Guidelines for Graduate Students

The M.S. degree is the terminal degree for most employment situations.  Its completion  indicates that the student has achieved some proficiency in (has mastered) independent research, writing, and project management, and has developed a solid background in geology.  General information about  reaching this level of proficiency and the requirements for completing the M.S. degree are outlined in this guide.

Please note that the information presented here is offered as advice only.  Official requirements for individual students are those in effect during the year in which the student is accepted into the program.  All students should consult the Graduate Catalog for the appropriate year.

Students are advised to work closely with their major professor and with the Director of Graduate Studies to ensure that all requirements are met in a timely fashion. 

Graduate students accepted into the Geological Sciences M.S. program are expected to have the equivalent of the undergraduate Geological Sciences degree from East Carolina University. Students must ultimately eliminate deficiencies defined at the time of their entrance into the program.

All graduate students must pass an entrance exam administered during their first semester. This exam is used primarily as a diagnostic tool to identify weaknesses in the student's geologic background. Doing a project or taking a course in any weak area addresses poor performance on any portion of the exam. Preparation for the exam should include a review of your undergraduate course material and thorough understanding of all material in a good freshman geology textbook.

The M.S. degree in Geology requires 30-33 semester hours (s.h.) of requires 30-33 semester hours (s.h.) of course work from the following categories. Course choices must be approved by each student's major professor or, prior to choosing a major professor, the Director of Graduate Studies.

Thesis Option

Research Skills requirement (6 s.h.):

This requirement is fulfilled by taking GEOL 6900, Preparation of Geological Manuscripts (3 s.h.), and GEOL 7000, Thesis (3 s.h.).

All students are expected take GEOL 6900 in the Spring of their first year in the program. During that course, along with other writing exercises, students may progress towards preparing a formal thesis proposal.

Graduate Level Electives (24 s.h.):

The remainder of the 24 s.h. are chosen in consultation with the faculty adviser.

At least 15 s.h. of these courses must be at the 6000 level or above.

A maximum of 6 s.h. may be from outside the department.

Students may choose from among the current Geological Sciences Department graduate course offerings and, with prior approval of the thesis advisor (major professor) and the Director of Graduate Studies, graduate course offerings in other departments.

Non-thesis Option

In some circumstances, students may choose or be required to undertake the non-thesis option to complete the M.S. degree requirements. Details about this option should be discussed with the advisor and Director of Graduate Studies. This option requires the completion of a graduate research paper and several additional courses.

Nonthesis option requirements are as follows:

Equivalent of the East Carolina University BS degree in geology or progress toward elimination of deficiencies defined at the time of entrance into the graduate school.

Passing a graduate qualifying examination.  (See geology MS degree guidelines, available from the office of the Department of Geological Sciences.)

A total of 33 s.h. of course work, excluding GEOL 6522, GEOL 6523, GEOL 6532, GEOL 6533, GEOL 7000, GEOL 7001, GEOL 7007, AND GEOL 7008.  A maximum of 6 s.h. may be from outside the department. At least 17 s.h. must be above the 5999-level.

Completion of a 6 s.h. research skills option is required. The research skills option consists of GEOL 6900, Preparation of Geologic Manuscripts (3 s.h.) and GEOL 6998, Research Project (3 s.h.). All students are expected take GEOL 6900 in the Spring of their first year in the program.

A major component all M.S. degree programs is independent research -- work that demonstrates the student's mastery of his/her subject and ability to think critically, work independently, and communicate scientific results clearly. 

Preparation and completion of a thesis requires careful organization and planning. Steps in this process include: choosing a major professor, writing and presenting a formal thesis proposal, choosing a thesis committee, doing the thesis research, writing the thesis, and defending the thesis. M.S. students should begin consideration of a thesis topic soon after admission to the Graduate School.

The topic should be selected based on advice of the major professor and should be (1) original, (2) of interest of the student, (3) of sufficient scope, (4) feasible within the 1.5 to 2-year period of graduate study, and (5) within the specialty of one or more ECU Geological Sciences Department faculty members. Establishment of a thesis committee and completion of the formal thesis proposal should occur by the end of the second semester in residence and the student should plan to accomplish a substantial amount of the research during her/his first summer.

During the second year in residence, students can complete remaining course work, finish the data collection phase of their research, and hopefully complete the thesis document. Depending on the scope of the thesis project, a second summer and/or fifth semester may be required to finish and defend the thesis.

By the end of the first semester of participation in the M.S. program, the student should have selected a major professor from among the faculty of the Geological Sciences Department. This selection should be based on the mutual research interests of the student and the faculty member. Information about faculty research interests is available on the research web page and on the individual faculty web pages

This information should be used as a guide only; students are encouraged to meet with faculty working in their areas of interest and discuss possible thesis topics early in their first semester in residence. Upon agreeing to serve as major professor, the selected faculty helps determine the thesis topic chosen by the student, helps select the thesis committee, serves as chair of the thesis committee, and advises the student in the selection of courses to be taken. 

Until such time as a major professor has been selected, the Director of Graduate Studies will advise the student.

All M.S. students must prepare a formal thesis proposal. This proposal should be completed by the end of the second semester -- it may be done in the context of the Geological Manuscripts course. The proposal should be maximum of 10 double-spaced pages (plus title/signature page, diagrams, and references), written in a format approved by the major professor, and include the following minimum, basic components:      

Introduction/statement of purpose


Summary of previous work


Schedule of research activities.          


Upon completion, the proposal must be presented in meeting of the thesis committee and approved by the both major professor and the committee.        

The thesis committee consists of the major professor, two additional ECU Geological Sciences Department faculty members, and an expert from outside the department. The outside member must be approved by the major professor and may come from another ECU department, from another university, or from industry or government.

The committee should be selected, in consultation with the aid of the major professor, before or very soon after the completion of the thesis proposal.

The physical format of the thesis document must conform to the requirements of both the Graduate School, the committee, and the Geological Sciences Department. Different topics/research areas require slightly different approaches, but the final version of thesis is constrained by the Graduate School requirements.

During the final stages of thesis preparation, students are encouraged to consult directly with the Graduate School during the final stages of manuscript preparation, paying particular attention to Graduate School requirements for details such as margins and pagination. This will ensure that there are no eleventh-hour surprises.

All geology theses generally will contain the following sections:


Blank Cover Sheet

Title Page

Signature Page

Dedication (optional)

Acknowledgments (optional)

Table of Contents

List of Tables

List of Figures

List of Symbols or Abbreviations (as appropriate)

Text (this is the main body of the thesis; formatted & subdivided as prescribed by the major professor)


Appendices (as appropriate and required by the major professor and committee)

Blank Cover Sheet

The main parts of the thesis (abstract, contents, figures, tables, text, references, appendices) must be approved by the thesis advisor and presented to the thesis committee at least two weeks before the scheduled defense.

Students should be prepared (and allow time) to revise the thesis based on both the written comments of the committee and feedback received at the defense.  

Once completed and approved by the thesis advisor, the thesis must be defended in an open forum, and approved by the thesis committee. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that the time and place of the defense is scheduled and agreed upon well in advance by the student and her/his thesis committee. Defenses are not held during summer sessions.

Students are responsible for keeping all graduate school deadlines (see each semester's academic calendar for semester-by-semester information on the "last day to submit thesis to Graduate School for completion of degree in this term") and all departmental (committee) deadlines for thesis submittal, for obtaining approval from the major professor and thesis committee for the time and place of the proposal presentation and the defense, and for working with the thesis committee in regards to the timing of the editing process.

**All students should assume that the committee will want to read the thesis draft multiple times before final approval and that each reading may take several weeks.


Although the details will vary with the individual student, project, and major professor, the following time-line may be used as a guide to completing the steps toward degree in an efficient manner. This time-line assumes enrollment begins in the Fall semester. Students starting in the Spring or summer should adjust their schedules accordingly.


First Semester in Residence:

Take entrance exam. Take courses in general areas of interest. 

 If you have not done so prior to enrollment at ECU, identify area of research interest and major professor.

After discussions with major professor,begin to research specific thesis topic.

With the help of your major professor,work out a plan for taking necessary, thesis-related courses


2nd Semester (1st Spring) in Residence:

Take Geo 6900 (manuscripts) and other advisor-approved courses.  In consultation with major professor,write thesis proposal. Prepare for summer research program.

3rd Semester in Residence: 

Take advisor-approved courses 

Complete data-gathering phase of research 

Begin writing thesis. 

4th Semester in Residence:

Check the current academic calendar for last day to submit thesis.

Complete course work, if necessary.
Register for Geol 7000 (thesis.)

Complete 1st draft of thesis by mid-semester (or earlier!) and give to major professor for review.  Revise and re-revise thesis, as necessary. When okayed by major professor, give thesis draft to committee.  Revise as necessary.

Consult with committee to schedule defense (at least two weeks in advance.) 

Prepare visuals for defense.  Defend thesis.

Final revisions of thesis (be careful to follow the Graduate School guidelines carefully!)

Turn in signed "Closure of Research Space Form" Get all signatures.

Turn in signed thesis to graduate school.