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Graduate Program Assessment Plan

Assessment of the geology graduate student learning objectives is based upon six instruments:

1)  Evaluation of entering students:  The undergraduate coursework of incoming graduate students is reviewed.  The majority of the following preparatory core undergraduate courses are generally expected to have been taken prior to entering the Geology graduate program: Introductory or Physical Geology with laboratory, Minerals and Rocks (Earth Materials), Historical Geology, Sedimentation and Stratigraphy, Geomorphology, Structural Geology and Field Methods or field experience.  New graduate students are expected to make up such deficiencies as quickly as possible.  Making up such deficiencies may be required before achieving full matriculation.  Performance while making up these core courses or core content is part of the new students’ progress evaluation. 

2) Coursework: Examinations, presentations, homework, and laboratory- or field-based projects.  This assesses the Foundational Skills learning outcome.

The required graduate coursework depends on the emphasis area (Geomorphology and Earth Surface Processes, Geophysics, Hydrogeology, Petrology and Geochemistry, Sedimentology and Paleoecology and Structure and Tectonics).  Coursework is typically completed in the first one to one and a half years for MS students and within two years for PhD students.  Coursework is designed to provide a sound foundation in the fundamentals of geoscience theory and practice and to prepare the students to embark upon their research projects.  Small graduate class sizes (typically < 10) and challenging projects, presentations and examinations provide detailed information on the students’ mastery of the subject matter.   

3) Major professor and supervisory committee mentorship: This assesses all learning outcomes.

The major professor is an expert in the specialization chosen by the student and has the leadership role in determining whether the learning outcomes have been met in the context of the research specialization chosen.  The major professor is the primary mentor who assesses the progress of the student in his/her development of foundational knowledge, execution of original research, and dissemination of research findings in publications, thesis, report or dissertation.  The major professor is assisted in his or her assessment by the thesis/report/dissertation supervisory committee, who may also provide expertise in areas outside that of the major professor.

The supervisory committee consists of the student's major professor along with additional experts from the faculty. The three member MS committee should include at least one faculty member whose expertise is outside the specific specialization chosen by the student.  The five member PhD committee should include at least one faculty member from outside the department and a minimum of three members from within the department.  Whereas the major professor meets with the graduate student on a regular basis during their time in the program, the supervisory committee will meet with the student on at least an annual basis. This provides a venue for the committee to provide feedback about the student’s progress on his/her research project, to clarify expectations for the successful completion of the degree, and for constructive criticism to be given when necessary.  Specific benchmarks expected by the committee are provided in the Geology Graduate Handbook and Policies.

4) Annual research progress report: This assesses the Communication and Professional Preparation learning outcome.

Every graduate student (MS and PhD) presents an annual public seminar to the department followed by audience questions.  This requirement is waived if the student has made an oral presentation at a professional scientific meeting within the last year.

5) Dissemination of the results of graduate-student research at national meetings and via refereed scientific journals.  This also assesses the Communication and Professional Preparation learning outcome.

6) Comprehensive Examinations (PhD students only): This assesses the Foundational Skills, Research Skills, and Communication and Professional Preparation learning outcomes.

The Geology Department graduate program requires all PhD students to pass both written and oral comprehensive examinations in order to advance to candidacy for the degree. The purpose is to ensure that a student is academically prepared to conduct dissertation-level research.

The written examination has a breadth part and a depth part, which are administered in a PhD student’s second semester and second year, respectively, so that any deficiencies identified can be addressed in a timely manner by coursework, independent study, or the retaking of all or part of the examination. The oral comprehensive examination occurs shortly after the completion of the written depth examination. The oral exam hinges upon a presentation and defense of the research proposal. More specifics of the PhD comprehensive exams can be found in the Geology Graduate Handbook and Policies.

The efficacy of our graduate-degree programs may be assessed by the following metrics:

1) Degree completion rates

2) Time to completion

3) Employment outcomes or acceptances into advanced degree programs

Outcomes data for these are found on our graduate Outcomes Data page.