To obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Earth System Science, students must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Completion of course work (9 courses, including core courses)
  • Six quarters in residence at UC Irvine
  • Completion of the Comprehensive Examination, with recommendation to continue for the Ph.D.
  • Completion of the teaching and seminar requirements
  • Pass the Advancement to Candidacy Examination
  • Presentation of an open research seminar
  • Submission of an acceptable doctoral dissertation and formal defense

The master's degree is awarded only to students admitted to the Ph.D. program who have completed eight courses, met the three-quarter residency requirement, and completed the Comprehensive Examination.

Course Requirements

Graduate coursework includes a multidisciplinary curriculum covering physical, chemical and biological aspects of Earth system science. Students must complete a minimum of nine approved graduate-level courses, including the core curriculum, with an average of B or better. In addition to the core courses, two of the graduate level electives must be ESS courses.

PhD Core Requirements (4 core courses)

ESS 204 Human in the Earth System (NEW)
ESS 200 Global Physical Climate
ESS 266 Global Biogeochemical Cycles
ESS 298 Practicum in Earth System Science

A sampling of elective courses (5 approved electives)

ESS 212: Geoscience Modeling & Data Analysis
ESS 215: Cryosphere
ESS 225: Marine Biogeochemistry
ESS 226: Land Surfaces Process
ESS 230: Physical Oceanography
ESS 238: Remote Sensing
ESS 240: Atmospheric Chemistry
ESS 256: Paleoclimatology & Paleoceanography
ESS 264: Ecosystem Ecology


Academic Senate regulations specify a minimum period of residence of six quarters for Ph.D. candidates. Enrollment in a minimum of 12 units of graduate/upper-division course work per quarter is required. Registration in every regular academic session is necessary until all requirements for the degree have been completed, unless a formal Leave of Absence is granted by the Graduate Division. All Ph.D. requirements must be completed within 15 quarters in residence (five years), excluding summer quarters. Exceptions must be put to a vote of the Earth System Science faculty. The maximum time permitted is seven years.

Comprehensive Examination

Progress toward the degree and readiness to begin research is assessed by a comprehensive examination covering breadth, general knowledge, and the ability to integrate and use information covered in the core curriculum and other coursework. At the end of the Spring Quarter, the ESS Comprehensive Examination Committee administers the written and oral examinations. 

Teaching and Seminar

Students are required to complete a teaching assistant training program and to have a minimum of two quarters of experience as a teaching assistant, provided opportunities are available. Students can enroll in Earth System Science 399 while serving as a teaching assistant. Students are also expected to participate in the Earth System Science seminar.

Advance to Ph.D. Candidacy

Following completion of the Comprehensive Examination, those students who receive a recommendation to continue Ph.D. work will pursue research on a potential dissertation topic and then take the Advancement to Candidacy Examination. This oral examination is given by a faculty committee, including extra-departmental faculty. The normative time for advancement for candidacy is two years.


After advancing to candidacy, students are expected to be fully involved in research toward writing their Ph.D. dissertation. Students should keep in steady contact/interaction with their Doctoral Committee.  A dissertation based on original research and demonstrating critical judgment, intellectual synthesis, creativity, and clarity in written communication is required for the Ph.D. degree. The dissertation must summarize the results of original research performed by the student under the supervision of a faculty member of the Department. The dissertation will be evaluated by the Dissertation Committee, based on suitability for publication in a peer-reviewed journal of high editorial standards. The dissertation may be a compilation of published papers or manu­­scripts accepted for publication, so long as the candidate has produced a major proportion of the material independently The Dissertation Committee approves the format and content, which must meet University requirements for style, format, and appearance.