Ph.D. Requirements

The doctorate is a specialized, research-oriented degree for both academic and professional careers. Individualized programs of study are developed under the direction of your advisor and other appropriate members of the faculty who overlap with topical and regional research interests.


The information on the Ph.D. requirements is taken from sections 3 of the Geography Graduate Program Handbook. See the Geography Graduate Program Handbook for full details and updated information. 

Overall Requirements

The Graduate College imposes general requirements to be met by all doctoral students at the University of Arizona.  These requirements include rules about residency and coursework minima in the major and minor fields; filing the plan of study; comprehensive exams in both major and minor fields; preparation of the dissertation; and the final exam. Students are responsible for learning these requirements and consulting the Graduate College website (section 3)


Doctoral students in Geography must already have a master’s degree, whether from our own program or from a different program or university. Ph.D. students must meet all requirements for the master’s degree in geography (i.e., 33 credits, including a maximum of nine units of thesis, internship, and/or independent studies).

In addition, a minimum of 18 units of coursework in geography and related programs at the University of Arizona (not including the dissertation or the minor), and at least 12 of these units must be in courses or seminars exclusive to graduate students.

Additional coursework may be necessary to ensure proficiency in specific areas. Graduate credits earned for a master's degree count towards the Graduate College requirement of 36 graduate credits in the Ph.D. major field. In addition, you are expected to attend the weekly Colloquium whenever possible, whether or not they are formally registered for GEOG 695A (one credit, which is not graded and does not count towards degree requirements).

The Ph.D. degree must be completed within five years of passing the comprehensive examination. If this deadline is not met, the School may allow the student to retake the comprehensive exam in order to regain eligibility to finish the dissertation.


Doctoral students must achieve a high level of competence in at least two fields of specialization. These fields are identified and described by the student in discussions with his/her advisor and advisory committee, as part of planning for the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam (sections 3.8, 3.9). A student’s fields may include, for example, topical, theoretical, methodological, and/or area studies expertise, as approved by the advisor and committee. (section 3.2)

Foreign Language

A doctoral student who proposes to undertake research in or on a non-English speaking context is required to demonstrate the necessary language skills before taking the comprehensive exam. A language test will normally be arranged by the student's advisor and be approved by the student's advisory committee. (section 3.3)

Research Methods

Proficiency in at least one scholarly research method is required for the Ph.D. degree. Normally this proficiency will be acquired and demonstrated through successfully completing specialized methods classes, six (6) credits of which count as part of the Core (section 1.1.1).  The appropriate mix and sequence of courses must be approved by the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. (section 3.4)

The Minor Program

The University of Arizona requires all Ph.D. students to have a Ph.D. minor as well as a major. Doctoral students in Geography are strongly encouraged to minor in another department or program on campus. The minor should be complementary to your chosen specializations and is subject to approval by your advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. In special circumstances, typically for students with strong previous qualifications in another discipline and insufficient background in geography, a Geography Ph.D. student may minor in geography in order to acquire necessary breadth and depth. This depends on the recommendation of the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The department or program on campus administering the minor specifies its required content and participates in the student’s comprehensive exam. The minor department may choose to waive its portion of the written examination but must appoint a faculty member to participate in the oral examination. The Ph.D. minor in most disciplines involves a minimum of four courses (12 units) of graduate work. At the discretion of the minor department, appropriate courses taken in your master's program may be included. The minor department is not required to be represented on your dissertation committee. (section 3.5)

Core Course Performance

For new Ph.D. students to remain in good standing, they must complete the core courses with a grade of B (3.0) or better, and receive positive evaluations of progress and potential from their advisors, their core course instructors, and the Director of Graduate Studies at the end of the first year of doctoral study. (section 3.6)

Plan of Study

The Graduate College suggests that Ph.D. students should file their Plan of Study by their 3rd semester in residence. The Plan of Study should identify any courses you intend to transfer from other institutions and additional courses you plan to complete to fulfill degree requirements. The Plan of Study must be approved by your committee chair and the Directors of Graduate Studies of both major and minor programs before it is submitted to the Graduate College. (section 3.7)

Ph.D. Advisory (Comprehensive Exam) Committee

Following a student’s completion of the core courses (see section 1.1.1), and in consultation with your advisor, other faculty, and the Director of Graduate Studies, an advisory committee will be proposed to the Director of Graduate Studies. The Director will approve the committee (with modifications, as appropriate, after discussion). This committee will be charged with guiding you in the selection of appropriate coursework leading to the comprehensive exam and with conducting and evaluating that exam. (section 3.8)

Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

The Ph.D. comprehensive exam tests your breadth and depth of knowledge of geography and particularly your chosen fields of specialization, including the minor field (see sections 3.2 and 3.5). The comprehensive exam comes after you have completed all (or almost all) coursework, and before advancing to candidacy. The exam includes written and oral components, the format of which is governed by the School and the Graduate College.  SGDE does not require a specific format, which is determined by the student’s advisory committee (section 3.8 and section 5). Results from the written part of the exam are reported to the student before the oral exam, which is typically scheduled for two weeks after completing the written part.  Students should consult with their advisory committee well in advance and develop a reading list to prepare for the exam, and with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate College about filing deadlines, procedures, and forms required. (section 3.9)

Dissertation Committee

Once the comprehensive exam has been completed successfully, you form a dissertation committee whose members are formally appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. Although the composition of this committee may be the same as the advisory (comprehensive exam) committee, it often varies somewhat since the focus of the dissertation is different. This committee will be charged with guiding you through the preparation of the dissertation proposal, the subsequent research and writing, and the final dissertation defense. The rules for composition of the dissertation committee are similar to the advisory (comprehensive exam) committee. (section 3.10)

Dissertation Proposal

You must submit a dissertation proposal to all members of the dissertation committee, based on previous discussions with each member. The specific format of the proposal is determined by the dissertation chair and committee. It is strongly recommended that you meet with the entire committee to discuss the proposal and suggest changes. You are also encouraged to present the proposal in an informal setting (e.g., brown-bag seminar) to inform the School of your work and get feedback. The committee must approve the dissertation proposal for you to advance to candidacy. (section 3.11)

Advancement to Ph.D. Candidacy

After passing the comprehensive examination and receiving approval for the dissertation proposal, you advance to doctoral candidacy (also known as ABD, “all but dissertation”). (section 3.12)

Oral Dissertation Defense Examination

The Oral Dissertation Defense Examination consists of two parts, one open to the public and one confined to the dissertation committee. In the public part, you must present the dissertation to the dissertation committee and to interested members of the School and University, both faculty and students. This presentation must be announced publicly and in advance. The presentation should not exceed an hour and may include a question-and-answer period. The second part of the defense follows immediately after the presentation and entails an oral examination by the dissertation committee. This examination is not open to the public.

The committee members must each be given a copy of the dissertation (electronic or paper) with sufficient time for review prior to the exam. The advisor and committee members should provide feedback on the draft in a timely manner (either before the defense or as soon after the defense as is possible). The committee decides to pass or fail you, with or without revisions. A grade for dissertation credits is awarded after any changes suggested by the committee are made and committee members have signed the final copy of the dissertation. Complete, signed and bound copies of the dissertation must be filed with the School and the dissertation advisor; electronic copies should be submitted to the School and the Graduate College. (section 3.13)

Ph.D. Minor in Geography

The doctoral minor in geography (for Ph.D. students majoring in other disciplines at UA) consists of a minimum of 12 units of graduate coursework in geography, including a maximum of 3 units of independent study. The program must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and an appropriate SGDE faculty member, who is named to supervise the student’s geography minor and to serve on the student’s comprehensive exam committee.

Students considering the Ph.D. minor in geography should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies and with potential SGDE committee members at an early stage about coursework and preparation for the comprehensive examination. The participation of the SGDE committee member must be agreed to by mutual consent through discussion with the student. The School does not require that an SGDE faculty member serve on the student’s dissertation committee. See section 5.

As noted above (section 3.5), geography Ph.D. students can also minor in geography under special circumstances. These geography students must meet the requirements of the preceding paragraph, including an SGDE faculty member to represent the minor on the student’s comprehensive exam committee. (section 4)

See the Geography Graduate Program Handbook to learn more about committees, thesis and dissertation formats, School admissions requirements, teaching and research assistantships, funding for travel and conferences, School activities and graduate degree timeline.