Ph.D. in Geography


Students are required to develop a program of study and research in consultation with their supervising professor and committee. It is the student’s responsibility to initiate and refine the program until it is at a level of proficiency worthy of a dissertation. The supervising professor or committee will not compose dissertation programs for students; it is a collaborative process that requires students to learn how to engage and contribute to scholarly knowledge, participate in conference meetings and workshops, master organizational abilities, manage time efficiently, sharpen communication skills, and demonstrate independent research ethics.
Students should declare a supervising professor by the beginning of Semester 2 during Year 1. Faculty members are not obliged to accept supervisory responsibility. Faculty typically make decisions to supervise a student based on the student’s research interests, scholarly potential, and academic performance, as well as their own existing commitments and workload. Students are allowed to switch professors at any time (but a new faculty member must agree to take on the supervisory role and the student must inform the current professor and the Graduate Program Director).

Forming a Committee

Ideally, students should create a committee after a year in the program, and no later than the end of their second year in the program. Committees must have a minimum of 3 faculty from the Geography Unit (one being the main supervisory professor) and one FSU representative (tenured Associate or Full Professor) from outside of the Geography unit.  The FSU representative’s primary purpose is to ensure that the PhD examination process is fair and impartial.

Annual Evaluation Report

Starting in Year 2, the graduate student will fill out an annual self-evaluation form that the supervisory professor will turn into an annual evaluation report.  The report will be submitted to the Graduate Program Committee on the student’s degree progress. This report is due to the supervising professor on September 30th of each academic year.

Degree Summary & Course Requirements

  1. Required Core Courses and Electives (24 hrs).
  2. Preliminary Examination (enroll in zero credit GEO8964). A pass leads to Doctoral Candidacy (form).
  3. Dissertation prospectus approved by the committee. This is a departmental requirement.
  4. Conduct dissertation research (enroll in GEO6980). Minimum 24 hours.
  5. Dissertation Defense (register for zero credit GEO8985) and completion of the manuscript clearance portal online forms (defense announcement, manuscript access agreement, manuscript signature page, university representative doctoral defense report, final content approval) leads to the award of the degree and graduation.

DEGREE REQUIREMENTS: A minimum of Forty-eight (48) credit hours
Digital Degree Checklist

CORE courses (12 hours) – Must be completed with a B or higher
GEO5058: Survey of Geographic Thought (3 hrs; letter-graded)
Fall Semester Year 1
GEO5165C Quantitative Geography OR GEO6114 Qualitative Geography (3hrs; letter-graded)
Fall Semester Year 1 (5165C) OR Spring Semester Year 1 (6114)
GEO5118C: Geographic Research (3hrs; letter-graded)
Spring Semester Year 1 or Year 2
GEO6093: Professional Development (3hrs; letter-graded)
Spring Semester Year 2 or Year 3 (offered every other year)
Elective Coursework (12 hours) – Letter-graded courses must be completed with a B- or higher
Elective courses must be selected in consultation with the supervising professor.  If the student does not have a supervising professor, they should select coursework in consultation with Graduate Director.

12 hours of elective coursework are required; 1 course (3 hours) must be offered by the department (GEO, GEA, GIS Prefix). The remaining 9 hours can be any combination of DIS (taken S/U), departmental electives, or electives from outside the department (Urban Planning, Statistics, Oceanography etc). 

Preliminary Examination

Preliminary Examination – GEO9864 (0 Hours)
Written and oral portions, for admission to candidacy to the doctoral degree.
Written Portion: The written portion is typically three exam days (with the length of time for each exam day determined by the supervising professor, but not to exceed 24 hours). Each exam day is separated by a recovery day (i.e., Exam Day 1, Recovery Day, Exam Day 2, Recovery Day, and Exam Day 3). The format of each exam (e.g., number of questions, open vs closed book, etc.) is up to the discretion of the supervising professor, with input from the committee. The questions are contributed by the 3 geography committee members (the University Representative is invited to contribute one or more questions but is not required), with the supervising professor assembling the final set of exams.
The questions are usually based on three themes:

  • The general field of geography as it relates to the student’s research.
  • The broader geography sub-discipline wherein their interests lie.
  • The student’s immediate geographic interests.

Preparation for Questions: A reading list is assembled by the student with input from each committee member (and final approval from all committee members), to be approved at least 1-2 months in advance. The reading list may have any number of journal articles, books, book chapters, reports, news articles, and other sources of information.
Preliminary Examination Format:

  1. The supervising professor will send the questions to the student on each of the three exam days.
  2. The student will return the answers to the supervising professor in the time allotted.
  3. The supervising professor will forward the answers to the rest of the committee and schedule the oral portion no less than two weeks after the third exam day.

Oral Portion: During the oral portion the student can be asked any of the following: clarification of answers, extensions to answers, or elaboration of topics that they did not address during the exam. At the end of the oral portion the committee, by a majority vote, will determine one of the following grades for GEO8964: pass, incomplete, or fail. Pass grade leads immediately to candidacy. Incomplete grade leads to re-writes of some components of the exam that were not answered satisfactorily, followed by reassessment by the committee. Fail grade leads to a re-starting of the entire comprehensive exam process if the first time, or program dismissal if the second time.
Passing Preliminary Examination:

Failing the Preliminary Examination:
It is required that you complete Preliminary Exam Attempt Form and send it to Camden Reynolds ( to be submitted to the Academic Dean and Graduate School. If a student fails the preliminary examination before being admitted to candidacy, a re-examination may be offered by the student’s supervisory committee or other relevant decision-making body within the department.
Students can take the preliminary examination for admission to candidacy only two times. A second failure on the preliminary exam makes the student ineligible to continue in the degree program. The second attempt at the preliminary exam shall occur no sooner than six full class weeks after the results of the first attempt are shared with the student. For the purpose of this policy, a “full class week” is defined as a week with five days during which classes are held at FSU. Students must be registered separately for their first and second attempts, if necessary within the same semester, and must receive either a “pass” or a “fail” grade for each attempt.
An exception request regarding the timing of the re-examination can be submitted for consideration to the Academic Dean’s Office by either the student or the supervisory committee. Students who allege that academic regulations and/or procedures were improperly applied for the re-examination of their preliminary exam may have their grievances addressed through the general academic appeals process.
Incomplete Grades:
Students should be registered for the preliminary exam during the semester they plan to complete it (Pass or Fail). If the student and/or unit knows the preliminary exam will take more time than one semester then the student should NOT be enrolled in the preliminary exam until the second semester. Incompletes should only be given in the unanticipated event where the student was unable to complete the preliminary exam due to unforeseen circumstances.  In this case, an “I” can be given and the course later moved the semester it will be completed.

Dissertation Defense

Dissertation Defense – GEO8985 (0 hours)
Announcement & Attendance: The oral defense of the dissertation must be announced to the Department and FSU Graduate School (via Manuscript Clearance portal) at least 2 weeks prior and be open to public viewing. During the dissertation defense, all committee members and the student must attend the entire defense in real time, either physically or via distance technology.
Grading:  A grade for zero credit will be determined by a majority vote by the committee, and represents their assessment of both the oral defense and written dissertation. Grades are: Pass, Incomplete, Reexamine, or Fail. Pass leads to the award of the Doctoral degree. Incomplete signifies that the dissertation requires minor revisions (which may be limited to 60 calendar days or less) and may result in a pass.  A reexamine means the student must address major dissertation revisions and orally redefend the dissertation. Earning a fail grade leads to the non-awarding of the PhD degree and departure from the program.
Credit Hours:  Graduate students must be actively enrolled in a minimum of 2 dissertation hours each semester after the passing of the preliminary exam AND the term they plan to defend the dissertation and graduate.
Forms: All forms must be submitted electronically through the manuscript clearance portal website: Additional information on the manuscript clearance process can be found here.
Forms include: Final Content Approval Form, Manuscript Access Forms, Manuscript Signature Form, and University Representative Doctoral Defense Report.

Credit Hour Requirements

Departmentally funded students are supported by teaching or research assistantships (TA or RA), serving as instructors of record, online preceptors, or other departmental support positions. Students may also be funded through a research assistantship associated with a faculty research grant. For additional information on Teaching or Mentoring courses click here.
Departmentally funded students (TAs and RAs): must enroll in 9 credit hours in the fall and spring terms and 5 credit hours in the summer term.  Students who receive federal financial aid must meet the minimum enrollment requirement of 6 credit hours each term. Please contact the Graduate Program Director if you need to enroll in 6 instead of 5 credit hours in the summer term. International students that have questions regarding additional enrollment requirements for Fall,Spring or Summer please see enrollment information from the Center for Global Engagement. 
Self-funded domestic students: Approval of the supervising professor and the Graduate Program Director, in which case they must enroll for a minimum of 2 dissertation hours per term. Students must be enrolled in a minimum of 2 dissertation hours during the semester of graduation.

Time Limit for Completion of Degree Requirements

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within five calendar years from the time the student passes the preliminary examination and is admitted to candidacy. If the student’s major professor and/or Department Chair does not choose to either approve an Extension of Time (EOT) or require the student to take the preliminary exam and/or coursework again for readmission to candidacy, then the student may no longer be enrolled in that program or at Florida State University.

Duration & Funding

The duration of departmental funding is four years for students entering the doctoral program with a master’s degree; and five years for students entering the doctoral program without a master’s degree. Funding for all years is based on making sufficient progress as confirmed in the student annual evaluation report. If the student shows a lack of progress without justification or extenuating circumstances, decisions to revoke funding will be made by the Graduate Committee.
Past Dissertations

Geography Master’s to Ph.D.

Switching to a Ph.D. while Currently Enrolled in FSU M.A./M.S. Thesis

Current MA/MS thesis students may apply to switch to the Ph.D. The graduate student will need: a) faculty advisor’s approval, b) Graduate Director’s approval c) to submit a written statement of purpose to FSU Geography’s Graduate Committee. At a minimum, the written statement should address the rationale for switching degree tracks and how already completed research will contribute to the PhD dissertation. The graduate student does not need to formally reapply to the program though the FSU Graduate School. Consistent with departmental funding policies, Ph.D. students without a Master’s degree will be eligible for 5 years of departmental funding support.

Completing an FSU Geography Masters Degree; Reapplying to the PhD Program

Current FSU Geography students will unfortunately need to reapply to the Ph.D. program to comply with FSU’s rules.

Need Additional Information?

Contact the Graduate Program Director, Tingting Zhao (, or the Academic Program Specialist, Camden Reynolds (