Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Geography

The Geography Ph.D. program offers concentrations in the following areas: cultural-regional geography of Africa, East Asia, Latin America, Russia/Eurasia, and the United States; geographic information science (including cartography and remote sensing); and physical/environmental geography.

Research Skills Requirement

Research skills are important elements of any graduate program and should complement the student's research topic. Coursework necessary to meet this requirement should commence early in the program. Selection of a particular Research Skills option must be approved by the student's advisor and student's committee members. A student's Research Skills requirement may be met by one of the following:

1. Demonstrate a reading, writing, and speaking capability in a single foreign language sufficient to enable the student to do field work without an interpreter. An examination for competence, including written and oral portions, will be conducted by the appropriate language department having expertise in that language.

2. Demonstrate a satisfactory capability in one research skill from the list below. The actual courses must be approved by the student's advisor and committee members.

 a. Computer Science - complete a computer-programming course in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (e.g., C++, Fortran, or Visual Basic) with a grade of B or higher and create a substantial computer program that illustrates a geographic application of that language. Both the course and computer program must be approved by the Computer Programming Committee of the Department of Geography.

 b. Mathematics - complete nine hours of courses at the 500 level or above with a grade of B or better.

 c. Statistics - complete nine hours of courses outside the Geography Department at the 500 level or above with a grade of B or higher.

 d. An outside discipline relevant to the student's field(s) of specialization within geography, e.g., anthropology, biology, economics, geology, history, psychology - complete nine hours of courses at the 500 level or above with a grade of B or higher. (Atmospheric science courses may be used for this option, but not courses listed or cross-listed as geography.) Students may petition the Graduate Affairs Committee to have nine hours of courses at the 500-level or above in multiple departments fulfill this requirement.

Students whose native language is not English may, in some cases, use their native language to fulfill the Research Skills requirement but only if the language is considered an adequate research tool for their program and is justified by the student's advisor and committee members. Using a native language to fulfill part of the Research Skills requirement must have GSC approval.

Responsible Scholarship Requirement

As part of the University requirement that all PhD students receive "training in responsible scholarship relative to the field of study," the Department of Geography will conduct a non-credit training seminar in responsible scholarship to be held at the beginning of spring semester each year. This requirement must be completed prior to taking the comprehensive exam. The seminar consists of eight (8) contact hours between seminar leaders and PhD students. Seminar leaders will include faculty members in the Geography Department who represent the broad range of research fields in Geography and who have expertise and experience in the topic(s) they cover. Topics to be addressed will include (but are not limited to): human subjects, data management, conflicts of interest, appropriate research conduct, collaborative research, authorship of research articles and grant applications, citation ethics, plagiarism, copyright, peer review, confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, mentor/student responsibilities, classroom behavior and ethics, and professional liability. The format will consist of readings, policy reviews and resources, short presentations, case studies, and discussion.

Engagement and Enrollment in Doctoral Programs

Prior to the semester in which the comprehensive exam is held, all doctoral students must complete minimum program engagement equivalent to two full-time semesters. This may be accomplished through either of the following:

1. Two semesters (fall and/or spring) of full-time enrollment in KU coursework, as defined by University policy

2. At least 18 hours of enrollment in KU coursework spread out over several part-time semesters

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is scheduled when the student and the advisor believe that competence in the specialty or specialties has been achieved. Normally the process occurs after the student has completed nearly all of his/her coursework, although Graduate School regulations stipulate that the testing can take place as soon as five months after enrollment in the Ph.D. program. Admittance to the examination is by approval of the GSC. In petitioning for admittance, the student must submit the following materials at least three weeks prior to the scheduled examination (forms are available for 1 and 2 in the departmental office).

1. a program sheet listing courses taken, grades received, etc.

2. demonstration that the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirements have been satisfied (see description above).

3. demonstration that the Residency Requirement has been satisfied (see description above).

4. a written dissertation proposal approved by the advisor (see Theses and Dissertations tab on main menu).

5. a list of examination committee members. The Graduate School requires that the committee consist of at least five members of the graduate faculty. People outside the university can be appointed ad hoc members as necessary. At least one member must be from a KU department outside of geography and at least three members must represent the department. Members are chosen by the student in consultation with the advisor on the basis of expertise in the areas of specialization. They must also be approved by the GSC and recommended by the department to the Graduate School.

6. The date and time proposed for the oral portion of the examination.

The comprehensive examination normally focuses on the student's areas of specialization, including proposed dissertation research. It consists of two parts: written questions submitted by the committee members and then an oral examination. At least four members of the committee must submit written questions. The procedure is for each examiner to give his/her questions to the chair of the student's committee at least one week before the written examinations begin. The committee chair has the responsibility of screening these questions for overlap and clarity, and then administering them, one set per day. The questions may be open-book or closed at the discretion of the individual submitting the questions, and the student normally will have up to eight hours to complete each set of questions. At the conclusion of the written portion of the examination, the committee chair will poll the committee. A majority of the members must approve their individual written portions of the examination in order for the second (oral) portion to take place. Three grades are possible for the overall examination: "honors," "satisfactory," and "unsatisfactory." In the unsatisfactory case, the student may be allowed to repeat the process upon recommendation of the committee. Such repetition can be undertaken no sooner than ninety days after the last testing. The comprehensive examination may be taken no more than three times. Approval of the Graduate School must be secured for the scheduling of this procedure and the request must be submitted three weeks prior to the proposed date for the examination.

The doctoral program generally includes sixty hours of work beyond the M.A. of which eighteen to thirty hours will be satisfied by the dissertation. No specific credit-hour figure can be set for a doctoral degree because each program is designed on an individual basis. Of greater importance is the student's demonstrated competence in the selected area(s) of specialization. The program is comprised of formal courses, seminars, individual research and reading, and preparation of a dissertation. Although no "outside minor" is formally required of candidates, the department favors study in auxiliary departments.

Programs are planned with the advisor and then approved by the GSC. Such approval must be secured at latest by the second month of the second semester of study. Changes in the approved program can be initiated by the student at any time but must be approved by the advisor and the GSC. Program sheets are available in the department office and must be filed before the comprehensive examination can be scheduled.

Required Courses.

Geog 805 (History of Geographic Thought).
Geog 980 (Seminar in Geography: Colloquium) for 1 credit hour during each of the first two semesters of residence at KU.
Non-credit 8-hour Responsible Scholarship session held just before classes start in the spring semester.

Hald-day (non-credit) orientation before classes begin the fall of your first semester.

Major Areas of Study.

The capabilities and interests of the department fall into four areas of study: geographic information science, physical, human, and regional geography. A student concentrating within one of these divisions will develop a program in consultation with professors in that area. This program usually will include work in other aspects of geography and related disciplines. A student also may develop a second concentration if he or she takes at least nine hours in that specialty and includes a professor from that second area on the committee for the comprehensive examination. This second area of concentration may lie outside of geography.

Major Areas of Study for the Ph.D. in Geography

I. Geographic Information Science




Geographic Information Systems

Egbert, Li, Lei

Remote Sensing

Braaten, Brunsell, Egbert, Lei

II. Physical Geography



Brown, W. Johnson


Braaten, Brunsell, Tucker, van der Veen, Mechem, Rahn


W. Johnson, Hirmas



III. Human Geography



Herlihy, Cheong, O'Lear, Shortridge, Woods, J. Johnson, Diener, Chikanda


Herlihy, Shortridge


Diener, O'Lear, Warf

Regional Development

Brown, Cheong, Warf



IV. Regional Geography




East Asia


Latin America

Brown, Herlihy

Russia and East Europe


United States



J. Johnson

The level of competence attained in the major study should be such that the graduate can teach upper-level seminars and conduct research in that area. If a second area of concentration is chosen, it is often complementary to the first.  Here the graduate is expected to have knowledge sufficient to teach undergraduate courses at the introductory and intermediate levels, even if teaching is not the ultimate career objective.

In addition to the area(s) of specialization, the candidate is expected to have a broad background in general geography as well as knowledge of those research skills most appropriate to the areas of specialization.  This background is primarily gained through coursework requirements in the bachelor's and master's degree programs, which are prerequisites for Ph.D. work.

PhD Comprehensive Exam Procedures

In order to give committee members sufficient time to read and discuss responses to the written comprehensive examination questions, at least seven (7) calendar days must elapse between the date of the last written exam question and the meeting for the oral examination. The gap between the last written exam question and the oral exam may be up to 30 calendar days. Any exceptions to these policies must be unanimously agreed upon by all examination committee members and the chair of the Graduate Studies Committee.

The Doctoral Dissertation

Serious work on the dissertation should begin no later than the third full-time semester of study for the Ph.D. and well before the scheduling of the comprehensive examination. When selecting a topic, the student first should make sure that an advisor exists who is able and willing to supervise on that subject. Then, usually in close consultation with this advisor, a proposal is developed to articulate the research idea for the rest of the examination committee. The advisor also serves as chair of this committee.

The dissertation committee, consisting of the advisor and at least four others, is designated immediately following the passing of the comprehensive examination and is usually comprised of members of the examination committee. This committee must include at least one member from a KU department outside of geography and must have at least two members from Geography. Committee members must be approved by the GSC and recommended to the Graduate School. After successful completion of the comprehensive examination, the student is officially admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. By passing to the candidacy stage, the examination committee records its view that this person has a satisfactory dissertation proposal as well as the capability to complete the proposed task of research and writing. Although formal coursework is finished at this point, continued scholarly and professional development obligates the candidate to continue attendance at special-interest seminars and colloquia while still in residence.

After passing the comprehensive oral exam, every student must be continuously enrolled, including summer sessions, from the time of candidacy until the dissertation is deposited at the Graduate School office. The Graduate School further stipulates that a minimum enrollment of six hours is required each semester (plus three in summer) until a total of eighteen is achieved. Thereafter the enrollment may be dropped to one hour per semester, assuming that the dissertation is deposited in the Graduate School office within six months after the defense. Students who exceed this six-month limit must enroll in three hours per semester until the dissertation is so deposited.

When the dissertation committee has tentatively approved the dissertation, approval is sought from the Graduate Studies Committee to schedule the final oral defense. At least five months must elapse between the successful completion of the comprehensive examination and the date of this oral defense. The final oral defense committee has the same composition requirements as does the dissertation committee. Approval of the Graduate School must be secured for the scheduling of this exam and the request must be submitted to the GSC three weeks prior to the proposed date for the examination. Submission procedures for the dissertation are described on page two of this booklet.

When the final oral defense has been passed and the dissertation completed, both electronic and hardbound copies need to be prepared. Both should include an abstract of no more than 150 words. A hardbound copy is required for the department.The KU Libraries recommend the following binders that can bind paper copies of your thesis and additionally offer print-from-electronic file services: 1) Heckman Bindery or 2) Acme Bookbinding. The student must turn in a receipt showing that arrangements have been made for such work prior to the deadline for graduation set by the Graduate School. It is also customary for the student to provide a bound copy for the advisor.

The dissertation must be submitted to the graduate school and UMI Dissertation Publishing electronically using Portable Document Format (PDF). Instructions for this process are available at the KU graduate school website. See also UMI’s website. In addition to this electronic submittal, a student must submit a paper copy of the title page and an “acceptance page” with original signatures to the College Graduate Studies office in 108 Strong Hall. Formats for both of these are at the graduate school website. A copy of the title page should also be turned in to the Geography office.

The Graduate School has established a maximum time limit of eight years between initial enrollment in the doctoral program and completion of all degree requirements. For people earning both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from KU, the combined time limit is ten years.