Geography Doctoral Program

The doctoral program in geography exposes students to advanced theories and techniques in contemporary geographic research. Students are expected to conduct original research that withstands the scrutiny of a community of scholars. The Ph.D. in geography is designed to be a three- to four-academic-year program.  

Program Requirements

The K.S.U. Graduate College requires a minimum of 60 credit hours for the Ph.D., of which at least 30 must be for work on the dissertation.   Of the remaining 30 hours, the department requires the completion of a minimum of 24 credit hours in letter-graded (A-F) coursework numbered 6/7/80000.In particular:

  • At least 18 credit hours must consist of graded geography coursework of level 6/7/80000.  Students can count 3 credits of Research I (GEOG 80996/80998) towards this requirement.
  • A minimum of 6 credits of course work or equivalence in research at a graduate level must be taken in a cognate discipline.  Generally, such work will be taken with the cognate member of the student’s advisory committee.
  • A student must complete all 30 hours of regular coursework before s/he can defend the dissertation proposal.  Comprehensive exams and the proposal defense can occur while the student is finishing the last bit of coursework.
  • All graduate students are required to attend all colloquia during their residence.
  • Once a student reaches candidacy, it is expected that s/he will register for Dissertation I for two academic terms at 15 hours each, and Dissertation II thereafter, each semester, including summers, until all requirements for the degree have been met.

New students are strongly encouraged to take the following courses within the first year of their enrollment, if they have not already taken similar courses at the Masters level:

  • GEOG 69701- Research & Presentation of Geographic Data (3)
  • GEOG 70800- Seminar in the Development of Geographic Thought (3)

Students can take a maximum of 4 credit hours of workshop courses for graduate credit.  However, students must first receive approval for receiving graduate credit for appropriate graduate level workshops from their advisor and the Graduate Coordinator.  Approval will be determined based on the applicability of the workshop toward the student’s academic progress and the Graduate Faculty status of the workshop instructor.

Cognate Discipline

A student’s doctoral work is expected to reflect the current status of the discipline of Geography.  Moreover, it is expected that s/he will integrate knowledge and techniques from a related field outside of geography.  This field serves as the student’s cognate.

As noted above, students will take at least 6 hours of classes in a cognate field; these hours should be relevant to the dissertation topic. A committee member from a cognate discipline is also on the student’s dissertation committee.  Ideally, the committee member will be from the same discipline as the student’s cognate classes, but this is not always the case.

The Dissertation

Ph.D. students must complete a Dissertation as part of their requirements for graduation.  A student’s work on his/her dissertation is supported and evaluated by an advisory committee chaired by the student’s advisor.  The student must consult with the committee to design his/her course program, examinations, and dissertation research.  The advisory committee will meet at least once a year to review the progress of each student.

There are two dissertation formats allowed.

  1. The first is a conventional, book-length document that provides a full accounting of an original research project.
  2. The second is an option to write three or more papers, related to a single overarching topic, and packaged with introductory and concluding material.  These papers must be either a. single-authored or b. if co-authored must be the student’s idea, written by the student, and the student must be listed as first author.

The choice of format is up to the student and the advisor, and will not affect the overall process of completing the Ph.D.  While it is helpful to know the preferred format before the proposal defense, it is possible to decide during the period of candidacy.

Dissertation Committee and Progress

The advisory committee is chaired by the advisor and at least three additional members selected by the student in consultation with the advisor.  Two of these members should be from Geography, and at least one member must be a member of a cognate discipline.  All members of the committee should be able to serve on Ph.D. committees.  Please see the Graduate Coordinator to determine a faculty member’s eligibility.

There are three main sequences of events related to the dissertation.  First, the student completes all relevant coursework (30 credits including 24 credits of graded coursework).  Second, the student must reach candidacy (become “ABD”); this includes the development and approval of a dissertation proposal and passing of oral exams.  Third, the student will write and defend the dissertation.  The second and third step is shown below.  It is strongly advised that the students and all committee members, especially the advisor, maintain regular contact during these processes.

Procedure for Reaching Candidacy

The foundation for a successful dissertation is developing a research proposal that clearly and succinctly lays out the student’s intentions for his/her doctoral research.  Students will likely conduct some preliminary work on their dissertation before reaching candidacy but are advised to seek to defend their proposal before starting considerable work on the dissertation itself.

  • 1. The student should work with his/her advisor to identify dissertation committee members and meet with these members to ask whether they are willing to serve on the committee.  At the same time, s/he should have completed all required coursework.
  • 2. The student develops an acceptable dissertation proposal with his/her advisor.  Excluding references, the dissertation proposal is typically between 6000 and 8000 words.
  • 3. When the advisor gives approval, the student should submit copies of the proposal to the remainder of the committee.
  • 4. The committee members have one week to review the proposal.  Committee members will provide feedback to the advisor regarding the suitability of the proposal for defense, and any requested changes.
  • 5. Once all committee members have reviewed the proposal, the advisor will confer with the student concerning the reviews.  If the proposal is acceptable, the student, in conjunction with his/her advisor, will arrange to move forward to his/her exams.  If changes are necessary, go back to Step 2.
  • 6. The student, in consultation with the committee, will set the dates for his/her written comprehensive exams.  There are three examinations, one administered by each member of the committee within the Department.  All written exams must be completed within five working days.  The student should confer with committee members regarding the topics to be covered and the ground rules for each exam (e.g. open-book or closed-book), as each faculty member determines his/her rules.
  • 7. The student will take the three exams. Within one week of completion, the advisory committee will evaluate the written examinations.
    • ​​​​a. For successful candidates, the oral examination will be scheduled.
    • b. If a portion of the written examination is failed, the student must retake that component within one month of notification. The student must successfully pass all written examinations before proceeding to the oral examination.
    • c. If any component is failed twice, the student is terminated from the doctoral program.
  • 8. The student, in consultation with the committee, will set the dates for his/her oral exams.  Unless agreed to beforehand, the oral exam must be within two weeks of notification of the successful completion of all aspects of the written examination.
  • 9. A proposal defense begins with an oral presentation (generally between 10 and 15 minutes) of the dissertation proposal.  Following this presentation, an oral examination will proceed, consisting of questions from the entire committee related to both the dissertation proposal and the written examinations.  Once questioning is complete, the committee will vote on the defense.  The student may pass unconditionally, pass with changes to be made to the proposal, or fail the oral defense.
    • a. If the student passes the defense unconditionally, the student may proceed to Step 10.
    • b. If a student passes the defense but changes are requested in the proposal document, the student must work to meet the committee’s concerns before proceeding to Step 10.
    • c. If the oral examination is failed, the student must retake the exam within one month of notification.
    • d. If the oral examination is failed for a second time, the student is terminated from the doctoral program.
  • 10. The Report of Candidacy and the Approval of Dissertation Topic forms must be completed and filed with Graduate Studies following the successful candidacy examination.  Once the dissertation topic has been approved, the candidate is cleared to register for Dissertation I.
  • 11. The student must then register for GEOG 80199 (Dissertation I) for the next two semesters.  Once the student has registered for Dissertation I twice, s/he must then remain continuously registered in Dissertation II until the dissertation is successfully defended and submitted.

Defense of Dissertation

The student and advisor will work closely during the process of the student’s dissertation research.  Regular meetings should be scheduled, and the research should be reviewed at a frequency that is acceptable to both student and advisor.  Students are encouraged to set up occasional dissertation committee meetings to discuss progress with the full committee.  The student must register for graduation (in Flashline) by the start of the semester in which s/he hopes to graduate.

The examining committee will consist of the dissertation committee plus a Graduate Faculty Representative who is appointed as the defense nears.  The Graduate Faculty Representative may also serve as moderator.  The advisor should put in a request for a Graduate Faculty Representative around two months before an anticipated defense date.

  • 1. When the student and advisor believe the dissertation is ready for preliminary approval, it will be circulated among the members of the committee.
  • 2. The committee will have a period of 10 working days to read the dissertation and will then convene the dissertation committee (without the candidate) for the purpose of evaluating it. The Graduate Faculty Representative must be notified of this meeting and invited to attend (and vote) on the readiness of the dissertation for final defense.  The committee must unanimously agree that the dissertation is ready for defense.  Recommended revisions will be noted by the advisor and communicated to the candidate; the committee may:
    • a. accept the dissertation document as is, and the student and advisor can schedule a defense;
    • b. require minor changes, in which case the student can move forward with the current document as the defense document and schedule a defense, while making the required changes;
    • c. require major revisions, in which case the modified dissertation must be reevaluated by the committee before approval to move forward to defense is given; or
    • d. find the dissertation work unacceptable for defense. If this happens, the student, advisor, and Graduate Coordinator will meet to discuss a route forward.
  • 3. When the dissertation committee has met and has agreed to proceed to the final examination, the student and committee will identify an acceptable time and place.  The defense should be scheduled at least 10 working days in advance unless the committee unanimously agrees otherwise.  The Chair, Graduate Coordinator, and secretary should be notified of the time and date at this point.
  • 4. The defense will be open to the University community. Notification of the time and place of the defense should be made public at least one week in advance of the defense.  In the absence of the advisor, the oral defense may not be held. If it is a matter of long-term absence or illness, the Chair and Graduate Coordinator, in consultation with the Dean, should make appropriate arrangements for a substitute.
  • 5. The defense begins with the thesis committee agreeing that the defense may proceed.  This is to be determined at the beginning and without the candidate or others being present. If more than one member of the thesis committee finds the thesis unacceptable, the oral defense will be postponed until the thesis has been sufficiently modified that the thesis is acceptable, with only one dissenting vote allowed.  If the thesis is not acceptable at this second scheduled defense, the Dean will be notified, and all further action is then the responsibility of the Dean.
  • 6. The student will open the defense with a 15-to-20-minute presentation of his/her findings.
  • 7. The members of the thesis committee will question the candidate.  Typically, there are two or more rounds of questioning, with the first round consisting of ten minutes per committee member, the second round consisting of five minutes per committee member and additional rounds as needed until all questions by the committee have been addressed. Following questions by the examining committee, members of the audience are permitted to ask questions.  Questioning should focus on the substantive nature of the research, rather than copy-editing issues, which should be written out and presented to the student after the defense.  The questioning will continue until it has run its course.  
  • 8. Once questioning is completed, the moderator will adjourn the defense and the room will be cleared of everyone except for the committee. The committee will then discuss the success or failure of the candidate, with the moderator presiding.  The candidate should be evaluated both (a) upon the overall quality and significance of his/her dissertation, and (b) upon the oral defense of his/her findings. A candidate passes the final oral defense if s/he passes with no more than one dissenting vote. If the candidate does not pass the defense, a rescheduling of the defense will occur when, in the opinion of the committee and the student, the thesis has been modified appropriately.  If a candidate does not pass the defense after a second attempt, the Dean will be notified, and all further action is then the responsibility of the Dean.
  • 9. Following the successful defense of the dissertation, any requested changes to the dissertation document must be made by the student, and a final version of the dissertation must be approved by the student’s committee and advisor.
  • 10. Once the committee has approved the thesis document, it must be submitted – in pdf format – to the Department Chair for approval. Formatting regulations and instructions may be found at: The student must give the chairperson at least three days to examine the thesis.  After approval from the Chair, the student must also fill out the signature pages.

Recommended timeline for full-time Ph.D. Students

Fall semester, Year 1

Take three Ph.D. level courses; GEOG 70800 (Geographic Thought) is recommended if you have not taken this before. Consider cognate courses each semester as you will need two total courses (6 credits)

Schedule regular meetings with temporary advisor and meet with other faculty with similar research interests.

Spring semester, Year 1

Take three Ph.D. level courses; GEOG 69701 (Research and Presentation) is recommended.

Identify a permanent advisor by Week 6, either by advisor form or with the annual report.

Consult with your advisor for turning your Research and Presentation proposal into a Thesis Proposal.

Fall and Spring semesters, Year 2

Take two additional courses as part of your full-time load.  The remainder of a full-time load can be additional courses or research hours.

Continue to work with your advisor to develop your dissertation proposal and assemble your committee.  Aim to defend your proposal either in late spring or early summer of year 2.

Prepare for Comprehensive Examinations

Year 3

Register for Dissertation I (two semesters in a row).  Following this, register for Dissertation II.  You should be taking no additional coursework, unless it helps your dissertation.

Year 4

Continue to register for Dissertation II each semester until the dissertation is defended and submitted. This includes summer sessions.