SECS Graduate Student Guide

University of Maine, Orono, ME

Updated: December, 2016

Introduction

Thank you for your interest in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences (the School). This document outlines the admissions process for prospective students, as well as the requirements and guidelines for current students. The School awards both master’s and doctoral research degrees. The School does not offer a non-thesis or professional degree, and all students must complete an original research project before graduating. This document answers common questions and outlines typical operating procedures. Additional information on policies related to the University of Maine’s Graduate Program can be found in the Graduate Catalog available on the Graduate School’s web site. Rules defined in the Graduate catalog have precedence should they contradict those outlined in this document.

Admissions deadlines

For consideration for Teaching Assistantships or University fellowships, apply by January 15. We can consider applications year round, but most admission decisions for the fall semester are made in February and early March. For consideration for Research Assistantships, contact individual faculty members with whom you would like to work to determine their schedules for admission decisions.

The below requirements are available in checklist form for the Master’s and doctoral degrees.

Typical Graduate Student Background

Applicants to our graduate program commonly have a Bachelor’s degree in Earth Sciences or closely related discipline, but the multidisciplinary nature of our program allows for entry from other backgrounds as well. Students entering the graduate program in Earth and Climate Sciences typically have completed at least one year of chemistry, physics, and calculus, as well as several courses in Earth or environmental sciences beyond the introductory level. Students who have not completed these basic requirements may be admitted, but may be required to complete specific courses to fulfill deficiencies. Deficiencies are determined on an individual basis by the student’s chosen advisor, and depend on the research topic and subdisciple chosen by the student.

The School has no formal minimum GRE or GPA requirements.

Application Process and Funding through The School

Before submitting an application, students should contact individual faculty members within the School to determine if:

  1. their interests align with current faculty research programs
  2. if individual faculty are interested in mentoring additional students
  3. what resources are available to pursue research activities

New students will be admitted only if there is clearly defined financial support for individuals. This support typically comes from Research Assistantships and Teaching Assistanships. In some cases, students enter the graduate program with their own source of funding, such as National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Regardless of the source of financial support, a faculty member needs to advocate for a student before the student will be admitted into the Graduate Program in Earth and Climate Sciences. Typically, students are admitted only if a faculty member notifies the Graduate Coordinator that a student in the applicant pool should be accepted. Acceptance of students to The School’s graduate program is dictated by individual faculty and resources available to them.

Research Assistantships

Research Assistantships are usually supported by external funding awarded to faculty. Individual faculty who receive these awards select the individual who will work on a funded project. Research Assistantships are awarded on a rolling basis, depending on the timing of awarded funding. Students are encouraged to obtain a clear written statement from their advisor detailing the expectations for a Research Assistantship and arrangements for financial support.

Teaching Assistanships

Teaching Assistantships are awarded to students who align with a faculty’s research interests and who have a background suitable for supervising introductory Earth Science laboratory sections. Students who wish to be considered for teaching assistantships should have a complete application submitted by January 15. To be considered for a Teaching Assistanship, please indicate your desire to be considered on the Admission Application (a simple checkbox).

Teaching assistantships are normally limited to two years of support for an M.S. student and three years of support for Ph.D. students. However, the School encourages shorter terms of Teaching Assistantships, with the balance of the student’s graduate tenure supported by Research Assistantships. Continuation on a teaching assistantship requires that a graduate assistant be present for all assigned laboratory sessions, attending lecture sections for their assigned class (at the instructor’s discretion), and completing any preparatory work or grading required for future classes. A Teaching Assistantship typically requires an average of 20 hours of work per week. If the demands placed on a Teaching Assistant routinely exceed 20 hours per week, please notify the School’s Chair or Graduate Coordinator.

Teaching assistants that do not perform satisfactory work (unable to communicate effectively with undergraduates, don’t have a mastery of introductory geology material, miss a laboratory session, fail to follow instructor requests) my lose this source of financial support. In addition, Teaching Assistants are expected to maintain good academic standing in the School. Receiving a grade below a ‘B-‘ or receiving multiple grades of ‘B-‘ in graduate classes will result in review of your academic progress with the students advisor and potential termination of an Assistantship.

Students working as Teaching Assistants are paid over a nine month period during the academic year. Students should consult with their academic advisor to determine if they are eligible for financial support or a tuition waiver during the summer months.

International Students

International students from non-english speaking countries must take the TOEFL (or IELTS) exam and typically achieve a score of at least 80 to be admitted to the graduate program. Additional information related to international students is distributed by the University of Maine Graduate School and the Office of International Programs.

General Policies

Each graduate student in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences is expected to participate in activities that broaden and enrich their experience while at the University of Maine. These activities include attending seminars sponsored by the School and supporting your fellow graduate students by attending proposal and thesis defense presentations. During each year of residence, students will give an oral presentation on their proposed research and/or preliminary results during a school seminar. Students are encouraged to attend seminars sponsored by other academic units, participate in graduate student government, present their research at the graduate student exposition, and participate in regional and national conferences.

Each graduate student will be assigned a desk and be given keys to appropriate laboratory and office space. Students will be assigned a mailbox located on the first floor on Bryand Global Sciences Building adjacent to the main office for the School (Room 111). All keys must be returned and desk space cleaned when finishing graduate studies and leaving the School.

A permit is required to park automobiles on campus. Parking information and permits can be obtained from Parking Services. Please consult the the University of Maine’s Parking Services to review that options for purchasing a permit that best meet your needs.

Students should obtain a Maine Card from the Maine Card Services Center. This student identification card can be used as a debit card (on campus), is used to check out materials from the library, provides free access to bus services, allows selective access to buildings, etc.

Training Requirements

All graduate assistants at the University of Maine are required to complete on-line training courses that include:

  • Basic Safety Training (must be completed every year)
  • Information Security Awareness Training
  • Sexual Assault Prevention Training

In addition to these on-line training courses, a one credit research conduct course (e.g. INT 601) must be completed early in the pursuit of a graduate degree. Your particular assistantship may require other training beyond the scope of these courses. Please check with your supervisor for additional details on the required training.

Master of Science Requirements

Master of Science students must select an academic advisor from the School by the end of the first semester. It is strongly advised that students select an advisor before entering the graduate program. If a student does not select an advisor before starting the first semester, one will be assigned to the student by the graduate coordinator.

A thesis Advisory Committee must be established, and thesis topic identified by the end of their second semester. The Advisory Committee will consist of three or more members of the graduate faculty. Each student must arrange at least annual Advisory Committee meetings. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that committee members are members of the Graduate Faculty and to submit Records of Qualification to the Graduate School if they are not. A Program of Study Form approved by the student’s Advisory Committee must be filed with the Graduate School by completion of 12 credit hours or by the third registration (whichever comes first). A copy of the form can be found at the Graduate School’s website. Financial aid may be withheld and registration for classes may not be allowed if the Program of Study has not been filed on time. Changes to the Program of Study must be made using the appropriate form (available at the Graduate School’s website), approved by the Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Graduate School.

All work for a master’s degree must be completed within six years of matriculation and at least 50% of course work must be taken at the University of Maine.

Classes

Master of Science students must complete at least 30 credit hours of study in order to graduate. At least 18 of these credits must be course work, and at least 6 must be thesis credits. Of the minimum 18 credits of course work, at least 12 credits must be completed in courses at 500 or higher level. The additional mix of course work and/or thesis credits required to reach the 30-credit minimum for graduation will be determined by the Advisory Committee depending on the student’s background preparation and the thesis topic. To obtain graduate credit for courses, an A or B grade must be earned. Receiving a grade of C+ or lower in courses taken as a graduate student triggers a formal letter of inquiry from the Graduate School to the student’s advisor, and may result in a recommendation to withdraw from the graduate program. Students who receive Graduate Assistanships must enroll in a one credit course on research conduct, and all graduate students must enroll in the School’s one credit seminar course during one semester while pursuing graduate work within the School.

Research

Completing a Master’s degree requires the preparation of a thesis proposal defining a work plan for completing a thesis and the defense of a thesis before a group of the School’s faculty. During each year of residence, students will give a 15 to 20 minute oral presentation on their proposed research and/or preliminary results typically during the spring seminar.

Proposal

A proposal describing the significance, objectives, methodology and expected outcome for thesis research must be completed and submitted to the student’s Advisory Committee and the Graduate Coordinator by the second semester of residence. The Advisory Committee must approve the proposal and notify the Graduate Coordinator when this requirement has been met. Failure to complete an approved thesis proposal may result in a recommendation to withdraw from the graduate program or termination of an Assistantship.

If the Advisory Committee does not approve of the proposal, they must inform the student in writing within one month after receiving the proposal. Students should consult with their academic advisor regarding formatting and organization of the proposal. The proposal may follow the format of a professional funding organization (e.g. NSF, EPA, NASA, USGS, NOAA) but the details are to be determined by the student and Advisory Committee.

Thesis Defense

A complete, edited draft of the thesis should be submitted to the Advisory Committee at least one month prior to the anticipated date for the thesis defense (no later than April 1 for May graduation, or November 1 for December graduation). Failure to meet this deadline, or an alternative one set by the Advisory Committee, will result in a delay in receiving the graduate degree. Students or an advisor may request an Advisory Committee meeting shortly before submitting the Tentative Thesis Acceptance form. This optional meeting will provide an opportunity for discussion of expectations for the defense, expectations for a final thesis, and items the committee requires before signing a Tentative Thesis Acceptance form.

The student and the Advisory Committee, in consultation with the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Graduate School, must schedule a thesis defense no later than two weeks before the examination date. A copy of the thesis must be delivered electronically for review to the Office of the Graduate School no later than 24 hours prior to the defense. The thesis must be accompanied by the Tentative Thesis Acceptance Form. Students are expected to provide all members (faculty and students) of the school with a written summary (abstract) of the thesis, and one copy of the tentatively-accepted thesis shall be available in the School’s main office for reading at least seven days before the defense. Additional copies should be available to each member of the Advisory Committee.

The defense itself shall be restricted to the thesis and closely related material. The defense of the thesis is oral and consists of three parts:

  1. A presentation by the graduate student lasting approximately 30 minutes that summarizes the problem, thescientific design, and the results of the investigation.
  2. Following this formal presentation, there will be a 20 minute opportunity for questions from the audience relating to the thesis.
  3. At the close of this part of the defense, only faculty members or other University personnel holding a Masters degree or above may remain. There will then be a period of questioning by the advisory committee and qualified personnel about the thesis material and closely related material.

At the end of the above period, the candidate will be excused from the room and the Advisory Committee will then come to a decision about the acceptability of the thesis and the defense of it. One of three categories of decisions will be made:

  1. Outright acceptance of the thesis and the defense. At that point the student is judged to have completed all of the requirements for the Master’s degree in Earth and Climate Sciences.
  2. General acceptance of the thesis and defense with minor revisions of text, figures, or other items. Acceptance on this level may also be contingent upon slight additional research such as visiting a critical outcrop, rerunning a critical experiment, or something of this nature. It would be reasonable to expect that acceptance under this provision would delay the student by no more than a few weeks in the successful completion of all requirements for the degree.
  3. Failure of the thesis defense. A re-test or reexamination of the thesis and defense of the thesis is possible after a period of not less than two months to allow sufficient time for the student to make appropriate changes to the thesis and improve knowledge related to the thesis material. If the student fails on this second attempt, they will be considered to have failed in their attempt to attain the degree.

A successful defense of the Thesis is signified by the signing of Section 1 on the Final Thesis Acceptance Form by all members of the student’s Advisory Committee. Once all revisions to the thesis have been made, the Committee chair and Graduate Coordinator will sign Sections 2 and 3 of the Final Thesis Acceptance Form. The student shall submit the thesis to the Graduate School after Section 2 and 3 of the Final Thesis Acceptance Form has been signed. Final copies of the Thesis should be submitted to the Graduate School in PDF/A format, to the School on archival paper, and to members of the Thesis Advisory Committee as they request.

Completion of Requirements

The student should notify the Graduate Coordinator when it is time to complete the Completion of Requirements form. The Graduate Coordinator will review the student’s academic history to ensure compliance with School and Graduate School policies only after receiving written confirmation from the student’s advisor that all stipulations and research requirements are complete.

Doctor of Philosophy Requirements

Only students with a master’s degree can be admitted directly to the doctoral program. However, well-prepared students with bachelor’s degrees may switch to a doctoral Program before completing their master’s degree. Students with a bachelor’s degree who wish to pursue a doctorate begin by entering the master’s program. After at least one semester, and typically a year, of full-time residence as a graduate student, the student’s advisor may notify the Graduate Coordinator that the student will continue on as a Ph.D. student. In this case, the student will receive only a Ph.D. degree.

Alternatively, a student currently in the doctoral program (or their advisor) may decide they should no longer pursue a doctorate. These students (or advisor) may decide switching to the master’s program is in the best interest of the student. If the student in conjunction with a faculty member in the School can come to a mutually beneficial written agreement on the steps needed to complete a master’s degree, the student may switch from the doctoral to the master’s program. All master’s degrees require a thesis.

All work for a doctoral degree must be completed within eight years of matriculation and at least 50% of course work must be taken at the University of Maine.

Advisory Committee

A thesis Advisory Committee must be established, and thesis topic identified by the end of their second semester. The Advisory Committee will consist of five or more members of the graduate faculty, at least one of whom is outside the student’s specialty area and one of whom is from outside the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. The Chairperson of the committee should be a member of the School of Earth and Climate Sciences, except in special cases. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that committee members are members of the Graduate Faculty and to submit Records of Qualification to the Graduate School if they are not.

Program of Study

A Program of Study form can be found at the Graduate School’s website. Students must complete and submit this form by completion of 12 credit hours or by the third registration (whichever comes first). Financial aid may be withheld or course registration impeded if the Program of Study has not been filed on time. Major changes to the Program of Study must be made using the Request for Change in Program form (available at the Graduate School’s website), approved by the Advisory Committee and forwarded to the Graduate School. Minor changes may be made and the Request for Change in Program form filed at the Graduate School during the semester in which graduation occurs.

Classes

To obtain graduate credit for courses, an A or B grade must be earned. Receiving a grade of C+ or lower in courses taken as a graduate student triggers a formal letter of inquiry from the Graduate School to the student’s advisor, and may result in a recommendation to withdraw from the graduate program. Students who receive Graduate Assistanships must enroll in a one credit course on research conduct and all graduate students must enroll in the School’s one credit seminar course during one semester while pursuing graduate work within the School.

Students Holding a Bachelor’s

Students who enter our Doctoral program with a Bachelor’s degree must complete at least 33 credits of course work and 9 credits of thesis work. Of the 33 credits of required course work, at least 15 must be completed in 500 or higher level courses.

Students Holding a Master’s

Doctoral students must complete at least 15 credits of course work and at least 9 credits of thesis work beyond the Master’s degree. Of the minimum 15 credits of course work, at least 9 must be completed in 500 or higher level courses

Research

A proposal describing the significance, objectives, methodology and expected outcome for thesis research should be completed and submitted to the student’s Advisory Committee by the third semester of residence. The primary academic advisor must inform the student within one month after receiving the proposal whether or not it is satisfactory. Students should consult with their academic advisor regarding formatting and organization of the proposal. The proposal may follow the format of a professional funding organization (e.g. NSF, EPA, NASA, USGS, NOAA) but the details are to be determined by the student and their Advisory Committee. Doctoral students will complete a three-part evaluation during their tenure at the school:

  1. thesis proposal defense
  2. comprehensive examination
  3. thesis defense

Proposal Defense

Ph.D. students will defend their thesis proposal in an open forum at the time that it is submitted to the Advisory Committee. The Ph.D. student will provide all members of the Advisory Committee with a copy of the thesis proposal at least two weeks before the thesis proposal defense. During the thesis proposal defense, the Ph.D. student will give a presentation lasting approximately 30 minutes describing the proposed work plan, preliminary results, and objectives of the dissertation in an open seminar. Following the presentation, the student will answer general questions from the audience, and will then be questioned in a closed session by the Advisory Committee. A three-hour time limit will be imposed on the presentation and questioning. By consensus, the Advisory Committee will decide whether the proposal is acceptable. To be acceptable, a proposal and defense must convince the advisory committee that: (1) the intended research is appropriate for doctoral-level work; and (2) the student has the background, skills and motivation necessary to accomplish the proposed research plan. If the proposal and defense are deemed acceptable, the Advisor should notify the Graduate Coordinator in writing. If a student’s proposal defense is unacceptable, the student will be given the option of defending a revised proposal between two and five months later. If the student’s proposal or defense is unacceptable on this second occasion, the school’s Graduate Committee will recommend that the student withdraw from the doctoral program.

Comprehensive Exam

Ph.D. students will complete a comprehensive exam typically before the end of their fourth semester of residence. This exam:

  1. is prepared and administered by the Advisory Committee
  2. will cover broad aspects of Earth, climate and ancillary science knowledge related to the student’s area of interest as defined by the thesis project
  3. will be composed of a written exam, followed by an oral exam held within two weeks of the written exam

The Advisory Committee will determine the content and structure of the comprehensive examination. The student should consult with her/his adviser regarding the nature and structure of the examination process. The written portion of the comprehensive examination can be done in several different ways, including a sit-down exam for a specified time period (typically 6 hours) within the school, or a take-home exam completed over a specified time period (typically 24-48 hours).

The oral examination will be completed within a 4-hour period. After completing the oral examination, the Advisory Committee will determine the outcome for the overall examination. A student may be awarded a pass, conditional pass, or failure. Conditional pass may require the satisfactory completion of course work, preparation of written reports, or other academic tasks. In the event of a failed examination, the student has one opportunity to retake the examination within 3 months after a failure. If the student fails the comprehensive examination on a second time, the graduate committee will recommend that the student withdraw from the doctoral program. If the student passes the comprehensive examination, the academic adviser will notify the Graduate School that the student has completed the qualifying exam and is now a Ph.D. Candidate.

Thesis Defense

A complete, edited draft of the thesis should be submitted to the Advisory Committee at least 1 month prior to the anticipated date for the thesis defense (no later than April 1 for May graduation, or November 1 for December graduation). Failure to meet this deadline, or an alternative one set by the Advisory Committee, will result in a delay in receiving the graduate degree. Students or an advisor may request an Advisory Committee meeting shortly before submitting the Tentative Thesis Acceptance form. This optional meeting will provide an opportunity for discussion of expectations for the defense, expectations for a final thesis, and items the committee requires before signing a Tentative Thesis Acceptance form.

The student and the Advisory Committee, in consultation with the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the Graduate School, must schedule a thesis defense no later than two weeks before the examination date. A copy of the thesis must be delivered electronically for review to the Office of the Graduate School no later than 24 hours prior to the defense. The thesis must be accompanied by the Tentative Thesis Acceptance Form. Students are expected to provide all members (faculty and students) of the school with a written summary (abstract) of the thesis, and one copy of the tentatively-accepted thesis shall be available in the School’s main office for reading at least seven days before the defense. Additional copies should be available to each member of the Advisory Committee.

The defense itself shall be restricted to the thesis and closely related material. The defense of the thesis is oral and consists of three parts:

  1. A presentation by the graduate student lasting approximately 30 minutes that summarizes the problem, the scientific design, and the results of the investigation.
  2. Following this formal presentation, there will be a 20 minute opportunity for questions from the audience relating to the thesis.
  3. At the close of this part of the defense, only faculty members or other University personnel holding a Masters degree or above may remain. There will then be a period of questioning by the advisory committee and qualified personnel about the thesis material and closely related material.

At the end of the above period, the candidate will be excused from the room and the Advisory Committee will then come to a decision about the acceptability of the thesis and the defense of it. One of three categories of decisions will be made:

  1. Outright acceptance of the thesis and the defense. At that point the student is judged to have completed all of the requirements for the Doctoral degree in Earth and Climate Sciences.
  2. General acceptance of the thesis and defense with minor revisions of text, figures, or other items. Acceptance on this level may also be contingent upon slight additional research such as visiting a critical outcrop, rerunning a critical experiment, or something of this nature. It would be reasonable to expect that acceptance under this provision would delay the student by no more than a few weeks in the successful completion of all requirements for the degree.
  3. Failure of the thesis defense. A re-test or reexamination of the thesis and defense of the thesis is possible after a period of not less than two months to allow sufficient time for the student to make appropriate changes to the thesis and improve knowledge related to the thesis material. If the student fails on this second attempt, they will be considered to have failed in their attempt to attain the degree.

A successful defense of the Thesis is signified by the signing of Section 1 on the Final Thesis Acceptance Form by all members of the student’s Advisory Committee. Once all revisions to the thesis have been made, the Committee chair and Graduate Coordinator will sign Sections 2 and 3 of the Final Thesis Acceptance Form. The student shall submit the thesis to the Graduate School after Section 2 and 3 of the Final Thesis Acceptance Form has been signed. Final copies of the Thesis should be submitted to the Graduate School in PDF/A format, to the School on archival paper, and to members of the Thesis Advisory Committee as they request.

Completion of Requirements

The student should notify the Graduate Coordinator when it is time to complete the Completion of Requirements form. The Graduate Coordinator will review the student’s academic history to ensure compliance with School and Graduate School policies only after receiving written confirmation from the student’s advisor that all stipulations and research requirements are complete.