Ocean Sciences Ph.D. Degree Program

Ph.D. Student Requirements, Meetings, and Exams

I.  General Overview

  1. Year one:  Meet with advisor and Graduate Advising Committee to schedule the first year’s coursework. Complete core courses and any deficiencies in the program prerequisites.
  2. Year two:  Departmental Exam (form is provided by the department office). Students entering the Ocean Sciences Ph.D. program from the Ocean Sciences Masters program may take the departmental exam during the spring quarter of their first year.
  3. Year Three:  Qualifying Exam (QE) and Advancement to Candidacy (requires two forms from the Graduate Division website and a payment).

II.  Ph.D. 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 an elective requirement.

III.  Normative Time From Matriculation to Degree

Students are generally expected to complete the Ph.D. degree in five to six years. Maintaining a 15-unit minimum course load, the required core course sequence will be taken, core course deficiencies (if any) will be made up, and elective subject area courses will be taken. A Departmental Examination is taken at the beginning of the student’s second year in the program. All courses recommended by the student’s advisor (or the Graduate Advising Committee) to fill out the student’s specialty area, should be completed by the end of the third year.

The Qualifying Examination is taken during the third or fourth year and is dependent on working with the student’s advisor to develop the thesis topic. Years three through five are primarily devoted to the research initiated during years one and two. Students will take and attend the departmental seminar series throughout their time in the program.

California Residency Requirement: The minimum residence requirement for the Ph.D. degree is six terms (quarters), three of which must be spent in residence at the University of California, Santa Cruz campus. Residency is required by the end of the first year and is established by the satisfactory completion of one five-unit course per term. Full time enrollment in the Department of Ocean Sciences is 15 units per quarter. Part-time status is five to eight units per quarter.

IV.  Ph.D. Student Course Requirements

    1. The four Core Ocean Sciences courses: Physical, Chemical, Geological and Biological Oceanography – These courses are to be completed in the first year of the program and prior to taking the Departmental Exam. Under the grading options, the four core Ocean Sciences (see below) courses must be taken for a letter grade, but the Satisfactory/ Unsatisfactory grading option may be selected for the other courses. 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

      Additionally, during the first year, students must make up any missing requirements they might have upon entering the program.
    2. A minimum of three 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 two courses must be graduate or upper-division undergraduate lecture courses.
    3. Teaching Experience – Satisfied by two quarters of experience as a Teaching Assistant in Ocean Sciences or a related department.
    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. A minimum of three courses in Independent Studies (OCEA 297 – before Advancing to Candidacy) or Thesis Research (OCEA 299 – after Advancing to Candidacy) under the direction of an advisor. Students beyond their first year will generally take 10 or 15 units of Independent Study or Thesis Research units each quarter.

V.  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 name a committee that will also serve as their Qualifying Exam committee, and 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 dissertation 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.

The four Ocean Sciences core courses should be taken during the student’s first year, to help prepare the student for the Departmental Exam. Other courses will be suggested to further develop their academic background in their particular area of expertise, and these course decisions will require the input of the student’s academic advisor.

VI.  Departmental Exam

This oral exam, covering material from the core courses, is usually taken at the beginning of a student’s second year in the program. It must be completed successfully within two years of entering the program. The purpose of this exam is to ensure that the doctoral student candidate has acquired sufficient fundamental knowledge of oceanography to proceed towards the doctoral degree.

The departmental exam tests students in the general areas of ocean sciences learned from material covered in the four required Ocean Sciences core courses, and in the general area of the student's expertise in their parent (undergraduate) discipline. The departmental exam is distinct from the qualifying exam because it examines the student on broad knowledge of oceanography, whereas the qualifying exam is focused on the student’s research area. Performance in core coursework will also be taken into consideration.

The department exam committee will be composed of three to four Ocean Sciences core faculty members, and may include the student’s advisor although the student’s advisor may not serve as the chair of the department exam committee.  Students entering the Ocean Sciences Ph.D. program from the Ocean Sciences Masters program may take the departmental exam during the spring quarter of their first year.

VII.  Qualifying Exam

This exam requires a written research proposal to be defended orally in front of the student’s Qualifying Examination Committee and is normally taken during the third or fourth year of the program and is dependent on working with the students advisor to develop the thesis topic. Students entering the Ocean Sciences Ph.D. program with a Masters degree from the Ocean Sciences program are encouraged to take their qualifying exam during the Spring quarter of their second year. Students must be registered the quarter they take the exam. The qualifying exam will consist of a written thesis proposal and an oral exam.

The Committee Nomination of Ph.D. Qualifying Examination form must be submitted to the department at least one month prior to the exam. The nomination form must list the title, department, institution, and email address for all committee members. The student is responsible for ensuring that the correct information is submitted to the department.

The QE committee must be composed of at least four examiners, often consisting of the three thesis committee members, and an outside member. The Chair of the QE committee must be a tenured faculty member and can be the thesis advisor. At least one of the exam committee members must be a core member of the Department of Ocean Sciences.

The outside member must be a tenured faculty member (Associate or Full Professor) either from a different department on the Santa Cruz campus or a tenured member from the same or a different discipline from another campus.

If the outside member holds a non-academic position, they must submit a CV for department and Graduate Dean review. When complete, the department will submit the QE committee nomination to the Dean of Graduate Studies for approval. Nominations must be forwarded to the Graduate Dean at least one month prior to examination date.

Upon successful completion of the qualifying exam, the student must name a Dissertation Committee (usually the same as the qualifying committee) by completing a Nominations for Dissertation Reading Committee form. The student must have no incomplete grades (I) on their record and will be billed the Advancement to Candidacy fee via their student portal. The department office will forward the Qualifying Exam Report and Nominations for Dissertation Reading Committee Form to the Division of Graduate Studies. Advancement to Candidacy takes effect on the first day of the quarter following the receipt of the Qualifying Examination Report, the Dissertation Reading Committee Form, Language Requirement form (if applicable), and the Advancement to Candidacy fee in the Graduate Division. Additionally, the student must be registered for at least one quarter between advancing to candidacy and the awarding of the degree.

     A.  Components of A Qualifying Exam         

    1. Written Thesis - The written thesis proposal should be approximately 10 to 20 pages in length and should set forth the details of the proposed thesis research. The thesis must include the background information and detailed scientific hypotheses or questions that will be addressed, along with the methods to be used. Any preliminary data already gathered must also be included. An abstract of the thesis proposal must be provided to the QE committee a month in advance of the exam, and the written proposal must be submitted to the QE committee members a minimum of ten days prior to the exam.   
    2. Oral Examination – The student will orally defend their written proposal during the formal qualifying exam. Immediately after the exam, a Report on Qualifying Examination form must be signed by all of the committee members, and the Chair of the committee must provide the report of the committee–including the details of the vote–to the department within a month of the exam. It is the responsibility of the Chair of the committee to obtain all of the committee members’ signatures. The completed form is submitted to the department office for approval and submission to the Division of Graduate Studies at which time a copy of the exam report will be forwarded to the student.

VIII.  Ph.D. Dissertation Preparation

The Ph.D. Dissertation, demonstrating original thought and research, must be written, presented in an open seminar, and defended to the student’s Dissertation Reading Committee. The Dissertation Reading Committee, approved by the Department and by the Dean of Graduate Studies, will help guide and evaluate the student’s program, study, and progress. The Dissertation Reading Committee must have at least three members and at least half of the committee must be members of the Santa Cruz Division of the Academic Senate. At least one of the exam committee members must be a core member of the Ocean Sciences Department. The Graduate Dean must approve any change in the membership of the committee.

The dissertation, completed in the format specified by the Graduate Council and approved by the dissertation committee, must be submitted to the Division of Graduate Studies by the last day of the term in which the degree is to be awarded.

The thesis may be a conventional dissertation or a compilation of published or to-be-published papers, as long as its format and content meet with the approval of the Dissertation Reading Committee and conform to the University submission guidelines.

The guidelines can be downloaded from the Division of Graduate Studies website under the Current Students/Applications & Forms link. Submission deadlines can be found on the Registrar's Academic and Administrative Calendar.

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

IX.  Final Examination

The final examination is a public oral defense of the dissertation, and is generally given after the written dissertation has received substantial approval from the Dissertation Reading Committee. The student will be required to defend the thesis to public questioning, as well as to the committee at the end of the public part of the seminar presentation. 

The student is responsible for scheduling the final examination with the committee and scheduling the seminar room. Most students use the Earth & Planetary Sciences seminar room in the E&MS building, room A340. The department office will draft and post the final examination announcement.

Upon completion of the final examination, the student must obtain original “wet” signatures from their committee members on the dissertation cover page. The original cover page must be submitted to the Division of Graduate Studies and a copy or scan should be provided to the department office. An electronic copy of the dissertation must be submitted to the department office and to ProQuest as outlined in the guidelines mentioned in section VII.

The student then completes the Application for the Graduate Certificate form and submits it to their graduate advisor and the department office for signature approval and submittal to the Division of Graduate Studies. Your diploma will be mailed to your permanent address in 3-5 months. Verify and update your permanent address via the Student Portal at http://my.ucsc.edu.