Overview for Prospective Students

The department offers advanced degree programs: The Ph.D., the M.S., and a Professional Master’s Program in Subsurface Geoscience. The Ph.D. and regular M.S. programs are described below. For information on the Professional Masters Program see https://profms.rice.edu/

The Department of Earth Science has 21 full time faculty members, 12 post-docs and research scientists, ~60 graduate students, 18 Professional Masters students, and 13 administrative and technical staff. In addition to our regular faculty, about 20 professionals from the petroleum and environmental industries, NASA, the Lunar and Planetary Institute serve as adjunct faculty who advise students, conduct research, and teach graduate courses. Visiting scientists from the world over spend a few weeks to several years in residence for research with our faculty.

Rice is a private university with a substantial endowment. The University’s relatively small size promotes interdisciplinary study and research. The department has a large number of endowed fellowships for graduate students. Faculty research programs are funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), The Texas Advanced Technology Program, and the petroleum industry.

Thesis research and publication are the core of the M.S. and Ph.D. graduate degree programs.  These programs are customized to individual students’ needs, interests, strengths, and academic backgrounds.  A cross-disciplinary degree in computational science and engineering is available for students who wish to emphasize computational research in the earth sciences. The Department plays a key role in two Professional Master of Science programs: Subsurface Geoscience and Environmental Decision Making and Analysis.

We have strong ties to the oil and gas exploration and exploration-technology industry, and offer a Professional M.S. in Subsurface Geoscience that is geared toward the petroleum industry. Each fall, about a dozen oil and gas companies recruit students in our department for summer internships and full-time employment. Roughly two-thirds of our graduate alumni are employed in the oil industry; the other third pursue academic and other careers.

The department hosts a weekly seminar series with nationally and internationally known scientists from academia, government, and industry.

GeoUnion, the Earth science student organization, hosts additional speakers and is involved with campus and national organizations (AAPG, AGU, GSA, SEG, SEPM), and conducts an annual field trip.

Graduate Review and Examination Process

All incoming M.S. and Ph.D. students take a written preliminary exam covering general earth science knowledge, usually in their second semester. Before their thesis project is formally approved and before concentrating fully on their thesis research, Ph.D. students also defend two research proposals, usually in their second year. M.S. students defend a thesis proposal before concentrating on their thesis research. Although the final M.S. and Ph.D. research are defended in the traditional manner, the written document may represent a traditional thesis, or can be constructed from a series of articles submitted to peer-reviewed journals with the student as a first author.  Each year, all students make an oral presentation to the department or at a professional conference, and submit a progress report to the faculty highlighting their past year’s accomplishments in research, course work, and service.

Graduate Student Program of Study

All graduate students develop a program of study designed to focus on their areas of interest within a broad background in earth sciences.  The program of study is developed with a thesis committee, and constitutes required course work for an advanced degree.  The M.S. and Ph.D. degrees require oral defense of the research thesis.

For the M.S., Rice requires one semester of residency and 30 credit hours. For students working toward a Ph.D. from an approved master’s degree, four semesters of residency and 60 credit hours are required.  Students working for a Ph.D. directly from their bachelor’s degrees are required to complete 90 credit hours.  At least 20 of the credit hours for the M.S. and 40 hours for the Ph.D. must be lectures or seminars; the remainder may be research.  (Rice does not encourage part-time graduate study.  Full-time students may accept employment outside the university only with prior approval of the department and the graduate office.)

Requirements for Professional M.S. programs are different. For information on the Professional M.S. Programs in Subsurface Geoscience and Environmental Decision Making and Analysis, please visit http://www.profms.rice.edu/default.aspx.

Campus Visit

Most applicants who receive an admission offer are invited to visit the campus at departmental expense. This visit provides an opportunity to meet current graduate students from whom you can learn more about graduate life, meet the faculty to discuss research directions, and explore Houston. Feel free to contact the department with any questions you may have about the university. We encourage you to visit Rice for a firsthand look at the department and the beautiful tree-lined Rice campus near the heart of historic Houston. Houston offers a wide range of cultural, entertainment, and sports activities.

Applying to the Graduate Program

The Rice application system for 2020 is now open.  If you have any questions, contact Meagan McKellar: mmckellar@rice.edu

Students who majored in any science or in mathematics are encouraged to apply. The department requires that all applicants take the Graduate Record Examination. Letters of recommendation, previous academic records, and the student’s interests and objectives are carefully considered in making admission decisions. Students are encouraged to prepare a thoughtful expression of their goals and prospective plans of study as part of the application form or in an attached letter. After submitting an application, students may also write or call our faculty members to discuss their potential programs.

Applicants are required to submit the following:

  1. Completed application form.
  2. Transcripts of all previous college or university work.
  3. GRE scores—verbal, quantitative, and analytical. (The ETS code for Rice is: 6609.)
  4. Foreign students whose language of instruction was not English must submit TOEFL scores. The Rice university code is 6609. For the iBT TOEFL, a minimum score of 90 is required.  For the IELTS, the required minimum score is 7.
  5. Four letters of recommendation are preferred; however, we will accept three.
  6. Application fee of $85 payable by credit card or check (checks must be written in U.S. currency only) or request for a waiver written by the financial aid officer at the student’s previous institution.

All of the application materials listed in 1 through 6 must be received before an application is considered. Decisions for admission and fellowships begin in October for spring and January for fall admission. Prospective students should ensure that they ensure full consideration for admission by submitting all application materials before the application deadline.

The deadline for Spring 2020 applications is October 21st, 2019 (11:59 pm CST), however applications will be accepted through October 30th, 2019. The deadline for Fall 2020 is January 10th, 2020. Although applications for Fall 2020 will be accepted as late as January 31, 2020, for optimal consideration, please honor the January 10th deadline.

For more information please contact Meagan McKellar at mmckellar@rice.edu.

Our official mailing address is:

Graduate Admission Coordinator
Department of Earth Science – MS 126
Rice University
P.O. Box 1892
Houston, Texas 77251-1892


2019-2020 Guidelines for Advanced Degrees in Dept of Earth Science [PDF]

For more information, please contact

Department of Earth Science – MS 126
Rice University
P.O. Box 1892
Houston Texas 77251-1892

Fax: 713-348-5214
E-mail: geol@rice.edu
Web site: http://earthscience.rice.edu