University of Southern California
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Graduate Degrees

The department prepares professional earth scientists for careers in academia, government and industry. A wide range of specializations is offered in the department including sedimentary geology, paleobiology, paleoclimatology, paleoecology, micropaleontology, paleoceanography, geochemistry, geobiology, geophysics, geodesy, seismology, engineering geology and properties of earth materials, igneous and metamorphic petrology, structural geology and tectonics, and interdisciplinary options. Degrees in ocean sciences (through the Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences) are available; see here.

Admission Requirements

An applicant for admission should have the equivalent of the courses in earth sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and physics required for the B.S. degree in geological sciences. Applicants with an undergraduate degree in science or engineering who lack required earth sciences courses will also be given consideration.

The Department of Earth Sciences requires the following evidence for admission to its doctoral program: strong undergraduate background and a superior academic record as documented by GPAs in undergraduate and any completed graduate work, Graduate Record Examinations scores no more than five years old in the verbal and quantitative General Test, and at least three letters of recommendation from undergraduate and, if applicable, graduate advisors and professors. The number of students accepted in any one year depends on available space in the department and acceptance for advisement by one or more professors.

Funding is offered for M.S. degrees only when completed en route to the pursuit of a Ph.D. degree.

The online USC graduate admissions application will refer applicants to a required supplemental departmental application. The department admits students for both the fall and spring semesters; however, applicants for assistantships and fellowships are encouraged to apply for the fall semester.

Degree Requirements

These degrees are under the jurisdiction of the Graduate School. Refer to the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of this catalogue for general regulations. All courses applied toward the degrees must be courses accepted by the Graduate School.

Master of Science in Geological Sciences

Foreign Language/Research Tool Requirements
There is no language or research tool requirement for the master’s degree.

Course Requirements
The M.S. degree in geological sciences requires 24 units of course work plus at least four thesis units. These restrictions apply: at least 16 units must be 500 level or higher; no more than eight units can be 590 Directed Research; and a maximum of four units, with superior grades, can be transferred from an accredited graduate school. Students are required to have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 (A = 4.0) in all graduate work. Students are also required to attend a series of departmental seminars.

Students should arrange for the appointment of a thesis advisor and committee after the first semester, or, at the latest, after the first year of graduate work. The thesis committee should consist of the advisor plus two other faculty members, all of whom are generally selected from the department faculty. Once the committee is arranged, the student may make formal application to the Graduate School for the M.S. degree.

Doctor of Philosophy in Geological Sciences

Application deadline: January 1

Course Requirements
For students who have earned a master’s degree, the minimum number of course credits required for the Ph.D. is 40 units. No more than four of these units may be earned in 794 Doctoral Dissertation. For students who have not earned a master’s degree, the minimum number of course credits required is 60 units, including a maximum of eight units of 794 Doctoral Dissertation. The guidance committee may require additional course work to insure a sufficient background in the student’s area of specialization. At least two-thirds of the number of units presented for the degree must be 500 level or higher. Although the official minimum GPA for all graduate work attempted at USC is 3.0, the department does not consider a doctoral candidate in good standing unless the graduate GPA is considerably higher than the minimum (approximately 3.25 or above in graduate courses taken within the department).

Screening Procedure
Students in the Ph.D. program must pass the screening procedure before their 25th unit of graduate credit. Screening consists of a review of the student’s progress and is usually done by the chair following a written recommendation by the student’s advisor(s).

Guidance Committee
The doctoral guidance committee is formed after the student has passed the screening procedure. The committee is appointed by the department with the advice of the student’s research advisor. The five-member committee consists of the advisor, a minimum of three other members from the Department of Earth Sciences, and one from outside the department. The committee consults with the student, recommends an appropriate program of study and administers the written and oral qualifying examinations.

Qualifying Examination
This examination consists of two parts, one written and the other oral. The written exam, which precedes the oral, includes questions submitted by committee members on current geological problems and theory. The oral portion of the exam consists of the defense of two propositions written by the candidate prior to the oral exam. In addition, general questions are posed to test the student’s breadth of scientific and earth science background. The student’s performance is evaluated by the guidance committee, with a pass based on not more than one negative vote or abstention. Those who intend to take the exam must meet all the conditions specified in the section on general requirements for the Ph.D.

Defense of the Dissertation
When the candidate has passed the qualifying examination, a dissertation committee replaces the guidance committee. The latter is appointed by the advisor and guidance committee in conjunction with the student. The dissertation committee administers the final defense of the dissertation.

The defense takes place after the dissertation is substantially complete, and upon unanimous approval by the dissertation committee. It is conducted in the form of an open departmental seminar, but is evaluated by the dissertation committee alone.

Interdisciplinary Programs

Interdisciplinary programs can be arranged for students also interested in astronomy, bioscience, chemistry, engineering, oceanography and physics. The Department of Earth Sciences maintains laboratories for micropaleontologic, paleobiologic, mineralogic, petrologic, geophysical, geochemical and oceanographic research, and collections are available for comparative work in invertebrate paleontology. Students interested in systematic studies will find a wealth of material, available for comparative purposes, in the adjacent Los Angeles County Museum. Facilities for research in sedimentation, oceanography, and marine geology are provided in the department and by the university’s research fleet.