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Graduate Program Learning Objectives


The goal of the USU Geosciences graduate programs is to equip students with advanced fundamental knowledge in the field, accompanied by research training and experience, in specific areas of the geosciences. Students reach this goal in the MS and PhD programs by completing a set of advanced coursework, accompanied by original research and study of the current literature, culminating in either an MS thesis or report or a PhD dissertation.

USU Geosciences offers two MS degree programs:  Plan A, MS Geology, focuses on original research and the production and oral defense of a research thesis.  The Plan B, MS-Applied Environmental Geoscience (MS-AEG), requires more coursework and the production of a report and oral defense on a current topic of importance in the field.  The MS-AEG degree has two tracks: energy or environmental.

The PhD requires a substantial body of original research presented in a dissertation. The PhD degree also has two program tracks: academic or professional.  The academic track is designed to prepare graduates for a career in academia or other teaching-related settings; it includes classroom teaching experience under the supervision of a faculty teaching mentor and may require course work in pedagogy as well as geoscience. The professional track is designed to prepare graduates for work in professional careers within extractive or environmental industries. It may include computational coursework relating to information systems or spatial analysis, and completion of an industry internship is encouraged.

Specializations in both the Geology MS and PhD degrees include: 1) Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes, 2) Geophysics, 3) Hydrogeology, 4) Petrology and Geochemistry, 5) Sedimentology and Paleoecology and 6) Structure and Tectonics. The specialization choice determines the research topic, courses taken and the makeup of thesis and dissertation supervisory committees.

The detailed procedures and requirements for each of the degrees can be found in the Geology Graduate Handbook.

The Learning Objectives for the graduate program are as follows:

Foundational Skills

Each student will achieve a mastery of geoscience theory and current knowledge at a level required for their chosen degree program. Students build this knowledge base by completing a set of elective courses tailored to their particular research emphasis.  One important outcome of graduate coursework is that students learn to independently build on their knowledge in their chosen area from the literature and other sources.  Although all three degree options have no common required graduate courses, the majority of the following preparatory core undergraduate courses are generally expected to have been taken: 1) Introductory or Physical Geology with laboratory, 2) Minerals and Rocks (Earth Materials), 3) Historical Geology, 4) Sedimentation and Stratigraphy, 5) Geomorphology, 6) Structural Geology and 7) Field Methods or field experience.

Research Skills

Each student will pursue research in their chosen field of specialization. In so doing the student acquires professional-level knowledge and expertise. The appropriate area of research and the breadth of the inquiry is determined in collaboration with their major professor, who is an expert in the student’s area of specialization.  A supervisory committee, chaired by the major professor, meets annually with each MS and PhD student to assess progress in coursework and research, and provide guidance and support in setting future goals.

Communication and Professional Preparation

Each student will develop professional competence in presenting scientific results and conclusions, in both oral and written forms. The former is accomplished via encouraged annual oral presentations at national scientific meetings (e.g. American Geophysical Union or Geological Society of America) or required presentations to the Department as a whole.   In addition, the documentation of the results of their original research occurs via a written thesis, report or dissertation.  It is also expected that the majority of graduate students’ research will ultimately be disseminated via publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Comparative Levels of Competency

The achievement of MS and PhD degrees both lead to professional expertise and involve student contribution to new knowledge via the thesis, report or dissertation, and through original scientific publications. The MS Plan B degree is more course-work, rather than research, based.  The Plan B report should reflect the same level of scholarship as the MS Plan A, but does not require completion of a major piece of original scientific research. The distinction between MS Plan A and PhD degrees is principally the level of professional proficiency obtained, and the breadth and significance of the original research.  The PhD work should be of such scope and quality that more than one journal or conference article can be derived from it.