University General Course Catalog 2022-2023 
    Mar 02, 2024  

Geophysics, M.S.

Graduate studies include theoretical, experimental, and applied research in:

  • seismology,
  • geophysical exploration,
  • hazards and environmental assessments,
  • paleomagnetism,
  • rock magnetism,
  • geodesy,
  • planetary sciences, and
  • remote sensing.

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, 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 Arthur Brant Laboratory for Exploration Geophysics, the Desert Research Institute, the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology, and the United States Geological Survey- Reno Field Office.

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, including active volcanoes, earthquake faults, and geothermal-energy production. 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 regional 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​

Graduate Handbook *

Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

Students pursue research projects around the globe as well as in Nevada’s unique and accessible terrain. A 10-page paper published in an international peer-reviewed journal represents the ideal Geophysics M.S. thesis. Graduates are actively sought by the energy industry, commanding top salary offers.

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  M.S. requirements, the program requires the following course work:

A. Thesis Option (31 units)

This section summarizes the standards for the M.S. degree with thesis option (Plan A).  The Department of Geological Sciences does not normally offer the M.S. non-thesis option (see next section).  It is important to understand that earning a graduate degree involves much more than just completing a fixed number of graduate classes.  The student’s Advisory/Examining Committee may require the student to take additional courses if, in its opinion, training or background is needed to reach the degree of proficiency typical of others holding this degree in the student’s chosen field of specialization.  The number of classes required by the Graduate School is really a minimum, because the amount of preparation a student needs for thesis research varies considerably across departments and specialties.

1. Comprehensive Examination (1 unit)

2. Seminar (3 units)

The Graduate Seminar is required of all students entering MS. and Ph.D. programs in Geology, Geophysics, and the M.S. in Geologic Engineering.  Master’s students must enroll a minimum of 3 semesters. Graduate seminar is a forum for faculty and students from UNR and other organizations to present information on cutting edge topics in the geological sciences.  The seminar schedule varies each semester.

  • (1 unit) (Students must enroll for 3 units over the course of their program)

3. Thesis (10 units)

4. Additional Coursework (17 units)

Course selection will be determined in conjunction with your advisor, committee, and the program graduate director. Examples of possible courses are provided.

M.S. Examinations

Two examinations are required for the M.S. degree.

Comprehensive examination

In their second semester, MS students will be required to sign up for one credit of MS Comps (GEOL 795), under the direction of the Graduate Director.  The MS Comp Exam consists of two requirements: 1) a formal thesis proposal including a presentation of the proposed research; and 2) approval of your Program of Study. Students  are required to submit a formal thesis proposal to their committee and have a committee meeting to discuss both the proposal and their proposed Program of Study prior to the end of their second semester in residence (does not include summer semester).  Both must be approved by their committee and forwarded to the Graduate Director to enable the Director to provide a grade (S/U) for the student.  Failure to complete this requirement in the allotted time will result in the student being dropped from the program.  Under extenuating circumstances, the student may petition for an extension, but any petition must be approved by their thesis committee before it will be considered by the Graduate Director.

Final oral examination

A final Oral Examination (Thesis defense, announced two weeks in advance and open to the public including a public presentation) is held with the Advisory-Examining Committee to evaluate the quality and professional standards of the student’s research.  After successfully completing this examination and approval of the final draft of the thesis, the student is advanced to Master’s candidacy and may apply for graduation. The thesis defense is usually about 2 hours long and consists of a public talk (~30 – 45 min) followed by a closed session with the committee where questions are asked and specific recommendations/revisions are suggested for the thesis. The thesis should be scheduled in a venue that can sufficiently accommodate the audience (usually 30 or more people).

B. Non-Thesis Option (30 units)

A non-thesis M.S. option is available as an appropriate alternative upon special petition. The non-thesis option is considered a terminal degree and is not recommended for students considering a future Doctoral degree. To pursue a non-thesis M.S., the student must first discuss this option with their advisor and committee. If the advisor and committee deem the non-thesis M.S. to be an appropriate option, the advisor will then submit a memo petitioning the Graduate Committee within the first semester.

For the non-thesis M.S., a minimum of 30 course credits is required with at least 15 credits at the 700-level.

1. Professional Paper (2 units)

The Professional Paper will demonstrate the student’s ability to integrate technical state-of the-art knowledge into a document suitable for professional review and publication. Topics may be of an applied nature and must be approved by the student’s Graduate Committee. Format and content of the Proposal Paper should be commensurate with those found in professional society proceedings, regional/national symposia and conferences, applied science and resource management journals, and other journals serving as a forum for scientific discussion. The student must also meet with their committee by the end of their 2nd semester. During this meeting, the student will provide a draft summary of what will be included within the Professional Paper. This summary should be circulated to the committee a few weeks in advance of the committee meeting.

II. Total Units (30-31 units)


Available facilities include one of the world’s largest digitally recorded regional seismic networks; a 350+ GPS station network; laboratory and field equipment for optical and infrared reflectance and Raman spectroscopy; field instrumentation for seismic (reflection, refraction, and microtremor at several scales), gravity, geodetic, magnetic, and electrical studies; a paleomagnetism/ rock magnetism laboratory; a network of cluster computers for rapid data processing, modeling, and scientific visualization, and access to licensed copies of the EarthVision, OpendTect, and SPW software packages. We also host the largest GPS analysis center in the world.

Undergraduate Prerequisites

Although there are no formal prerequisites, students usually enter (M.S. or Ph.D.) with undergraduate degrees in geology, physics, or related engineering fields. We expect students to have advanced mathematics (through differential equations), and solid grounding in introductory physics and geology.


Program of Study

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

Time Limits

All requirements for this degree must be completed within six calendar years preceding conferral of the degree.