Earth Sciences Ph.D.


The graduate program in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department is designed to prepare students for research, industry, consulting, teaching, and numerous other career paths, including business and law. The aim is to develop habits of critical analysis and thorough documentation; skills in quantitative field, computational, and/or laboratory research; and proficiency in one or more fields of research. The fundamental requirements for admission to the program are substantial evidence of superior scholarship, dedication and determination to do quality work, and aptitude for original research. Preparation in the basic sciences equivalent to the requirements for the Earth sciences bachelor's degree at UC Santa Cruz is expected and, for non-undergraduate Earth sciences majors, achieving breadth of knowledge across the Earth and planetary sciences is expected. Excellent scholars from other disciplines, including chemistry, physics, engineering, biology, or astronomy are both eligible and encouraged to apply. Gaps in knowledge can be made up through coursework.

UC Santa Cruz awards both the Master of Science (M.S.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees. The M.S. degree may be the terminal degree for someone seeking careers in industry, government, or teaching at the secondary level. It may also be an initial step toward the Ph.D. degree, in which the student gains knowledge and confidence in carrying out and completing a more complex scientific project. Details regarding admission to graduate standing, financial aid, examinations, and the requirements for the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees are available from the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department graduate studies webpage. Additional details can be found at the UC Santa Cruz Division of Graduate Studies.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

In their first year, all Ph.D. students register for:

EART 203Introductory Teaching Seminar


EART 204Earth and Planetary Sciences Foundations


EART 206Great Papers in the Earth Sciences


And, in consultation with the graduate advising committee, choose at least one subject course focusing on specific Earth and planetary sciences content and one analytic course focusing on a quantitative method (from a list of appropriate courses in the EPS Graduate Handbook).

In subsequent years, all Ph.D. students participate in:

EART 293Graduate Research Seminar


Other course requirements are tailored to the individual student’s academic background, professional experience, and plans for research. No specific number of course credits is required for the Ph.D., but ordinarily students put more of their effort into coursework during the first year of graduate study.

Foreign Language Requirements

There is no foreign-language requirement other than demonstrated proficiency in English. Applicants from countries where English is not the primary language must take either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test.

Teaching Requirement

It is recommended that all thesis-track graduate students attain some teaching experience while at UC Santa Cruz.

Qualifying Examination

To qualify for candidacy in the Ph.D. program, each student must pass an oral examination in their area of specialization by the end of their third year of graduate study (second year if entering with a master's degree in the same field). The examination is based on a written research proposal presenting one or more specific questions to be researched by the student in the course of completing their Ph.D. thesis. Students are expected to have in-depth knowledge of fields relevant to the proposal, including familiarity with the professional literature.



The Ph.D. dissertation is a scholarly contribution to knowledge that embodies the results of original and creative effort by the student. Students are urged to prepare their dissertations for publication in peer-reviewed professional journals.

Dissertation Defense

A public oral defense of the thesis is required prior to completion of the Ph.D. degree.

Academic Progress

Prior to the first quarter of study, each first-year Ph.D. student must meet with their faculty advisor to determine a customized study plan designed to improve breadth and enable research goals. Immediately afterwards, a meeting is scheduled with the faculty graduate representative to finalize and approve this initial discussion with a written course plan. Yearly academic review meetings will then reassess the student's progress in completing these courses and independent research, initially with the primary advisor but eventually with a reading committee.