Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Skip to content Skip to navigation

Ph.D Program

Doctor of Philosophy

Objectives—The Ph.D. degree is conferred upon evidence of high attainment in Geophysics and ability to conduct an independent investigation and present the results of such research.

Requirements for the Degree —A minimum of 135 units of graduate study at Stanford must be satisfactorily completed. All courses used to fulfill requirements for the Ph.D. in Geophysics must be LECTURE courses taken for a LETTER GRADE (unless CR/NC is the only option offered). Geophysics courses used to fulfill requirements for the Ph.D. must be taught by Geophysics faculty (or senior academic staff, if supervised by a faculty member). Lecture courses on geophysical topics taught by visiting faculty can only be counted as fulfilling a Geophysics requirement if approved in advance by the Department Chair and the Director of Graduate Studies. Students are required to attend the department seminars, and to complete sufficient units of independent work on a research problem to meet the 135-unit University requirement. 12 units must be met by participation in the GEOPHYS 385 series, or equivalent series in other departments with approval of the adviser and graduate coordinator. Students are encouraged to participate in the GEOPHYS 385 series from more than one faculty member or group and relevant equivalent series in other departments. Students with a Master's degree may waive up to 12 units for approved courses.

ENGR 102W/202W, Technical Writing, is recommended but not required.

The student's record must indicate outstanding scholarship, and deficiencies in previous training must be removed. Experience as a teaching assistant (quarter-time for at least two academic quarters ) is required for the Ph.D. degree. Please note, students cannot complete two teaching assistantships at the same time in the same quarter.  For more information, see the Geophysics Administrative Guide, section 1.4.1.

The student must pass the departmental oral examination by the end of the sixth academic quarter (third academic quarter for students with an M.S. degree); must complete second project by presentation of results at a conference or through a publication; prepare under faculty supervision a dissertation that is a contribution to knowledge and the result of independent work expressed in satisfactory form; and pass the University oral examination.

The Ph.D. dissertation must be submitted in its final form within five calendar years from the date of admission to candidacy. Upon formal acceptance into a research group, the student and faculty adviser form an advising committee consisting of at least three members who are responsible for overseeing satisfactory progress toward the Ph.D. degree. At least two committee members must be Geophysics faculty members. The committee conducts the department oral examination, and meets thereafter annually with the student to review degree progress. The Geophysics faculty monitors progress of all students who have not yet passed their department qualifying examination by carrying out an annual performance appraisal at a closed faculty meeting.

Course requirements

  1. Geophysics*—12 units, lecture courses numbered 200 and above, from 4 different Geophysics faculty with different research specializations;
  2. Additional Geophysics-3 units, lecture courses numbered 120+;
  3. School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (non-Geophysics)—3 units, lecture courses numbered 100 or above;
  4. Mathematics (numbered 100 or above), Science, and Engineering (non-School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences)—6 units, lecture courses numbered 200 or above;
  5. Any of the above categories—6 units, lecture courses numbered 200 or above;
  6. Total: 30 units

* These units marked cannot be waived.

Ph.D. Department Qualifying Examination Requirement—

  1. One research proposal (10-20 pages) with a completed component that outlines a plan of research for 2 -3 year;
  2. Second scientific proposal or paper (4-10 pages) with a professor in another area (See Second Project info below)
  3. An oral presentation with the student's advising committee on both the research proposal (~30-40 min) and the second proposal/paper (~10 min), with questions by the committee constituting the qualifying exam.

Second Project

The purpose of the second research project is to add breadth to Ph.D. study and give the student the opportunity, ability and confidence to carry out research in multiple areas.


The second project should stand alone as a separate piece of work from the primary research project.

  • The second project must be in Geophysics or a closely related discipline.
  • The topic must be substantially different from the topic of the PhD thesis; i.e. it should not be the same method applied to a different problem, or a different method applied to the same problem.
  • The second project should be supervised by a Stanford Geophysics faculty member  (Academic Council or research faculty) who does not serve as the primary research advisor, and who must be in a separate research group. Exceptions allowing for second project advisors who are not Stanford Geophysics faculty must be approved by both the research advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • Completion of the second project ideally results in a publication in the refereed literature, or a presentation at a scientific conference. 
  • Most students are expected to complete the second research project as part of their PhD studies. However, the department allows an option of meeting academic breadth requirements through additional focused coursework (see below).


  • The student must discuss potential second project topics and advisors with the committee at the first annual review (4th academic quarter). 
  •  The PhD qualifying exam includes 10-15 minutes of presentation time related to the second project. Unless the project has been completed, a proposal (~5 pages) for the second project must be presented at the time of the qualifying exam, including a plan for completion by the end of the third year. Lack of this constitutes failure of the qualifying exam.
  •  If the project has been completed (or is close to completion), evidence of this must be given at the time of the qualifying exam; e.g. a copy of the paper, the poster, or the submitted conference abstract.
  •  Students register for 15 graded research units with their second project advisor, or with the Director of Graduate Studies if the advisor is outside Stanford. The final grade will be submitted on completion of a written report documenting the project.
  •  The completion of the Second Project form and signature of the second-project advisor is a graduation requirement.
  •  Students cannot be advanced to TGR status or receive the PhD degree before completion of the second project.

The coursework breadth/multiple area option

We expect most students to demonstrate academic breadth and ability in multiple areas by completing a second research project as described above.  However, in some cases the department allows an alternative path consisting of focused coursework.  A student selecting this option must complete the Coursework Breadth Option Petition.pdf, which must be approved by the advisor and Director of Graduate Studies.  Requirements for this option are:

  • The option must include 15 units of graded (or Instructor-mandated S/NC) lecture courses at the 200 level or higher.
  • The courses chosen must be relevant to study in Geophysics, and be approved as such by the advisor and Director of Graduate Studies.  
  • At least 6 units must be from the Department of Geophysics. The remaining courses may chosen from any department.
  • The Coursework Breadth Option Petition.pdf must state the classes to be taken, and explain how these classes will provide breadth or a second focus area to the student's course of study and how they are important to the student's career goals.
  • The courses cannot be used to meet any other degree requirements at Stanford.
  • No transfer credit may be used to meet this requirement.
  • The proposed set of anticipated courses must be evaluated by the student’s committee at the first annual review, and approved again at the time of the qualifying exam.  
  • Students cannot be advanced to TGR status or receive the PhD degree until completion of the 15 additional units.


Any exceptions to the above rules must be approved and signed by the student’s advisor, by all members of the student’s academic committee, by the Director of Graduate Studies and Chair.