PhD in Geography

The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GRS) is no longer admitting students to the PhD in Geography. Continuing students should note the stated degree requirements.

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.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of the fundamental concepts and topics in a specific subfield of geography and environment.
  • Demonstrate understanding of key research questions, the research design process, and the quantitative and/or qualitative methods used in a specific subfield of geography and environment.
  • Produce and defend an original and substantial contribution to the field.
  • Communicate research questions and results to the scientific community and communicate about problems in geography and environment to a broader audience.

Course Requirements

Students must complete at least 16 courses (64 credits). The actual number of courses required of a student is determined in consultation with the advisor. Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer course credits. 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 EE 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 a field of specialization, composing a permanent advisory committee, and for related courses in other departments, please see the department website.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Qualifying Exam

Students must pass a qualifying examination to be taken near the end of the last semester of coursework. The examination is administered by an examination committee approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. It is normally the same as the permanent advising committee. The examination consists of (1) 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 systems, or bioclimatology; and (2) 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 and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair/Program Director. Ideally, the prospectus proposal takes place in the first semester following the qualifying examination and while the student is in residence. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Research Paper and Presentation

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.


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 objectives.

Students who choose not to continue the pursuit of the PhD may elect to complete the degree requirements to receive an MA in Geography. The requirements for the MA in Geography can be found here. To learn more about this option, contact the department’s graduate program coordinator.