PhD in Geography

The PhD in Geography program provides students with expertise across the natural and social sciences that are required to understand the social and environmental aspects of global change. This program prepares students for careers in academia or industry, providing the skill set necessary for advanced jobs and careers in environmental consulting, advocacy, and policy; sustainability and resource management; international aid and development; and environmental law.

Course Requirements

Students must complete at least 16 courses (64 credits).  Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits. For example, up to eight courses (32 credits) taken as part of a master’s degree can be applied toward the required 16 courses. See also the BU Graduate Bulletin. For more details, see the GRS Transfer of Credits policy.

Unless the student has already taken very close equivalents, the core graduate program is as follows:

  • CAS GE 516 Multivariate Analysis for Geographers (or equivalent)
  • Two analytical methods courses

At least one course must be taken outside the department, in a cognate field. Doctoral candidates are urged to take several research seminars during their program.

For information on choosing courses, see the Graduate Course Descriptions pages.

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

Post bachelor’s’ PhD students prepare a research paper and present this orally to the faculty shortly after year 1. This paper and presentation are in addition to the dissertation and colloquium requirements below.  Its purpose is to demonstrate the student’s potential for carrying out and communicating PhD-level research.

Qualifying Examination

Students complete a qualifying examination prior to the end coursework (typically sometime in year 2 or 3). The examination is administered by a committee approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. It is normally the same as the students’ PhD advisory 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.

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 Advisory committee. Upon acceptance of the dissertation proposal, the student is advanced to candidacy for a PhD in Geography. Students typically submit the Dissertation proposal (prospectus) shortly after the Qualifying Examination (and certainly no later than the 4th year of study).


The dissertation is prepared and written under the primary direction of the candidate’s advisor.

Final Oral Examination

The completed dissertation is defended before the Dissertation Committee.  Individual copies of the dissertation must be given at least two weeks before the exam to all committee members.


During the course of the program, students are expected to give yearly presentations before the department to demonstrate progress in their research objectives.


For detailed timelines and further information, students are encouraged to read documents found under the Resources button on our home page.