Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The Doctoral Degree Program enables students to complete a research project of notable scope and originality that will make a significant contribution to the discipline of geography and related fields. Advanced coursework provides an opportunity to gain familiarity with current knowledge in the student’s areas of specialization. Student expertise in their chosen sub-fields is ensured through the Preliminary Review and General Examination. Students may choose to write either a dissertation or three papers of publishable quality. All such research efforts are expected to meet high standards of research design and data analysis.

Students in this program are supervised by a committee throughout the course of their graduate work. At different points in the program, the committee has different roles. There are a preliminary committee, a doctoral supervisory committee, and a reading committee

Current graduate students can find doctoral degree procedures and policies detailed on the Department of Geography Graduate Student Resources Canvas page.

Find information about the transition from M.A. to Ph.D. for students who initially enter the M.A. program and intend to continue to the Ph.D.

Ph.D. Requirements

Completion of all work for the doctoral degree must occur within 10 years. This includes quarters spent On-Leave or Out of Status as well as applicable work from the master’s degree from the UW or a master’s degree from another institution, if applied toward one year of resident study. A student must satisfy the requirements that are in force at the time the degree is to be awarded.

Current students may assess their progress towards these requirements by conducting a degree audit in MyPlan.

1. Required Courses

  • GEOG 500: Contemporary Geographic Thought.
  • GEOG 511: Contemporary Research Design in Geography, or another approved social science research design course from another department–for more information, please consult the Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • Satisfactory completion of one graduate level methods course in or outside the department. This course should be approved in advance, before enrollment, by the student’s faculty supervisor and communicated to the Graduate Program Coordinator. The course satisfaction will be entered in the student's record by Director of Academic Services. If methods is the Supporting Field of Concentration Outside Geography for Ph.D. students, this course can count as one of that concentration’s required number of courses.
  • Satisfactory completion of at least three quarters of GEOG 598: Geography Colloquium.
  • Satisfactory completion of one of the two professional development courses, GEOG 502 (Professional Writing) or GEOG 513 (Grant Workshop). This course requirement can be waived if a student provides documentary evidence of one of the following:
    • Submission of a publication to a scholarly journal or other outlet that requires professional review (in consultation with the doctoral committee). The publication may be jointly-authored with a faculty member or with another graduate student but the graduate student asking for the waiver must be the first author.
    • Application for funding to an external agency, such as the National Science Foundation.
  • Two departmental research seminars number 500 or above. These should be designated as “seminars” or “research seminars." GEOG 500, 502, 511 and 513 and the graduate level methods course do not count toward this requirement. In some cases, a “directed readings” course (GEOG 600) may count in lieu of this requirement. To petition for this substitution, the GEOG 600 faculty member should write an appeal to the Graduate Program Director.

2. Credit Requirements

  • Completion of 90 credits.
  • At least 60 of these credits should be at the University of Washington (including 27 GEOG 800 credits).
  • With the approval of the degree-granting unit, an appropriate master’s degree from an accredited institution may substitute for 30 credits of enrollment. Contact your faculty adviser to request this approval.
  • Student must achieve a grade of at least 3.0 in all departmental courses, and a grade of 2.7 in all related courses used to satisfy degree requirements. An overall grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained to remain in the program and is required for a graduate degree at the university.

3. Supporting Field of Concentration Outside Geography

This requires that PhD students should demonstrate a sound level of competence in a Supporting Field of Concentration Outside Geography, evidenced by successful completion of a minimum of two courses outside the department. The Supporting Field of Concentration Outside Geography and the specific courses shall be determined by the student in consultation with their Supervisory Committee. Students should consider that the Supporting Field of Concentration Outside Geography may be helpful in selecting additional Supervisory Committee members who are not Geography Graduate Faculty.

4. Successful Completion of the Preliminary Review

5. Creditable Passage of the General Examination

  • Registration as a graduate student is required the quarter the exam is taken and candidacy is conferred.
  • Numerical grades must be received in at least 18 quarter credits of course work taken at the UW prior to scheduling the General Examination. The Graduate School accepts numerical grades in approved 400-level courses accepted as part of the major, and in all 500-level courses. 

6. Dissertation Proposal 

  • Students who pass the General Examination must prepare a dissertation proposal for review by the Supervisory Committee. The proposal must:
    • Outline a clear research question;
    • Situate that question within relevant literature
    • Outline a methodological strategy for collecting the necessary data
    • Describe a process for analyzing that data; and
    • Include a timeline for completion of the work.  
  • The proposal is reviewed during a meeting, commonly termed the "proposal defense," with the student and their Supervisory Committee. The GSR is not required to attend the proposal defense.
  • Failure of the student to obtain approval for the Ph.D. dissertation proposal within two years of advancement to candidacy will normally result in a recommendation to the Dean of the Graduate School that the student be terminated from the Ph.D. program in Geography.

7. Dissertation

  • Preparation of, and acceptance by, the Dean of the Graduate School of a dissertation (or three high-quality research papers) that is a significant contribution to knowledge and clearly indicates training in research. Guidelines for the Three-Paper Option for a dissertation include the following:
    • Each paper must be a meaningful original contribution to knowledge as determined by the student's Doctoral Supervisory Committee.
    • The intended journals and audiences for each of the three papers must be included as a point of discussion during the dissertation proposal defense.
    • So as to disseminate research broadly, each paper should be intended for a unique journal or other publication.
    • Satisfaction of all other requirements and guidelines as established by the UW Graduate School. Some committees may further require an introduction and conclusion in addition to these requirements and guidelines.
  • Credit for the dissertation ordinarily should be at least one-third of the total credit.
  • The Candidate must register for a minimum of 27 credits of dissertation over a period of at least three quarters.
    • At least one of these quarters must come after the student passes the General Examination.
  • With the exception of summer quarter, students are limited to a maximum of 10 credits per quarter of GEOG 800 Doctoral Dissertation.

8. Creditable Passage of the Final Examination

  • This is also known as the Dissertation Defense. 
  • The final examination is typically devoted to the defense of the dissertation and the field with which it is concerned.
  • The General and Final Examinations cannot be scheduled during the same quarter.
  • Registration as a graduate student, for at least 2 credits, is required the quarter the exam is taken and the degree is conferred.

Optional Social Statistics Concentration

The Social Statistics concentration in the Geography Ph.D. program enables students to develop expertise in applied statistical skills and tools for carrying out quantitative research. The concentration is largely built around a curriculum developed by the Center for Statistics and the Social Sciences (CSSS; course code: CS&SS). Students who complete the Social Statistics Concentration will have advanced training in statistics for social science research relevant to their own research needs. A Letter of Recognition is awarded by the CSSS to students who complete the concentration.

To complete this concentration, Ph.D. students should choose four courses from the following approved list:

  • CS&SS 526 (SOC 529) Structural Equation Models for Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 529 (BIOST 529/STAT 529) Sample Survey Techniques
  • CS&SS 536 (SOC 536/STAT 536) Analysis of Categorical and Count Data
  • CS&SS 544 Event History Analysis for the Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 560 (STAT 560) Hierarchical Modeling for the Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 564 (STAT 564) Bayesian Statistics for the Social Sciences
  • CS&SS 566 (STAT 566) Causal Modeling
  • CS&SS 567 (STAT 567) Statistical Analysis of Social Networks
  • CS&SS 568 Statistical Analysis of Game-Theoretic Data
  • CS&SS 569 Visualizing Data
  • CS&SS 589 (SOC WL 589) Multivariate Data Analysis for the Social Sciences

After completing the course requirements, the student submits grades received in those courses to the Department of Geography Graduate Program Coordinator. A grade point average of 3.3 or above for the four approved courses is sufficient for a formal completion of the concentration.

Expected Ph.D. Timetable

Year 1


  • Determine appropriate class(es) to take in addition to GEOG 500 (5 credits) and 598 (1 credit).
  • Consult with relevant faculty about possible research interests.
  • At the end of the quarter, discuss first-term progress and next-term plans, including choosing a faculty advisor, with Graduate Program Coordinator.


  • Determine faculty advisor, and confirm this with Graduate Program Coordinator.
  • Begin discussions about areas of sub-disciplinary interest, possible dissertation topics, and format of Preliminary Review with faculty advisor and relevant other faculty.
  • Discuss future coursework with faculty advisor, including appropriate methods courses.


  • Continue coursework in consultation with faculty advisor.
  • Schedule and complete Preliminary Review.
  • Research possible opportunities for acquiring funding for dissertation research.

Year 2


Winter and Spring

  • Schedule and complete General Examination.
  • Begin preparation for dissertation proposal defense and IRB requirements.
  • Continue coursework, as necessary. Enroll in GEOG 800 Doctoral Dissertation credits if advisable.

Years 3 and 4

  • Schedule and complete dissertation proposal defense by end of winter quarter in year 3.
  • Enroll in GEOG 800 Doctoral Dissertation credits, as necessary.
  • As possible, submit paper(s) to academic journals for publication.
  • Research and write dissertation and, if possible, defend dissertation.

Year 5