less than that required for completion of the dissertation.

    Identification of an External Committee Member at the time of admission to candidacy is highly recommended. Guidelines for identifying a suitable External Committee Member are described in the following section.

    F. PhD Dissertation Defense

    The PhD dissertation is defended in a public forum. The Department has the following guidelines in preparing the dissertation for defense.

    1. Dissertation Format. The PhD dissertation should report the results of a coherent, scientifically significant research program and demonstrate the candidate's ability to conceive, carry forward, and complete such a program. The actual dissertation manuscript must follow guidelines issued by the Graduate Office regarding page size, quality of paper, etc.. The format for the body of the dissertation can be a traditional dissertation, with chapters progressively developing the theme and substance of the dissertation research. However, PhD students in the Geological Sciences may organize their dissertation into publishable chapters (or chapters ready for publication) linked by an introduction to the overall research problem and an overall conclusion. Thus the dissertation might consist of units, each with its own abstract and bibliography, and might consist of the typescript of manuscripts that have been submitted for publication, or even that have been published. For the purpose of the defense draft of the dissertation, the candidate is the sole author and must stand ready to defend all work included in the defense draft. Authorship decisions pertaining to publication of such units are left to the author or authors of the work.

    2. External Committee Member.  The Dean of the Graduate School, upon recommendation from the department, adds an outside examiner to the examination committee as the representative of the faculty of the Graduate School. The outside examiner is either a Binghamton faculty member from a related area outside the student's major program, department or division or someone from a related discipline outside the University. Normally, the outside examiner will have no involvement in the supervision of the student's dissertation. The outside examiner reads the dissertation and participates fully as a dissertation-examining committee member during the dissertation defense.  The outside examiner's function on the examination committee is to render an independent judgment and to assure that the dissertation satisfies Graduate School standards. An outside examiner is intended to serve the Graduate School and, therefore, must have substantial experience evaluating the scholarship/research of doctoral students (e.g., by being part of a graduate program, on graduate committees, supervising graduate research). There must not be any conflict-of-interest between the outside examiner and the student or faculty. For example, the outside examiner cannot be a friend, relative or a former advisor of the candidate. The outside examiner cannot be a collaborator or co-author with the candidate or faculty advisor. Also, the outside examiner cannot be a faculty member in another department with a joint appointment or joint title in the student's graduate program, since that would be a conflict-of-interest.

    The outside examiner must be present for the examination. Part of the job of the outside examiner is to observe the defense process, the rigor of questions, how well the student handles questions, whether the defense seemed fair, etc.  The outside examiner reports to the Dean of The Graduate School any unusual problems prior to, during, or following the conduct of the dissertation defense.  Report of any irregularities in the defense must be submitted within three business days of the defense date.

    If the nominee is from another institution, the PhD candidate and/or advisor should provide the name and academic credentials, including curriculum vita, to the Graduate Director who, in turn, forwards this information to the Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs at the Graduate School to be evaluated. The Graduate Director should also include a brief statement that explains the relevance of the nominee to the student's dissertation research. The Dean then invites the nominee or another faculty member to serve as outside examiner. The nomination should be submitted to the Graduate School at least one month before the defense.

    3. Dissertation Defense Draft. The dissertation draft intended for defense must be complete in all respects and must be reviewed and approved by each member of the dissertation committee before the final oral examination can be scheduled. Thus, all tables, figures, references, index, abstract, pagination, etc. must be complete when the defense draft is submitted; the dissertation should already have benefited from review by the adviser and other interested faculty (including, but not necessarily limited to, the dissertation committee). There must be unanimous approval by the dissertation committee that the draft is defensible before the exam can proceed. Typically, an initial draft must begin circulating to the dissertation committee two months before the planned defense in order to supply adequate time for review and revision. At this point, a copy of the approved defense draft must be placed on file in the Department office at least two weeks prior to the defense date so that other interested faculty can read the dissertation before its defense. Any failure to meet this deadline REQUIRES automatic postponement of the defense, with a new defense date scheduled for two weeks after the defense draft is submitted to the Department office. Furthermore, the Graduate Office requires a month's notice to schedule the final oral examination. After the Graduate Office is notified, the Graduate Vice-Provost assigns an external examiner from another department or institution. The student and her/his adviser may recommend who this external examiner should be. The student must provide this examiner with a copy of the defense draft at least two weeks before the scheduled examination date. Consult the Graduate School Manual for further details. Note that students intending to complete the PhD in May should submit defense drafts no later than mid-semester (Oct. 15 or March 15).

    4. Final Oral Examination. Final oral PhD exams are public events, open to all faculty, students, and any person wishing to attend. After appointment of the external examiner, the final oral exam (dissertation defense) should be scheduled and publicized with adequate notice. Final oral exams should not normally be scheduled during semester holidays, recesses, or during summer periods when most faculty and students are absent.  In case of hardship, exceptions to this latter rule can be made by unanimous vote of the PhD committee and approval of the Graduate Committee.

    The final PhD exam is chaired by the principal adviser, and the examination committee normally is the dissertation advisory committee plus the outside examiner. Any substitutions must be approved by the Graduate Committee at the time of request for scheduling the final exam.

    The examination may take several hours. It begins with a summary by the student of the dissertation results, generally for no more than 45 minutes. The examination committee questions the candidate about the dissertation results. In addition, the chair of the defense may solicit questions from the audience.

    At the conclusion of the exam, the chair requests all but the examination committee to leave the room so that the members may reach a decision. The committee votes on the results of the examination; a unanimous vote of the dissertation committee is required. The results can be PASS, PASS with MAJOR or MINOR revisions, or FAIL (with or without recommendation for termination). In the event of a qualified acceptance of the dissertation, the adviser must notify the Graduate Vice-Provost in writing. All results are given to the Graduate Committee in writing.

    Students are responsible for submitting all final copies of the dissertation and for meeting all other Graduate Office deadlines. Consult the Graduate School Manual for details and the Graduate Office for deadlines, which vary from year to year. The student should provide a bound copy of the dissertation to the principal adviser and other committee members who request one.

    5. Final Disposition of Research Materials. Doctoral students are required to leave a suitably labeled set of representative specimens from any collections made during the dissertation research, together with copies of maps and other relevant materials, for permanent reference in the department. Materials acquired through departmental or grant support must be left with the adviser unless other arrangements are made.

  • Scheduling of Oral Examinations During Summer
    Defenses of MS theses and PhD dissertations or proposals are public events and, as such, are not normally scheduled during the summer. Only by unanimous consent of the examination committee and approval of the Graduate Committee are oral exams to be scheduled during the summer. If a student intends to submit the completed MS thesis or PhD dissertation during the summer terms, he/she must be enrolled for at least one credit of Thesis, Dissertation, or Continuous registration in the appropriate summer session.