Continuing Graduate Student Handbook


First-year Mentor

All students are assigned a first-year mentor by the Head Graduate Advisor from among the listed prospective advisors in the student’s application. During the first year, these mentors will help students get oriented to the department and campus life and should be viewed as an informal all-around resource.

Selecting Dissertation Committee Members

Establishing dissertation committee advisory relationships with faculty during your first year is strongly encouraged. If you have indicated faculty of interest during the application, start there. Advising and overall support are better when these relationships are developed early on. The inside committee and/or dissertation chair should be established by the end of year two. In consultation with their dissertation chair, students can identify the outside member or academic senate representative once they are ready to begin qualifying examination preparation. Following the Qualifying Exam and upon advancement to candidacy, students must formally constitute their dissertation committee through CalCentral (see section_ for details).

The Ph.D. dissertation is written under the supervision of a committee of at least three faculty members: the Chair or Co-Chairs, Academic Senate Representative (ASR), and additional member(s).  Specific composition rules that need to be adhered to:

Graduate division requirements

  1. A Dissertation Committee requires a minimum of three members
  2. Two Co-Chairs may replace one chair.
  3. The Dissertation Chair cannot be the same person who served as the student’s Qualifying Examination Chair.
  4. The Qualifying Examination Chair may serve as a student’s Dissertation Co-Chair.
  5. The Dissertation Chair or Co-Chair must be a member of Geography.

Departmental requirements

  1. At least 50% of the committee must be Academic Senate members who are either member(s) of Geography or affiliated faculty of Geography. 
  2. The Academic Senate Representative (ASR) must be an academic senate member who is not a member of the Geography department.  Affiliated faculty are allowed to serve as the ASR.     
  3. Exceptions to #6 or #7 must be requested in writing by the student’s faculty advisor to the Head Graduate Advisor. Exceptions will be made considering the purpose of the composition requirements, which are to enforce disciplinary standards (in the case of #6) and allow for outside oversight (in the case of #7).  

Subject to the above requirements being fulfilled, additional members may be Berkeley Academic Senate members in Geography, or another degree granting program, or an approved non-Academic Senate member.

Annual Reviews

Students and one of the prospective advisors listed in their applications will meet at the beginning and end of each academic year to review the past year’s progress, plan for upcoming year/summer, review funding, coursework, professional development and opportunities. Faculty advisor(s) and the student will complete and submit these bi-annual review forms to the GSAO for each meeting.

The bi-annual evaluations provide students with timely information about the faculty’s evaluation of their progress and performance, steps to be taken to correct deficiencies, and a time frame within which to correct the problem or to show acceptable improvement.  If a student is not making adequate progress toward the completion of degree requirements, has a cumulative GPA of less than 3.00, has an excessive number of Incomplete grades on her or his record, and/or is doing unacceptable work on courses and seminars, on the third-year paper or on required preparatory work for the dissertation, he or she may be placed on probation. A student on probationary status may register but may not hold academic appointments such as GSIships, receive graduate fellowship support, or be awarded advanced degrees.

After advancing to candidacy, students with at least two members of their dissertation committee,complete Graduate Division’s Doctoral Candidacy Review (DCR) during one of their annual review meetings.  Faculty will comment on progress and the students may respond. The DCR is a separate requirement from the departmental bi-annual review.

Financial Advising

Each Fall, students will meet with the department financial advisor to discuss their current and future financial circumstances and plans.

Program Structure

Normative Time Schedule

First Year1st SemesterCoursework, including 200A
2nd SemesterCoursework, including 200B (for human geographers). Identify the main advisor and theme for the analytical field.
Second Year1st SemesterCoursework, including 200C (for human geographers). Meet w/advisors systematically. Identify the qualifying exam committee.
2nd SemesterCoursework. Finalize qualifying exam/ dissertation committee. Identify three fields for oral exams and prepare qualifying exam lists. Start work on the prospectus. Start work on analytic field statement (human geographers) or analytic paper (physical geographers).
Third Year1st SemesterCoursework, if appropriate. Continue preparing for the qualifying exam. Apply for dissertation research grants.
2nd SemesterFinalize analytic field statement (or analytic paper) and prospectus. Take the qualifying exam. Finalize dissertation committee Hold dissertation prospectus meeting. File application to advance to candidacy.
Fourth Year1st SemesterBegin dissertation research.
2nd SemesterContinue dissertation research.
Fifth Year1st SemesterContinue dissertation research if needed. Begin dissertation writing.
2nd SemesterDissertation writing.
Sixth Year1st SemesterDissertation writing.
2nd SemesterFinish dissertation and file. Exit talk.

*If you will be doing work that includes interviews, oral histories, or surveys, please consult the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects’ website.


All students take GEOG 200A in their first semester. Human geographers additionally take GEOG 200B in the second semester and GEOG 200C in their third semester.  These courses frame classical and contemporary geographic thought, foundations of social science, and they offer insights how to make and judge arguments, how to write a research proposal/ prospectus, as well as other matters pertinent to academic professionalization.

All students in the doctoral program must take at least 12 units every semester (8 of the 12 units must be appropriate graduate seminars) before taking the Qualifying Exam and advancing to candidacy. Only 4 units of independent study (GEOG 299) or dissertation units (GEOG 296) can be taken per semester pre-candidacy.

After advancement to candidacy, students can enroll in up to a total of 12 independent study (GEOG 299) or dissertation units (GEOG 296) with their committee members.

In addition, students must enroll in the Geography Colloquium (GEOG 295), a weekly colloquium featuring invited speakers. Students must attend the colloquium every semester until they advance to candidacy.


As part of their training, all students will be expected to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor for a minimum of one semester [in the Geography Department]. Students are also allowed to develop their own courses to teach during the summer. Such self-directed and administered teaching often helps with students’ prospects in the academic job market.

With approval from the HGA, summer teaching can satisfy the department’s GSI minimum requirement. However, summer teaching does not count toward GSI experience as used by the Graduate Division in determining a student’s GSI employment step. See the below section on student finances for more information on GSI hiring.

The Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam should be taken by the end of the third year. The exam is based on a discussion of the three broad analytic fields built around the students’ reading lists and their analytical field statements (in the case of human geographers) produced in consultation with the examining committee.

To take the Qualifying Examination, a student must:

  • Maintain no less than a B average in all work undertaken in graduate standing;
  • Have no more than two courses graded "Incomplete";
  • Complete at least one semester of academic residency;
  • Be registered during the semester in which the exam is taken;
  • Apply to take the Qualifying Exam 4 weeks before the exam;
  • Complete the Analytic Field Statement (human geographers) or Analytic Paper (physical geographers)

The examination is conducted by a committee of four faculty members appointed by the Graduate Dean on the advice of the department (nearly always a selection by the student with his or her program advisor). There are specific rules regarding committee composition that must be adhered to; they are outlined below.

Guidelines for Preparing for the Exam

The Point

The exam is required by the university for the doctoral degree.  It is meant to be a test of general knowledge in preparation for doing a dissertation.

The exam is normally taken by the end of the third year.

The exam is a rite of passage, to be sure, but it is also a way of signaling that you are making good progress intellectually and that you have a reasonable mastery of certain fields of knowledge.

  • For Human Geographers the exam is not supposed to be a test of your dissertation prospectus. 
  • For physical geographers, on the other hand, your proposed research will play a much more significant role.  While your dissertation prospectus is not the subject of the qualifying exam, it will be used as a starting point to test your understanding of relevant topics in earth system science. 

Qualifying Exam Committee

Students should have a QE committee identified by the end of year two.  That means meeting with each professor and getting their consent to add them to your committee beforehand. Typically, your qualifying exam committee is composed of the same members as your dissertation committee. The committee composition is as follows:

Graduate division requirements

  1. The committee requires at least four members
  2. One Additional Member beyond the number may be added. 
  3. The Qualifying Examination Chair cannot serve as the Dissertation Chair for the same student. 
  4. The Chair must be a member of Geography
  5. There cannot be two Co-Chairs for the Qualifying Examination

Departmental requirements

  1. At least 50% of the committe Specific Senate members who are either members Geography or affiliated faculty of Geography. 
  2. The Academic Senate Representative (ASR) must be an academic senate member who is not a member of the Geography department. Affiliated faculty are allowed to serve as the ASR.    
  3. The Chair, as a fourth member, can serve in a purely administrative capacity. 
  4. Exceptions to #6 or #7 must be requested in writing by the student’s faculty advisor and the Head Graduate Advisor.  Exceptions will be made with consideration to the purpose of the composition requirements, which are to enforce disciplinary standards (in the case of #6) and to allow for outside oversight (in the case of #7).  

The Detailed Reading List

A reading list must cover three broad fields (a university requirement). Each of those fields is normally broken up into 3-5 sections, with a minimum of 35 texts. 

Start sketching out the topics and readings early on. Some things you will have read before, and some will be recommendations to round out your knowledge of a field. (Talk to fellow students who have done their exams about their lists, and build on the work of others instead of reinventing the wheel).

One advisor can work with you on one major field, or there can be overlap across fields (indeed, this is hard to avoid and sometimes the most engaging part). Once your committee is formed, you and the committee should agree on which approach to take.

Have the reading lists in good shape at least two semesters before taking your qualifying exam. That will give you enough time to read everything.  Some adjustments will be made in the lists right up to the time of the exam as you read everything. You may realize that some entries are not as good as hoped, or are redundant, or tangential.  Some new things may also come along. And some readings might be excerpted.

Be sure to give the final version of your complete reading lists to your committee members at least two weeks before the exam. (The lists are only for you and the committee; they do not have to be filed with the department or the graduate division.)

For human geographers:
  • The real work for orals is the reading: preparing your lists and working your way through all the books.
  • Typically, the major fields include analytical and regional themaics. The actual breakdown of topics is up to you and your advisors. There is no perfect organization of topics and reading, and there is often some overlap of readings between fields.
  • The length of each list is determined in consultation with committee members and will vary based upon the demands of particular texts. In general each list ranges from 35 to 60 texts, comprised of both whole books and key articles. Final lists are approved by committee members.
  • Readings should be essential works in a field, not an exhaustive list.  (This is not a bibliography. Keep trimming!)
  • You should prepare a short summary statement (1-2 paragraphs) for each section of your reading list – for both the overall list and each field. This should be done near the end of your preparation, perhaps a month (but at least two weeks) before the exam.  It focuses the mind and reminds you why that section exists and how the readings cohere.  It also shows the professors you know what you’re up to.
For physical geographers:
  • You should precede your reading list with a research statement of your intended research goals (i.e., a draft prospectus).  If you have conducted research towards these goals (you probably have), then you can include this. You cannot merely submit your analytical paper, but you can address the same themes, if appropriate. 
  • The reading list will be appended at the end.  This draft prospectus plus reading list can vary in length from 3-10 pages.  There is no set guideline at this time. The real challenge for the orals is to demonstrate a firm grasp on the state of knowledge regarding various subfields of earth system science.  This means a qualitative and quantitative understanding of current research, and your reading list is a statement of those subfields you have chosen to master.
  • The reading list can consist of a mix of textbooks and articles. 
  • The reading list is a useful guide for the examiners, but questions during the exam will likely be generated from your draft prospectus and courses that you have taken with committee members.
  • To be most useful, the three broad subjects and associated reading list that you choose should coincide with the specific members on your committee.  You can subdivide one broad subject or add another to address the issue of 4 committee members.  

The Analytic Field Statements (for human geographers)

Each qualifying exam list will form the basis of your Analytical Field Statements.

The statements are a critical engagement with three different  fields of knowledge that relate thematically or theoretically to the student’s research. Each statement should outline the contours of the field and offer critical engagement with key themes and debates. The statements may also conclude by thinking across the fields, and by proposing contributions to them . Each field statement should be a minimum of 5-10 pages (15 -30 pages total). These field statements should help the student engage with the literature needed to develop their research prospectus. They also serve as a means of engagement with the committee while preparing for the qualifying exam.

Completion of the Analytical Field Statement is a prerequisite for taking the Qualifying Exam.

The Analytic Paper (for physical geographers)

The Analytic Paper should be of a form suitable for submission to an academic or scientific journal.  It should be relatively short (20-30 pages, maximum), succinct, and to the point, with a central problem, a major thesis and supporting arguments and evidence.   It is a learning exercise in what it means to come up with an idea and present it in the manner of a publishable paper.  It is not meant to be exhaustive, wide-ranging, nor a definitive proof.  

The Analytic Paper can take several forms.  It might lay out a field of inquiry, such as the role of the Tibetan Plateau in the East Asian monsoon, show how the existing literature handles it, and propose a new way of looking at the key issues by bringing a different literature to bear and, possibly, a new thesis for further investigation.   It might take the form of a specific empirical puzzle, such as the climate record during the late Mayan period, and show what is lacking in the data needed to answer the problem and propose what might be done to rectify the shortcoming.  Or, it might be an investigation into and contribution to a specific problem in modeling (as in drainage basin hydrology) that already appears in the literature.

The student should work on the analytic paper in close consultation with their main faculty advisor.  The analytic paper must be approved by the main advisor and submitted to the department to be considered complete.  Completion of the Analytical Paper is a prerequisite for taking the Qualifying Exam.

Preliminary Prospectus (Human Geography)

You are expected to have a preliminary prospectus (5-10 pages)  ready by the time of your Oral Examination, as a way of clarifying your project and putting the reading lists in perspective.

This is a first pass at the Prospectus, and is not expected to be fully formed and completely worked out.  There will be time after the qualifying exam to perfect it.

You should work with your primary advisor on the pre-Prospectus, starting at least a month (preferably two months) before the Oral Exams.

The Lead-Up

  1. Complete all departmental requirements in coursework, analytic field statement or analytic paper, and preliminary prospectus as approved by internal faculty advisors through the QE Prep Google Form, to be submitted to the GSAO by a faculty advisor.
  2. Schedule the exam date with QE committee and indicate it on the QE Prep Google Form.
  3. Submit the Qualifying Exam Committee eFormat least 3 weeks in advance.  The application is a Higher Degree Committees e-form. Go to CalCentral > My Dashboard > Student Resources > Submit a Form. See step 3 below, for special instruction regarding remote or hybrid exam format.
  4. For Remote or Hybrid exams only: The student must provide a statement in the comment box located on their QE app eForm using this template: “I and my committee agree to a [hybrid, in-person, or remote] QE exam.” The student should also be sure to read and be aware of Graduate Division policy on remote and hybrid exam format in advance of taking the exam.

Talk to your professors!  The more exchange you have before the exam, the more confidence you have in each other.

Ask examiners about strategies of answering and about the nature of the oral exams, in general.

Give the Chair of the exam committee the order of questioning you would like.

Prepare a brief draft prospectus.  This will help you define your fields and direction, and will give the committee a better idea where you are headed.  A full prospectus is not required until after the qualifying exam.  An official prospectus approval meeting with your dissertation committee should take place within four months of the qualifying exam.

The Exam Process

Exams are officially 3 hours long.  They usually run closer to 2 1/2 hours.

NOTE: if for some reason a committee member cannot attend the exam at the last minute (because of illness, for example), DO NOT proceed with the exam.  Ask the GSAO or HGA to contact the Graduate Division ASAP for guidance on how to proceed. The Graduate Division will not recognize the outcome of the exam if the actual exam committee deviates from the approved committee. 

The basic format is this:

  • You will be asked to leave the room while the committee has a brief discussion of procedures and of you and your preparation.
  • You will return and be asked to give an introduction to your intellectual trajectory: where you’ve been and where you are going with your doctoral research. 
    • For human geographers, this should be up to 10 minutes. 
    • For physical geographers, aim for a 20 minute presentation with visuals (either by slide presentation programs or using the chalkboard/whiteboard).
  • Questions from committee members will likely cause this section to be 30 minutes to an hour long. Afterwards, each professor has 20 minutes to ask questions, in the order you select.  There will be some jumping in by other profs, here and there.

There is a break at midpoint.

After the exam, you will be asked to leave the room while the committee decides your fate, then called back for their decision. This takes about 10 minutes, but can be longer. Don’t panic! A long discussion may be about any number of things, and what exactly to tell the candidate – it doesn’t mean you are doing badly!

The Exam – Content: Human geographers

Questions can be of almost any nature, but they are supposed to pertain to the topics and readings on your list. They tend to be general and often aimed at getting you to integrate different readings and think abstractly about a problem – not just regurgitate what you read.

Questions may be theoretically or empirically based, or about specific writings.  Alas, there’s no knowing what might pop into the head of your examiners – so don’t be surprised or shocked.  Randomness is a part of the process.

A basic strategy is to build up answers from the readings. But the ultimate purpose is to say what you think, given what you know.

You can always ask a professor to repeat a question, or clarify it.  You can always say, “I don’t understand the question” or “I don’t know”.  Remember, there is almost never one right answer to a question, in any case.

An exam is more than a set of questions. It is, first of all, a dialogue: the professors want to know if you are comfortable enough with the material on your reading list to have a discussion about it. Do not worry so much about what exactly a questioner is looking for, but about what you want to say.

What professors most hope for is that you are now in a position to think for yourself, to become their peer. But they know it’s a turning point and you are likely still to be struggling to get over that transition.

Remember, too: no one wants you to fail. If they are doing their job, they wouldn’t let you in that room if they thought you couldn’t pass.

The Exam – Content: Physical geographers

After your introductory presentation, questions can be of almost any nature, but they are supposed to pertain to the topics and readings on your list. They can be general or specific, but most questions involve a response that demonstrates a thinking process rather than a simple answer.   This may also come in the form of rapid-fire questions that lead you through the thinking process.  Other questions may be completely open-ended. 

Most questions will involve the current state of knowledge.  Some committee members may specifically want you to know the history of the field of research, and even if your committee does not ask, you should appreciate the historical context of your field of study. 

A basic strategy is to start answering an open ended question is to reword of the question to make sure you understand, then to proceed with a description of fundamental concepts that demonstrate how you would come up with the solution. 

If you don’t know the answer to a question, you should not answer a different question, or worse, try to bluff your way through.  You should address specifically what you do and do not know and expect that this will lead to a dialogue with committee members.  Remember, the exam will be more a demonstration of how you think on your feet rather than your ability to recall specific numbers or answers.

You should practice answering questions at the board.  It is one thing to be able to answer questions in your head or on paper, and it is another thing to be able to answer questions on your feet while writing on the board. 

You should consider the amount of mental and physical endurance this exam will take, and plan appropriately in terms of food, water, caffeine and sleep that you need. 

View this exam as a great learning experience— a prime opportunity to get feedback on your intellectual trajectory.  

After the end of the exam, you will be given the outcome of the exam and a brief summary of the committee’s opinion and advice for further improvement, by the chair.  You should also go talk to your professors later on to get their feedback.

Possible outcomes include pass, partial fail, and fail.  If the decision is partial fail or fail, the committee may allow for the exam to be retaken at a later date, either for some sections (in the case of a partial fail) or all sections (in the case of a fail).  In this case, you will be asked to do further preparation and a possible reexamination.  It’s not the end of the world; just some more time in the trenches.

Even if you pass, you may feel dissatisfied, either with your answers or with the questions put to you.  That is very common. After all, you’ve just worked for months to get ready and you want to have something grand to show for it. The exam is only a couple hours long and can only touch a part of what you have done and what you know. It is just a sample.

A pass is a pass.  Take pride in it and put it behind you.  Don’t forget to celebrate!  Your fellow students will be happy to join you…

Advancement to Candidacy

Formally constituting dissertation committee through eForm in Cal Central.

On successful completion of the Ph.D. qualifying examination, the student should apply immediately through the Graduate Division for formal “Advancement to Candidacy for the Ph.D.” 

Students who are using human subjects in their research must take the Collaborative IRB Training Initiative (CITI) on-line training course here and print out the results to submit with their application.

The Application for Candidacy is an eForm, located in CalCentral, that can be submitted once you have successfully passed your QE.

This application along with a candidacy fee must be filed at the end of the semester in which the qualifying examination was passed.  Students should apply for advancement as soon as possible after passing their qualifying exam, so they will be eligible for a Doctoral Completion Fellowship (DCF).

Terminal M.A. Degree.

A student who successfully completes the Qualifying Exam but does not wish to continue the PhD program may request to be awarded terminal M.A. degree in Geography.

A student who does not pass the Qualifying Exam, but has otherwise completed all departmental program requirements leading to the Qualifying Exam, can be released from the program and awarded a terminal M.A. degree.

The Prospectus

Before starting dissertation research and within 4 months of passing the qualifying exam, each student must have a Dissertation Prospectus Meeting—during which the student discusses a written research proposal—with at least two members of the Dissertation Committee. The dissertation is written under the supervision of a committee of at least three faculty members. 

The Point

A prospectus is a valuable first step in writing a dissertation. It forces you to get your ideas sorted out and put the problem and its solution into a coherent statement.

A prospectus allows your dissertation committee to help you prepare to write a dissertation and see that you are ready to carry out the research before you head into the field, the lab, or the library.

The Prospectus Meeting

Within four months after your Exams, you must have a Prospectus ready for review and meet with your dissertation committee to secure approval of your project.

The meeting must be with at least two members of the committee and allow for a full discussion of your Prospectus.  The committee members must sign off on an approval form for the Department before you can proceed.

The committee may require certain changes and improvements in the Prospectus before signing off, or as a condition of signing off.

Email confirmation of a completed prospectus should be forwarded to the Graduate Student Affairs Officer by the dissertation chair.

Elements of a Prospectus

There is no single best form for a Prospectus, and every professor will have somewhat different ideas about how to proceed; but nearly every prospectus and research proposal has the following elements:

  • A problem statement
  • A hypothesis or set of hypotheses
  • A review of pertinent literature
  • A research methods statement, including data sources
  • A research time-line
  • A bibliography

The segments below elaborate on these elements. Normally, a Prospectus runs 10-15 pages, single-spaced.

Each element normally requires a separate and clearly-marked section of the Prospectus.

It is advisable that a clear thread (or threads) runs through the whole, from section to section.  That is, if you have three hypotheses, you ought to have three bodies of literature, three corresponding parts of the narrative, and three approaches to the empirical material.  It is not always possible to be this coherent, but it sure helps to try!

The Problem Statement

The Problem Statement is the introduction to your prospectus and to the dissertation, in general.  You do not need a separate introduction. The problem statement is usually only one page, no more than two.

The key question is: What empirical puzzle are you trying to address?  Is it a question about climate change in the early Holocene, as revealed through pollen records in Clear Lake? Is it how to understand neighborhood change in American cities, as illustrated by the last twenty years of property development in Oakland? Is it a matter of environmental perception of hurricanes in Honduras among coastal indigenes or of the outcome of property disputes in the transition to commercial forestry in Sumatra?

What is the general setting within which this puzzle occurs?  Is it a period of rapid warming and ice-melt with uncertain feedbacks on the North Atlantic? Is it a epoch of extreme real estate speculation due to financial bloat and rapid gentrification of inner cities? Is it a time of rising tropical storm occurrence combined with population influx to coastal zones of Central America? Or is it an era of neoliberalization of Indonesian agrarian policy following on the Asian economic crisis of 1997?

Why is this important, both practically and theoretically? Ever so briefly, indicate who cares and why, both among scholars and out in the world of public policy, human affairs, and/or scientific inquiry.

There is rarely a single problem involved, and one big question leads to several secondary, but still crucial ones. Let the problem begin to unfold here, so that you can attack all the major issues in the hypothesis section.

Hypotheses, or Proposed Solutions

In this section, you should set out a preliminary answer to your puzzle – or answers to the several parts/levels of your problem. 

A hypothesis is what you think has happened or will happen in an experimental setting, and why. Any hypothesis worth its salt should be brief and to the point, able to be put in no more than a sentence or two.

You will want to elaborate on each hypothesis, of course. What is the line of thinking/theory that led you to this supposition? Is there a dispute between reigning models of mid-Atlantic circulation and climate oscillations, and do certain developments point to a preferred or different approach? Does youryou problem call up the theory of Bourdieu about cultural capital, which might be juxtaposed in an original way with Daphne Spain’s feminist theory of gendered spaces in the city and Neil Smith’s idea of the rent gap in gentrification?

Keep to the major points in this section. You can elaborate more in the following two sections.

Literature Review

Ideally, your hypotheses will be framed around certain key ideas, each of which opens up to a body of relevant literature that pertains to your topic and fills in the background as to why this is an interesting (set of) problem(s) in cultural geography, urban studies, atmospheric science, glaciology, and so on.

Hence, this section can be much more expansive than the first two.  Your thesis can open up and breathe here, but avoid excessive heavy breathing over high theory and philosophy of only distant relevance to the problem(s) at hand.

Literature reviews should lead clearly to your problem and its solution. Overly generic discussions of Foucault, globalization, science studies, or problems in modeling climate change are to be avoided.

Data and Methodology

What are your key data sources? For human geographers, it might be census data, personal interviews, historical records, oral histories, old maps, and so on. For physical geographers, it might be ocean temperature measurements, pollen cores, air samples, ice cores, etc.

How will you secure these data? Where are they located? What form do they come in? These can be relatively simple answers if the data is preexisting; they will be harder if you are the one collecting data:  will you set up interviews and select subjects? Which part of Antarctica will you visit to collect samples and with what equipment? How will you set up your laboratory procedure to take air samples from plants? Etc.

How will you handle the data? What precise form are they in and how will you analyze them? What kind of sampling procedures are you using? Will you apply certain statistical packages or remote sensing techniques? And how will you present the results: will you map them with GIS, draw graphs in Excel, or quote key informants? 

How will you handle questions of anonymity, protection of subjects, hazardous lab materials, and other potential obstacles to your research?


Set out a reasonable amount of time for research tasks, travel to field sites, laboratory set-up, and so forth.

Try to provide a set of deadlines for completing definite parts of the whole project, like chapters or research elements.

Do not leave all writing time to the end. Many parts of the dissertation can be written while you are doing your research. In fact, writing preliminary drafts of sections before all the results are in can be very helpful in clarifying research tasks, filling in gaps, and rethinking hypotheses.

Remember that everything takes longer than you expect. Writing, in particular, is a slow process for most of us. (As general advice, try to set aside several hours a day, every day, for your dissertation, and refuse all extraneous activities, invitations, emails, and phone calls during that period).

Additional Points of Attention

Discuss a safety plan with your Committee. Agree to a frequency and mode of reporting to the committee while away, as plans can and likely will change to some degree while in research


Should be self-evident. There is no standard form.

Good luck!  Remember, you are now setting out on your own, perhaps for the first time, free of the constraints of regurgitating past theory, solving problem sets, or being a lab gopher. This is your chance to spread your wings and make a statement about what matters to you. And, most of all, solving the puzzles that beset science, social science and scholarship in general is what we do, and it can be exhilarating.

The Dissertation


The research process is highly variable between projects. Therefore, a detailed plan of research should be discussed and finalized in consultation with the dissertation committee, which is typically the result of the prospectus meeting. Your prospectus methodology section therefore is the map that guides your research process. However, before you begin you should complete the following.

Students planning research which involves the use of human or animal subjects must get approval from either the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects or the Committee for the Protection of Animal Subjects prior to the initiation of the research.  Protocols involving human subjects must be filed and the research must be carried out in accordance with the Berkeley Campus' Assurance of Compliance with DHEW Regulations on Protection of Human Subjects. (Guidelines, forms, and sample protocols are available here.

Students will be required to submit a copy of the protocol approved by the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, or the Committee for the Protection of Animals Subjects at the time the doctoral dissertation is filed in the Graduate Division. The Graduate Division can accept no dissertation, which includes any material obtained or produced in the absence or contravention of proper authorization from these committees.

Dissertation Writing and Filing

OK, you're back or never left and are possibly facing a blank screen. Like research, there is no one way to write a dissertation but before you begin you should meet with members of your committee and decide on your writing plan. Some people choose to do a collection of three publishable papers for their dissertation with a short introduction and conclusion. However, many people in our department write a book length manuscript in which the sections and chapters are component parts of the overall thesis. You should make this decision in close consultation with your committee members.

We highly suggest the following:

  1. Outline: In consultation with your committee, create an outline of the dissertation that briefly outlines each chapter, its argument, and its relationship to the overall dissertation.
  2. Writing relations: Some students write better and faster when they are part of writing groups where they get feedback and have clear deadlines; others prefer to write in solitude. Determine what works for you and know that your preferences and needs can change. So, create and stay in touch with a community. 
  3. Check in: Establish a check-in schedule with your committee; you are much less likely to go off track if you have regular contact and feedback from them.  
  4. While writing your dissertation, you might recognize a chapter in the dissertation or a topic related to the dissertation that you might consider publishing.  Though this might slow down the process of writing, given the length of time it takes to publish a paper, it might be advantageous to submit early so that when you finish and enter the job market, you will have a published paper (s). Consult with your committee about this option.

For formal Graduate Division guidance on writing and filing, please visit this page.



You should send a draft of your dissertation to each doctoral committee member well in advance of the final deadline, but no later than four weeks before the final deadline, allowing sufficient time for your committee members to read it and make comments, and for you to address the comments.

Graduate division has detailed instructions on how to write and file a dissertation.

Walking Requirements

The department only has one graduation, which is at the end of the spring semester. In order to participate in the ceremony, you need to either file your dissertation by Graduate Division’s Spring deadline, or have your committee send written confirmation to the HGA that you will file by Graduate Division’s Summer deadline. Each deadline in the final day of each respective semester. If you cannot make either filing deadline, you will be eligible to participate in the following year’s commencement.

To guarantee a place in the commencement ceremony, please respond to the commencement coordinating staff’s email request for information on who’s participating in commencement.

You must designate a committee member (normally your chair) to hood you at the ceremony; let them know as early as possible so that they can plan to be in attendance.

Exit Talks 

As a final Department graduation requirement, all students must complete an exit talk. It is a moment where you get to share your research with the whole community and learn from fellow members about their research. It is one of the most celebrated moments in the Department. It is a public celebration of a long and sometimes difficult journey, and we take it seriously and celebrate this accomplishment together.  Everyone is expected to attend the event as it is the heart of who we are.  You can also invite family and friends.  A reception follows the event, and refreshments are served!

Exit Talk Length:

  • Each talk will begin with a "short" 5-minute introduction done by the Chair of your Dissertation committee. 
  • Your talk will be 20 mins
  • 10 minutes of open audience questions
  • Total of 35 min. 

Deadlines to signup: Please email the staff by April 7th for the spring Exit Talks. Please note that once you have signed up to give a talk with the staff, you are committed, and we will not reschedule you for a later time. This is important to eliminate confusion and extra work when scheduling the talks.

Congratulations! If you are finished, it is time to celebrate.

Graduate Student Finances

The Doctoral Completion Fellowship (DCF)

The Doctoral Completion Fellowship (DCF) was created to provide incentives for students in selected programs to complete their degree no later than one year (two semesters) beyond their major’s Normative Time to Degree. Students are eligible to use the DCF after they advance to candidacy, subject to certain requirements and limitations.  The fellowship pays in-state tuition and a stipend for two semesters. Recipients of the DCF are limited to working, on average, no more than 25% time across the two semesters of DCF funding (e.g., 50% during one of the two semesters or 25% during both). No other positions or appointments may be held.

For a full description of the DCF including eligibility criteria and limitations, see this page.

Graduate Student Instructorships (GSI’s)

As part of their training, all students will be expected to serve as a Graduate Student Instructor for a minimum of one semester [in the Geography Department]. 

The Department of Geography offers a number of Graduate Student Instructorships (teaching assistantships). Prospective GSI’s should contact the Graduate Student Affairs Officer for information on available instructorships and instructions on how to apply.

Students must be registered during the term in which they serve as Graduate Students Instructors, and have no more than two Incompletes in coursework taken during the time of their employment.  GSIs are eligible for partial fee remission and remission of the Graduate Student Health Insurance Plan (GSHIP) premium fee if their payroll appointment is 25% time or greater for an entire semester.  Students who receive a GSHIP fee waiver from the University Health Service or have their fees paid by fellowship, traineeship, grant-in-aid, or other sources (excluding awards made by the Financial Aid Office) are not eligible for the premium fee remission.  Students on Filing Fee status are also not eligible to serve as GSIs.

International Graduate Student Instructors: Graduate division policy states that prospective GSIs who do not speak English as a native language must satisfy the oral English proficiency requirement before they can be appointed to teach.  This website has more information on how to fulfill this requirement.

First-time GSIs

Graduate Council requires the following preparation for all first-time GSIs:

  1. Every first-time GSI should attend the Orientation Conference sponsored by the GSI Teaching and Resource Center.  This is held every Fall and every Spring during Welcome Week.
  2. No later than the end of the third week of classes, every first-time GSI must successfully complete an online short course on professional ethics and standards in teaching.  Instruction will include information on such topics as academic integrity, sexual harassment, teaching students with disabilities, academic freedom, political speech, confidentiality, Title VI, and Title IX.  GSIs can register and take the course by going to the GSI Teaching and Resource Center's Web site at
  3. First-time GSIs must complete a 300-level semester-long pedagogy seminar on teaching.  The Department offers this course annually, as GEOG 375.

Graduate Student Research Assistantships (GSR’s)

Research assistantships are not available on a regular basis.  Individual faculty holding research grants awards such assistantships.  Occasionally GSR positions can be found with faculty and research institutions elsewhere on campus.

International Student Financial Resources: Financial resources at the University are extremely limited. Foreign students may not work outside the University except in exceptional circumstances. For work permits, contact the Berkeley International Office at International House.


Students should contact the faculty member for whom they wish to read.  Readers must have received a "B" or higher in the course (or equivalent) in which they are serving.

University Fellowships

The Graduate Fellowships Office coordinates many extramural fellowships and serves as a resource center for students seeking information on fellowships funded by the University and outside sources.

For more information, contact the Fellowships Office or visit the Graduate Fellowships & Awards website for applications and deadline information.

Harassment Policy

The Department of Geography regards harassment as a serious issue in academic or work relationships involving students, scholars, staff, or faculty of the department. The department is committed to addressing reports of harassment promptly and efficiently, should the behavior of concern have occurred within the department or elsewhere.

Here are some things you should know.

The Berkeley Code of Student Conduct defines harassment as “conduct that is so severe and/or pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so substantially impairs a person's access to University programs or activities, that the person is effectively denied equal access to the University's resources and opportunities on the basis of his or her race, color, national or ethnic origin, alienage, sex, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, veteran status, physical or mental disability, or perceived membership in any of these classifications.”

The UC Policy on Sexual Harassment defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects a person’s employment or education, unreasonably interferes with a person’s work or educational performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or learning environment.”

Some reported behavior might not, in fact, be regarded as harassment as defined by campus policies. University and campus policies governing discrimination and harassment are not intended to regulate protected speech or expression and are designed to support the principles of academic freedom.

If anyone feels that another individual has behaved inappropriately and thereby created an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment, the offended person is encouraged to communicate that the behavior is unwelcome and should not be repeated.  It is a good practice to record a written account of the incident(s) and any response to it (them), including the dates and context of any event.  This is best done while the incident is fresh in the mind. These actions might prove helpful in supporting a claim of harassment. Please note that if a person feels unable to confront the offender, the department or another university entity can take this role upon request.

Students and employees with concerns about behavior experienced as harassing can report their experience to the campus Title IX Compliance Officer or the Center for Student Conduct and Community Standards. Incidents can also be reported to a faculty or staff member, such as the Chair of the Geography Department, the instructor of the class where an incident occurred, the principle investigator of a lab where an incident occurred or the Geography Department Safety Coordinator. The Department will then work under the guidance of the appropriate campus office to address the matter according to campus policies. If the behavior appears threatening to personal safety, the incident should be reported immediately to the UC Police Department.

Grievance Policy

This procedure is intended to afford graduate students in the Geography Department an opportunity to resolve complaints about dismissal from graduate standing, placement on probationary status, denial of readmission, and other administrative or academic decisions that terminate or otherwise impede progress toward degree goals. It may also be used to resolve disputes over joint authorship of research.

A.  Informal Resolution Procedures

A student may pursue informal resolution of a complaint by scheduling a meeting with the Head Graduate Adviser to discuss the complaint and explore possible avenues of resolution.  If an informal resolution is pursued, it must be initiated and should be completed within 30 days.  At any point, if a satisfactory solution cannot be reached, the complaint may be brought to the attention of the Chair for resolution. If the grievance concerns an action or decision of the Chair, the Head Graduate Advisor can select a third faculty member to seek a resolution of the grievance.

B.  Formal Resolution Procedures

In the case that an informal resolution cannot be worked out, the student may make a written complaint.  Such a complaint must include information regarding the action being complained of and the date it occurred, the grounds upon which the appeal is based, and the relief requested.  The complaint must be based on one or more of the following grounds:

  1. Procedural error or violation of official policy by academic or administrative personnel;
  2. Judgments improperly based upon non-academic criteria including, but not limited to, discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex, race, national origin, color, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability;
  3. Specific mitigating circumstances beyond the student’s control not properly taken into account in a decision affecting the student’s academic progress.

The Head Graduate Adviser must receive a written complaint within thirty days from the time the student knew or could reasonably be expected to have known of the action that is the subject of the complaint. 

The time frame for filing a written complaint may be extended by the department if the student has been involved in efforts toward informal resolution, as outlined above.  All time frames refer to calendar days, and summer and inter-semester recesses are not included.

Upon receipt of a written complaint, the Head Graduate Adviser will assign a faculty or staff member to investigate the complaint and make a recommendation.  Generally, the investigation will include an interview with the complainant, a review of relevant written materials, and an effort to obtain information from available witnesses.  The Head Graduate Adviser will notify the student in writing of the outcome of the complaint within sixty days of receiving it.

If the complaint concerns an action taken by the Head Graduate Adviser, the student may elect to take it directly to the Department Chair. In such a case, the time limits set out in the preceding paragraph still apply.

C.  Appeal to the Graduate Division

If the student is not satisfied with the outcome under the department’s procedure, he or she may bring a Formal Appeal under the Graduate Appeal Procedure.  The formal appeal must be received in the Office of the Dean of the Graduate Division, 424 Sproul Hall, within fifteen days of the date of the written notification of the result of the departmental procedure.  Copies of the Graduate Appeals Procedure (updated December 2, 1996)* may be obtained from the Office of the Dean of the Graduate Division.

D.  Complaints Involving Discrimination

If the complaint involves allegations of discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex, race, national origin, color, age, religion, sexual orientation, or disability, the department should consult the appropriate campus compliance officers prior to commencing informal or formal resolution.  They can be reached through the Academic Compliance Office. 

E.  Other Complaint Procedures

Graduate students may contact the Office of the Ombudsman for Students, the Title IX Compliance Officer, or the 504/ADA Compliance Officer for assistance with complaint resolution.  Other complaint resolution procedures are listed in the Graduate Appeals Procedure for use regarding complaints that do not fall under this procedure.

Campus Offices and Websites

Graduate Division

  • Degrees (318 Sproul), 642-7330

  • Fellowships (318 Sproul), 642-0672
  • Graduate Diversity Program (327 Sproul), 643-6010
  • GSI Teaching and Resource Center (301 Sproul), 642-4456
  • Petitions, Readmission (318 Sproul), 642-7330
  • Research and Teaching Appointments (318 Sproul), 642-7101
  • Dean’s Office (424 Sproul), 643-5472

Cal Student Central (120 Sproul), 664-9181

Financial Aid

Office of the Registrar

Emergency Loans

Earth Sciences & Map Library

  • Information Desk (50 McCone Hall), 642-2997

Geospatial Innovation Facility (GIF LAB) (111 Mulford Hall)

Doe Library

  • Information Desk (1st Fl), 643-9999
  • Circulation (1st Fl), 642-3403
  • Cards and Privileges (2nd Fl), 642-3403

Bancroft Library

  • Reference Desk, 642-6481

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