GEOG MA Handbook

The following requirements will apply to all incoming Master’s (MA) students as of the Fall 2017 semester and can be found in your geography MA handbook. Students in residence prior to Fall 2017 will be governed by the requirements in force in the academic year in which they entered the graduate program. While advisory services are available, responsibility for familiarization with, and adherence to, University and Departmental regulations ultimately rests with the doctoral student. For University regulations, consult the Graduate Division as needed. For Departmental regulations, consult the Graduate Chair as needed.

1. 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 will particularly apply to incoming students with highly specialized undergraduate degrees in disciplines other than Geography. The Department requires all incoming students to demonstrate appropriate breadth through coursework in each of the following four areas:

  • Human Geography
  • Environmental Geography
  • Geospatial Technologies
  • Statistics or equivalent quantitative course

If additional breadth courses are required, this can be remedied by completing approved courses in the Department, which can be taken credit/no credit. 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

Attendance and participation in the Fall/Spring Public Lectures is required by all MA students in residence.

C. Coursework

Each MA student is required to complete a minimum 30 credit hours of coursework 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. Students are responsible for planning their coursework and should aim to complete their program within four semesters.

I. Required Core Courses (7 Credits)

The three core courses are designed to introduce students to the world of professional geography, to faculty in the Department, and to begin shaping their research project. Core courses cannot be substituted with directed studies courses (GEOG 699) and students must obtain a B grade or higher to satisfy these requirements. If the core courses are not offered in a particular semester, with the prior approval of the Graduate Chair, a student may take an equivalent course in another department.

  • GEOG 692, Faculty Seminar Series (1 credit)
    MA Students are required to enroll in GEOG 692 during their first semester. This course serves to introduce the students to the work of faculty members through seminar-style presentations on a weekly basis that help them identify their Permanent Advisor and Thesis Committee members.
  • GEOG 695, Concepts and Theory in Geography (3 credits)
    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. The course is offered each fall semester.
  • GEOG 696, Research Design / Methods in Geography (3 credits)
    This course introduces MA students to the basic research techniques and methodologies used in geography. Students are required to write their thesis proposal as the major project in this course. The course is offered each spring semester.

II. Research Skills (3 Credits)

MA Students must complete at least 3 credits of coursework in research skills appropriate to their specialization. This can include quantitative techniques, qualitative research methods, field, or laboratory skills. A GEOG 699 course may be used to satisfy this requirement with the approval of a student’s advisor and the Graduate Chair. Ideally, the research skills course should be completed by the student’s second semester in the program.

III. 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, and 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 6 credits must be at the 600 or 700 level. Students may include 3 credits from cognate departments or programs with approval from their advisor and the Graduate Chair. Geography 699 credits may only be used under special circumstances to fulfill the specialization requirement with prior approval of their advisor and Graduate Chair.

IV. 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 ability to formulate a research problem, assemble and analyze data, draw appropriate conclusions, and express findings clearly and concisely.

2. Annual Review of MA Student Progress

In the Spring semester, the progress of all MA students will be reviewed, except those students on leave of absence. The Graduate Student Academic Plan & Progress Review requires students to consult with their Advisors on their progress in person by April 15 and submit the completed form to the Graduate Chair. In some cases, the Graduate Chair may consider that further action needs to be taken and the report will be referred to the Graduate Program Committee who may, if the student’s performance is deficient, place the student on departmental probation.

3. Time Limits

The program should take two years to complete including coursework, field work, and the writing of the thesis. In practice, time taken will vary according to the prior experience of the student and the nature of the thesis research project. 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 of the Associate Dean of the Graduate Division. Recommendation for approval will be made by the Graduate Chair only if the student submits an acceptable degree plan and time line for completion of all degree requirements endorsed by their advisor. Failure to comply with this plan will usually result in the student being dropped from the program. Students pursuing a MA degree and not on an approved leave of absence must maintain continuous registration during the academic year (i.e., registered in at least 1 credit of course work in fall and spring semesters) or they will be considered to have voluntarily dropped from the program and must petition for re-admission should they desire to return.

4. 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 will together decide whether any additional courses are required for the Pre-Program Breadth requirement and will discuss the student’s proposed course of study. Potential course transfers (previous graduate level course work) will be discussed with the Graduate Chair. If suitable courses are identified, the Graduate Division Petition to Transfer Course Credits will be filed in the student’s first semester. Note that the Graduate Chair facilitates course credit transfer, however, the appropriateness for the student’s degree program as a specialization or research skills course will be determined at a later date in concert with the Advisor and Thesis Committee.
  2. Advancement to Candidacy
    Once the Pre-Program Breadth requirement is completed, the student will be admitted to candidacy. The Graduate Division Form I will then be completed by the Graduate Chair and submitted to the Graduate Division.
  3. Synopsis of MA Program
    The Department requires that each student’s Synopsis of MA Program be completed each semester with their Advisor to ensure that coursework is completed on schedule. Once all of the program course requirements are completed, the student, in consultation with the 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
    The Permanent Advisor, who may or may not be the same person as the Interim Advisor, and the other members of the Thesis Committee should be identified during the second semester. The student 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
    A formal research proposal, which will be written in GEOG 696, must be approved by the MA student’s Thesis Committee, ideally by the end of the 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 Subjects (CHS) before formal thesis research is initiated. The Graduate Chair submits the Graduate Division Form II (Advancement to Thesis Stage) when the proposal has been approved by all committee members and the appropriate protocol approvals have been received, if necessary. The student will be eligible to register for Geog 700 (Thesis Research) once Form II has been approved by the Graduate Division.
  6. Thesis Research and Writing
    The MA student should begin research once the thesis proposal is approved by the student’s Permanent Advisor and Thesis Committee. In most instances, research will be conducted over the summer. During the second year the student should enroll in GEOG 700 credits as they analyze data and write their thesis. The thesis is a substantial undertaking that demonstrates a student’s ability to formulate a research problem, assemble and analyze data, draw appropriate conclusions, and express findings clearly and concisely. 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 before beginning the writing about specific expectations process for length, structure, and presentation.
  7. Thesis Defense
    The thesis will normally be completed by the end of the fourth semester. Each Thesis Committee is slightly different in its expectations of the MA student during the period of writing. Some members of some committees may want to see rough drafts, others may want to read only completed versions of chapters. In any case, the Permanent Advisor will usually work with the student closely on the drafting of chapters, and will determine, with the student, when it is appropriate to present work to other members of the Thesis Committee. This must be done at least two weeks before the defense.
       At that point, the student will schedule an MA thesis defense with their Permanent Advisor and the 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 committee members may have been consulted 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 will sign the Graduate Division Student Progress Form III (Final Examination and Approval of Thesis).
  8. Thesis Submission
    When the Thesis Committee finally approves the thesis it must then be prepared to the specifications of the 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 Graduate Chair.

5. Planning Table

Although there is flexibility in the scheduling of courses, students should follow this course plan in completing their MA degree requirements in 4 semesters.

Two-year planning table for the geography MA program
  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

6. 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)