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The Ph.D. program timeline, outlined below, is also available as a PDF: Doctoral Program Structure and Handbook

The first year of graduate study is designed to focus on seminars or other 300-level coursework to help students define their interests within the context of the Clark program, as well as professional development. The student will select courses in consultation with the formal first year graduate advisor, a.k.a. Associate Director. All entering students must complete GEOG 368 (The Development of Western Geographic Thought), and GEOG 338 (Current Research in Geography – related to the Colloquium Speaker Series, 1 credit for the academic year (0.5 credit per semester)). Additionally, students are strongly encouraged to take two seminars or other 300-level coursework (not directed studies) each semester for a full course load of three units per semester. In order to maintain satisfactory progress in the graduate program, by the end of the first academic year the student must obtain a minimum of six course credits by August 1, in addition to the GEOG 338 course unit. First-year students must also take at least one PDW (Professional Development Workshop) within the first year of residence at Clark (not for academic credit).

The Graduate Advisor/Associate Director serves as advisor to each student during the first year of residence. However, during the second semester, graduate students may begin to finalize their advisor choice which will be made formal at the first year review meeting in May. The Graduate Advisor/Association Director serves as individual advisor until the first year review.

First-year Review

Immediately following the end of classes in the Spring semester, a formal review of the student’s first-year work and discussion of their future program (including a decision about the new advisor) will be held by a three-member First Year Advisory Committee. The committee is composed of three faculty members, one of whom is either the Director or the Associate Director, and the other two members are determined during consultation between the Associate Director and the graduate student. If the student is ready to declare a new advisor at this time, that will be recorded on the form. Students should discuss this issue with the Associate Director before the meeting, if a new advisor has not already been selected.

About two weeks in advance of the First-Year Advisory Meeting the student should submit to each member of the committee a list of courses taken and TA/RA duties and a reflection on the experience of the first year. (A copy is also given to the  Administrator of Degree Programs for the department and student files). The advisory meeting involves an assessment of progress made during the first year of study, and includes advising on the next year of study. In addition to its advisory role, the committee makes a recommendation to the Director and Associate Director on the continuance of the student in the graduate program. A first year review form is filled out and signed by the committee and by the student; these forms are then given to the Administrator of Degree Programs to place in the student’s file.

The second year of study should emphasize in-depth work in the student’s field of interest, formulation of possible doctoral exam topics, problem formation and research, and research skills. Usually these goals are intricately linked. Course work should include seminars, directed readings, and directed research. By the end of the second year of study, students are encouraged: (1) to fulfill their skills requirement; (2) to be preparing for their doctoral exams; and, (3) to begin dissertation proposal formulation.

Skills Requirement

Each student is required to demonstrate proficiency in a number of skills relevant to geographic research. The Graduate School of Geography offers courses that will fulfill most skill requirements. Students can demonstrate proficiency in a skill by receiving a passing grade in the indicated course, or by taking an examination set by the graduate school.

Each student is required to demonstrate proficiency in a number of skills relevant to geographic research. The Graduate School of Geography offers courses that will fulfill most skill requirements. Students can demonstrate proficiency in a skill by receiving a passing grade in the indicated course, or by taking an examination set by the graduate school. Each student is required to demonstrate proficiency in two of the following areas:

  • Multivariate Statistics: satisfied by taking and passing Intermediate Quantitative Methods in Geography (GEOG 347).
  • Research design/research methods: satisfied by taking and passing Research Proposal Writing in Geography (GEOG 314).
  • Geographic Information Science: satisfied by taking and passing Intro to Geographic Info Science (GEOG 390).
  • Remote Sensing: satisfied by taking and passing Intro to Remote Sensing (GEOG 383).
  • Qualitative Research Methods, Skills and Applications: satisfied by taking, and passing, (GEOG 310).
  • A foreign language: satisfied by completing a second-year, second-semester college level course or by the independent, examined assessment of a Clark University or other faculty member approved by the Associate Director.
  • Other courses approved by the student’s advisor and the Associate Director.

In the case of students entering the GSG with a Master’s degree, one of the two required courses may be satisfied with a course taken for the Master’s. In such cases, approval must be granted by the Associate Director, in consultation with faculty who teach equivalent GSG courses.

Students must fulfill the skills requirement by the end of the sixth semester. Students should notify their advisor when they have completed their skills requirement. The advisor will then, in consultation with the Director, have the Administrator of Degree Programs place a memo in the student’s file signifying completion of the requirement. The dissertation research proposal will not be processed or approved by the Graduate School until the skills requirements are met.

Second-Year Review

Every student will have a second-year review meeting with their committee. For students taking their Doctoral examination at the end of the fourth semester, second year review will take place at the end of the examination. For all other students, second year review will take place following the end of classes at the conclusion of the fourth semester, when the second-year review committee will normally be comprised of members of the student’s PhD examination committee.

Before this meeting, the student will submit a statement summarizing courses taken, TA/RA duties, proposed topics/fields for the PhD examination (including preliminary outlines and reading lists for each topic), and progress to date.

The purpose of the second year review is similar to that of the first year review. Written statements of the meeting will be prepared by the committee and by the student; these statements will be reviewed by the Associate Director and given to the Administrator of Degree Programs to be placed in the student’s file.

By the end of third year of study, students should have completed the program requirements to be ABD, including the skills requirement; passed the doctoral examination; and defended a research proposal with the PhD committee’s final proposal approval on file by May 15 of this third year. Course work should deal with specific research topics, proposal writing (GEOG 385), and degree requirements not yet completed. The specific requirements and degree options are outlined in year two.

Doctoral Examination

The Doctoral Examination Committee is composed of a minimum of four faculty members, at least three of whom are from the Graduate School of Geography. The chairperson of the committee ((one of) the student’s advisor(s)) must be a regular appointment of the Graduate School of Geography (tenure track as defined in the faculty handbook). Committee members must be approved by the Associate Director at least two months prior to the Doctoral Examination.

The doctoral examination takes place sometime between the fourth semester in residence and the end of the sixth semester. The doctoral exam takes place during the semester (i.e., from the first day of classes through to the end of the examination period).  In cases where the student wishes to schedule a milestone outside of the semester, prior approval must be given by the committee and the Associate Director and/or Director.

The doctoral exam assesses the competency of graduate students in one major and two minor fields (see appendix for examples of orals fields–these fields must be approved by the chairperson of the doctoral examination committee). Competency is defined as an understanding of the substantive content and range of theoretical approaches within each subfield. Students must be able to critique alternative research traditions and defend the theoretical frameworks they adopt.

For the exam in the major field the student will be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of the entire field; in the field selected for the first minor, the student will be expected to have mastered a survey of the field. The appended list of subfields is intended as a guide to the appropriate breadth of subfields for the major and the first minor. The topic of the second minor will be a more narrowly defined field; the student will be expected to have an in-depth knowledge of the second minor. The dissertation proposal is not an eligible field for the PhD exam, although the research context from which the proposal is drawn can be used as a field.

At least two months prior to the doctoral examination, each student is required to submit to the doctoral examination committee a topical outline (about one page) and reading list (4-8 pages) for each of the proposed fields for the doctoral examination. (These items must be submitted during the regular semester. A copy of the approved reading lists should be signed (approval by email is fine) by the committee and submitted to the Administrator of Degree Programs to be kept in the student’s file. Announcement of the doctoral examination is sent via email as a GSG Memo to faculty and all PhD students two weeks before the scheduled examination date, upon approval of the chairperson of the orals committee.

At the student’s discretion and in consultation with the advisor, the oral exam can have a written component, on any or all of the three fields, to focus on content and mastery of the material. This is in addition to, rather than instead of, the oral examination, but the oral exam will be shorter: each portion with a written component may be half the length of an orals-only doctoral exam. Members of the committee shall prepare written questions for each field that the student takes as a written exam and send them to the Administrator of Degree Programs. At the beginning of a predetermined nine-hour period (including 1 hour for lunch, meaning 8 hours of allotted exam time) for each field, the Administrator of Degree Programs will communicate to the student a selection of original questions posed by the committee that the student completes in a “take-home” setting. The answers shall not exceed 2500 words per field. The scope and number of questions shall be limited by this constraint. However, students for whom English is not their native tongue will have more time, specifics determined mutually by the student and committee. The written component shall be completed two weeks before the scheduled oral exam, over a period of up to four weeks. Whether the student takes a written component does not influence the questions that the committee can ask during the oral component.

Each student is required to inform the Advisor and the Administrator of Degree Programs of the chosen exam format upon submission of the orals reading lists, or, at least one month before the exam date.

In the case of a grade of conditional or unsatisfactory, all or part of the examination may be re-taken one time. At the committee’s discretion, all or part of any re-taken examination may be in writing. A second grade of unsatisfactory results in failing the PhD examination and dismissal from the PhD program. Any student who receives a failing grade will however become eligible for a non-doctoral Master’s degree on completion of a thesis, the content and structure of which are to be defined by the committee and approved by the Director and Associate Director.

Examples of Orals Fields

  • Agricultural Geography
  • Biogeography
  • Cultural and Political Ecology
  • Climate Change
  • Economic Geography
  • Environmental Management, Hazards and vulnerability
  • Feminist Geography
  • GIS and Remote Sensing
  • Globalization
  • Human-Environment
  • Land Use/Change
  • Nature and Society
  • Political Ecology
  • Political Economy
  • Social and Political Theory
  • Suburbanization
  • Sustainability
  • Third World Development
  • Urban Geography

This list of fields is to be used as a guide to defining major and first minor orals exam topics; it is based on current faculty interests. Students may select alternative major and minor topics (see for example the AAG list of topical fields). While external committee members are not required for the orals, topics outside of the expertise of GSG faculty may require external committee members be involved in development of orals lists. Students should rely on the advice of their advisors in making this determination.

Dissertation Proposal

A formal research proposal for dissertation work, which normally should not exceed a maximum of 10-15 pages (single-spaced), must be completed and approved by the student’s dissertation committee. Appendices and references do count toward the page limit.

(a) The research proposal must be defended and final with revisions submitted by the end of year three (at the absolute latest end of year four), unless approved by the Committee, Assoc. Director, and Director (see “mitigating circumstances”). Any student who is not ABD by the end of year three is no longer in good standing and may face loss of stipend until ABD status is achieved.

(b) The Dissertation Research Proposal Committee consists of a minimum of four faculty members (two readers and two reviewers) at least three of whom are full-time faculty members of the Graduate School of Geography, and at least one of whom is an external (non-GSG) member. The chair of the committee is always a full-time member of the Graduate School of Geography, is the first reader, and is the main advisor. The Associate Director must approve all dissertation research proposal committees.

(c) At least one formal meeting (a proposal defense) must be held with at least three members of the committee in which a draft proposal is submitted and discussed. The proposed defense can be held any time during the academic year (barring school vacation/university holiday). However, the proposal defense should not be held so late in the academic year that revisions will inevitably require oversight of the advisor and/or committee members during the summer months, particularly in cases where a student’s timely Progress to Degree hinges upon proposal approval. Defenses may only be held during the months of June, July, and August if unanimous consent of the committee and Director and Associate Director is given.

(d) The dissertation research proposal should be a concise, focused document. One good model is the NSF dissertation grant proposal document which focuses on a concise statement of theory, original contribution of the research, previous findings, methodology and the research plan. This will also facilitate the development of grant proposals to NSF and other groups.

Title page—proposed title of dissertation; name of student; name and signature of 1st and 2nd readers, and the names of two reviewers; date of submission; a 250 word abstract typed (single spaced) stating concisely the nature of the problem to be pursued, objectives of the study, and data and methods to be employed.

Introduction and Justification—A specific statement of the problem as a researchable issue, including its relationship to past and present research.

Literature Review—Discussion of the pertinent literature and placing the proposal in context.

Procedure—Discussion of the research objectives and design, and the data to be employed.

Timetable—A rough timetable for the research, analysis, and writing phases.

Bibliography—Works which most clearly relate to the study as sources of theory, data, or methodology should be cited. While the bibliography should reflect a thorough awareness of the literature, it need not be all-inclusive.

A final research proposal must be approved by all committee members. With approval of the first reader, the student submits one clean electronic copy of the proposal to the Administrator of Degree Programs, and the proposal abstract for distribution to the faculty who then forwards the abstracts to the faculty and places the proposal  in the Geography office for a two-week review period. At the end of that period, if no objections have been raised to the first reader, formal approval is granted by the advisor and committee. If objections are raised, the committee and the student will assess the case and determine what alterations in the proposal, if any, are needed.

Once approved, the proposal has a three-year validity period. If the dissertation is not completed by the end of three years after approval of the dissertation research proposal, the research proposal – or other plan for completion— must be submitted for re-approval. One prerequisite for such re-approval is provision for one academic semester’s physical presence in Clark during the year following re-approval to work on the dissertation

Students are working on dissertation research and writing in the fourth year designated with credits in GEOG 317 (research) and GEOG 394 (dissertation writing). Some students will be working to complete ABD requirements. If by the end of the fourth year, a student has not achieved ABD, they will proceed to a non-doctoral master’s degree, except in cases of significant mitigating circumstances, as determined by the student’s committee in consultation with the Associate Director and Director.

Master’s Degrees

While only students seeking a doctoral degree are admitted to the Graduate School of Geography, two types of M.A. degrees are available: pre-doctoral and non-doctoral.

Pre-Doctoral M.A.

An MA degree in Geography can be awarded to doctoral candidates who do not already have a master’s degree in geography (MA or MS) after fulfilling the following requirements:

  1. Completion of required course work (GEOG 368, 338, 318, and two skills courses);
  2. Completion of the doctoral examination; and
  3. Approval of the dissertation proposal.

A student opting for the pre-doctoral MA must request it at the time of achieving ABD status.

Non-Doctoral M.A.

Normally no later than at the end of the first semester of the second year of residence, after a review process, students may opt or may be advised to shift to a non-doctoral MA degree, under which circumstances they would normally substitute thesis-writing credits for formal course credits. This thesis is a research paper or short article (15-30 pages), demonstrating an ability to define a problem, as well as serving as evidence of research competence.

After approval by a committee consisting of the major advisor and two other faculty of the student’s choosing, one electronic copy of the final draft with a letter by the main advisor noting committee approval will be delivered to the Geography office. The Administrator of Degree Programs will then announce to the faculty that the draft is available for review.

Faculty comments will be reviewed by the main advisor and any changes approved by the advisor. The thesis is accepted by the advisor and the committee. Following acceptance, two unbound copies of the final draft should be delivered to the GSG Administrator of Degree Programs and one electronic copy to Graduate School. Students completing the Non-Doctoral MA must re-apply should they subsequently wish to re-enter the PhD program.

Non-doctoral MA degrees may also be granted when students who have not made satisfactory progress leave the program. Conditions under which this may occur, and pertaining to the granting of such degrees, are outlined in the Doctoral Program Handbook.

Dissertation Defense and Presentation

Following ABD status, students will work on dissertation research and writing. They will normally remain in residence until the end of Year 5, though their advisor may make the case for an additional year of residence reflecting the exceptional circumstances of the student’s research progress (for instance, extended periods of field work). This extension of residency will be approved or not by the Associate Director and Director in consultation with the student’s committee.

Students will normally defend their dissertations during Year 5 or Year 6 of their degree. Students and/or advisors may request consultation meetings of the full dissertation committee for input and review of progress once each year after year four (more if the committee agrees such meetings are necessary). For students who, by the end of Year 7, have not completed and successfully defended their dissertation, their doctoral candidacy will lapse, at which point they will leave the program except in cases of significant mitigating circumstances as determined by the Associate Director and Director in consultation with the student’s advisor and committee. For reinstatement, students must make a formal petition, resubmit their dissertation proposal, and, if necessary, defend the proposal once again. The Associate Director and Director will, in consultation with the student’s advisor and committee, determine whether to accept the petition and whether a re-defense of the proposal is necessary. The Dean of the Graduate School makes the final determination for reinstatement. Once reinstated students must defend and submit final corrected copies of their dissertation on or before a date specified by the Associate Director, Director, and the student’s advisor (a time period that normally will not last more than a calendar year).

The dissertation involves a process of interaction with and approval by a dissertation committee.

(a) The dissertation committee consists of at least four faculty members, three of whom are full-time members of the Graduate School of Geography, and at least one of whom is external. The chair of the committee is always a full-time member of the Graduate School of Geography. The Associate Director must approve all dissertation committees. The chair of the committee may, after approval from the Associate Director, and in consultation with the graduate student, change the make-up of the dissertation committee.

(b) A complete draft of the thesis (an electronic version of all chapters, figures, tables and bibliography) is defended at a working session of the dissertation committee. This “defensible draft” should have already been subjected to extensive criticism and re-working. With the approval of the first reader, the student forwards copies of an abstract of the dissertation to the Administrator of Degree Programs for distribution to the faculty at least two weeks before the working session. The student must provide a copy of the defensible draft to all members of the dissertation committee at least two weeks before the working session. Also, in preparation for the working session, one copy of the defensible draft must be placed for faculty review in the geography office for a two-week period. The defensible draft put on display in the department must be complete in terms of including all chapters and bibliography.

(c) A final version incorporating changes suggested at the draft stage is approved by the dissertation committee and a letter of approval forwarded to the Director who places the final draft of the dissertation on display for two weeks.

(d) The working session may take place via alternative media, such as video conference, Skype or email discussion.

(e) The dissertation is then formally accepted by the dissertation committee and the Director. An electronic copy of the dissertation then goes to the GSG Administrator of Degree Programs who will help the student with printing, obtaining signatures, binding, and delivery to the Graduate School.

Dissertation Types

Two different types of dissertation may be prepared and defended: the Dissertation monograph (DM) or the Three Article Dissertation (TAD).

I. Dissertation Monograph

(A) The DM constitutes the “classical” dissertation form in which the topic of the dissertation is treated in monograph form, composed of a series of chapters that lay out the research problem or synthesis theme, review the relevant literature, detail the data or evidence and the mode of analysis employed, and provide conclusion and significance statements as well as a bibliography. Appendixes, prefaces, and acknowledgements may be appropriate.

(B) The dissertation is completed when approved by the dissertation committee.

II. Three Article Dissertation (TAD)

(A) The TAD constitutes a dissertation volume composed of (i) an introductory chapter addressing the general problem in which the three articles are encapsulated, (ii) at least three stand-alone articles (SAA) related to a coherent research problem, and (iii) a summary/conclusion that sets the overall contribution of the research in context.

i. The introductory chapter (i) establishes the broader problem or topic of study and how the three SAAs fit within it, and (ii) provides the relevant literature review and discussion of methods employed in the dissertation research but not found in any of the three articles.

ii. The SAAs constitute original research, review, or conceptual-philosophical contributions to geographical or geographical-related scholarship.

iii. The concluding chapter summarizes-reviews the findings of the SAAs and specifies the contributions that each article and the three-article set make to science/knowledge more broadly, the specific dissertation problem/topic, and the discipline awarding the dissertation degree.

B. The entire dissertation is initially and primarily written by the doctoral candidate regardless of the subsequent revisions and authorship of the articles submitted for publication.

C. The introductory and concluding chapters must follow the style of Annals AAG and contain individual bibliographies. The “article” chapters must follow the style of the journal to which it will be submitted for consideration of publication. The formatting of dissertation must be consistent with the dissertation submission rules of Clark University.

D. Each chapter of the dissertation must contain the requisite tables, graphics, and bibliography, regardless of redundancy that may appear owing to the 3-article format.

E. The dissertation may have prefaces/acknowledgements, appendixes, and other complementary sections as needed.

F. The dissertation is completed when approved by the dissertation committee. It is understood that this approval asserts that the three articles are of sufficient quality that they are ready for submission to the identified journals.

The Stand Alone Articles (SAA)

A. Each SAA is a complete and publishable research contribution or review unto itself following the content and length of a “research article” as defined by major journals (i.e., those journals reviewed by the Social Science Citation Index, the Science Citation Index or the Arts and Humanities Citation Index).

B. None of the three articles can be published in any other dissertation. The articles may have been published or in press previous to dissertation if they are a substantive part of the research proposal defended and approved by the School.

C. Each article must be submitted for consideration of publication (either previous or subsequent to the completion of the dissertation) to a major journal consistent with the research discipline, subfield, or interdisciplinary area of the dissertation author.

D. Authorship of the articles in their submitted form must include the dissertation author as the lead author of any multiple authored submissions. In the dissertation, each SAA will carry a footnote describing if that contribution is to be submitted as a single or multiple authored.