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Programs : Doctoral : Student Handbook : Section Nine

What are the Major Mileposts in My Program?

As you know from the previous section, you'll be "treading water" to some degree until you make several significant decisions. First, you need to select systematic specialties and methodological emphases. Hopefully you'll have a good grasp of these interests upon entering the program, but people do change their mind. If you haven't made these decisions by the end of your first semester or very early into your second semester, you're behind the curve.

Doctoral Committee

Second, you will need to identify the person who will be your Dissertation Chair and the members of your Doctoral Committee. Effectively, your Doctoral Committee supervises your program. They approve your course work selection, evaluate the dissertation proposal, administer and evaluate the Qualifying Exams, judge the merit of the dissertation, and administer and evaluate the dissertation defense. The Dissertation Chair chairs the Doctoral Committee. Normally your Dissertation Chair will come from the SDSU faculty. If we've done our job well or gotten lucky, that individual probably will be your Interim Adviser, although there are lots of legitimate reasons for you to select someone else. Remember that you need to ask your potential Dissertation Chair to be your Dissertation Chair. Don't take it for granted that someone "knows" what you want if you haven't asked. As a courtesy, if the person you select to be your Dissertation Chair is not your Interim Adviser, let them know you've selected someone else. Normally, you won't hurt anyone's feelings and this can eliminate possible confusion in the future. Should there be cause to change Dissertation Chair, follow the same process. It is permissible to have co-Dissertation Chairs who co-chair the Doctoral Committee.

You need to select a second member of your Doctoral Committee from our faculty and two additional members from the UCSB Geography faculty. One of those members may be an approved adjunct Geography faculty member. Just as in the case of the Dissertation Chair, be sure to invite the other members to be a part of your committee. Because you'll have earlier contact with the SDSU faculty, choosing the Second Member will probably be easier for you than determining who at UCSB fits your requirements. If needed, your Dissertation Chair should be able to help you in making those decisions by providing information about or talking with UCSB faculty on your behalf. You already have at least one "sponsor" on the UCSB campus, but you will need to determine that you want them on your committee as well as selecting your fourth member. If you wanted to, you could have additional members to your Doctoral Committee from either Department, from other departments on either campus, or from another university (when authorized).

All first-year students are required to complete an Entrance Survey during their first semester. The survey is provided by the SDSU program Adviser (Dr. Bosco). The survey serves as the basis of the Diagnostic Interview that is also held during your first semester with your SDSU interim Adviser and at least one other SDSU faculty member. The UCSB sponsor may participate by telephone or Skype, and at least should be notified about the outcome of the Diagnostic. During the Diagnostic you will discuss your proposed program of study, including potential courses (listed in the Entrance Survey) and timing of your residency at UCSB. Upon completing the Diagnostic Interview you should revise the Entrance Survey based on any feedback and send an electronic copy to Dr. Bosco. Very early on you should be thinking about extramural funding opportunities for your dissertation research. There are numerous grants and fellowships available to doctoral students to support their dissertation research. Among these are Fulbright-Hays Fellowships, National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grants, NASA Earth Science Fellowships, and many, many other sources of funding both great and small. We strongly urge you to apply for dissertation funding, not only because of the monetary support it brings but for the longer term benefits which derive from feeling comfortable in the competitive application process and the professional prestige which derives from attaining such grants or fellowships. The general philosophy of the participating faculties is that extramural funding from grants, contracts, and fellowships should help to augment and not replace the funding provided by SDSU.

Once you have put together the Committee, you will need to meet with Dr. Bosco. He will initiate the Nomination of Doctoral Committees for the Joint Doctorate and Conflict of Interest Disclosure form which requires the approval of the Doctoral Adviser and Graduate Dean at SDSU and the Department Chair, Department Graduate Adviser, and Graduate Dean at UCSB. Once signed, you have an official committee. All of the official forms required of you will be filed on your behalf by the Department, but be sure to check to make sure it happens.

Written and Oral Qualifying Examinations

The next hurdle to clear after your Doctoral Committee is formed is the Written Qualifying Examination or Writtens. While it will vary from person to person, normally you should be ready to attempt the Writtens sometime near the end of the second year of your program. The Writtens will cover material from three areas: (1) your substantive areas; (2) your methodological/technique emphases; and (3) general geographic theory and inquiry. In essence, you will need to demonstrate a broad understanding of modern geographic principles in addition to a specialist's competencies in your sub-field(s) of the discipline.

To get ready for the Writtens, you should discuss with each of your Doctoral Committee members their expectations of you. At least four months before the target date for your Writtens, prepare a draft reading list, with input from your Dissertation Chair. You may wish to consult the reading list for reference. The reading list should be structured according to the three general areas of the examination: (1) Theory of Geography and Spatial Science, (2) Methods of Research and (3) your dissertation specialization. Forward the draft reading list as an e-mail attachment to your other committee members. Request that they review your list and suggest any other key readings. You may also want to ask them if they require receipt of your draft dissertation proposal prior to the Writtens and if so, what stage of completeness it needs to be. Finalize the dates that you will take the exam, once you have committee concurrence with the reading list.

Your chair will make arrangements with the other committee members to obtain questions and set the format (e.g., open and closed book) for each question. You may want to express your preference for timing and format of exam, before it is finalized. Shortly before the date of the Written Exam, contact your chair to make sure everything is as scheduled and planned. Also, determine when and by whom the questions will be administered, as well as what will be the format and structure for each portion of the exam. While all elements of the Writtens are flexible and up to your committee, normally the exams will be administered on three alternating days (e.g. MWF) for up to eight hours each day, following the Theory, Methods and Specialization structure of the exam. You should sign up for Geog. 890, Independent Study for Doctoral Exams, when preparing for both Qualifying Examinations. Unfortunately, SDSU does not consider 890 to count towards full-time status for the purposes of scholarships and financial aid, so keep that in mind.

Your Doctoral Committee will assign a pass or fail to your effort. Should you not pass the Writtens on the first opportunity, you are allowed one additional attempt. You may receive conditional passes, in which case individual committee members may ask you to complete additional readings, re-answer questions, or answer additional, follow-on questions. You must pass the Writtens prior to sitting for the Oral Qualifying Exam or Orals.

You must have a provisionally approved Dissertation Proposal before attempting the Oral Exam. The proposal describes your dissertation topic, summarizes the relevant background literature, and presents a comprehensive methodology or study plan for the dissertation. The Dissertation Proposal is often built from, or provides the basis of grant, fellowship, or scholarship proposals that are submitted to funding organizations.

Doctoral dissertation research that involves human or animal subjects, including the use of data that has the potential to be linked to specific human individuals, must be approved by the SDSU Institutional Review Board (IRB). JDP students no longer have to submit documents to both SDSU and UCSB IRBs. Documents should be submitted to the IRB of the university with which the Dissertation Chair is associated (normally SDSU IRB) and the other university's IRB will receive notice of the outcome to the human/animal subjects request.

Once you have submitted a draft Dissertation Proposal and you have passed the Writtens, you're ready to tackle the Orals, the second of your two Qualifying Examinations. During the Orals, questioning is focused on the dissertation proposal, although specific questions may be asked on material from the Writtens, which may require clarification. The goal of the Orals is to demonstrate that you possess the knowledge and competence required to carryout your dissertation research. Passing the Orals signifies that the Committee has accepted the dissertation proposal. If you do not pass the Orals on the first try, you are allowed one additional attempt.


Upon passing the Qualifying Examinations, you will be Advanced to Candidacy. This is done by the filing of the Report on Qualifying Examinations for the Joint Doctorate form. This form contains the signatures of your Committee members indicating their individual evaluations of your performance on the Qualifying Exams and the Committee's recommendation of advancement to candidacy as well as those of the SDSU Doctoral Adviser and the UCSB Graduate Adviser. You request advancement to candidacy by signing the form and indicating the date by which you intend to complete the dissertation. In addition, you must pay a fee of $50.00 to the UC Regents. After getting the SDSU Committee signatures, give the form and the check to Allison, who will handle the rest of the process.

Once you have advanced to candidacy the expectation is that you will register for a total of 6 units per semester, to be selected from either GEOG 897 (Doctoral Research), or GEOG 899 (Doctoral Dissertation). However, if you and your Dissertation Chair determine that formal coursework is necessary for preparing you for your dissertation research, you should request permission from the Doctoral Adviser to take courses other than 897 or 899. (The reason for this pertains to the source and amounts of allocated funding for JD student fee coverage.) During the semester you will earn your doctorate, you need to be enrolled in at least three units of GEOG 899. If you have registered in at least 3 units of 899, you can register in only 1 unit in the summer. Further, you will need to apply for graduation prior to the deadline for that semester.


Your last major requirement will be to write, defend, and submit a dissertation. It must be a significant piece of original research, which advances the discipline of geography. At the time you complete your dissertation, you will very likely be the reigning expert, worldwide, on the specific topic you have researched.

Students are supposed to be in a "fee relationship" with the University when they complete the requirements for the degree. Joint program students are rarely if ever going to be registered at UCSB the quarter they file, but they probably will be registered at SDSU. If you are registered at SDSU when you file, you do NOT have to pay the filing fee when you file your dissertation at SDSU. You are considered a student pursuing graduate degrees at UCSB as long as you are registered at either San Diego State or UCSB. If you are not registered at SDSU or UCSB when you file, such as during summer session, you'll need to register at SDSU for GEOG 899 (Dissertation) and apply for graduation by the deadline early that semester (or summer session). You will be responsible for covering the costs of registration and filing fees, as well as dissertation printing.

Your dissertation will be evaluated by your Dissertation Committee at the final examination, which is essentially a dissertation defense and is announced (and open to) the public. The final examination is normally conducted at SDSU or UCSB, with all committee members in attendance. Special arrangements can be made for committee members to participate by teleconference or videoconference. The student gives an overview presentation of their dissertation results and findings, which is followed by questions and comments from committee members. The outcome of the defense is a pass or fail grade. The final examination may be retaken once. Revisions to the dissertation may be required following the exam, even if a passing grade is awarded.

There are a couple things you should remember to bring to your final examination (besides your presentation materials). The first is the Report on Final Defense for Joint Doctorate form that can get from the Geography Department at either campus. Most of the time, your Adviser will take care of this for you, but be sure to ask. This is the form that you and your committee will sign at the end of your defense. Your Dissertation Chair will take this form and begin the (lengthy) process of obtaining signatures of the SDSU doctoral Adviser, the UCSB doctoral Adviser, the SDSU graduate dean, and the UCSB graduate dean. You should also bring four copies of your dissertation signature page. This is a page that is actually part of the hard copy printed text of your dissertation. It comes after the title page. Bring four copies of this page printed and formatted according to the UCSB formatting requirements. Have your committee sign each page (in blue or black ink!) at this time. You will have to submit one copy to UCSB when you file your dissertation, and two copies to SDSU when filing there.

Following passage of the final examination, you may have some required revisions or formatting of the dissertation to take care of. Because the Ph.D. degree is awarded by both UCSB and SDSU, you need to make sure that you format your dissertation in the style that is prescribed by the UCSB Graduate Division and Library. Make sure you refer to the "UCSB Guide to Formatting and Filing Theses and Dissertations", which is a Graduate Division publication in cooperation with The Davidson Library. You can access it at the Grad Division website

There also is a copy in the Graduate Student Handbook, and you can get one at the Graduate Division or Special Collections Dept. of the Library. The most important things to remember are:

Before submitting the dissertation, get formatting feedback from one of the academic Advisers at UCSB Graduate Division. S/he will check if the dissertation has any previously published material, which would require permission letters. You will also need to footnote previously published sections in your dissertation. Once the dissertation is ready to be filed, you will first need to file it at UCSB. To file at UCSB you will need: your dissertation approved by your committee, in a PDF format following the format specified by UCSB's Graduate Division. The "Filing Chart" in the Formatting Guide mentioned above is especially helpful. Filing at UCSB has two parts: the first part is completed online and consists of the electronic submission of your dissertation, including a formatted but unsigned signature page and completing the required online surveys: the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) and the UCSB Doctoral Exit Survey. After you complete the surveys, email a copy of both the SED and Exit Survey certificates to Rita Baumann and the academic Adviser at UCSB Graduate Division (probably the person who provided you with formatting feedback).

The second part is completed in person at UCSB. You must bring to Graduate Division: one original signature page, signed by all committee members in black or blue ink, one copy of the title page on plain white paper, and copyright permission letters (if applicable). You also need to submit one PDF and one hard copy of your dissertation (the hard copy does not need to bound or in any specific format you can print it double-sided). Note: the Filing Chart in the Formatting Guide states that you (the student) will have and submit the Report of Final Defense for Joint Doctorate with the rest of the dissertation materials listed above. This is not the case for JDP students, since it will take time for the form to get the required signatures and get to them.

If you fill all the forms out ahead of time, and have the requisite number of properly formatted copies of your dissertation, signatures pages, etc., the filing process shouldn't take longer than an hour. If you are registered at SDSU in the quarter that you file, there is no need to pay anything when filing at UCSB.

Once you are all clear at UCSB, you can file at SDSU. As mentioned above, make sure you have paid your registration fees for the semester (or summer) in which you plan to file. You also need to be enrolled in 899 for at least 1 unit. Next, pick up the phone and call Rita agai at SDSU's Grad Division (619-594-1504). Let her know you've filed at UCSB and that you are now ready to file at SDSU. She will make sure you are registered in 899 and have paid all your fees. And she'll ask you to bring another hard copy of your dissertation to her, plus a scanned copy of the completed "Report of Final Defense" form, two original and signed copies of the signature page (one for her and an extra one for Montezuma Publishing), and a copy of the title page. You will also need to turn in the copy of the SED survey (the one that you turned in at UCSB) if you did not already email it to her. If you don't have a copy of the SED survey with you, Rita can give you one that you can fill out on the spot. Once Rita gets all the paperwork, she will fill out a clearance sheet that verifies that you are enrolled in GEOG 899. Next, take your dissertation to Montezuma Publishing located in Suite 104 of the Industrial Technology building on campus ( or 619 594-7551). You can also send them a PDF of the dissertation. Tell them that you need your dissertation bound for filing. Make sure to order copies (your choice of binding) for your committee members. Give them the Clearance Sheet you received from Rita, the extra signature page, and your dissertation (if you didn't submit it via email). Pay the copying fee and make sure that you Montezuma Publishing sends a copy of the receipt back to Rita in the SDSU Graduate Division. Once she has that receipt, Rita will get our Deans' signature on the Report of Final Defense form, mail it back to UCSB, and you are officially Dr. [you last name here] and almost done!

Last loose ends: Once Rita sends the Report of Final Defense form to UCSB Graduate Division, the Academic Adviser there will process the degree conferral. If you need a degree verification letter after the degree has been conferred but before actually receiving the diploma that is sent by the Registrar (which can take up to a couple of months), you can request it by emailing Also, there is a $19.00 (Domestic) to $24.00 (Certified or International) diploma mailing fee that UCSB will assess to your BARC account before they will mail the diploma. Finally, in the final semester of your appointment at SDSU, you are required to complete an exit survey prior to the last day of your contract. Contact Patti for more details.

You are required to present a public oral presentation of the dissertation, within three months of filing your dissertation. (Making a similar presentation at UCSB is optional and is good opportunity to showcase your dissertation results.)

In the happy event that you make it through all of the steps outlined here, we will very strongly urge, cajole, and encourage you to participate in the SDSU College of Arts & Letters (CAL) Commencement Ceremony celebrating your graduation. It is both an opportunity for you to receive the recognition that you deserve for your many years of effort and an opportunity for you to bask in the pride that your loved ones, friends, fellow students, and faculty take in your accomplishment. In addition to the individual hooding ceremony at the CAL main graduation, there will be a departmental recognition ceremony to honor you. Be there or be square!

To participate in the CAL Commencement Ceremony you must have either graduated, or your Dissertation Chair must swear on a stack of Hartshorne's Nature of Geography that you will file your dissertation by the end of the summer session at the latest. In the latter case, you should apply for spring graduation so that your name will be included in the Commencement Bulletin and be on the list for tickets. After the spring term has ended, if Dr. Bosco or your Dissertation Chair emails Rita that you will defend and are on track to finish in time for summer graduation at the UC campus, she will "roll" the spring application over to summer and waive the $55.00 fee. You will still have to be registered in 899 when you submit your dissertation.

Time to degree standards (TTDS) are strictly monitored by UCSB Graduate Division. For Geography, TTDS are 4 years to advance to candidacy and 6 years to graduate. You'll be closely monitored when you go beyond TTDS, and potentially be put on probation, but as long as you continue in the program, you won't have to do anything additional at the time of graduation.

Handbook Topics

How did I get Admitted?
What does the Financial Offer I Accepted Mean?
What Happens Between the Time I'm Accepted and When I Enroll?
Okay, I've Arrived at the Department. What do I do?
My First Semester's Started: Now What?
Beyond My First Semester
When Should I Plan on Spending My Year at UCSB?
Any Information that might Help Me for My UCSB Residency?
What are the Major Mileposts in My Program?

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