Department of Earth and Environmental Science
The mission of the Graduate Group of Earth and Environmental Science (GG-E&ES) is to produce independent, well-rounded scientists that are exceptionally competent in their area of specialization and capable of understanding, solving, and communicating complex scientific issues. The GG-E&ES has a tradition of producing scholarly advancements through open, multidisciplinary interactions that integrate teaching with challenging fieldwork and innovative laboratory work. The heart of the GG-E&ES is a selective group of active and assertive students that peruse original and innovative research topics while interacting with all members of the academic community. This guide is intended to provide those graduate students with the basic information needed to be productive members of the GG-E&ES academic community (Table 1). The guide is a brief, “living” document designed to supplement, not supplant official publications or web pages of the University. Moreover, this information is provided to enhance understanding and improve the quality of the graduate experience. When specific questions or doubts arise, students should consult their advisor and the GG-E&ES chair.
Candidates are admitted on the basis of their potential to accomplish original research of the highest caliber in the broad field of Earth and Environmental Sciences. These fields are interdisciplinary and draw on geosciences and allied scientific disciplines. In recognition of this fact, the GG-E&ES accepts students with backgrounds in a variety of fields, provided that each student takes the necessary remedial courses to allow them to understand the fundamentals of Earth and Environmental Science. Students are also encouraged to undertake a line of research involving multiple disciplines. However, the research must have direct relevance to Earth and Environmental Science and must be reviewed and accepted by scholars in the relevant disciplines.
All students are accepted to the graduate program as Ph.D. candidates under the guidance of an advisor within the Graduate Group. Each advisor has the duty to openly and honestly promote the understanding and intellectual endeavors of the student. Likewise, graduate students must show initiative, dedication, independence, drive, and the willingness to work long hours (a 70 hour week is not uncommon). They must also communicate regularly with their advisors and other professors. Students of our Graduate Group also have many privileges, including access to laboratories, office space, computers, and duplicating facilities. The historic non-abuse of these privileges, and the innovative research record of graduate students is a legacy that the GG-E&ES community is proud of and must continually work to maintain.
Both the University and the GG-E&ES have specific requirements related to graduate study. Details of the university requirements can be found on the universities web page and in the Graduate Bulletin. The general requirements of the GG-E&ES program are listed in Table 2. Students who are registered in the joint Penn-Bryn Mawr graduate program should consult Bryn Mawr graduate program publications for specific details.
While advisors, faculty, and staff will assist the student in every aspect of their graduate study, it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that all steps and necessary paperwork have been completed and submitted to the graduate chair. Grant proposals, awards, accepted publications and other records of achievement should also be submitted and included in the file. Please note that if paper work is lost and you can’t prove that it was done, you might be required to do it again.
Table 3 provides a general time-line by which students can plan their studies and judge their progress. Students are expected to stay within the parameters set by the outline. However, the GG-E&ES recognizes the complexity and uncertainty involved with research. It is also recognized that individual needs and backgrounds vary. Therefore the GG-E&ES will work with students to insure that the program is completed within a reasonable time. Nevertheless, unjustified failure to show sufficient progress can result in dismissal from the program. Likewise, timeliness will never be accepted as a substitute for quality or originality.
As noted earlier, all students are accepted to the graduate program as potential Ph.D. candidates. Students who, after consultation with their advisor and committee, decide to pursue a Masters Thesis, must complete the program in two years. Under no circumstances will a student who has completed a Masters thesis be allowed to continue in a Ph.D. program unless they re-apply to the program and are re-accepted as a Ph.D. student.
Graduate students will be admitted into the program with the intention of working with a specific advisor. Within their first days of residency, the graduate student will work with their advisor and the graduate group chair on the selection of courses and their teaching and research responsibilities. At this meeting the Graduate Student Compact will be completed and signed.
During the first year students should actively select members for their committee from the professors and adjunct professors within the Graduate Group. By the end of the first year each graduate student must have a committee of at least three (or in some cases four) faculty members to help guide their research and graduate study. The purpose of this committee is to provide early guidance in the selection of courses and continual guidance on the student’s individual research efforts.
One of the three committee members will act as the student's advisor and the committee chairperson. Two members of the committee should work in the student's area of interest and one should be from an entirely different sub-discipline. While all committee members will be selected after discussion with the student, the Graduate Group chair and advisor may modify the list. Both the graduate advisor and committee members can be changed if a student presents convincing reasons to do so to the Graduate Group. The ultimate decision to change the advisor lies with the Graduate Group. The student or advisor may also request the participation of a committee member from another institution. Such a request cannot be vetoed.
After the committee is selected, the graduate student must meet with the full committee at least once per year. At this meeting, the committee discusses the student’s progress and fills out a form detailing the year’s progress. If the progress is acceptable, the committee signs the annual progress report. If the students progress is not acceptable to the committee, the student will be informed orally and in writing of the deficiencies and what actions they must take to continue graduate study in the department.
A scholarly, well written, and integrated thesis or dissertation is required of all graduate students. This document is the major legacy of their residency in the academic community and must meet the standards of the department and university. Dissertations must be original and innovative contributions to Earth and Environmental Science that demonstrate the student's ability to conduct scholarly research. Typically, the dissertation will consist of a connected sequence of original studies that results in three or four journal publications. Masters thesis typically produce one journal publication. Master's candidates are encouraged to develop their own thesis topic with the help and advice of their advisor. However, the topic should represent a problem that the student can address adequately within one year (including data collection, data interpretation and writing) and must demonstrate the student's ability to apply established scientific methods to investigate a well-defined problem.
All graduate students must write and defend a thesis or dissertation proposal. Innovation and creativity in the proposed research are encouraged, but the research must be achievable in a reasonable time with available resources. This proposal will normally be submitted to the advisor by the end of the second semester and defended when six graduate courses are completed. Proposals are typically 10 to 20 pages in length and should follow the guidelines for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships (Table 4). In addition, the proposal should contain pertinent permits or letters of support where appropriate, a preliminary “Table of Contents”, and a list of papers and corresponding journals that are expected from the research. The purpose of providing a “Table of Contents” and a list of expected papers is to demonstrate to the GG-E&ES that the candidate has a clear understanding of the products that are expected from the research.
The thesis proposal should: (1) clarify the intent and feasibility of the proposed work in the mind of the student and the faculty, (2) demonstrate to the advisor and faculty that the student is able to define a problem and present his/her ideas in the proper scientific fashion, (3) provide information on the specific products that are expected from the research (e.g. thesis content, research papers) and (4) provide training in the writing peer-review proposals.
The proposal must be reviewed by the student's advisor and approved by the advisor and committee as an indication that it is suitable for presentation to the Graduate Group. After the faculty member's suggestions have been incorporated, the Graduate Group chair and the student will schedule the oral proposal defense. Four hard copies and an electronic PDF version must be given to the GG-E&ES chair two weeks prior to the scheduled defense. These copies will be circulated among the GG-E&ES and one copy will go into the student's file. The defense will be scheduled no earlier than two weeks after circulation of the proposal and no later than the beginning of the following semester.
A majority of the graduate group members is required for a defense. The oral presentation by the defending student will be open to the public and last approximately 30 to 40 minutes. The presentation is followed by (1) a public discussion, (2) a non-public discussion between the candidate and all GG-E&ES members, and (3) a closed door evaluation by the GG-E&ES. The discussion with the candidate may include any related topic and the candidate is expected to be knowledgeable in related areas of Earth and Environmental Science. After the GG-E&ES deliberations the student will return and the advisor or GG-E&ES chair will then inform the student of the results of the deliberations. There are three possible outcomes of these deliberations: 1) accepted without modifications; 2) accepted with modifications or conditions; 3) denial of the proposed topic. Acceptance with some form of modifications is the most common outcome. In cases where a proposal is denied, the student will meet with the GG-E&ES chair and committee to determine when, or if, a new proposal can be submitted. The student will also be notified in writing of the results of the defense and a copy will be placed in their file.
In order to graduate, the Graduate Group faculty must receive three complete, signed and approved copies of the Ph.D. dissertation or Masters thesis by the University deadline. Each member of the committee must sign the final document after all comments and suggestions have been satisfactorily taken into consideration. Any thesis or dissertation that has not been signed by all committee members will not be accepted. Note that the process of revisions is time consuming and can cause delays in graduation. As a general rule-of-thumb, after field data has been collected and analyzed, approximately four months is needed to write and complete one manuscript. As a guideline, a master's thesis consists of one manuscript while a Ph.D. dissertation typically consists of 3 to 4 manuscripts. Manuscripts that are circulated for review should always be double-spaced and complete with figures and references.
Both Masters thesis and Ph.D. dissertations must be presented in the format required by the University. It is also expected that individual chapters will be publishable manuscripts that are ready, or have already been submitted for publication in a peer review journal. Nevertheless, the thesis or dissertation must have introductory and concluding chapters that show the intellectual connection between the chapters. The document must also meet the formatting standards of the University. The advisor will be the arbiter on how this should be done. The advisor and the Department must also receive a bound copy of the final version in addition to the unbound copies required by the University.
The defense of a Master’s or Ph.D. thesis will be scheduled soon after the members of the faculty have evaluated the thesis or dissertation. At the defense, the student should present the major points within 40 minutes. This presentation is followed by (1) a public discussion, (2) a non-public discussion between the candidate and all faculty members, and (3) and evaluation by the faculty alone. The discussion with the candidate may include any related topic the faculty may choose to discuss with the candidate. The candidate is expected to be an expert in the topic of their research and in related and connected areas. The graduate group chairperson or the thesis advisor will announce the result of the faculty deliberation to the candidate. The graduate group chairperson or administrator will file the appropriate form with the administration, give a copy to the candidate, and place a copy in the candidate's file.
Seminars are a major part of the graduate experience at the University of Pennsylvania and within the GG-E&ES. Attendance at these functions is mandatory. Non-attendance indicates lack of interest and will be taken into consideration during the annual review of graduate students by the graduate group. Furthermore, to acquire expertise in presenting scientific results and to exchange information with the academic community, each student is required to give one formal presentation per year on their thesis work. The majority of these presentations will be given at the GeoLunch. A student’s unjustified failure to present at least one formal presentation per year may result in reduced support or even dismissal from the program. It is also expected that graduate students will present their research results at meetings of professional societies during their residency at Penn. Advisors and the GG-E&ES will facilitate this in every way possible.
Undergraduate teaching is an integral part of the graduate program in Earth and Environmental Science that provides invaluable organization and communication skills. All graduate students, regardless of their source of support, must demonstrate basic competence in teaching and maybe asked to participate in the proctoring and grading of exams in the large introductory courses.
Teaching Assistants (TA) must comply with the guidelines and standards set by the School of Arts and Science and must abide by the graduate student compact. Specific teaching obligations in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science include: the preparation and teaching of lab or recitation sections; the design, production, proctoring, and grading of exams; attending class lectures, holding office hours, and maintaining contact with the professor. The School of Arts and Sciences has an evaluation form for TAs that must be distributed, collected, and returned to the Department chairperson or designate two weeks before the end of the semester. These forms are not to be viewed by the TA until they are analyzed and grades are submitted. The evaluations are also reviewed by the faculty and the School of Arts and Sciences. Exceptional TA’s may receive teaching awards from the School of Arts and Sciences. Teaching Assistants that do not receive adequate evaluations will be asked to work with GG-E&ES members or specialists in the School of Arts and Science to improve their teaching skills.<
The GG-E&ES admits students with the intention that the program will provide and assist the student in acquiring the basic funding needed to complete their education in a reasonable amount of time. The majority of students will be supported by William Penn fellowships and research grants and must abide by the University standards that govern those fellowships.
The financial aid provided by the University is never adequate to meet the requests of all those deserving it. Nor is it sufficient to meet all of the needs of those that receive it. In general, University or Departmental funding does not provide sufficient funds to support field research, equipment and supplies. Obtaining funding from peer-reviewed proposals is a central component of modern science and a critical skill that graduate students must obtain. Therefore, it is the intention of the GG-E&ES that all students will have assisted in writing grant proposals and have individually applied for and received some form of peer reviewed funding prior to graduation. This funding can be obtained for a variety of purposes (e.g. research, fieldwork, attending professional meetings, stipends, etc.) and may come from a variety of sources (e.g. PENN Summer Stipends in Paleontology, Sigma Xi, GSA, AAPG, NASA, NSF, etc.). Information on funding agencies may be obtained from faculty members, the graduate group chair and the Department Chair. All proposals must be reviewed and cleared through the advisor, graduate chair, departmental chair, and in many instances several school and university administrative offices before they can be submitted.
The Graduate Bulletin has details on the course requirements for both Masters and Ph.D. students. Eight (8) course units at the 400 level or higher are required for a Masters student and 20 course units are required for a Ph.D. student. Graduate students who arrive with a M.S. degree from another institution must take at least twelve (12) course units at the University of Pennsylvania to fulfill the course requirements for the Ph.D. Four course units, or more in special circumstances, may be taken outside of the Department of Geology if they are necessary for the student's program.
Thesis research or independent research (GEOL 999) counts as a course and can be repeated for credit. However, students are typically expected to fulfill at least half of their curriculum from courses other than Geology 999. Several course units in Geology 999 may be taken in one semester with the permission of the student's thesis advisor. However, no more than two independent courses can be taken from the same instructor within a semester.
Graduate students must earn at least a B in all courses; any course in which a grade of less than a B is earned will not be accepted toward the degree.
At the completion of six graduate-level geology courses, each graduate student must take a comprehensive daylong, written exam prepared by the faculty. This exam will test the student's knowledge and reasoning ability in six (6) sub-disciplines of Earth and Environmental Science chosen by the student from the categories presented by the faculty. Three or four of the fields can be close to the interest of the student but at least two have to come from other areas. The faculty committee of the student will decide on the areas if there is any disagreement. This exam is usually given on a Saturday in April.
Every graduate student must be fluent in English. Furthermore, Pennsylvania State law requires that every TA be certified for fluency in English. This has to be done by the English Language Center. Each student must also be able to read relevant scientific literature in one language other than English that has a significant body of geological literature. The following languages are routinely accepted: French, German, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian. The exam is administered in the Department and consists of translating part of a geologic publication in the language of the student's choice in an allotted time span, which is normally one-hour. The language exam should be taken in the second year and is coordinated by the GG-E&ES chair.
Exam questions are identical for both M.S. and Ph.D. candidates. However, it will be the final exam for M.S. candidates and the qualifying exam for Ph.D. candidates. The GG-E&ES faculty will determine if the student has proven proficiency in all six categories chosen or if remedial work is necessary. Grades of "A" and "B" are satisfactory. "C" indicates displeasure but passing. "D" indicates the necessity for remedial work. "F" indicates failure. In the last two cases the students have to consult the professor, arrange for, and perform the remedial work required (e.g. readings, taking a course or several courses, reworking a collection). When the student has satisfied the requirements, the GG-E&ES chair will certify this to the graduate school.
If the grade average of the examination is less than "B" the student has failed the exam. It can be repeated once and the second exam must be taken within 6 months of the first exam. A student who fails the comprehensive exam on the second try will not be allowed to continue in the program.
Data collected during thesis research must be included in a well referenced appendix of the thesis and should be deposited in an applicable public data base. In addition, type specimens and figured or cited paleontological specimens must be deposited in a type collection of a public institution (i.e. Smithsonian, etc.). For special collections, or specimens that cannot easily be recollected, numbered and labeled specimens should be prepared and left for future use by the department.
The department will make every effort to make space available to facilitate graduate study and research. Nevertheless, graduate students do not have a right to office or lab space. Likewise, computer labs, chemical laboratories, and all other facilities are maintained to promote research and education. Nevertheless, they must be properly used and special permission must be obtained to use a laboratory space or analytical equipment. Ask your advisor or the GG-E&ES chair who is responsible for a particular piece of analytical equipment, lab space, or computer facility and get permission from the responsible person before using it. Copyright laws also have to be observed meticulously and programs or data on hard drives should never be changed or removed unless they are your own and not used by anybody else.
Graduate students are required to drive on field trips for courses in which they are the TAs and should be available when additional drivers might be needed. Every graduate student must take the University driving safety course and should acquire a Pennsylvania driver's license as soon as possible.
Every student in the Graduate Group must demonstrate basic competence in both field and laboratory work. The individual’s competence and progress in these areas will be evaluated by the advisor and GG-E&ES committee during the annual committee meetings. For fieldwork, a summer field camp experience is the minimum and should be done as an undergraduate or during the first summer of graduate studies. Some additional fieldwork maybe necessary even for those who do a thesis entirely based on laboratory work. This field experience can be gained through an independent study for credit.
Basic competence and understanding of relevant laboratory procedures and safety regulations is also required of all students. Unsafe or careless behavior in the laboratory or field can be a danger to the entire department and will not be tolerated.
The organization of graduate students (GSAC) communicates with the Dean of the Graduate Division of SAS and works to insure that the Graduate study at Penn maintains the expected level of quality. The GSAC also makes resources available to the graduate students. The GG-E&ES student should elect a representative and see to it that she/he will attend the meetings. Student representatives are also sought for many committees at the school and university level. If you would like to contribute to the self-government of the University you are encouraged to volunteer. These activities should not interfere with progress in the course work or research.
Graduate students are expected to be productive and innovative in course work, teaching, and research. It is the intention of the GG-E&ES that every student be given the opportunity and resources to be a productive, unique, and valued member of the academic community. Justifiable special circumstances will also be accommodated whenever possible. At least once per year, at the annual review, the student’s progress will be reviewed by the students committee and the GC chair. If the advisor, committee, or GG-E&ES have the impression that the student is not demonstrating sufficient progress, there will be a formal meeting with the student to discuss the issue. This meeting can lead to:
A warning with a deadline for completion of certain tasks
Withdrawal or reduction in support
Dismissal from the program
Table 1: Members of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Group in Earth and Environmental Science.
Graduate Group Chair: Faculty member appointed by the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences after being elected by the faculty of the Graduate Group. The Chair organizes and supervises preliminary and final exams and proposal and theses defenses. He/she is responsible for supervising graduate students, the Graduate Group Coordinator, coordinating the application process, and informing the GG-E&ES faculty of changes in university policy.
Graduate Group Coordinator: Assists the Chair in executing duties and is typically the first person that graduate students should contact with specific questions regarding procedures or policies. In addition, he/she coordinates applications, maintains student files, and is the chief liaison with the graduate division of the University.
Graduate Group Faculty: Includes active members of the extended E&ES academic community who provide scholarly advice to graduate students. Voting members must be standing faculty and are approved by the Dean of Graduate studies.
Student’s Graduate Advisor: Member of the GG-E&ES who explicitly agrees to sponsor a graduate student and serves as chair of her/his Advisory Committee.
Student’s Advisory Committee: Three or four professors and research faculty from within the Graduate group that guide the student’s research and study. Members from other institutions can be voting members of this committee and may be asked by the GG-E&ES for evaluations of a graduate student.
Table 2: General Requirements of the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Group in Earth and Environmental Science.
Satisfactory completion (Grade B or better) of 20 course units for a PhD degree and 8 course units for a MS degree
Satisfactory completion of the language requirements by translating a relevant scientific article in an allotted time span
Annual meetings with the graduate committee
Passing of the comprehensive/preliminary examination, which consists of a daylong, multi-question written exam prepared by the faculty and usually given on a Saturday in April
Demonstrate competence in standard field and laboratory techniques of Earth and Environmental Science
Demonstrate competence in University level teaching and communication
Written and oral defense of thesis proposal and its acceptance by a majority of the graduate group
Active participation in Departmental activities and Colloquia (e.g. GeoLunch, Seminars etc.)
Thesis research and a successful thesis defense
It is anticipated that by the time of graduation PhD students will also have:
Presented original results at meetings of national and international scientific societies
Published at least one manuscript in a recognized peer review journal
Submitted and received some form of competitive grant funding (e.g. travel support, NSF Dissertation improvement grant etc.)
Table 3: Typical Time-line for Graduate Study in the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Group in Earth and Environmental Science
Year 1 - Fall Semester
Initial meeting with advisor and Graduate Group chairman, signing of Graduate Student Compact
Complete University Driving Safety Class
Complete 4 courses
Select graduate committee and thesis topic
Year 1 - Spring Semester
Complete 4 courses
Convene first committee meeting and review thesis topic and course selection
Submit thesis proposal to advisor and then committee by end of semester
Give first graduate student colloquium
Take comprehensive exams for students with B.A. or M.S. in geosciences
Year 1 – Summer
Initiate thesis and field research
Year 2 – Fall Semester
Complete 3 courses
Ph.D. candidates take comprehensive exams if not taken in previous year
Submit, in PDF format, and defend thesis proposal.
Convene annual meeting of thesis committee
Fulfill first semester of teaching requirement for students on PENN fellowships
Year 2 - Spring Semester
Complete 3 courses
Fulfill second semester of teaching requirement for students on PENN fellowships
Present research results in Departmental Colloquia (e.g. Geolunch, Departmental Seminar etc.)
Complete language exam
M.S. students will submit and defend their thesis and graduate
Year 2 – Summer
Conduct field research
Continue writing Ph.D. thesis and submit first peer review manuscript and/or funding proposal
Year 3 – Fall Semester
Complete 3 courses
Continue research and writing
Fulfill third semester of teaching requirement for students on PENN fellowships
Convene annual meeting of thesis committee
Year 3 – Spring Semester
Complete 3 courses including one GEOL 999 (e.g. research)
Continue writing and submit second manuscript for peer review publication
Fulfill final semester of teaching requirement for students on PENN fellowships
Present research results in Departmental Colloquia or Scientific Society
Year 3 – Summer
Year 4 – Fall Semester
Convene annual meeting of thesis committee
Finish research and continue writing (e.g. third chapter/manuscript)
Year 4 – Spring Semester
Finish writing dissertation, submit to committee
Complete data and sample management requirement
Oral defense of thesis
Submit final, signed dissertation
Table 4: Components of a Thesis Proposal in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania. All proposals should be submitted to the Facility in PDF format at least 2 week before the scheduled defense
Introduction that states and justifies the problem
Site Description with initial results where available
Hypothesis and Research questions that will be tested
Methods, including experimental design and analytical techniques
Time-line including field work, laboratory analysis, manuscript preparation.
Budget and technical requirements
Expected Table of Contents for the thesis and list of manuscripts expected from the endeavor. The list of manuscripts should also indicate the peer review journals to which the manuscripts will most likely be submitted.
All pertinent permits and letters of support