Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Departments & Programs


PhD Degree Program

The objectives of the doctoral program are to enable students to develop the skills needed to conduct original investigations in environmental and Earth system sciences, to interpret the results, and to present the data and conclusions in a publishable manner. We also intend that our graduates obtain strong communication skills and leadership skills, with the ability to teach and communicate effectively with the public.

The University's requirements for the Ph.D. degree are outlined in the "Graduate Degrees" section of the Stanford Bulletin/Explore Degrees. A summary of additional department requirements are as follows:

  • Ph.D. students must complete the required courses in their individual program or in their specialized area of study with a grade point average (GPA) of 'B' or higher, or demonstrate that they have completed the equivalents elsewhere.
  • Ph.D. students must complete a minimum of four letter-grade courses of at least 3 units each from four different faculty members on the Academic Council in the University.
  • Ph.D. students must complete an introduction to Earth Sciences Seminar course in their first quarter at Stanford.
  • By the end of Winter Quarter of their first year in residence, students must complete at least three courses taught by a minimum of two different departmental faculty members.
  • Each student must qualify for candidacy for the Ph.D. by the end of the sixth quarter in residence, excluding summers. Department procedures require selection of a faculty thesis adviser, preparation of a written research proposal, approval of this proposal by the thesis adviser, selection of a committee for the Ph.D. qualifying examination, and approval of the membership by the graduate coordinator and chair of the department. The research examination consists of three parts: oral presentation of a research proposal, examination on the research proposal, and examination on subject matter relevant to the proposed research. The exam should take place prior to May 1, so that the outcome of the exam is known at the time of the annual spring evaluation of graduate students.

Upon qualifying for Ph.D. candidacy, the student and thesis adviser, who must be a department faculty member, choose a research committee that includes a minimum of two faculty members in the University in addition to the adviser. Annually, in the month of March or April, the candidate must organize a meeting of the research committee to present a brief progress report covering the past year.

Under the supervision of the research advisory committee, the candidate must prepare a doctoral dissertation that is a contribution to knowledge and is the result of independent research. The format of the dissertation must meet University guidelines. The student is strongly urged to prepare dissertation chapters that, in scientific content and format, are readily publishable.

The doctoral dissertation is defended in the University oral examination. The department appoints the research adviser and two other members of the research committee to be readers of the draft dissertation. The readers are charged to read the draft and to certify in writing to the department that it is adequate to serve as a basis for the University oral examination. Upon obtaining this written certification, the student is permitted to schedule the University oral examination.