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PhD Requirements

The PhD (doctorate) program requires a minimum of 54 credit hours. Each PhD (doctoral) student must complete 4 core courses, one in each of 4 core areas: biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, physical oceanography, and the marine policy and/or management areas (including law and economics).

Work in the concentration area includes a minimum of 24 credit hours of formal courses (in addition to the core courses and which includes elective and seminar courses and does not include dissertation research) and helps the student prepare for the written and oral candidacy examinations. It is also required that students apply a minimum of 18 credit hours toward dissertation research. PhD students are not normally accepted as part-time students. Download .

Core Course Requirements

Each PhD student must successfully complete four core courses, which are defined as:

  • 3 courses: biological, chemical, and physical oceanography.
  • 1 course in marine policy and/or management area (including law and economics).

The core courses are intended to provide a common grounding in the biological, chemical, and physical oceanographic areas of marine sciences and technology, and in related marine policy and management disciplines. At least 2 core courses are offered each semester. These courses will ensure that all students master key concepts and skills central to an interdisciplinary marine sciences graduate program. Students normally complete the core courses in the first 2 semesters.

Successful performance in the core courses is required for advancement to degree status. Grades of B-or better in each core course and an overall average of 3.00 in the core courses are required. There is one retake option on a course for which the student receives a grade of B-or less.

Concentrations and Electives

To build on the core courses, each student selects an area of concentration and chooses electives appropriate to this concentration, as approved by their faculty advisor and/or thesis committee. Option areas, which are intended as guidelines, are listed below:

MASMA - Marine and Atmospheric System Modeling and Analysis
CSS - Coastal Systems Science
ICM - Integrated Coastal Management
LMRSM - Living Marine Resources Science and Management
MBEC - Marine Biogeochemical Cycles and Environmental Change
MOT - Marine Observation Technologies
OHH - Ocean and Human Health

Weekly Seminars

Weekly seminars presented by visiting speakers are intended to broaden the scope of each student’s experience and to provide experience in verbal communication. Each PhD student will present at least 1 seminar each year after the first year. Attendance at the weekly seminars is required, for which students receive 1 credit for each of the first 2 semesters but no credit after the first year.

Residency Requirement

A PhD/doctoral candidate must spend the equivalent of at least one continuous academic year of full-time graduate work (9 credits per semester) in residence at the university. The residency year must be either in a Fall/Spring or Spring/Fall sequence. During this year, the student must spend a substantial part of each week physically on campus.

Candidacy Examinations and Dissertation

General Comprehensive Examination

The academic activities of each doctoral degree candidate are guided during his/her first four semesters by an advisor and, in cases, a guidance committee. By the end of their fifth semester, doctoral candidates are expected to have taken a general examination to determine their suitability to proceed. During their fourth semester, a general comprehensive examination committee is formed. The comprehensive examination committee can consist of the candidate’s guidance committee members, but it should include faculty who may be part of the Dissertation Committee.

No later than the sixth semester, the student's committee administers the general comprehensive examination, which has a written and oral component. The general comprehensive examinations cover the core areas and the student's area of concentration. Examinations are designed to test the intellectual competence and maturity of the student in the broad area of marine sciences and in the selected area of concentration.

Examination Guidelines: 

  • The candidate’s general examination committee constructs a general exam, with both written and oral components, that examines the candidate’s mastery of material from their core and formal courses as well as knowledge and skills needed for their dissertation work.
  • The written comprehensive exam is given over 2 days, each in a 4-hour block. The first day is closed book and the second day is open book. 25% of the exam will be on the core-course material, and the other 75% will be in the research area of the student. The exam should include one or more interdisciplinary "super­problems" that require the candidate to integrate material from several disciplines. The exam will test the students on both core concepts in biological, chemical and physical oceanography and material from the candidate’s formal coursework.
  • The core-course exam problems will be provided by the professors of the core courses and will be graded by them. Professors will return the graded core-course question to the exam committee who will add this to the other questions to determine the final exam grade of the student.
  • The portion of the written general exam covering the candidate’s formal coursework may be derived from questions generated by the general examination committee and solicited from the course instructors, where possible. These questions may be “stand-alone” or may be integrated into the “super-problems” part of the exam.
  • Within 3 months of passing the general examination, the candidate should publicly present and defend the PhD dissertation proposal part of their oral exam. The rest of the oral exam on more general topics is held at the same time as the thesis proposal defense.
  • If a student fails the written and/or oral part of the general examination, he/she must formally petition the general examination committee to retake the examination. At the discretion of the general examination committee, students may be allowed to retake the written exam one time and the oral exam one time.

Upon successful completion of the PhD general comprehensive examinations, the student can be awarded an MS degree if the appropriate coursework has been completed (24 credits total).


A scholarly dissertation based on original research is required of all PhD candidates. Dissertation research may be done in the laboratory or the field or may be carried out in part during the residence with an appropriate private business or government agency. Presentation and defense of a satisfactory dissertation, normally to be completed within 5 years from the date of advancement to candidacy, fulfill the degree requirements. The dissertation defense consists of a public lecture on the dissertation and a subsequent oral examination by the candidate's dissertation committee.

The dissertation must be typed in a prescribed style and format on acid-free paper. The dissertation must be approved and signed by all members of the dissertation committee and the Department Head/Chair. The original dissertation and one copy are required, and fees must be paid to cover binding and microfilming costs.

For complete details of dissertation preparation and submission, please refer to the Thesis and Dissertation section of the UMass Dartmouth Student Resources.

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