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Washington State University

Ph.D. Geology

Program Description

Ph.D. research in Geology focuses on fundamental questions in the Earth Science Sciences ranging from how Earth formed, how it has evolved through time, and how it operates and is changing today.

The Ph.D. in Geology often involves extensive fieldwork and prepares students for both academic and other professional careers in a broad variety of geoscience fields including geomorphology, field geology, groundwater and hydrogeology, sedimentology, geochemistry and geophysics, mineralogy and petrology, plate tectonics, volcanology, and the geospatial exploration of Earth and other planetary bodies.

Our geologists and geoscientists leverage NASA and NSF-funded research to explore both terrestrial and planetary geosciences using our in-house, cutting-edge analytical laboratories (see: Radiogenic Isotope & Geochronology Laboratory and the Peter Hooper GeoAnalytical Lab).

Specializations are offered in:

  • Sedimentology-Stratigraphy
  • Structural geology – Tectonics
  • Mineralogy-Petrology-Geochemistry
  • Hydrogeology-biochemistry
  • Geophysics-Geodynamics

If you are interested in pursuing an Ph.D. in Geology in SoE and being mentored by one of our faculty members, begin by first visiting their website and contacting them directly.


By working and training with these leading geologists and Earth scientists, the Ph.D. in Geology will:

  • result in a dissertation that will be a significant contribution to the science of geology and the broad geosciences
  • be worthy of publication in referred international journals

Program requirements 

  • 72 hours minimum of total credits consisting of:
    • 15 hours minimum of graded course work at 500 level if student has an M.S. Or 17 hours minimum of graded 500-level coursework if student has only a B.S.
    • 9 hours maximum non-graduate 300/400 level graded course
    • 20 hours minimum of SOE 800 – 1 credit during each semester enrolled except summer
  • Courses taken for audit or courses graded Pass/Fail may not be used on the program of study.
  • Preliminary exam
  • Dissertation
  • Final oral exam
  • Dissertation defense


The student’s academic program should be one or a combination of no more than two areas of specialization. The choice of course options and electives on the program are based on the student’s research interest and future career goals.

  • Undergraduate pre-requisites must be satisfied for all courses within the selected program, and if needed, will not count for graduate credit.
  • It is expected that the Ph.D. degree requirements with previous M.S. degree be completed in three years (full-time enrollment, with assistantship); Ph.D. degree requirements without previous M.S. degree be completed in four years.
  • Geology Ph.D. candidates must enroll in SOE 598 (Seminar) a minimum of 2 semesters.
  • Both preliminary and final exams will be required to test the candidate’s knowledge of geology with emphasis on the work presented in the dissertation and general fields of knowledge pertinent to the degree.

Developing a Program of Study

Each student will develop a program of study in cooperation with a Supervisory Committee that includes their Faculty Advisor as Chair. The program of study is a plan for your classwork and research credits throughout the rest of your program.

Pullman, Puyallup, and Tri Cities Students: Programs of study are due by a specific date in your third semester of study. These dates are October 1st if your third semester is during the fall, and March 1st if your third semester is during the spring. These are firm deadlines, set in place by the Graduate School. 

Vancouver Students: Your program of study is due at the end of your 2nd semester.

As preparation for a Preliminary Examination, a core curriculum must be completed through preceding and/or new coursework that will yield competencies in areas determined by their faculty advisor in accordance with program bylaws and the most recent graduate student handbook.



[Photo credits: Banner photo: View of the Earth from orbit on the International Space Station. Source: Wikipedia. Author: Alexander Gerst (Geophysicist – ESA Astronaut)  License: CC BY-SA 2.0]