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Funding (Appointments, Financial Aid, and Fellowships)

Course Requirements (First Year, core classes, and seminar)

Scholarship (satisfactory progress)

Prelim Exam (steps, format, and after)

Master's Requirements (credits, thesis/non-thesis options)

PhD Requirements (credits, thesis notes)

Resources (policies to change advisors, conflicts, etc.)



Ph.D. applicants who are admitted are offered a TA or RA for the first academic year. M.S. students may receive funding, but it is not guaranteed. Financial support for successive years is contingent on satisfactory progress and the availability of funding. In total, PhD students are awarded support during the nine-month academic year for five calendar years (3 years if coming in with a M.S.). M.S. students may receive funding through their advisor, but this is not guaranteed.


Teaching Assistantships and Research Assistantships are typically half time positions, although in some cases they can be different. Expectations for a 50% appointment are 20 hours of services per week. For the 2010-2011 year, the gross monthly salary was $1,761 (pre-General Exam) and $1,836 (post-General Exam). More details about the policies and benefits of Assistantships can be found through the Graduate School. The current pay period for the academic year for TAs and RAs is as follows:
Autumn - 9/16 - 12/15
Winter - 12/16-3/15
Spring - 3/16-6/15

Summer - per arrangement


National Science Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships are open to first-year graduate students as well as graduating seniors. These national awards are very competitive. They provide up to three years of support, in which the recipient is free of teaching obligations. The deadline for application is in early November. Students are also encouraged to apply for other fellowships that they are eligible for. Other fellowships include the NASA, NDSEG, and PCC programs.

Departmental Awards

At the discretion of the Chair, and usually with the advice of the Scholarship and Awards Committee, modest amounts of money are made available once every Spring Quarter from the Department's Graduate Research Fund. The spring quarter grants have traditionally helped support summer field work. A call for applications will go out each Spring quarter.

Other Resources

Students are encouraged to apply for outside funding. Students are encouraged to apply to such organizations as the Geological Society of America, AAPG, Sigma Xi, and the Mazamas, for funds to support their research. Watch the notice board for deadlines and other information. Other additional funding source announcements will be sent out regularly via email.


Credit Requirements

The credit requirement for the Master's degree is 36 credits, 30 of which must be taken at the University of Washington. For the PhD program the requirement is 90, with 60 taken at the University of Washington. Only courses 400 and higher can count for the major field of the degree program. We recommend students register for the maximum 18 credits every quarter, first signing up for topic classes and filling the rest of the credits with either research (600) or thesis (700/800) credits. Students should register for 2 credits during the Summer quarter unless otherwise advised.


  1. 2 of 5 Graduate Breadth Classes (501-505, 508)
  2. 1 Data Analysis Class (ESS 521, ESS 522, ESS 523, ESS 525, ESS 579, ESS 580, ATM 552, AMATH 506, AMATH 581, AMATH 582, CEE 574, QSCI 482) or another course with written permission of the GPC
  3. ESS 594, Autumn and Spring quarters of the first year
  4. ESS 599, every quarter each year (except summer)
  5. Courses determined in consultation with the student's advisory committee to insure both depth and breadth

Experiential Learning

The experiential learning requirement has students gain practical research experience in their field of research. Past examples include: ESS 400 field camp, extensive field work with your faculty advisor, and experiential research. This requirement should be coordinated and will need approval from the GPC.

Teaching Experience

The department strongly encourages all graduate students to gain some teaching experience. Most students gain this experience through TA'ing, but other alternatives include teaching a course, leading a workshop, or similar activities. Alternatives can be coordinated with the GPC.

Research and Thesis/Dissertation Credits

Students will take Research Credits (ESS 600) and Thesis or Dissertation Credits (ESS 700 or 800) depending on their program. Students should register for thesis credits (ESS 700 for Masters, 800 for PhD) after successful completion of the preliminary exam. You may register up to a maximum of 10 thesis credits per quarter.


Satisfactory Progress

At the end of each quarter a student's progress is reviewed by the Graduate School. To maintain graduate standing and to be eligible for degrees, students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 for all courses at the 400 and 500 level. Grades in courses 600 and above, and 100-300 level are excluded. A student falling below 3.0 will be placed on probation. To be removed from probation, a student must attain a 3.0 average for two quarters and raise his/her cumulative average to 3.0. In addition, placement on academic probation will necessitate a faculty appraisal of the student's qualification.

The Department also reviews the progress of all the graduate students annually. The review looks at factors such as grades, research, service and student progress towards a degree. The review is based, in part, on information provided by the student and her/his research advisor in the Graduate Student Annual Progress Report which is due at the end of Autumn quarter. This review includes decisions on financial aid for the coming academic year.

A graduate student, of course, bears the responsibility for his/her own academic performance. If the Supervisory Committee concludes that the academic performance and/or progress is not proceeding appropriately, then whether or not the student has a 3.0 average, the Graduate Program Coordinator may request that a warning, probation, final probation, or "drop" letter be sent to the student from the Graduate School Office after approval by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Preliminary Exam

The Prelim Exam is taken at the beginning of the second year. The exam is an oral presentation of a research proposal and is just one part of the assessment of progress. Two weeks before the quarter starts students submit a research proposal, a copy of their transcript, and a letter from their advisor detailing the progress thus far. The proposal should contain a tractable research goal, brief review of the important background information or context, and a short discussion of the proposed approach to solve the problem and is limited to three pages. A more detailed guide can be found under the Graduate Guides section .

M.S. Requirements

Graduate School Requirements

  1. At least 36 credits must be completed
    • All courses numbered 400-799 that are numerically graded 2.7 and above, or have a grade of Satisfactory or Credit ('S' or 'CR') count toward the 36 credit total. 499 courses are not counted in the 36 credit total.
    • Courses graded less than 2.7 do not count towards the 36 credit total.
    • At least 18 credits must be in courses numbered 500 and above.
    • 18 credits must be numerically graded in department approved 400-level courses accepted as part of the major and in 500-level courses. This excludes 499 and transfer credits.
    • No more than 6 graduate level quarter credits can be transferred from other academic institutions to count toward the 36 credit total.
    • No more than 12 UW Graduate Non-matriculated credits can be applied to the 36 credit total.
    • No more than 12 credits derived from any combination of UW Graduate Non-matriculated credits and transfer credits can be applied to the 36 credit total.
    • If a student repeats a non-repeatable class, only one set of credits counts toward the 36 credit total.
  2. A minimum cumulative GPA (grade point average) of 3.00 is required for a graduate degree at the University
  3. The Master's Degree Request must be filed according to posted quarterly dates and deadlines.
  4. Must complete all degree requirements within six years
    • The time frame/clock begins on the first day of the quarter that the Graduate Student uses a course to satisfy degree requirements when he/she is coded as either a Graduate Non-Matriculated student (Department Code with class 6) or as a Graduate Student (Department code with class 8) in the department to which he/she is admitted.
    • UW Graduate Non-matriculated credits used towards the 36 course credit total are counted in the six years.
    • Quarters spent On-Leave and out of status are counted in the six years.
  5. Must maintain registration through the end of the quarter in which the degree is conferred or, if eligible, pay the Graduate Registration Waiver Fee within 14 days following the last day of the quarter in which all degree requirements were met.
  6. Thesis track students are required to take a minimum of 9 thesis credits in their 36 credit total.
  7. Thesis Track students are required to submit two copies of an acceptably formatted thesis to the Graduate School by 5 pm on the last day of the quarter.

We recommend students sign up for 18 credits a quarter, with excess credits being used for either research (ESS 600) or Master's Thesis (ESS 700). This ensures that most students will more than meet these requirements.

The most up to date requirements can always be found on the Graduate Schools webpage, https:////

The Masters Supervisory Committee

The Supervisory Committee for the Masters Degree consists of two to four members; all but one must be members of the Graduate Faculty. This Committee should be appointed as early as feasible and not later than four months before the student is expected to complete the program of studies for the M.S. degree. It is recommended that at least one member be outside of the student's field (a seismology student may have a glaciology member for example).

For more information regarding Supervisory Committees please see the Graduate School's webpage

Thesis Program

The M.S. thesis should give evidence of ability to do independent research and to present the results in a clear and systematic form.

The student should provide the Supervisory Committee with an abstract of the thesis six weeks or more before the end of the quarter in which he/she expects to receive his/her degree. The draft must be complete and acceptable to his/her Research Supervisor.

Theses must be written according to instructions provided by the Graduate School. The student is responsible for costs of typing, illustrating, and reproducing the thesis. Two copies of the thesis, signed by the supervisor along with the warrant signed by the members of the Supervisory Committee, must be deposited in the Graduate School office by the end of the quarter (by the last day of exams) during which the degree is to be conferred. A receipt for binding fees (paid at the Cashier's Office, 129 Schmitz Hall) must be shown when the thesis is presented. A third copy of the thesis must be filed with the Department.

Non-thesis Program

A non-thesis option is identical in every respect to the thesis option except that instead of writing a thesis, the student will write a research paper. This paper may have coauthors, but the student must be first author. This paper must be in a form that it is submittable to a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The Supervisory Committee will pass judgment on the acceptability of the research paper. After approval of the paper by the Supervisory Committee, the paper must be filed with the ESS office, but will not be filed with the Graduate School.

Application for Degree

The student must complete, in the Graduate School office (201 Administration), an application for the degree during the first two weeks of the quarter in which he/she expects the degree to be conferred. The filing of the application is the responsibility solely of the student. The student's record and current registration will be reviewed by the Graduate School. He/She and the Graduate Program Assistant will be notified promptly as to whether he/she will have satisfied the requirements for the degree at the end of the quarter. Failure to meet the requirements of the Graduate School or the Department of Earth and Space Sciences will delay the student's degree. The student must be registered either as a full-time or part-time student at the University for the quarter in which the degree is conferred. Degree applications are valid for two consecutive quarters only (including summer quarter).

Final Examination

The final examination for the M.S. degree consists of an oral presentation (Defense) of the thesis/paper and an examination by the Supervisory Committee. The exam is not necessarily restricted to the immediate thesis topic. The thesis/paper must have been approved by the Supervisory Committee before the student can arrange for the final oral presentation. The student will schedule the Thesis/Paper Defense with the Graduate Program Assistant after conferring with his/her committee. The exam must be taken no later than the last day of the quarter in which the degree is to be conferred. After satisfactory completion of the exam, the Supervisory Committee will sign the warrant. If the exam is not satisfactory, the Committee may recommend to the Graduate School that the candidate be allowed to take another exam after further study.

Checklist for M.S. Program

1. Complete the course requirements as specified above.

2. Consult with the Graduate Program Coordinator to select a Supervisory Committee.

3. Student and Supervisory Committee select a thesis problem or research focus.

4. Student submits application form for M.S. degree during the first two weeks of the quarter in which the degree is to be conferred.

5. Student writes thesis or non thesis manuscript in consultation with Faculty Advisor and Supervisory Committee and presents an abstract to them at least six weeks before the end of the quarter.

6. Student gives oral presentation and is examined by their MS Committee.

7. Student deposits one copy of the approved thesis/paper in Department Office in exchange for prior to the end of the quarter in which the degree is to be conferred. A recommendation to graduate will not be submitted until the thesis/paper is received.

8. Degree is conferred.

PhD Requirements

Entrance to the PhD Program

Entrance into the PhD Program is generally gained via the Prelim exam. An exam that results in "Pass to PhD" will allow the student to proceed into the PhD program. A student who receives "Pass to MS" may continue work on the Masters program and then petition to be entered into the PhD program. See the Prelim Exam Guide for details.
*A student who receives a "Pass to PhD" may still pursue a Masters if they desire.

Graduate School Requirements

  1. Completion of a program of study and research as planned by the graduate program coordinator in the student's major department or college and the Supervisory Committee. At least 18 credits of course work at the 500 level and above must be completed prior to scheduling the General Examination.
  2. Presentation of 90 credits, 60 of which must be taken at the University of Washington. With the approval of the degree-granting unit, an appropriate master's degree from an accredited institution may substitute for 30 credits of enrollment.
  3. Numerical grades must be received in at least 18 quarter credits of course work taken at the UW prior to scheduling the General Examination. The Graduate School accepts numerical grades in approved 400-level courses accepted as part of the major, and in all 500-level courses. A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 is required for a graduate degree at the University.
  4. Creditable passage of the General Examination. Registration as a graduate student is required the quarter the exam is taken and candidacy is conferred.
  5. Preparation of and acceptance by the Dean of the Graduate School of a dissertation that is a significant contribution to knowledge and clearly indicates training in research. Credit for the dissertation ordinarily should be at least one-third of the total credit. The Candidate must register for a minimum of 27 credits of dissertation over a period of at least three quarters. At least one quarter must come after the student passes the General Examination. With the exception of summer quarter, students are limited to a maximum of 10 credits per quarter of dissertation (800).
  6. Creditable passage of a Final Examination, which is usually devoted to the defense of the dissertation and the field with which it is concerned. The General and Final Examinations cannot be scheduled during the same quarter. Registration as a graduate student is required the quarter the exam is taken and the degree is conferred.
  7. Completion of all work for the doctoral degree within ten years. This includes quarters spent On-Leave or out of status as well as applicable work from the master's degree from the UW or a master's degree from another institution, if applied toward one year of resident study.
  8. Registration maintained as a full- or part-time graduate student at the University for the quarter in which the degree is conferred (see detailed information under Final Quarter Registration).
  9. A student must satisfy the requirements that are in force at the time the degree is to be awarded.

The most up to date requirements can always be found on the Graduate Schools webpage,

The Doctoral Supervisory Committee

This committee should be appointed after admission into the Ph.D. program and no later than four months before the General Exam is scheduled. A student should select members who are familiar with their area of research. When a student is ready to setup a Supervisory Committee they should contact the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Responsibilities of the Doctoral Supervisory Committee include the approval of a course of study which will fulfill the general course requirements of the student's major and supporting fields; the conducting of the student's General Exam, and when appropriate, recommending advancement to candidacy. The Doctoral Supervisory Committee must also approve the Candidate's dissertation proposal and, subsequently, the Committee assists and guides the students to carry out appropriate research for the dissertation.

For more information regarding Supervisory Committees please see the Graduate School's webpage

Dissertation Proposal

A dissertation proposal is to be presented to the Supervisory Committee prior to the General Exam. A copy signed by the Supervisory Committee should be turned into Student Services following successful completion of the General Exam.

There is no rigid set of rules for writing thesis proposals but certain information should be included in each proposal. Proposals should be drafted using the format below. As a rule, the proposal should not exceed five pages. The major points to be covered in the proposal are:

1. Tentative Title: The title should convey the nature of the study to be undertaken and should be brief.

2. Statement of the Problem: Clearly state the problem, citing previous work and showing its relation to the problem. This statement need not be long, but should indicate your familiarity with the current state of knowledge in the field.

3. Objectives and Procedures: State the contributions which you hope to make and outline the steps, in so far as this is possible, to be taken in attacking the problem. This statement should indicate that the procedures have been carefully thought out. Specify the kind of data you will seek and make it clear how they relate to solution of the problem. Additional references may be appropriate here.

4. References: List the references to the literature cited in 2 and 3.

5. Funding: Explain how the cost of the research (including related travel expenses) will be met.

6. CV and Transcript: A copy of your full CV is required and unofficial transcript (you can get a copy from MyUW) is requested. Your transcript and other student records are protected by federal law, see link for official FERPA regulations If you choose not to submit your transcript, please see Student Services or ESS GPC for alternate submission guidelines.

If no funds in excess of those already available to the student and the Chair of his committee are needed, the proposal should clearly state that no additional funds are required to complete the research.


The Candidate must present to the faculty a dissertation representing original and independent investigation and achievement. It should reflect mastery of research techniques and ability to select an important problem for investigation and to deal with it competently. Instructions for the preparation of the dissertation can be obtained from the Graduate School webpage The student is responsible for costs of typing, illustration, and reproducing the dissertation.

Dissertation Reading Committee

When the Supervisory Committee believes the Candidate is prepared to take the Final Exam, the student, in consultation with the PhD Committee, will ask the Graduate Program Coordinator to designate a Dissertation Reading Committee consisting of three members of the Supervisory Committee, including the Chair of the Committee. The Reading Committee reviews the Candidate's dissertation, and upon approval, returns a copy with original signatures of the Reading Committee, to be submitted to the Graduate School along with two copies of the dissertation and the Supervisory Committee recommendation regarding award of the degree.

General Exam

The General Exam is a test of general knowledge related to your chosen field of study. The examination typically looks at your completed and proposed research, background knowledge in your field, and the applications and implications of your research. It must be scheduled no later than the end of your third year except as outlined below.

A General Examination may be scheduled if:

  • The student has completed 60 credits (some of these credits may be taken the same quarter of the exam)
  • All required program examinations that do not need Graduate School approval have been completed
  • All members of the supervisory committee agree that the student's background of study and preparation is sufficient and have approved the student to schedule a General Examination. At least four members of a supervisory committee (including the Chair, Graduate School Representative, and one additional Graduate Faculty member) must be present at the examination.

Registration as a graduate student is required the quarter that a General Examination is taken.

The most up to date requirements can always be found on the Graduate Schools webpage,

If the General Examination is satisfactory, the supervisory committee members who participate at the examination sign the warrant and return it to the student's graduate program by the last day of the quarter (last day of finals week). If an examination is unsatisfactory, a supervisory committee may recommend that the Dean of the Graduate School permit up to a maximum of two additional reexaminations after a period of additional study. Any members of a supervisory committee who do not agree with the majority opinion are encouraged to submit a minority report to the Dean of the Graduate School. General UW Graduate School guidelines can be found at

Students who have not completed their general exam and have been at UW for at least 3 years will be classified as no longer being in good standing the first day of Autumn quarter each year. This will be enforced beginning Autumn 2014. Students who need an extension should contact the GPC as soon as they realize they are going to need an extension. Extensions may be granted for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, taking a leave of absence, adviser availability, and adviser changes.

When the Graduate School approves candidacy, a student is identified and designated as a candidate for the appropriate doctoral degree and is awarded a candidate certificate. After achieving candidate status, a student ordinarily devotes his or her time primarily to the completion of research, writing of the dissertation, and preparation for the Final Examination.

A candidate certificate and the doctoral degree may not be awarded the same quarter.

Final Exam
The Final Exam is an oral exam given by members of the Supervisory Committee and interested Graduate Faculty members. It is based on the dissertation and an oral presentation of the results of research by the Candidate. Members of Graduate Faculty, non-voting faculty and visitors may attend and question the candidate. The Chairperson, at least two members of the Supervisory Committee, and the GSR must be present.

If the Final Exam is satisfactory, the Supervisory Committee signs the Graduate School's warrant. Final changes in the written dissertation may be recommended. If the exam is unsatisfactory, the Committee may recommend that the Dean of the Graduate School permit a second examination after a period of further study.

Checklist for PhD Program

  1. Student receives a "Pass to Ph.D." on the preliminary exam.
  2. The Graduate Program Coordinator(GPC) approves entrance of student into Department Ph.D. Program.
  3. The student forms a Supervisory Committee with the assistance of the GPC no later than 2 quarters after being admitted into the PhD program.
  4. The student and Supervisory Committee select a date for the General Exam (at least 4 months after forming the committee) in consultation with the GPC.
  5. The General Exam is held with the Chair of the examining Committee, two members of the examining Committee, and the GSR present. After successful completion of the General Exam, PhC is awarded to the student.
  6. Supervisor advises the GPC to request that a Reading Committee be appointed by the Graduate School. Student submits dissertation to Supervisory Committee two months prior to anticipated Final Exam.
  7. The student schedules their Final Exam via MyGrad program in consultation with their Supervisory Committee. It must be more than 2 quarters after the General Exam and no later than the quarter the student intends to graduate.
  8. The Supervisory Committee prepares appraisal and recommendation. The student must submit an electronic copy to Student Services, as well as submit copies to the Graduate School as detailed at
  9. Degree is conferred.


The Graduate School Links

General Information:

Dates and Deadlines:

Assistantship Information: https:://

Academic Probation Guidelines:

Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines:

Leave Requests:

ESS Guidelines

Graduate Guides:

Research Resources:

Certificate Programs:

Advisor-Student Guidelines & Dispute Resolution: Advisor-Student_Guidelines_and_Dispute_Resolution.pdf

Updated 5/30/2013.