Geography, PhD

Top geography graduate program in North America preparing students for careers in academic, non-profit, and public sectors

Our doctoral program in geography provides students an opportunity to develop deep expertise in a range of topics across human geography, physical geography, and the geosciences. Students in our doctoral program are fully funded, and our faculty work closely with the small group of doctoral students admitted each year to mentor them in publishing, grant writing, fieldwork, and teaching. Graduates from our doctoral program become faculty in geography, environmental studies, global studies, international relations, and other disciplines and enter other fields, from learned societies to industry.

Our strength is research experience.

We take the training of doctoral students as both scholars and teachers very seriously. Our graduate courses are small and ground students in both foundational and cutting-edge aspects of our field. We work with our doctoral students to create innovative and robust research projects designed to prepare them for future careers in academia and beyond. We also provide opportunities for our students to gain teaching experience, both as teaching instructors and as instructors of record.

Program requirements

Students entering the Ph.D. program with master's degrees from other universities are expected to have or to acquire qualifications equivalent to those normally achieved by a Syracuse University M.A. in geography. The student must maintain a 3.0 grade point average.

The Ph.D. degree requires a total of 72 credits of approved graduate work in geography and related fields, which includes up to 30 credits accepted for the master's degree and 12 credits in dissertation research. At least 24 credits of coursework must be taken in residence at Syracuse. At least two-thirds of the coursework (not including the dissertation) must be at the 600 level or above. All doctoral programs in geography are research-oriented. Most of our doctoral students complete their degrees in 4 to 6 years.

Students must submit a dissertation proposal to their advisory committee for approval. Students must also take qualifying exams, designed to demonstrate competence in three topical fields. The exam has a written and an oral portion, designed to cover the specific subfields identified by the student in consultation with the advisor and advisory committee. Once a student completes all required coursework, defends their dissertation proposal, and passes their qualifying exams, they advance to candidacy (i.e. “all but dissertation,” ABD).

The dissertation, which must be defended in a formal dissertation defense, should be an original scholarly contribution to the field and may be highly varied in methodology, topic, and style of presentation.

Complete degree requirements are outlined in the Course Catalog for the PhD in Geography.

Student learning outcomes

Graduates of Maxwell’s PhD program in geography enter the workforce with honed research, analysis, and teaching skills. With a variety of subfields to choose from, our students have the flexibility to tailor their academic experience so it aligns with their future career goals.

Students who earn their PhD in Geography at Maxwell will:

  1. Design and conduct original, publishable, and theoretically and methodologically rigorous research in their chosen subfield in the discipline
  2. Communicate the results and significance of their research in both oral and written form through the doctoral dissertation (a major and original contribution to the field of Geography)
  3. Communicate the results of research in a variety of formats both oral and written
  4. Demonstrate understanding of Geography as an academic discipline, including core concepts such as space, place and scale, as well as major subfields such as human geography, physical geography, environmental geography and geo-spatial analysis
  5. Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of their chosen field of within the discipline of Geography, including relevant analysis, critical theory, and practical application
  6. For those entering the academy: demonstrate expertise as an instructor of geography in an undergraduate setting, including design lessons, lead student discussions, and evaluate undergraduate students' written work fairly and effectively

Ready to join our Maxwell Geography community?

Visit our How to Apply page for information about the admissions process and resources.