Accelerated 5-year MS to PhD

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Courses and Registration

A student on the five-year PhD path may elect—with approval of his or her adviser—one of two options for satisfying the MS degree requirements:

  1.  STRONGLY PREFERRED: The MS paper option, which requires completion of 35 graduate credits and a research paper during the first four semesters of study; the master’s research paper must be submitted to a scholarly journal upon completion of the MS.
  2. The MS thesis option, which requires completion of at least 30 graduate credits and a thesis during the first four semesters of study.

Students who enter the program without a background in geography or with deficiencies in several systematic fields should expect to accumulate more than the minimum credit requirements in either option. To satisfy Graduate School requirements for the MS degree, students must take at least:

  • 12 credits of course work at 400- and 500-levels
  • 18 credits of 500-, 600-, and/or 800-level work
  • 6 credits of 600/610

In addition to these general requirements of the Graduate School, the Department of Geography requires all incoming graduate students to take GEOG 500 (3 credits), GEOG 502 (3 credits), and GEOG 590 (1 credit in fall and 1 credit in spring) in their first year.

Five-year PhD candidates also are required to register and complete work in at least two graduate-level seminars (500-level) among those offered by the Department of Geography.

At least one of the two seminars must be outside the field in which the student is working, for example, if a student is specializing in human geography, then at least one of the courses must be in physical geography, geographic information science, or environment-society geography. Both seminars should carry at least three credits and result in a substantive paper. GEOG 500 and 502 do not meet this requirement.

This two-seminar requirement should be satisfied during the first four semesters of residence.

Required coursework must be completed before earning the MS degree. Although there are no other formal course or seminar requirements for the doctorate, five-year PhD students are encouraged to take advanced courses in their area of study. Most students take both courses and seminars as part of their doctoral program, especially in preparation for comprehensive exams.

Students should register for research (600-level) credits when: preparing for candidacy and comprehensive exams; or writing or researching their MS projects (thesis or paper) or PhD dissertations.

  • GEOG 600 is for students in residence.
  • GEOG 610  is for MS students and pre-comprehensive exam PhD students working on research while off campus.
  • GEOG 601 is for  PhD students in residence who have passed their comprehensive exams.
  • GEOG 611 is for PhD students who have passed their comprehensive exams and are working on research while off campus.

GEOG 601 and GEOG 611  have a special PhD dissertation preparation rate that is a fraction of the normal tuition (currently it is 23 percent of the normal tuition).

Post-comprehensive PhD students are discouraged from taking courses that are not required for their degrees because they currently cost the Department approximately $700 per three credits.

Students must  seek permission from the Graduate Program Officer to take any course except 601/611 after passing the comprehensive exam.

PhD students must take at least 12 credits of 600-level work before graduating. No more than 18 credits of 600-level work can be assigned a letter grade (6 credits as an MS student and 12 credits as a PhD student). The remainder must be graded on an “R” research basis. Almost all full-time PhD students accumulate an excess of R-grade 600-level credits. For grading purposes, please register in increments of 3 credits for GEOG 600-level course. For example, a single semester’s transcript may look like this:

Course                             Credits                              Grade
GEOG 600                             3                                       A
GEOG 600                             3                                       A
GEOG 600                             3                                       R

Master’s Program Committee

Students must select a master’s adviser (1. SELECTION OF ADVISER FORM) by the Friday before Thanksgiving of their first semester.

The student then completes the master’s program committee by selecting two additional faculty members during the spring semester (3. APPOINTMENT OF MASTER’S COMMITTEE FORM). The master’s program committee consists of an adviser and a second and third reader.

Unlike the MS-only degree program, all three members of the MS committee in the five-year PhD program must be members of the Geography Graduate Faculty. Geography faculty presence is necessary as there is no formal application to the PhD program. It is possible to have a fourth outside member. The student will work with this committee throughout the master’s portion of the five-year PhD program, and the committee will guide and monitor performance. The master’s program committee will be appointed by the Graduate Program Officer with approval of a formal written statement, prepared jointly by the student and adviser, that outlines (a) the nature of the program of work and study, and (b) the expected role of the committee members throughout the MS portion of the program.

Changes to the master’s program committee can be made subject to the approval of the Graduate Program Officer, who will consult with existing committee members before making the requested changes. Requests must be made in writing to the Graduate Program Officer.

The master’s program committee is charged with meeting with the student and with advising and evaluating the research proposal. The master’s program committee will meet formally with the student at least two times. The first meeting is to defend the master’s proposal and assess the student’s efforts to address remedial requirements from the entry interview; unlike the MS-only program, assessment of the student’s efforts to address communication requirements takes place around the time of the comprehensive examination. This meeting should take place near the end of the student’s first spring semester.

The purpose of the second meeting is to go over the research accomplished by the student during the summer and to chart the course for the remainder of the MS portion of the student’s program; it should take place by October 15 of the student’s second fall semester.

All three committee members must approve the final thesis or paper at a formal master’s project defense, at which point there are three options for the committee:

  1.  to approve the MS degree and approve continuation into the PhD program;
  2.  to approve the MS degree but not to approve continuation into the PhD program;
  3. not to approve the MS degree at this time, but to give the opportunity to revise and re-defend for subsequent approval for the MS only.

Note that it is likely that if the committee approves the MS degree, it will still require students to undertake revisions before signing off on the thesis or paper.

Those revisions must be completed and submitted to the Department Head two weeks before the first day of orientation week in August (that is, three weeks before the beginning of the fall semester). The Department Head must sign off on the thesis or paper no later than the first day of orientation week.

Master’s Proposal

Paper Proposal

Master’s paper proposals are due September 1 of the student’s second year.

The paper proposal will be submitted to the master’s committee and should not exceed 20 pages in length. The proposal will include an explanation of the characteristics of the paper that establish its quality as suitable for scholarly publication. It must also identify the journal to which the paper will be submitted for publication and defend this choice. This proposal will be submitted to the committee by September 1 and defended by October 1. As in the case of the thesis option, students are urged to defend their paper proposals by mid-May. The committee will meet with the student after the committee members have had at least ten days to evaluate the proposal.

The proposal for the paper option will be defended in a meeting with the student’s committee. The committee will assess the feasibility of the proposed research and the student’s preparation to undertake the necessary work. The committee will approve the proposal and/or recommend changes to the topic itself or request additional preparation. If necessary, the committee can request that the student resubmit the research proposal, for editorial changes, content changes, or both. The committee can also request an additional defense of the revised proposal. At the proposal defense, the student and his or her committee must agree on a journal to which the student will submit the paper for publication. At the time of the proposal defense, the adviser will confirm progress on remedial work specified at the entry interview. The adviser submits a written report (7. ADVISER’S REPORT ON PAPER SUBMISSION: FIVE-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM, PAPER OPTION FORM) to the Graduate Staff Assistant within one week of the proposal defense along with a copy of the proposal accepted by the committee for the student’s file.

Thesis Proposal

Students must submit a written thesis proposal to their master’s committee by September 1 of their second year and defend it before their committee no later than October 1.

The Department strongly recommends that master’s students schedule an earlier defense, especially those students planning to do fieldwork or other thesis research during their first summer (which is everybody). Defending the proposal after doing the research could result in the master’s program committee negating the summer’s work. Consequently, the Department recommends completing the proposal defense by mid-May.

The written proposal should meet normal scholarly standards for presentation and should not exceed 20 pages. The proposal is evaluated by the master’s program committee in a formal defense. Committee members must have at least 10 days to evaluate the proposal before the defense date. The committee will assess the feasibility of the proposed research and the student’s preparation to undertake the necessary work. The committee will approve the proposal and/or recommend changes to the topic itself or request additional preparation. If necessary, the committee can request that the student resubmit the research proposal, for editorial changes, content changes, or both. The committee can also request an additional defense of the revised proposal. At the time of the proposal defense, the adviser will confirm progress on (1) remedial work specified at the entry interview and (2) communication requirements. The adviser submits a written report (4. ADVISER’S REPORT ON MASTER’S PROPOSAL DEFENSE FORM) of the evaluation to the Graduate Staff Assistant within one week of the proposal defense along with a copy of the proposal accepted by the committee for the student’s file.

Completing Master’s Research

Paper option

The subject, content, and organization of the master’s paper are matters to be settled between the student and his or her Adviser and master’s committee. The aim of the paper should be to solve a meaningful geographic problem.

The paper must be submitted for publication upon successful defense of the paper.

The completed paper must be:

  1. formally defended in front of the student’s three-person master’s committee and approved by that committee
  2. approved by the Department Head
  3. approved by the Graduate School

The latest date for the paper defense is 15 May of the second year in the five-year PhD program.

Advisers submit the form, “Adviser’s Report on Master’s Defense” (6. ADVISER’S REPORT ON MASTER’S DEFENSE: 5-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM FORM) upon completion of the defense.

Paper Publication

Select a target journal for the research paper in consultation with your adviser and use the journal’s format requirement in preparing it. When the paper has been completed, the adviser should prepare a front piece to be included with the paper to the department head that includes:

  1. a brief summary statement of student performance,
  2. committee membership for the paper; and
  3. selected journal and confirmation that format met journal requirements;
  4. a brief statement of the roles of the student and each committee member for the paper (i.e. aaa and bbb designed the study, bbb provided data, ccc provided new analytical tools, aaa analyzed the data, aaa and bbb wrote that paper)

The Department Head will review and sign-off on the paper only after the student has successfully defended it and obtained signatures from the three master’s committee members. The Department Head will inform the Graduate School that the work is acceptable.

The Department Head requires at least two weeks to review and sign the paper; consult with the Department Head well in advance of submitting the paper to him/her to make sure he/she is available.

A bound copy of the finished work must be filed with the department. This copy does not need to be printed on cotton paper (though it is appreciated). Although this is not a thesis, before binding, consult The Graduate School’s Thesis Guide, which provides detailed information on how material is to be printed and bound. Do not use a previous thesis or paper as a model for format.

Continuing students will not be allowed to enter the PhD program without having submitted a copy of the paper to the Geography Department for its archives.

The absolute deadline for completing the master’s degree (i.e., obtaining approval of the Department Head) is the first day of the semester of entry to the PhD program (i.e., one week before classes begin in mid-August).

The expectation is for continuing five-year PhD students to submit the paper for publication soon after the Department Head has approved it. It is strongly recommended that the paper be submitted before classes resume in fall. Adviser’s confirm that student’s submitted the paper with the form, “Adviser’s Report on Paper Submission.” (7. ADVISER’S REPORT ON PAPER SUBMISSION: FIVE-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM, PAPER OPTION FORM)

Thesis option

The subject, content, and organization of the thesis are matters to be settled between the student and his or her adviser and master’s committee. The aim of the thesis should be to solve a meaningful geographic problem or group of problems.

The completed thesis must be:

  1. formally defended in front of the student’s three-person master’s committee and approved by that committee
  2. approved by the Department Head
  3. approved by the Graduate School

The latest date for the thesis defense is 15 May of the second year in the five-year PhD program.

Advisers submit the form, “Adviser’s Report on Master’s Defense” (6. ADVISER’S REPORT ON MASTER’S DEFENSE: 5-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM FORM) upon completion of the defense.

The Department Head will review and sign the thesis only after the student has successfully defended the thesis and obtained signatures from the three master’s committee members. The Department Head requires at least two weeks to review and sign the thesis; consult with the Department Head well in advance of submitting the thesis to him/her to make sure he/she is available.

Before preparing the thesis in its final form, consult The Graduate School’s Thesis Guide, which provides detailed information on the PDF option and how material is to be printed and bound. Do not use a previous thesis as a model for format.

A bound copy of the finished work must be filed with the department. This copy does not need to be printed on cotton paper (though it is appreciated).

Continuing students will not be allowed to enter the PhD program without having submitted a thesis copy to the Geography Department.

The absolute deadline for completing the master’s degree (i.e., obtaining approval of the Department Head) is the first day of the semester of entry to the PhD program (i.e., one week before classes begin in mid-August).

Presentation of Master’s Research

At the end of the spring semester of their second year, all five-year PhD students are required to present their master’s research in poster format at the Department’s annual awards reception.

Students will be notified about specific format requirements, but in general this event will be similar to an AAG poster session where presenters stay by their posters and respond to questions by faculty and grads.

For information on the doctoral candidacy committee and exam and next steps in the process, refer to the Doctoral Program Overview and Common Requirements section on candidacy.

Example Program for a Five-year PhD Student with Continuous Half-time TA or RA Funding

YEAR 1

Fall Semester
[_] Attend Geography orientation the entire week before classes start; TAs attend TA workshop given by Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence
[_] Attend entry interview with entry committee on last day of orientation;
[_] Forms Due Student’s Summary and Adviser’s Report to Grad Staff Assistant
[_] Register for GEOG 500, 590, and additional credits before classes begin
[_] Select Adviser by Friday before Thanksgiving
[_] Form Due: 1. SELECTION OF ADVISER FORM

Spring Semester
[_] Register for GEOG 502, 590, and additional credits before classes begin
[_] Complete annual progress report by January 31
[_] Select two additional faculty members to complete master’s program committee
[_]  Form Due: 3. APPOINTMENT OF MASTER’S COMMITTEE
[_] Meet with committee to defend paper pr thesis proposal
[_]  Form Due: 4. ADVISER’S REPORT ON MASTER’S PROPOSAL DEFENSE FORM

Summer Sessions
[_] Conduct MS thesis or MS paper research

YEAR 2

Fall Semester
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits before classes begin; most or all of these credits can be GEOG 600/610
[_] Meet with committee by October 15, discuss summer’s research, and plan crucial dates for MS thesis or MS paper completion

Spring Semester
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits; most or all of these credits can be GEOG 600/610
[_] Activate intent to graduate with MS by middle of January
[_] Complete annual progress report by January 31
[_] Select other two candidacy committee members by last day before spring break
[_]  Form Due: 8. PROVISIONAL DOCTORAL CANDIDACY COMMITTEE FORM
[_] Submit draft of thesis or MS paper to Adviser and to Graduate School for format review by early March
[_] Defend thesis or MS paper
[_]  Form Due: 6. ADVISER’S REPORT ON MASTER’S DEFENSE: 5-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM FORM student submits signed thesis or paper to Department Head to read and sign by end of March/start of April (two weeks before Grad School deadline).
[_]  Form Due: 10. SCHEDULE DOCTORAL CANDIDACY EXAMINATION FORM to Graduate Program Officer two months before candidacy exam
[_] Submit final thesis or MS paper to Grad School in middle of April
[_] Present MS research to department at poster session
[_] Submit bound copy of thesis or MS paper to department
[_] Submit paper to journal for possible publication
[_]  Form Due: 7. ADVISER’S REPORT ON PAPER SUBMISSION: FIVE-YEAR PH.D. PROGRAM, PAPER OPTION FORM

Summer Sessions
[_] Take candidacy exam; candidacy committee evaluates performance and also confirms progress on communications skills requirement
[_]  Form Due: 11. ADVISER’S REPORT ON DOCTORAL CANDIDACY FORM
[_] Select doctoral committee
[_]  Form Due: 12. SELECTION/CHANGE OF DOCTORAL COMMITTEE FORM
[_] Conduct pilot dissertation research

YEAR 3

Fall Semester
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits before classes begin
[_] Meet with doctoral committee to update them on summer work and to confirm program plans
[_] Discuss comprehensive exam topics with each committee member and prepare for exam

Spring
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits before classes begin
[_] Complete annual progress report by January 31
[_] Present dissertation proposal to doctoral committee in formal meeting
[_]  Form Due: 13. ADVISER’S REPORT ON DISSERTATION PROPOSAL MEETING FORM
[_] Schedule comprehensive exam
[_]  Form Due: 14. SCHEDULE DOCTORAL COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS FORM
[_] Take comprehensive exam (4 days writing with oral exam one week to 10 days later)
[_]  Form Due: Grad School evaluation form to Grad Staff Assistant

Summer Sessions
[_]  Conduct dissertation research

YEAR 4

Fall Semester
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits before classes begin
[_] Meet with doctoral committee before October 15 to discuss dissertation progress and plans
[_]  Form Due: 15. ADVISER’S REPORT ON FIRST POST-COMPS DOCTORAL COMMITTEE MEETING FORM
[_] Continue research as necessary

Spring Semester
[_] Register before classes begin
[_] Continue research as necessary

Summer Sessions
[_] Continue research as necessary

YEAR 5

Fall Semester
[_] Register before classes begin
[_] Meet with doctoral committee before October 15 to discuss dissertation progress and plans
[_]  Form Due: 16. ADVISER’S REPORT ON SECOND POST-COMPS DOCTORAL COMMITTEE MEETING FORM
[_] Continue research as necessary
[_] Start writing dissertation

Confirm Graduate School deadlines at:
http://www.gradsch.psu.edu/calendar/gradcal.html

Spring Semester
[_] Register for 9 to 12 credits before classes begin
[_] Activate intent to graduate by middle of January
[_] Complete annual progress report by January 31
[_] Finish writing dissertation
[_] Submit partial draft of dissertation to graduate school for format review
[_] Get agreement from Adviser and committee that dissertation defense may be scheduled (Adviser and usually all committee members have read drafts)
[_]  Form Due: 17. SCHEDULE DOCTORAL DEFENSE EXAMINATION FORM
[_] Present completely finished dissertation to committee two weeks before defense (all figures, appendices, etc.)
[_] Announce defense one week before scheduled date (email to all grads and faculty)
[_] Defend dissertation
[_]  Form Due: Grad School evaluation form to Grad Staff Assistant
[_] Make revisions and submit final dissertation with all signatures to Department Head to read and sign in first week of April
[_] Submit final dissertation to Grad School in middle of April
[_] Submit bound copy of dissertation to Department
[_] Attend Graduate School commencement at end of finals week in May