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The MS program

The MS program is a 2-year program with guaranteed financial support by the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EARTH). Students may also opt to earn an embedded MS while pursuing a PhD. In this case, courses are double-counted and the student writes a Master's thesis in addition to a PhD dissertation. MS students admitted into the PhD program will take the Qualifying Exam in the fourth term of their graduate program.

See the Rackham Graduate School Academic Policies for Rackham's rules on admissions, registration, degree requirements, and the awarding of degrees. 

Planning meeting in Year 1

Immediately after entering the program, the student and adviser must identify an Academic Mentor, a faculty member in EARTH who is familiar with the student’s research. The adviser and mentor ensure the student's academic progress and well-being, but they have different roles. The adviser directs the student's research and is responsible for student funding. The mentor guides students more informally through graduate school, helping them to

  • demystify graduate school in Year 1.
  • learn the unwritten departmental and Rackham's procedures and policies.
  • understand academic expectations.
  • identify barriers to progress.
  • explore career development opportunities.

The Academic Mentor is also a Faculty Reader of the student’s Masters thesis.

The student, adviser, and mentor must have a Planning Meeting during the first week of the first term to review the student’s academic preparation and develop a plan for academic work. The outcome of this Planning Meeting is a two-year plan for research activities (e.g., experiments, field work, research travel), course work, and GSI assignments until the student submits the Masters thesis. This plan should be included as Section G on the Individual Development and Mentoring Plan (IDMP) Form.

Course requirements

See also Coursework for MS and PhD students.

MS students must complete at least 24 credits at the graduate level of which at least 22 must be in courses and seminars. Masters thesis research credits (EARTH 709) may be used in partial fulfillment of these requirements but are excluded from the 22 credits of coursework. Of these 22 credits,

  • at least 12 credits must be in EARTH. EARTH 599 and other independent study courses are excluded from the 12 credits required in EARTH courses, but may be used in partial fulfillment of the remaining non-cognate credit requirements. 
  • no more than 4 credits may be in seminars.
  • at least 4 credits must be in cognate courses offered by other academic units that broaden expertise in areas related to the student’s research. 

Onboarding seminars EARTH 531 (“Seminar in Geologic Problems”) and EARTH 495 (“Methods in Research for Natural Sciences”) are required for all first-year students. EARTH 531 is offered in Fall term. EARTH 495 is offered in Winter term and satisfies the U-M Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship (RCRS) training requirement.

Annual Review and Individual Development and Mentoring Plan (IDMP)

Each year, students must have a formal mentoring meeting with their research adviser to review academic and professional progress. The student and the adviser should update the Individual Development and Mentoring Plan (IDMP) form and send it by email to the Academic Program Manager prior to the last day of classes of Winter term. The Academic Program Manager will upload each form to a Google Drive and review these forms with the Grad Chair. Students (in their first year) who fill out the IDMP for the first time can use this blank form (version May 2022).

See also:

Masters thesis

The Masters thesis is a research report or a publishable scientific paper that is approved by two EARTH faculty members and the Chair of the Department. There is no final examination requirement for the MS degree. See the Rackham's Navigating your Degree pages for more information.

Faculty readers – Faculty readers must be tenure-track faculty, emeritus faculty, adjunct faculty, or research scientist in EARTH. Usually the adviser and the Academic Mentor are the faculty readers.

Deadline – The thesis must be emailed as a Word doc to the Chair at least two weeks before the last day of classes in the term of graduation.

Formatting Guidelines – The thesis should conform to accepted guidelines for a scientific journal appropriate for the field. An abstract is required.

Cover Pages and Signatures – The thesis must have the appropriate cover page from the list below (in Word format):

Masters Thesis Cover Page: Earth and Environmental Sciences
Masters Thesis Cover Page: Earth and Environmental Sciences, paper in lieu of thesis

The Masters Thesis Cover Page must be signed by the student, by both faculty readers and then by the Chair.  Electronic signatures are acceptable.

Submission timeline

  1. Two months before the last day of classes – Inform the Chair, the Grad Chair, and Academic Program Manager about the planned submission. Include a (tentative) thesis title, the names of the faculty readers. Send a preliminary version or a synopsis of the thesis to the faculty readers.
  2. One month before the last day of classes – Send the final thesis for approval to the faculty readers. Remind the Chair, the Grad Chair, and Academic Program Manager about the planned submission.
  3. Two weeks before the last day of classes – Obtain approval from the faculty readers. Send the thesis (in Word) to the Chair. Include a note that indicates that the thesis has been approved by the faculty readers.
  4. On the last day of classes or earlier – The chair will return feedback on the thesis. If the Chair determines that a thesis is deficient in format, style, grammar, English, or otherwise not measuring up to Department standards, the student and advisor will be notified as soon as possible by email, with a brief summary of the problems. The student then has the choice of deferring the graduation date, or remedying the problems at short notice, with the deadline being two working days before the Rackham deadline. The final Rackham deadlines are approximately January 5, May 13, and August 26.

If the Cover Page is signed electronically, the faculty readers and Chair can send their signatures to the Academic Program Manager who will complete the form.

Deep Blue archival

Once the Chair has approved the thesis, the Academic Program Manager will upload the final PDF version of the thesis and the Masters Thesis Cover Page to the University of Michigan Deep Blue archive.

Research seminar (optional)

Masters students have the option to present their research in a general-audience seminar. They should inform the Academic Program Manager to schedule this seminar as soon as possible and preferably within the academic term.