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Doctoral Degree Requirements

Graduation requirements for the doctoral degree include completing specific coursework, completing written and oral qualifying examinations, writing a dissertation, and completing a final examination.

Course Requirements

Students admitted into the joint doctoral program are expected to take common core courses. At SDSU, these include: Geography 700 (Seminar in Geographic Research Design) and Geography 701 (Seminar in Development of Geographic Thought). At UCSB, students are required to register in Geography 200A (Introduction to Geographic Research) and Geography 201 (Colloquium) each quarter. No specified number of courses beyond core courses is required for the doctoral degree. However, students are expected to have a broad understanding of modern geographic principles in addition to a specialist’s competence in their own sub-field. In addition, all doctoral students must have computational skills and knowledge of spatial analysis.

Qualifying Examinations

The process of qualifying to write a Ph.D. dissertation has three steps. First, the student must take a written qualifying examination that normally consists of three portions devoted to: 1) the student’s substantive area, 2) the technical or methodological field(s) of interest, and 3) general geographic thought and inquiry. Second, the student prepares a dissertation proposal that describes the dissertation topic, summarizes the relevant background literature, and presents a comprehensive research plan for the dissertation. Third, the student’s doctoral committee will conduct an oral qualifying examination to ensure that the student possesses the full knowledge and competence required to carry out her or his dissertation research. The doctoral committee will assign a pass or fail grade for each examination. Passing the written examination allows the student to proceed to the preparation of the dissertation proposal. The doctoral committee must conditionally approve the dissertation proposal before the student takes the oral qualifying examination. Passing the oral examination signifies that the doctoral dissertation proposal is approved. A student may repeat each examination once.


Following the successful completion of all prescribed coursework and qualifying examinations, the major remaining requirement for the Ph.D. degree will be the satisfactory completion of a dissertation consisting of original research of publishable quality carried out under the guidance of the major professor. Approval of the completed dissertation by the joint doctoral committee implies that an organized investigation has been carried out yielding substantial conclusions of interest which expand the frontiers of knowledge and understanding in the discipline. Results must be reported in a manner demonstrating the ability of the candidate to effectively pursue and report independent investigation.

Final Examination

The final examination, organized and administered by the joint doctoral committee, shall consist of a public dissertation defense, before the joint doctoral committee.


Dr. Piotr Jankowski
Office: Storm Hall 301C
Phone: (619) 594-0640
Email: [email protected]

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

About the Doctoral Program

First, the joint program enables students to have access to and exploit the excellent faculties and facilities of two strong, research-oriented Geography departments. The second and more pragmatic reason is that California law does not allow departments within the California State University (such as SDSU) to offer a standalone doctoral program. Thus, even though SDSU Geography matches or exceeds research publication and funding rates of many of the Top Ten ranked Geography doctoral programs in the U.S., it is not legally able to offer a Ph.D. degree on its own.
The only substantial disadvantage is that students in the Joint Doctoral program are required to be in residence for at least one academic year at UCSB (normally during the second year). San Diego and Santa Barbara are separated by approximately 200 miles.
Yes, UCSB Geography is well known as one of the top Ph.D. granting departments in the World. The program is particularly known for its strengths in quantitative and computational approaches to spatial analysis and earth system science.
No. The Geography JDP is a personalized program that requires in person interaction and research in our departmental labs and facilities. It would be very difficult to provide the type of training we offer in an on-line format.


There are no formal course requirements other than two core courses at SDSU, Geography 700 and 701, and a colloquium course each quarter, while at residence at UCSB. Coursework necessary for successful completion of dissertation research, or for career preparation, are determined through consultation with students and their advising committee members.
Yes. We strongly recommend taking Geography 701 and 700 during the first two semesters, in that order and NOT concurrently. All students must take these two classes, unless they had them as a master’s student at SDSU.
This is not necessary, given that there are no course requirements.
Doctoral students may take courses numbered 500 and above at SDSU as long as it is deemed appropriate for research or career preparation.
The program is designed to take four years. Some students complete the program in four years, however, it has been most common for students to take five years to complete degree requirements. The length of the program also varies depending on the dissertation topic and the type of research conducted. Normally, students conducting extensive fieldwork take longer completing the program. A competitive fifth year of funding is normally available to students who have made excellent progress in the program but who still need additional time to finish the dissertation as a result of demanding research.