Doctorate of Philosophy in Geography (PhD)

The post-master’s PhD student is expected to have an MA degree or the equivalent upon admission to the PhD program; the post bachelor’s student must have a BA or the equivalent and should have a superior record that warrants admission directly into the PhD program. (Note differences in requirements below.)

Interim Advisor

Upon the student’s arrival on campus, the Director of Graduate Studies will act as an interim advisor. The primary function of the interim advisor is to counsel and guide the student until he or she chooses, with departmental approval, a final program advisor, who will supervise the program and dissertation. The permanent advisor is to be a mutual choice of student and faculty member.


The post-master’s student must complete at least eight semester courses (32 credits); the post-bachelor’s student must complete at least 16 courses (64 credits). The actual number of courses required of a student is determined in consultation with the advisor. Doctoral candidates are urged to take several research seminars during their program. For more information on graduate course offerings go to the Graduate Course Descriptions pages.

Permanent Advisory Committee

Prior to the qualifying examination, the permanent advisory committee is formed. Normally consisting of three or four faculty members, the committee must be approved by the permanent advisor.

Field of Specialization

The doctoral student must select, no later than the beginning of the third semester, a field of major specialization, which will help determine the faculty composition of the student’s permanent advisory committee. In consultation with this committee, the student plans his or her subsequent program of study and develops a suitable dissertation topic.

Research Paper and Presentation (Post bachelor’s’ Students)

Post bachelor’s’ PhD students must prepare a substantial written research paper and give a departmental presentation on its content sometime after the completion of six courses and before completion of 16 courses. This paper and presentation are a separate requirement from the dissertation and colloquium requirements below. The purpose is to demonstrate the student’s potential for carrying out and communicating PhD-level research.

Qualifying Examination

Students must pass a qualifying examination to be taken near the end of the last semester of coursework. The examination is administered an examination committee approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. It is normally the same as the permanent advising committee. The examination consists of:

  • A written examination in two broad fields of geography chosen by the student, e.g., geography of development, energy and environmental geography, remote sensing and geographic information system, or bioclimatology; and
  • An oral examination. The oral exam is administered following a review by the committee of all the student’s papers, reports, theses, and written qualifying examinations undertaken at Boston University, and other material the student may wish to submit to demonstrate competence in the field.

All previously completed work must be submitted to the examination committee at least one week before the date of the written portion of the qualifying examination.

Dissertation Proposal (Prospectus)

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, the student prepares a written dissertation proposal to be presented to the members of the Dissertation Committee, consisting of the permanent advisor plus four other members. The Dissertation Committee is formed when the student consults with the permanent advisor and the advisor nominates the first, second and third readers, as well as two additional readers, to be approved by the department. The third reader is normally from outside the department; one of the additional readers may be as well. Ideally, the proposal examination takes place in the first semester following the qualifying examination and while the student is in residence. Upon acceptance of the dissertation proposal, the student is advanced to candidacy for a PhD in Geography.


The dissertation is then prepared and written under the primary direction of the candidate’s permanent advisor. Dissertation specifications are determined by the regulation of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and additionally by the student’s advisor. Guidelines concerning illustrations are available from the department.

Final Oral Examination

The completed dissertation must be defended before the Dissertation Committee. Any changes made to the Dissertation Committee must be approved by the department prior to the examination. Individual copies of the dissertation must be given at least two weeks before the exam to all committee members. The oral examination is on matters relevant to the dissertation and its relation to the discipline of geography. Any University faculty member may attend and participate in the examination.


During the course of the program, students are expected to give at least one colloquium presentation before the department to demonstrate progress in their research objective