Apr 18, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2015-2016 
Graduate Catalog | 2015-2016 Previous Edition

Geography and Urban Regional Analysis, Ph.D.

The Ph.D. in Geography and Urban Regional Analysis focuses on the theoretical and empirical analysis of metropolitan areas and their broader regional, national and global contexts.  At the core of this program is the recognition that cities are complex systems made up of environmental and human elements, with critical multiscalar interactions and outcomes.  Although the processes and issues that frame urban-regional analysis are global in scope, the research lens of the Ph.D. program is focused on the United States, and, especially regional topics and research questions.  Indeed, the Charlotte area and other urban and metropolitan regions in the southeastern United States offer laboratories for examining economic, social, and environmental change processes that are at work across the world.

Building on the strengths and research interests of the graduate geography faculty and colleagues across campus, there are currently three broad research clusters within the doctoral program.  These include:

  • Urban/Regional Systems
  • Human-Environmental Interactions
  • Geographic Information Science (GIScience)

The theoretic and empirical understanding of these research areas is guided by multiscalar analytical techniques, both quantitative and qualitative. 

The research clusters provide opportunities for integration and complementarity, with shared methods and theoretic structures; as well as, the focus on the urban-regional scale.  In line with current research trends, scholarship that bridges human geography and environmental systems is an area of significant interest.  In this context, GIScience is both a research focus and fundamental research tool.

A cornerstone of the program is the student’s research dissertation.  Each dissertation is expected to be based on independent and original research which contributes to the body of knowledge in the field, leading to publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Additional Admission Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the Graduate School, the following are required for study to the Ph.D. in Geography and Urban Regional Analysis:

Under most circumstances, students admitted to the program will have:

  1. A M.A or M.S. degree in geography or field related to the primary emphases of the Program.
  2. A master’s level GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0. In exceptional cases, students with baccalaureate degrees may be admitted if they have an overall undergraduate GPA of at least 3.6 and meet other admission requirements.  Students without master’s degrees may be required to complete substantial prerequisites necessary to work at a Ph.D. level.
  3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with minimum scores of 150 on both the verbal and quantitative sections and a 3.5 or above on the analytical portions.  Applicants must have taken the GRE; no other test will be accepted in its place.
  4. TOEFL exam scores of at least 84 on the Internet-based test for applicants whose native language is not English.  The program expects a minimum score of in the low to mid 20s on each of the components of the TOEFL.  In addition, international students who will be teaching assistants will be required to undergo evaluation by the English Language Training Institute at UNC Charlotte prior to beginning their assistantship.
  5. GIS proficiency at a minimum of the applications level is required. Other remedial coursework, as determined by the Geography Graduate Advisory Committee, may also be required depending on the background of the student.
  6. Three letters of recommendation, at least two of which must come from faculty in the student’s previous academic programs. 
  7. A personal statement which directly addresses why the student wishes to do graduate work in geography and why they wish to participate in the Ph.D. program in Geography and Urban Regional Analysis at UNC Charlotte.  The statement should address directly how the program at UNC Charlotte fits career and/or professional goals and how the applicant would benefit from and contribute to the Ph.D. in Geography and Urban Regional Analysis at UNC Charlotte.  This statement is very important in determining the applicant’s commitment to graduate education and to a professional career in geography or a related field.

Degree Requirements

The Ph.D. acknowledges the value of coursework as background and preparation for research, but the primary emphasis is on the development of research skills and the completion of a research project on a problem significant to urban regions.

Total Hours Required

51 credit hours of approved coursework is required, encompassing 33 credit hours in core and elective courses and 18 credit hours of dissertation units.


While the curriculum and experiential background of all students accepted into the program will be evaluated upon entry, students entering the program would, at a minimum, be required to demonstrate proficiencies at the level of Intermediate GIS (UNC Charlotte equivalent GEOG 4120 or a minimum of two courses such as basic and intermediate GIS); a Master’s level research design course (UNC Charlotte equivalent GEOG 6200 or a Master’s level research thesis); and a Master’s level quantitative methods course (UNC Charlotte equivalent of GEOG 6100 ). Students who fail to meet these minimum requirements would not be permitted to enroll in courses for which they do not have the prerequisites.

Core Courses (required of all students)

All students are required to complete a minimum of 24 credit hours. Students can take related courses outside the program with prior approval.


All program-approved courses are open to graduate students only.

Grade Requirements

All graduate students are subject to academic suspension and/or termination. Department academic standards deviate slightly from university policies stated in appropriate catalogs. A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all coursework taken in the program. An accumulation of one (1) marginal (C) grade results in the student being placed on probationary status within the program and could lead to the student being required to re-take the course, and a potential loss of funding if the student is receiving University-sourced funding. An accumulation of two (2) marginal (C) grades results in suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. A graduate student whose enrollment has been suspended because of grades is ineligible to register in any semester or summer session unless properly reinstated through the suspension appeal process. An accumulation of three (3) marginal (C) grades or one (1) unsatisfactory (U) or one (1) NC grade results in termination of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. A second failure in the candidacy examination; the dissertation proposal defense; or final dissertation defense also results in dismissal from the program. In order to continue a program of study, the student must pursue reinstatement through the termination appeal process or wait a period of two years before applying for readmission to the program.

Transfer Credit

Six credit hours or two courses of Ph.D.-level coursework can be transferred from another accredited graduate program as part of the 51 credit hour requirement. Transfer credit beyond this limit must be approved by the Graduate Program Director, in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Comprehensive Exams

Following successful completion of the core coursework and upon the recommendation of the Faculty Advisor, a student will take a written, comprehensive examination. The purpose of the examination is to evaluate the student’s mastery of the body of knowledge in his/her research focus area, as well as to demonstrate the research skills and methods that characterize scholars in this subfield of geography.

The comprehensive exam will be comprised of three parts. Part I addresses the theoretic and contemporary literature of geography generally covered in the core coursework and seminars. Part II will assess student’s competency in research methods and techniques. GIScience is a key element of this component.

Finally, Part III will evaluate student competence in his/her research concentration.

The comprehensive examination will be written and graded by an Examination Committee made up of faculty teaching in the doctoral program. This committee will be appointed by the Graduate Coordinator in consultation with the Faculty Advisor.

If a student fails the comprehensive examination or any portion of the exam, he/she must wait until the next semester to retake the examination. During the interim period, the student may be required to retake courses in which the Examination Committee determines there is a deficiency.

Advisor/Advisory Committee

All students in the program will have both a Dissertation Advisor approved by the Program Coordinator and an Advisory Committee. The Dissertation Advisor will help a student formulate a Program of Study including a potential dissertation topic by no later than the end of the second semester of study (or 12 hours of coursework in the case of part-time students). The Dissertation Advisor serves as Chair of the Advisory Committee and must be a member of the Graduate Faculty of UNC Charlotte. The Advisory Committee should have at least four members, three of whom are chosen by the student. The final member of the Committee will be a Graduate School representative to the Committee. That appointment will be made by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Dissertation Proposal and Advancement to Candidacy

Advancing to candidacy requires that the student pass the comprehensive exam and write and successfully defend a dissertation proposal. The proposal must be submitted to the student’s Advisory Committee for preliminary approval and then to the Program Coordinator and the Dean of the Graduate School. Successful defense of the dissertation proposal is followed by advancement to candidacy.


The student must complete and defend a dissertation. The dissertation represents an original and substantial research product. The student must orally present and defend the dissertation before his/her Advisory Committee in a defense that is open to the university community. A copy of the dissertation must be made available to the Geography Graduate Faculty at least three weeks prior to the defense. While the defense presentation is open to the university community, the deliberations of the Advisory Committee are held in Executive Session. The dissertation will be graded on a Pass/Unsatisfactory basis by the student’s Advisory Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School. The dissertation defense is the final examination. It is a Graduate School requirement that a student that fails the final examination twice will be terminated from the program.

Time Limits for Completion of the Degree

It is generally expected that full-time students will complete coursework within a three-year time frame and the dissertation will be completed one to two years later. Students must achieve admission to candidacy within six years after admission to the program. All requirements for the degree must be completed within eight years after first registration as a doctoral student. Further, the oral examination in defense of the dissertation must be passed within five years after being advanced to candidacy.

Residency Requirements

Residency requirements for the program include completing 21 credit hours of continuous enrollment, either as coursework or dissertation credits.  Residence is considered to be continuous if the student is enrolled in one or more courses in successive semesters until 21 credit hours are earned.