The Department of Geography and Earth Sciences offers a Master of Science in Earth Sciences degree with opportunities for study and research in the areas of geology, hydrology, atmospheric science, surface processes, environmental science, remote sensing, and geospatial analysis. Graduate students have access to faculty with a broad range of expertise, as well as access to extensive field, laboratory, and computing facilities.
Earth Sciences faculty offer courses and are active in research areas that include surface and groundwater hydrology, vadose zone processes, geochemistry, igneous and metamorphic petrology, biogeochemistry, mineralogy, structural geology, applied geophysics, remote sensing, soil science, Quaternary geology, geomorphology, fluvial processes, depositional environments, biodiversity, landscape ecology, urban ecology, sustainability, forestry, clastic and carbonate sedimentology, basin analysis, stratigraphy, coastal geology, paleoecology, macro- and micropaleontology, environmental geology, applied climatology, global fire modeling, biogeophysical modeling, climate model evaluation, terrestrial carbon cycling, aerosol physics and chemistry, air quality, renewable energies, numerical weather prediction, severe weather, tropical meteorology, and environmental epidemiology.
The program is designed to address a range of student needs and can be completed in two years of full-time study or on a part-time basis. Students choose one of two options with different degree requirements: 1) a course-only option that emphasizes the core knowledge and skills necessary for practice in Earth Sciences professions, or 2) a research option in which students engage in original Earth Sciences research in collaboration with a faculty advisor and complete coursework centered on that research.
Graduates of the course-only option will be prepared for careers such as environmental consultants, geologists in the energy and mining industries, regulators and applied practitioners in some government agencies, and Earth Sciences teachers in secondary schools. The research option prepares students for these careers as well as careers in research labs or most government agencies, and for admission to traditional Geology, Atmospheric, Earth, and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. programs and interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs such as Infrastructure and Environmental Systems (INES).
All applications for admission are reviewed by the Department of Geography and Earth Science’s Graduate Advisory Committee. The department admits applicants on a competitive basis as space in the program allows. In addition to Graduate School admission requirements, the following are required for the program:
- Grade Point Average (GPA): The department expects an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 point scale. However, exceptions may be made if other elements of the application are strong.
- Reference Letters: Three letters of reference are required. Letters from college or university instructors who have worked with or taught applicants are preferred. These letters are evaluated on the basis of how well the applicant is suited in terms of intellect, preparation, maturity, and motivation to perform graduate work.
- Personal Statement: Applicants must write a personal statement that directly addresses their reasons for conducting graduate work, as well as their desire to participate in the M.S. in Earth Sciences program at UNC Charlotte. Applicants should comment on their expectations regarding the benefits of a M.S. and how the program at UNC Charlotte fits their career and professional goals. Applicants to the research option of the program should identify potential advisors with whom they would like to work and explain why those advisors were selected. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact potential advisors prior to submitting an application.
- Scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE): In general, the department expects applicants to score above the 50th percentile on each exam section with a minimum score of 300 on the combined verbal and quantitative portions (equivalent to a minimum combined score of 1000 if taken before 2011). Lower scores will not automatically exclude applicants if the remainder of the applicant’s file is strong.
- Transcripts of College Coursework: Transcripts of all previous college study must be submitted. They are evaluated on the basis of performance across a range of Earth and environmental sciences, physical sciences, and mathematics courses in order to determine the applicant’s preparation for graduate level coursework.
- Language Requirements: International applicants whose native language is not English must earn a total score of at least 83 (Internet-based) or 557 (paper-based) on the Test of English as a Foreign Language Exam (TOEFL). This requirement does not apply to U.S. citizens or native English speakers.
Early Entry Program
Exceptional undergraduate students at UNC Charlotte may apply for the Early Entry Program and begin work toward the graduate degree before completion of the baccalaureate degree. See the Undergraduate Catalog for details and requirements. Also see the Degree Requirements and Academic Policies section of the Graduate Catalog for more information about Early Entry Programs.
Additional Prerequisite Requirements
(Minimum requirements in addition to those enforced by the Graduate School)
All prospective graduate students must demonstrate competence in undergraduate subject matter in their area of study. While the department does not require that applicants’ bachelor’s degree be in Earth Sciences or a related field, prospective graduate students should provide evidence that they are academically prepared to participate in graduate level coursework in disciplines encompassed by the M.S. in Earth Sciences program at UNC Charlotte.
Students applying to the program should, at a minimum, be familiar with the concepts and materials offered in introductory courses including: Physical Geography or Physical Geology, Chemistry I, Physics I, and calculus-based Mathematics.
Students entering the program with notable deficiencies may be required to complete undergraduate level courses to address those deficiencies in addition to graduate level courses required by the program. The required deficiency courses are mandated at the discretion of the advisor or the Graduate Program Director; these courses typically do not supply graduate credit nor count towards required credits for the M.S. in Earth Sciences program.
All decisions concerning the equivalency of courses in an applicant’s transcript to those listed as minimum requirements for entry to the M.S. in Earth Sciences are the responsibility of the Graduate Program Director.
The M.S. in Earth Sciences program requires a minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate coursework. Students must choose one of two options to complete the program: 1) a course-only option, or 2) a research option.
Students must complete 13-16 credit hours of required coursework that includes a graduate seminar and courses that span the department’s areas of expertise in Earth Sciences. The remaining credit hours consist of 5000- or 6000-level elective courses of the student’s choosing.
Required Courses (13-16 credit hours)
Graduate Seminar (2 credit hours)
Students take this seminar twice for a total of two credit hours:
Advanced Subject Matter Courses (6 credit hours)
Select two of the following that cover advanced subject matter related to Earth Sciences:
Advanced Techniques Courses (5-8 credit hours)
Select two of the following that cover advanced techniques employed by Earth scientists:
Elective Courses (14-17 credit hours)
Select from the following courses within the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences:
- ESCI 5XXX-6XXX - Earth Sciences Elective
- GEOG 5XXX-6XXX - Geography Elective
- GEOL 5XXX-6XXX - Geology Elective
It is anticipated that students primarily select courses from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, but they may also choose coursework in biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics in support of particular emphases within the program. For example, certain geo-technology or environmental engineering courses in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering may be appropriate for the student pursuing problems in environmental Earth Sciences. Students examining the interaction of geology and the biosphere may include Ecology or Botany courses in the Department of Biological Sciences or Organic Chemistry courses in the Department of Chemistry in their program of study. Students must meet other departments’ course prerequisite requirements or receive permission from the instructor before registering for out-of-department courses. Up to 6 credit hours of independent study may be applied as elective coursework.
To complete the program, each course-only option M.S. student must pass a written comprehensive examination testing the student’s knowledge and understanding gained in required and elective coursework. The student must respond to three questions of the Graduate Program Director’s choosing, each covering material from a different course (both required and elective courses are eligible) in the student’s program of study. The written comprehensive exam is normally taken during the penultimate semester and in no case should the student take this exam before accumulating 21 credit hours of completed or in-progress coursework. This exam may not be administered if the student has outstanding Incomplete grades in any coursework. If a student does not successfully answer any question(s) on the exam, the student may retake the question(s) one time in the final semester.
Degree Total = 30 Credit Hours
The 30 credit hour minimum for the research option includes 2 credit hours of ESCI 6600, at least 9 credit hours of ESCI 6900, and at least 9 credit hours of 5000- or 6000-level course credits exclusive of ESCI 5800, ESCI 6800, GEOG 6800, and GEOL 6800. The total degree hours must consist of at least 18 credit hours at the 6000 level, including ESCI 6600 and ESCI 6900. NOTE: Additional credit hours of ESCI 6900 beyond the required 9 credit hours may be applied.
Required Courses (11 credit hours)
Earth Sciences Research
Students can pursue research experiences that are appropriate to individual student’s interests and experience, departmental faculty resources, and the availability of opportunities that exist to work with allied agencies or clients on or off campus. The research experience can be in the form of a research project or a thesis. The only difference between the requirements for these two formats is that the thesis must adhere to the deadline and formatting requirements for thesis submission of the UNC Charlotte Graduate School, whereas the project must adhere to the deadline requirements for project completion but is not subject to a formatting review by the Graduate School. Both formats have identical expectations regarding scope, originality, and quality of the work completed. Students wishing to complete a project instead of a thesis must obtain advisor permission to do so.
For both the thesis and project, the student must prepare and orally present a written research proposal that clearly outlines the purpose and scope of their research. At the presentation, students should be prepared to respond to questions from their research committee, including questions on general topics addressed in their prior coursework. It is expected that the proposal presentation occur by the end of the second semester for full-time students, and must be completed no later than the end of the third semester for full-time students. The proposal presentation may not occur in the same semester as the defense of the final research document. If the proposal presentation is not completed by the end of the third semester for full-time students, the student is strongly encouraged to transfer to the course-only option (any research credits already taken may be graded by the instructor and applied towards the course-only option as elective credits).
The final results of all research projects and theses must be presented in a written research document. The research document must be formally reviewed and approved by a majority vote of the student’s research committee. Research projects and theses must also be orally defended (see below).
All research proposals and final projects and theses are evaluated by a faculty committee known as the research committee. Research committees must have a minimum of three members composed of the graduate faculty of the Department or associated departments. Additional members are acceptable and in many cases outside members, such as internship coordinators from off-campus agencies, are advisable.
Defense of the Research Project or Thesis
When the advisor is satisfied that the student’s research and writing have progressed sufficiently, the research document is provided to the other members of the research committee. If they agree that the document is ready for a defense, an oral defense is scheduled. At least one week prior to the defense, the student must provide a digital version of the research report or thesis to the research committee and place a digital copy in the appropriate public online folder hosted by the Department for review by all interested faculty and students. At the same time, the advisor must formally notify all faculty and students in the Department of the date, time, place, and topic (title with abstract) of the defense.
Elective Courses (19 credit hours)
Select from courses within the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences:
- ESCI 5XXX-6XXX - Earth Sciences Elective
- GEOG 5XXX-6XXX - Geography Elective
- GEOL 5XXX-6XXX - Geology Elective
It is anticipated that students primarily select courses from the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, but they may also choose coursework from biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics in support of particular emphases within the program. For example, certain geo-technology or environmental engineering courses in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering may be appropriate for the student pursuing problems in environmental Earth Sciences. Students examining the interaction of geology and the biosphere may include Ecology or Botany courses in the Department of Biological Sciences or Organic Chemistry courses in the Department of Chemistry in their program of study. Students must meet other departments’ course prerequisite requirements or receive permission from the instructor before registering for out-of-department coursework.
Degree Total = 30 Credit Hours
Students are expected to achieve grades of A or B in all coursework taken for graduate credit and must have at least an average of B (3.0) in order to graduate. An accumulation of more than two grades of C results in suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. A grade of U results in the immediate suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. Readmission to the program requires approval of the Graduate Program Director, Department Chair, and Dean of the Graduate School.
A student’s advisor guides the student through the design and implementation of a program of study and research, if applicable, tailored to the student’s specific needs and career goals and the Department’s research and teaching missions. The advisor generally is available to the student for advice on academic and other problems, and the advisor sets expectations for student performance beyond coursework. Course-only option students are advised by the Graduate Program Director, whereas an advisor is assigned by the Graduate Program Director to each research option student at the time of their admission into the program. Every effort is made to match research option students with advisors who have similar research interests. Research option students may change advisors by obtaining advance permission from the faculty member with whom they wish to work, i.e., the new advisor. No student will be allowed to register for courses without permission of their advisor.
Assistantships may be offered to research option students. Assistantships are much like a part-time job, offering valuable training opportunities and work experience that ideally fit the student’s academic interest. The nature of a research assistantship depends entirely on the needs of the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences or supervising faculty member. Teaching assistantships are assigned on the basis of the student’s academic background.
Graduate assistantships are arranged for either one entire semester or for an entire academic year (two semesters or nine months). They are normally scheduled for 16 weeks per semester and the student is expected to work 20 hours per week. The department makes every effort to provide funding to every full-time research option student in the program.
The M.S. in Earth Sciences graduate program generally follows a traditional numbering scheme with 5000- and 6000-level courses. The 5000-level numbers identify courses that cover accepted bodies of knowledge within the Earth Sciences with the emphasis placed on mastery and critical assessment of the theoretical and empirical foundations within the discipline. The 6000-level courses are divisible into three categories. (1) The first category is the Earth Systems topic courses, wherein graduate students review and analyze the dominant current working hypotheses that drive contemporary research within conceptual areas such as geodynamics, global biogeochemical cycles, climate change, severe weather dynamics, or urban ecology. (2) The second 6000-level category is the common core seminar course, wherein graduate students discuss holistic themes and discipline-specific issues in the Earth Sciences over the course of two separate fall semesters. (3) The third 6000-level category is the directed research course that provides the framework for research option students to complete the research requirements within their course of study.
Plan of Study
All students are required to formulate a complete plan for their M.S. before completion of the second semester for full-time students. For course-only option students, this plan includes all coursework that will be completed during the degree. For research option students, the plan of study includes the names of the student’s research committee members, a thesis/research project title, the semesters during which the proposal and final defenses are planned, and all coursework that will be completed during the degree. The plan of study must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and all committee members (research option students only), and serves as a guide to coursework and research while at UNC Charlotte.
Up to 6 graduate credit hours may be accepted as transfer credit. Only courses with grades of A or B earned at an accredited university are eligible. Transfer credits are not automatic and require the approval of the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School. The amount of transfer credit may not exceed the limit set by the Graduate School (6 credit hours).