Ocean Sciences Master's Degree Program

Master’s Degree Student Requirements, Meetings, and Exams

The Ocean Sciences Department offers a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in ocean sciences. The Ocean Sciences M.S. degree can be attained through Plan I (thesis, minimum 44 credits) or Plan II (coursework, minimum 42 credits). The degree combines core courses and electives to provide depth and breadth in the ocean sciences. Graduates from the program are exceptionally prepared to take research or management positions in organizations concerned with the marine environment, to become educators, or to enter doctoral programs in ocean sciences or related fields. The thesis M. S. degree is preparation for research careers.

Whereas the doctoral program has an oceanographic orientation, the Ocean Sciences Master's program is even broader and has traditionally attracted many students in marine biology and ecology. As with the doctoral program, students are encouraged to select a course of study and a research program that draws on the expertise of the core ocean sciences faculty and any of the affiliated faculty in other departments. Customized programs of study that combine related disciplines are supported in the Master's program.

Plan I - Thesis Master's Degree Student Requirements

I.  Master’s Student Course Prerequisites

  1. A minimum of two quarters or two semesters in each of the following: a calculus series, chemistry, biology, and physics.
  2. One course in each of the following: earth sciences or geological principles, and statistics or biostatistics.

Students who have not satisfied all of the prerequisite requirements for biology, chemistry, geology, or physics upon entering the Ocean Sciences Graduate Program may substitute one quarter or semester prerequisite class with the appropriate core course providing they have obtained a passing letter grade (B or higher) in that class; however, they can only make this substitution in one subject area and it cannot be in the student’s primary subject area of research. For example, a student in Physical Oceanography can use Chemical Oceanography to substitute for one quarter or semester of the chemistry prerequisite requirement, but cannot use Physical Oceanography to substitute for one quarter of semester of the physics prerequisite requirement. No substitutions or exceptions, however, can be made for the mathematics and statistics requirements. Any courses that are taken to satisfy any remaining missing prerequisites cannot double count as an elective. For example, if Data Analyses (OCEA 260) is taken to fulfill the statistics prerequisite, it cannot be used to fulfill a course requirement.

II.  Scheduling Meetings

During the Fall and Spring quarters, students must meet with the departmental Graduate Advising Committee and with their advisor. Starting in year 2, the student must meet with their committee once per year in the beginning of Spring quarter. The purpose of these meetings is to formally review a student’s academic record, to help establish a schedule of classes, to review the student’s progress on their thesis research, and to develop an ongoing program plan that will be entered into the student’s file. Contact the Department office for the Annual Progress Report form.

Other courses will be suggested to further develop the student’s academic background in their particular area of expertise, and these course decisions will require the input of the student’s academic advisor.

III.  Master’s Student Course Requirements

To introduce students to the breadth and depth of the field of Ocean Sciences, students will be required to complete the following:

  1. Three of the four Core courses (one of which must be OCEA 200 – Physical Oceanography) are required, though all four are recommended. Core courses should be taken in the order listed below (may vary by year so check the department website):

    FALL:          OCEA 200 – Physical Oceanography and OCEA 280 – Marine Geology
    WINTER:     OCEA 220 – Chemical Oceanography
    SPRING:     OCEA 230 – Biological Oceanography

    Students are expected to complete all three of these courses in the first year of their program. A fourth course, if taken, counts as an elective. Each quarter, Ocean Sciences Graduate students are expected to take 15 units of classes. All students are required to enroll in the core courses for a letter grade (as opposed to the default “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” or “Pass/No pass” options). All other courses may be taken for a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grade.

    Additionally, during the first year, students must make up any missing requirements they might have upon entering the program.

  2. A minimum of two graduate-level or upper-division elective courses – These courses provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis or supporting disciplines. They are chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor and the department’s Graduate Advising Committee. A maximum of one course may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290); at least one course must be graduate or upper-division undergraduate lecture courses.

  3. A minimum of three courses in Independent Studies (OCEA 297), under the direction of an advisor, is required. Students beyond their first year will usually take 10 or 15 units of Independent Studies each quarter.

  4. OCEA 292 – Ocean Sciences Seminar Series. Attendance is required each quarter of enrollment.

  5. OCEA 296 – Teaching in Ocean Sciences, taken prior to, or concurrent with, being a Teaching Assistant. Generally offered during the Fall quarter each year.

  6. Teaching Experience – Satisfied by one quarter of experience as a Teaching Assistant in Ocean Sciences or a related department.

  7. Complete a Master’s Thesis and present it at an open seminar. Students submitting their thesis should work closely with the Graduate Division regarding thesis requirements. See below for Thesis committee guidelines.

IV.  Master’s Thesis Reading Committee Guidelines

The Nominations for the Master's Thesis Reading Committee form must be submitted prior to the Application for the Master’s Degree form - usually in the first year of study. A complete Nominations form must be submitted to the department for submittal to the Division of Graduate Studies.

The Master's Thesis Reading Committee usually consists of three Readers though more are permitted. The Chair of the Committee is usually the student's sponsor. At least one of the exam committee members must be a core faculty member of the Ocean Sciences Department; an external committee member is not required. At least half the Readers must be members of the UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate. The Committee form must list the title and institution of all committee members and the department must be provided contact information for all the committee members including mailing address, email, phone and fax. It is the student’s responsibility to be sure that the correct information is submitted to the department. Non-Senate readers (UCSC researchers and faculty and researchers outside the UC system) do not have to submit their CV for department and Graduate Dean review.

After the department approves the form, it is submitted to the Dean of Graduate Studies for approval.   

V.  Application to Graduate and Thesis Guidelines

An Application for the Master's Degree must be submitted to the Department office by the deadline in the Academic Calendar quarter you wish to receive the degree (see the Registrar's Academic and Administrative Calendar). If you do not complete all requirements for the degree, a new application must be filed the quarter you plan complete. 

The thesis must be a professionally finished work in format, style, spelling and appearance, abiding by the Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines from the Graduate Division website. One copy of the thesis, signed by your thesis committee must be filed with the Graduate Division by the last day of the term in which you expect to receive your degree. An electronic copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the department office as well.

Plan II - Coursework Master's Degree Student Requirements

I.  Master’s Student Course Prerequisites

  1. A minimum of two quarters or two semesters in each of the following: a calculus series, chemistry, biology, and physics.
  2. One course in each of the following: earth sciences or geological principles, and statistics or biostatistics.

Students who have not satisfied all of the prerequisite requirements for biology, chemistry, geology, or physics upon entering the Ocean Sciences Graduate Program may substitute one quarter or semester prerequisite class with the appropriate core course providing they have obtained a passing letter grade (B or higher) in that class; however, they can only make this substitution in one subject area and it cannot be in the student’s primary subject area of research. For example, a student in Physical Oceanography can use Chemical Oceanography to substitute for one quarter or semester of the chemistry prerequisite requirement, but cannot use Physical Oceanography to substitute for one quarter of semester of the physics prerequisite requirement. No substitutions or exceptions, however, can be made for the mathematics and statistics requirements. Any courses that are taken to satisfy any remaining missing prerequisites cannot double count as an elective. For example, if Data Analyses (OCEA 260) is taken to fulfill the statistics prerequisite, it cannot be used to fulfill a course requirement.

II.  Scheduling Meetings

During the Fall and Spring quarters, students must meet with the departmental Graduate Advising Committee and with their advisor. The purpose of these meetings is to formally review a student’s academic record, to help establish a schedule of classes, and to develop an ongoing program plan that will be entered into the student’s file. Other courses will be suggested to further develop the student’s academic background in their particular area of expertise, and these course decisions will require the input of the student’s academic advisor. Contact the Department office for the Annual Progress Report form.

III.  Master’s Student Course Requirements

To introduce students to the breadth and depth of the field of Ocean Sciences, students will be required to complete the following:

  1. All four Core courses are required. Core courses should be taken in the order listed below (may vary by year so check the department website):

    FALL:          OCEA 200 – Physical Oceanography and OCEA 280 – Marine Geology
    WINTER:     OCEA 220 – Chemical Oceanography
    SPRING:     OCEA 230 – Biological Oceanography

    Each quarter, Ocean Sciences Graduate students are expected to take 15 units of classes. All students are required to enroll in the core courses for a letter grade (as opposed to the default “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” or “Pass/No pass” options). All other courses may be taken for a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grade.

    Additionally, during the first year, students must make up any missing requirements they might have upon entering the program.

  2. Complete one course in data analysis (5 credits) - Introductory Data Analysis in Ocean and Earth Sciences, OCEA 260.

  3. A minimum of two graduate-level or upper-division elective courses – These courses provide depth in the chosen area of emphasis or supporting disciplines. A maximum of one course may be a graduate-level seminar (OCEA 290); at least two courses must be graduate or upper-division undergraduate lecture courses.

  4. OCEA 292 – Ocean Sciences Seminar Series. Attendance is required each quarter of enrollment.

  5. Passing performance on the Comprehensive exam.

IV.  Application to Graduate

An Application for the Master's Degree must be submitted to the Department office by the deadline in the Academic Calendar quarter you wish to receive the degree (see the Registrar's Academic and Administrative Calendar). If you do not complete all requirements for the degree, a new application must be filed the quarter you plan complete. 

Additional Information

California Residency Requirement: Please see the Registrar's website for information about establishing California Residency.

Deadlines for submission of forms and applications can be found on the Registrar's Academic and Administrative Calendar.

For thesis requirements, students should consult the UCSC Graduate Student Handbook on the Division of Graduate Studies website. 

The application and other Masters Degree forms are found with instructions on the Division of Graduate Studies Applications & Forms webpage.