GEOG MA Handbook

The following requirements apply to all incoming master’s (MA) students as of the Fall 2017 semester. Students in residence prior to Fall 2017 are governed by the requirements enforced in the academic year in which they entered the program. While advisory services are available, responsibility for familiarization with as well as adherence to university and departmental regulations ultimately rests with the graduate student. Moreover, for university regulations, consult the Graduate Division as needed. For departmental regulations, consult the graduate chair as needed.

I. Degree Requirements

A. Pre-Program Breadth

Upon admission to the MA program and before initial course registration, students must communicate with the graduate chair and their interim advisor to evaluate the breadth of their academic background. This particularly applies to incoming students with highly specialized undergraduate degrees in disciplines other than geography. The department requires all incoming students to demonstrate an appropriate breadth of course work in each of the following four areas:

  1. Human Geography
  2. Environmental Geography
  3. Geospatial Technologies
  4. Statistics or equivalent quantitative course

If a student requires additional breadth courses, they may complete approved courses in the department which have the credit/no credit grading option. Courses taken at the graduate level to address the breadth requirement may also be used satisfy specialization requirements if approved by the advisor and Graduate Chair, but only if taken for a grade.

B. Departmental Public Lectures

All MA students must attend and participate in the Fall/Spring Public Lectures while in residence.

C. Coursework

Each MA student must complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of course work at the 400-level or higher. Students must consult with their advisor before registering for courses each semester and maintain a Synopsis of MA Program. However, students are responsible for planning their own course work and should aim to complete their program within four semesters.

1. Required Core Courses (7 credits)

The three core courses are designed to introduce students to the world of professional geography and to faculty in the department. The courses should also help students begin shaping their research project. It is important to realize that students cannot substitute core courses with directed studies courses (GEO 699). Moreover, students must obtain a B grade or higher to satisfy these requirements. If the core courses are not offered in a particular semester, a student may take an equivalent course in another department with prior approval from the graduate chair.

  • GEOG 692: Faculty Seminar Series (1) MA students are required to enroll in GEOG 692 during their first semester. This course serves to introduce students to the work of faculty members through seminar-style presentations on a weekly basis to help them choose their permanent advisor and their thesis committee members.
  • GEOG 695: Concepts and Theory in Geography (3) This seminar course offers MA students an overview of the history of the discipline and provides a basic understanding of the key theoretical debates in the field in order to assist students with identifying the conceptual and theoretical framework for their research project. Offered each fall semester.
  • GEOG 696: Research Design / Methods in Geography (3) This course introduces MA students to the basic research techniques and methodologies used in geography. Students write their thesis proposal as the major project in this course. Offered each spring semester.

2. Research Skills (3 credits)

MA students must complete at least three (3) credits of course work in research skills appropriate to their specialization. This can include quantitative techniques, qualitative research methods, or field or laboratory skills. A student may use a GEOG 699 course to satisfy this requirement only if they gain approval from their advisor and the graduate chair. Ideally, a student should complete the research skills course in their second semester in the program.

3. Specialization (12 credits)

MA students must consult with their advisor to devise an approved program of courses that constitute a coherent specialization. Faculty supervise students with specializations in human geography, environmental geography, and geospatial technologies. All proposed specializations must be supported by faculty expertise within the department. All courses must be at the 400-level or higher and at least six (6) credits must be at the 600- or 700-level. Students may include three (3) credits from cognate departments or programs with approval from their advisor and the graduate chair. A student may also use GEO 699 credits to fulfill this requirement, but only under special circumstances and with prior approval from their advisor and the graduate chair.

4. Thesis Writing (8 credits)

MA students receive credit while preparing their thesis under the direction of an advisor. The thesis is a substantial undertaking that demonstrates a student’s abilities to formulate a research problem, assemble and analyze data, draw appropriate conclusions, and express findings clearly and concisely.

II. Annual Review of MA Student Progress

The progress of all MA students (except those on leave of absence) is reviewed in the spring semester. To this end, the Graduate Student Academic Plan and Progress Review requires students to consult with their advisors on their progress in person by April 15 and to submit the completed form to the graduate chair. In some cases, the graduate chair may consider that further action must be taken and the report will then be referred to the graduate program committee. If the student’s performance is deficient, the committee may place the student on departmental probation.

III. Time Limits

The program should take two years to complete including course work, field work, and writing the thesis. In practice, however, the time taken varies with a student’s prior experience and the nature of their thesis research project. Additionally, the Graduate Division requires students to complete all requirements within seven years of entering the program. Candidates who fail to complete all requirements within the specified time are automatically dropped from the program. Reinstatement for a limited period of time is only possible upon approval from the associate dean of the Graduate Division. The graduate chair will make a recommendation for approval only if the student submits an acceptable degree plan and timeline for completion of all degree requirements endorsed by their advisor. In this case, failure to comply with this plan will usually result in the student being dropped from the program.

Students pursuing an MA degree and not on an approved leave of absence must maintain continuous registration during the academic year (i.e. registered in at least one (1) credit of course work in the fall and spring semesters). Conversely, students who do not maintain continuous registration are considered to have voluntarily dropped from the program and must petition for re-admission should they wish to return.

IV. Progress Guide

1. The Preliminary Conference

MA students meet with their interim advisor and the graduate chair before registering for classes during the first semester. They decide together whether the student requires any additional courses for the Pre-Program Breadth requirement and discuss the student’s proposed course of study at this time. Potential course transfers of previous graduate-level course work are also discussed with the graduate chair. If suitable courses are identified, the Graduate Division Petition to Transfer Course Credits is filed in the student’s first semester. Note that though the graduate chair facilitates course credit transfer, the student’s advisor and thesis committee determine the appropriateness of the credits for the student’s degree program as a specialization or research skills course at a later date.

2. Advancement to Candidacy

Once the Pre-Program Breadth requirement is completed, the student is admitted to candidacy. The graduate chair then completes and submits the Graduate Division Form I.

3. Synopsis of MA Program

The department requires each student to complete their Synopsis of MA Program each semester with their advisor to ensure that they complete all course work on schedule. Once they complete all program course requirements, the student, in consultation with their advisor, must submit a signed Synopsis of MA Program to the graduate chair to be placed in their file.

4. Appointment of the Advisor and Thesis Committee

A student should identify their permanent advisor and other members of their thesis committee during their second semester. The student then must submit the department’s Proposed MA Thesis Committee form to the graduate chair for approval and to be placed in their file.

5. Advancement to Thesis Stage

The student’s thesis committee must approve a formal research proposal, written in GEOG 696, ideally by the end of the student’s second semester. If the proposed research involves the use of human subjects, non-human vertebrate animals, recombinant DNA, radioactive materials, scuba diving, or hazardous materials (including microorganisms), the student must receive approval from the appropriate subcommittee of the Committee on Human Studies (CHS) before initiating formal thesis research. The graduate chair submits the Graduate Division Form II (Advancement to Thesis Stage) once the proposal is approved by all committee members and the appropriate protocol approvals are received, if necessary. The student is eligible to register for GEOG 700 (Thesis Research) once Form II is approved by the Graduate Division.

6. Thesis Research and Writing

The student should begin research once their permanent advisor and thesis committee approve their thesis proposal. In most instances, students conduct their research over the summer. In their second year, the student should enroll in GEOG 700 credits while they analyze data and write their thesis. The thesis should be of publishable quality as judged by the thesis committee. The thesis can vary in length but a rough guideline is 75 to 125 pages, depending on the nature of the research. The student should consult with their permanent advisor and thesis committee about specific expectations for length, structure, and presentation before beginning to write.

7. Thesis Defense

The thesis is normally completed by the end of the student’s fourth semester. Each thesis committee is slightly different in their expectations of the student during the period of writing. Some members of some committees may want to see rough drafts, while others may only want to read completed versions of chapters. In any case, the student’s permanent advisor will usually work with the student closely on chapter drafts and will determine with the student when it is appropriate to present work to other members of the thesis committee. Students must present their work at least two weeks before their defense.

At this point, the student will schedule an MA thesis defense with their permanent advisor and thesis committee members. The final defense is an oral examination open to the public, during which the author of a thesis demonstrates to the committee satisfactory command of all aspects of the work presented and other related subjects, if applicable.

The student must be present; however, thesis committee members can participate by phone or video conference if necessary. Even though the student may have consulted committee members during the writing, the student should expect to make at least some revisions after the defense. If the student passes the oral defense, the thesis committee then signs the Graduate Division Student Progress Form III (Final Examination and Approval of Thesis).

8. Thesis Submission

When the thesis committee approves the thesis, the student must then prepare it to the specifications of the Graduate Division (Graduate Division Form IV). Students should refer to the Graduate Division guidelines for further information on format and deadlines for thesis submission. Students must also present one electronic copy of their thesis to the department chair and the graduate chair.

V. Planning Table

Although there is flexibility in the scheduling of courses, students should follow the following course plan to complete their MA degree requirements in four semesters.

  Semester 1 Semester 2 Summer Semester 3 Semester 4
Courses: GEOG 695,
GEOG 692,
Specialization 1,
Specialization 2
GEOG 696,
Research Skills,
Specialization 3
  GEOG 700,
Specialization 4
GEOG 700
Thesis: Learn about
general and
Form Thesis Committee,
Complete thesis proposal
Research Analyze data,
Begin writing
Finish writing,
Defend thesis,
Submit thesis
Forms: Form I*,
Petition for Credit**,
Synopsis of MA Program**
Form II*,
Proposed Committee**,
Academic Plan & Progress Review**
  Synopsis of MA Program** Form III*,
Form IV*

* Graduate Division

** Department of Geography

VI. Forms

  • Synopsis of MA Program (Department)
  • Proposed MA Thesis Committee (Department)
  • Graduate Student Academic Plan & Progress Review (Department)
  • Petition to Transfer and/or Substitute Courses (Graduate Division)
  • Master’s Plan A Form I: Pre-Candidacy Progress (Graduate Division)
  • Master’s Plan A Student Progress Form II: Advance to Candidacy (Graduate Division)
  • Master’s Plan A Form III: Thesis Evaluation (Graduate Division)
  • Master’s Plan A Form IV: Thesis Submission (Graduate Division)