Graduate Advising

A critical step to being accepted to the MS Program in the Department of Earth & Climate Sciences is identifying a research mentor. We therefore strongly encourage students to email faculty they are interested in working with.

The information below is a general road map. We strongly recommend that students plan a personalized course of study before beginning the M.S. graduate program, in consultation with their faculty advisor and the graduate coordinator, John Caskey.

Timeline, Requirements, Dates




Semester 1

ERTH 700: Graduate Seminar

ERTH 896: Directed Reading in Geoscience

Weekly Department Speaker Series

Offered Fall semesters

Semester 2

ERTH 701: Research Methods in Geosciences

ERTH 896: Directed Reading in Geoscience

Weekly Department Speaker Series

M.S. Thesis Proposal Defense (end of semester)

Offered Spring semesters

Semester 3

ERTH 702: Quantitative Methods in Geosciences

ERTH 897: Thesis Research Project

Weekly Department Speaker Series

Offered Fall semesters

Semester 4

ERTH 898: Master’s Thesis (timing by approval of advisor)

Weekly Department Speaker Series

TBA by advisor and grad. student

Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) Form

Submitted to Dept. & Grad. Division by Advisor (via Docusign)

Prior to final semester

Proposal for Culminating Experience (PCE) Form 

Submitted to Dept.& Grad. Division by Advisor (via Docusign)

Prior to final semester, but commonly following completion of ERTH 701

ERTH 898
(M.S. thesis)

Final semester: Oral defense & written thesis

**See additional guidelines below

File application for graduation

Last day of regular classes

Written thesis and Report of Completion of Culminating Experience Requirement form

Last day of regular classes in the semester of graduation; Report submitted by Master’s student and signed by advisor and M.S. Thesis committee members (via Docusign)

Written English Proficiency Requirement

Written English Proficiency Requirement is fulfilled by satisfactorily completing the written thesis (ERTH 898). The graduate thesis committee is responsible for ensuring that a student has demonstrated a high level of writing proficiency in their thesis.

Specific information about ERTH 700

  • The 700 course is designed to orient students to the graduate program in the Geosciences Department.
  • Students also attend the speaker series, discuss current research, and learn about important aspects of the research process.

Specific information about ERTH 701

  • The 701 course is designed to help students prepare for their thesis research by writing a detailed thesis proposal.
  • To successfully complete the course, students must:
    1. write a thesis proposal that is approved by the course instructor and the student’s thesis committee.
    2. present the proposal orally to department faculty and students.
  • Cover sheet (obtained from department):  the proposal must include a cover sheet with signatures of the course instructor and thesis committee members, thus demonstrating successful completion of the course requirements.
  • An outcome of the course—student establishes thesis committee:
    1. primary thesis advisor, who must be a faculty member in the Geosciences Department;
    2. two additional committee members, one of whom may be a faculty member from another SFSU department or from an external agency or company.  Committee members should have expertise in areas that complement the student’s research topic.

Specific information about ERTH 702

  • The 702 course is designed to introduce methods of quantitative (especially statistical) analysis and to help students complete quantitative analyses of their research data.
  • By taking the class in their third semester, students may well have data sets from their thesis research that they can use for analysis.

Research Units (ERTH 897)

  • Students must complete 6 research units.  Students enroll in these units through the department office.  The section number for this course corresponds to the faculty member who is the primary thesis advisor.
  • Research units are usually taken in 2- or 3-unit increments.  To complete these units successfully, students must make satisfactory progress on their research, under supervision of their faculty advisor. If they do not make sufficient progress, they will receive a grade of “RD”, which gives them more time to complete the work.
  • Students may begin taking research units after their thesis proposal has been approved (successful completion of ERTH 701), or concurrent with ERTH 701, if approved by thesis advisor.

Advancement to Candidacy (ATC) / Proposal for Culminating Experience

  • Students must submit the ATC form (obtained from the Graduate Studies web site) to the department and Graduate Studies office in the semester preceding registration for the final 6 units of graduate work.  The ATC must be approved by the primary faculty advisor and the graduate coordinator in the department, and subsequently by Graduate Studies.  The ATC lists all courses to fulfill graduate program (30 units).
  • See SFSU Academic Calendar (and table above) for ATC filing deadline.
  • Approval of the ATC form officially advances a student to candidacy for the master’s degree, and to fully classified status if the student was admitted as conditionally classified.
  • If final completed coursework for degree differs from coursework listed on ATC the student must file a ATC Substitution form with Graduate Studies including all required signatures, (
  • Students must also file a Proposal for Culminating Experience Form that establishes the specific members of the Thesis Committee. The form also establishes the exact title of the student’s thesis. This form can be submitted as the completion of ERTH 701. If any member of student’s thesis committee changes or if the precise title of the thesis changes, then a Petition for Committee Revision form or Title Change for Culminating Experience form must be submitted to Graduate Division including all required signatures. 
  • Any research that involves human and/or animal subjects requires the approval of the Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects (CPHS) and/or the University Animal Care and Use Committee (UACUC). Approval must be obtained before any research begins that involves these subjects.
  • Forms are available from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs
  • No student is permitted to enroll in the culminating experience course until the research activity has been approved by CPHS or UACUC (if applicable).
  • Note that most Geoscience research does not involve human or animal subjects, but if you conduct surveys, this is using human subjects. Almost any type of science education project will require a human subjects review.

Graduate thesis (ERTH 898) and Oral thesis defense

  • This course fulfills the Second-level Written English Proficiency Requirement and the Culminating Experience Requirement of the university.
  • Students are not permitted to enroll in this culminating experience course until both the ATC and Proposal for Culminating Experience forms have been approved by Graduate Studies.
  • Students must submit, in final format, their approved thesis and Report of Completion of Culminating Experience Requirement form to the department and Graduate Studies (see SFSU Academic Calendar for filing deadline; usually the last day of classes).  The thesis must include a cover page that has been signed by all thesis committee members. 
  • IMPORTANT NOTE:  Be certain to contact Graduate Studies for thesis format instructions (available online). Students are advised to take a preliminary draft of the thesis to Graduate Studies prior to the filing deadline, to make sure that all formatting requirements have been followed.
  • As part of the Culminating Experience Requirement (ERTH 898), students must present thesis results to the department and answer questions about their research.  The defense will be scheduled in consultation with the department chair, graduate coordinator, and thesis committee.
  • Before scheduling the thesis defense, a student must have faculty advisor approval and must have submitted a complete draft of the written thesis to the thesis committee at least five weeks prior to the proposed defense date.  Faculty advisor approval means that the faculty advisor feels that the thesis is near enough to completion and that the results and conclusions are well enough documented and supported to distribute a draft to other committee members for review.
  • Students should allow at least two weeks between the date of their oral defense and the thesis filing deadline to allow time for final revisions based on the thesis committee’s final edits and suggestions, and to allow the faculty advisor time for a final read-through of the thesis.
  • Because the committee must receive a draft five weeks prior to the thesis defense, and because the student should allow at least two weeks between their oral defense and the thesis filing deadline, students must have an advisor- approved draft to distribute to the committee no later than seven weeks before the thesis filing deadline.
  • Note that, depending on a student’s writing skills, numerous iterations of the thesis draft may be required by the faculty advisor prior to scheduling the oral defense date.  Students should therefore be certain to get initial drafts to their faculty advisor early in the semester of their graduation or during the previous semester (see schedule below).  
  • In addition to submitting a final thesis to Graduate Studies, students must also submit copies to the Geosciences Department and to the thesis committee members. The department requires a bound copy and will pay for the cost.

Applying for graduation

  • Students must file an application to graduate during the semester they plan to graduate.  See SFSU Academic Calendar (and table above) for filing deadline (usually early in the semester).
  • Students must file their thesis and a Report of Completion of Culminating Experience Requirement by the last day of instruction (see Academic Calendar and table above for dates).

Meeting with the graduate thesis committee

  • The student and faculty advisor are responsible for arranging meetings of the student’s thesis committee when needed to address problems that arise or to assess student progress toward research completion.
  • Meetings of the thesis committee should be arranged at least once each semester, including the semester when a student’s proposal and oral defense are presented.  A final committee meeting will occur after the oral defense.

General Advising

You can find additional resources and information for applying to grad school at SF State's Division of Graduate Studies.