Graduate Program Introduction

Rice Earth Science offers an unusual combination of quality, resources, opportunity and cultural richness to its graduate students. The department offers two graduate thesis programs, a MS and a PhD degree. Each program is customized to the individual student’s interests, strengths and academic background. The focus in on providing the intellectual and physical environment that will enable students to generate original groundbreaking research, presentations, and publication in professional journals. Students are required to complete one semester as a teaching assistant during their graduate work, but they can do more if there is personal interest or by individual faculty request.

Most students in the thesis degree programs receive full tuition waivers and receive nationally-competitive stipends that enable them to live comfortably in Houston — an exciting, diverse, and culturally-rich city.

Houston is both the center of the international energy industry, and also home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the Lunar and Planetary Institute, giving the city an unusually vibrant earth science community. About 20 local energy and space science professionals serve as adjunct faculty in our department, greatly expanding the intellectual breadth, opportunities and areas of instruction and research available to our students. We have several visiting scientist programs that support extended research visits by prominent earth scientists from institutions around the world, further enriching the department’s intellectual life.


Students work very closely with an internationally-known and respected faculty that has research projects all over the world. Faculty members have joint research projects with scientists at over 100 institutions worldwide, giving an international scope to the department with research programs on all the continents, in all of the oceans, and on four planets. Their research interests span a wide range of topics and fall broadly under two principal research themes: Earth Structure and Dynamics and Earth Systems Science. Many departmental research programs involve substantial field activities, both on land and at sea. Similarly, several course offerings include field trips to a variety of destinations and geologic settings. The Department sponsors the Rice Type Locale Field Trip Program, enabling faculty, students, and researchers to visit classic geologic features, sites, and provinces around the world. Recent field trips include travel to Antarctica, Hawaii, Cuba, the Alps, the Canadian Cordillera, Spain, Morocco and Turkey.

Rice’s size encourages interdepartmental research. Earth Science faculty conduct multi-disciplinary research projects with faculty in a number of other Rice science and engineering departments, in particular, Chemistry, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Computational and Applied Mathematics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. In addition, the Department of Earth Science hosts the collaborative research center, the Center for Computational Geophysics, and collaborates with other interdepartmental research centers, such as the Energy and Environmental Systems Institute, the Institute for Biosciences and Bioengineering, the Center for the Study of the Environment and Society, the Shell Center for Sustainability, the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology, and the Center for Lunar Science Exploration.

Graduate Degree Programs

Our graduate thesis degree programs are customized to individual student interests, strengths, and academic background. Each student’s course of study is flexible, developed in consultation with an advisory committee and the department Graduate Committee. A cross-disciplinary program with departments in Rice’s Brown School of Engineering is available for graduate students wishing to emphasize computational research in the earth sciences. Incoming students should have or should acquire a strong background in physics, chemistry, and mathematics and should have a broad grounding in fundamental earth science. Students who majored in any science on in mathematics are encouraged to apply.

All graduate students enrolled in either the thesis master’s or doctoral program are required to take a written qualifying exam covering general earth science knowledge, usually in the second semester. Starting in their second year they are also required to make a progress research presentation annually within the department and submit short progress reports of their research and coursework to the Graduate Committee.

MS students generally must complete one semester of residency and 30 credit hours. The thesis must include a least one manuscript that has been submitted to a recognized peer-review journal with the student as the lead author. PhD students must complete either 60 or 90 credit hours, depending on whether or not they are entering the program with a relevant master’s degree. Doctoral students are expected to submit an annual paper for publication starting in the second year. The doctoral thesis must include at least three manuscripts that have been submitted to a recognized peer-review journal with the student as lead author, and at least one of the manuscripts must be in press or published at the time of the thesis defense.

The department also plays key roles in two Professional Master of Science tracks: 1) Subsurface Geoscience and 2) Environmental Analysis and Decision Making, which train professionals for exploration and production in the petroleum industry, and for science management roles in the environmental industry.


The department has a large endowment that helps maintain state-of-the-art facilities including classrooms, offices, research equipment such as the ICP-MS and the Malvern particle analyzer, and extensive computing technology, labs, and workstations. The endowment also provides generous graduate fellowships and support for student research, travel, and equipment. Department research expenditures are over $2M annually, with faculty research programs sponsored by a number of federal agencies, notably the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Department of Energy, as well as by the energy industry.

Career Opportunities

Houston is both the center of the international energy industry as well as home to NASA’s Johnson Space Center and the Lunar Planetary Institute. The department maintains strong ties with the oil and gas exploration industry, in which many of our alumni are now employed. Each year, over a dozen oil and gas companies recruit students in the department for summer internships and full time employment. Our PhD students find many employment opportunities in both academics and in industry.

Student Life

The department has a very active student organization, known as the GeoUnion, for both graduate and undergraduate students. GeoUnion hosts visiting speakers, is involved with campus and national professional societies (AAPG, AGU, GSA, SEG, SEPM), sponsors social and professional gatherings, holds an annual, industry-funded field trip, and coordinates earth science outreach and other graduate activities on campus. Rice also has a very active Graduate Student Association (GSA) that offers many additional resources, social opportunities and activities to the graduate community. International graduate students receive special support and services through the Rice Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).