Miscellaneous Requirements and FAQs

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Coursework Requirements

PhD students are required to take eight (8) courses, each lasting one semester, within their first two years. Two courses that are required for all GEO students are GEO505 and GEO506. Two additional of the eight courses are also required to be outside the student’s area of specialization; whether a course fits this requirement is determined by the student’s advisory committee. The makeup of the rest of a student’s coursework is flexible and determined with consultation between the student, his/her advisor, and the Advisory Committee.

For advanced students (e.g. those coming in with a MSc or a degree from a foreign university), up to two courses may be waived if similar courses have been completed elsewhere. Waivers should be proposed by the student's Advisory Committee for approval by the GWC.

Post-Generals students are encouraged to continue to take occasional courses as a useful means of filling gaps in knowledge appropriate to their research and other professional interests. Active participation in departmental seminars is considered especially important as these provide exposure to a broad range of research at the forefront of Earth Sciences.

Undergraduate Courses

Students coming into GEO have very different academic backgrounds and training, and as a result may benefit from taking undergraduate courses. Students are permitted to enroll in and receive credit (towards their 8 required courses) for undergraduate courses 300 level and above, with the approval of their advisory committee.

Grade Requirements

Graduate students must maintain a B average in their pre-generals exam coursework to continue in the PhD program.

Financial Support

PhD students are not expected to fund their education and/or research. The first year of the PhD program is funded by the University. The remaining years are funded through fellowships and grants awarded to individual faculty members from outside agencies, or through an Assistantship in Instruction. Students who are U.S. citizens are urged to apply for National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, NASA, or Hertz fellowships. There are also opportunities to obtain small amounts funding (thousands of dollars) for graduate research in the department and at other organizations such as GSA and USGS. These change from time to time so asking around is a good way to find out about them.

Summer Research and Fieldwork

PhD students are expected to work on research over the summer, and will be given summer stipend in order to do so. Project grants normally defray minimum living expenses and transportation associated with fieldwork. Each student whose summer research is not supported by a project grant should attempt to secure funds from an outside agency (e.g., the Geological Society of America or Sigma Xi). It is not uncommon for graduate students to do summer internships or summer-schools outside the University. These can be good ways to explore post-PhD options outside of academics, to gain experience in a different type of research, or to interact with an academic community outside Princeton in depth. Interested students should speak with their advisors and advisory committees well in advance about this option so that logistical issues such as funding and PhD research progress can be discussed.

Assistants-in-Instruction (AIs)

Princeton refers to teaching assistantships (TAs) as “AIs,” and graduate students in GEO are required to be an AI for a course for one full semester credit, either one full time course or two half-time courses. Students serve as AIs more than the required minimum, either because they desire more teaching experience, or for financial support.

The responsibilities of an AI are quite variable depending on the needs of the course, the number of students, whether there is a lab period and/or field trip, etc. Typical duties include leading precept meetings, grading homework assignments and papers, lecturing, assisting or leading laboratory instruction, and planning logistics and academic programs for field trips.

Information on AI preparation and training is available at the McGraw Center for Learning and Teaching (https://mcgraw.princeton.edu/graduates/ai-orientation). Graduate students are required to take AI training through McGraw prior to serving as an AI.

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement.

Attendance at Scientific Meetings

The department encourages attendance of graduate students at scientific meetings. Department vehicles can be made available whenever possible for transportation of student groups to meetings close to Princeton.

Funding for attendance at scientific meetings comes either from their advisor’s sponsored awards, or other faculty funds. Additionally, each GEO graduate student is entitled to a maximum of $1,500 from Departmental funds to attend a scientific meeting of their choice. Students seeking to use this funding should submit a request to the Graduate Administrator and DGS.

Career Services and Professional Development

Graduate students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of professional development and career services opportunities at Princeton during their studies. These include opportunities within the Department of Geosciences, like presenting in the graduate student seminar or writing a proposal with your advisor. Examples of broader campus resources include the writing, speaking, presentation and career exploration workshops offered regularly by the Graduate School and Career Services (https://gradschool.princeton.edu/professional-development), the teaching certificate program offered by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the University Administrative Fellowships facilitated by the Graduate School, and the science outreach and activism opportunities available in several graduate student organizations. To ensure that students are exposed to and prepared for their desired career path, it is recommended that graduate students discuss their professional goals and broader skill development goals with their advisor and their advisory committee at least once a year. Additionally, the Office of Career Services offers one-on-one career consultations, which are especially valuable after generals when students begin to focus full-time on their dissertation research. 

For Graduate Students

Grad Student Handbook thumbnail image
  • Graduate Student Handbook
    Last Update: 07/31/2023
    This guide comprehensively covers the academic requirements for attaining a Ph.D. in GEO. It focuses on the first and second years, as these have the most requirements. Information pertaining to subsequent years focuses on dissertation research and career services.