University General Course Catalog 2020-2021 
    Jun 24, 2024  

Geology, Ph.D.

Students may choose an appropriate course of study for their academic or career goals. Graduate students conduct research within the Department and/or in association with the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and ALERT wildfire (, the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy (, the Nevada Geodetic Laboratory (, the Center for Neotectonic Studies, the Ralph J. Roberts Center for Research in Economic Geology (, the Desert Research Institute (, the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (, the Nevada National Security Site, National Laboratories, and the United States Geological Survey.

Both regional and international research programs are available. Field-related studies and research are among the strengths of our programs. The University of Nevada, Reno is located near the boundary between the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada physiographic provinces, and is near many world-class localities for field studies, ranging from glaciated high country to high desert environments. Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, Great Basin, and Lassen Volcanic national parks are all within easy reach of Reno. We have state-of-the-art field instrumentation for geologic, temperature, seismic, gravity, magnetic, electrical, geodetic, and rock properties studies. We also have one of the world’s largest digitally recorded seismic networks and host the world’s largest GPS analysis center.

Contact Information

Stacia Gordon, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director
Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering
Department Office: (775) 784-6476​

Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

Fields of emphasis for thesis work include:

  • geology (regional geology, mineral deposits, structural geology, petrology, tectonics, stratigraphy, mineralogy, micropaleontology, paleolimnology, geomorphology, climate change);
  • geophysics (seismology, earthquake hazards, exploration geophysics, remote sensing, paleomagnetism, neotectonics);
  • geochemistry (aqueous isotope, geothermal);
  • geological engineering (geomechanics, waste containment, slope stability, geologic hazards);
  • hydrogeology;
  • geodesy, and
  • planetary geology.

Admission Requirements

Students must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to be accepted as a graduate student. For full graduate standing, at least 30 units of undergraduate work in geology and/or related fields must have been completed.

  • To be considered for admission, students must meet the following minimum university requirements:
  • Grade-point average (GPA): Four-year undergraduate GPA of 2.75 for applicants to a M.S. degree program, or 3.0 GPA for a Ph.D. degree program.

Minimum TOEFL score (if applicable): 550, with scores sent directly to the university. Note that 600 is recommended because students below a 600 must then pass a bridge test upon entering the university.

For admission to the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, prospective students must also submit the following:

  • Three letters of recommendation certifying ability to perform graduate-level work at the desired level (M.S. or Ph.D.);
  • A one or two page personal statement of interest stating why UNR is their school of choice, why they wish to pursue the desired degree (M.S. or Ph.D.), and what specialties and/or faculty the applicant is interested in; and
  • Copies of transcripts and TOEFL scores (if applicable).

The Admissions Committee gives comparable weight to each item submitted as part of the application package. An applicant will not be denied admission based solely on their GPA. It is advisable for applicants to contact prospective faculty advisors to discuss their interests prior to applying. 

Application Deadlines and Addresses

For Fall semester admission, complete applications (i.e., the items listed above) must be submitted online with any supporting documents and received by the Graduate School by January 1 for Fall and September 15 for Spring admissions. Official transcripts should be sent directly to the UNR Graduate School to arrive well before these stated deadlines. The applicant’s personal statement and letters of recommendation, if not uploaded via the online application, should be sent to:

University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate School, Mail Stop 0326
Reno, NV 89557-0326

I. Program Requirements

In addition to UNR Graduate School Ph.D. requirements, the program requires the following course work:

B. Seminar (5 units)

Students must enroll for a minimum of 5 credits over the course of their program.

  • (1 unit) (Students must enroll for a minimum of 5 credits over the course of their program)

C. Comprehensive Examination (1 unit)

D. Dissertation (30 units)


*The Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering and the university as a whole require three examinations for a Ph.D. degree:

  1. a Qualifying examination,
  2. an oral Comprehenisve examination, and
  3. a written Comprehensive examination.

The student should enroll in GEOL 795 during the semester in which the Comprehensive examinations are scheduled. For more information, please see the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering Graduate Handbook.

*Students must file an approved Program of Study with the Graduate School near the end of the fourth semester of residence (the specific date is the same as the “thesis due date” for students finishing their studies).

II. Total Units (61 units)

The Ph.D. degree is 61 credits. The credits include a 1-unit GEOL 795 - Comprehensive Examination that may not be used to satisfy the 20 units of 700-level course work required for the Ph.D. degree. Contact the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering office or the geology faculty for more details.


Available instruments and laboratories include: two scanning electron microscopes, an electron microprobe, a laser-abalation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer, petrographic microscopes, reflected light microscopes, stable isotope geochemistry, fluid inclusion facilities, optical and infrared reflectance and Raman spectroscopy (field and lab), optical-fiber distributed temperature measurement, conodont and radiolarian biostratigraphy, geographic information systems (GIS), computer graphics, 3D seismic interpretation (OpendTect), computational modeling, geologic modeling (EarthVision), networked computer clusters for data processing and scientific visualization, laboratory testing frames, and shear boxes. These laboratories support research in geology, geochemistry, geophysics, geodesy, hydrogeology, mineralogy, mineralization, petrology, petrochemistry, slope stability, rock mechanics and tectonics.

Undergraduate Prerequisites

Students usually enter this program with a degree in the geological sciences, physical sciences or an engineering field.