Graduate Research Programme


Degree Requirements

The PhD is designed to be completed with four years of study. During the first two years, students take courses and complete one exploratory research projects in consultation with faculty advisor. They also generate a proposal for their PhD research. After completing a qualifying examination their second year, they focus on completing their doctoral project, working closely with a primary faculty advisor. Students are required to take at least 24 Academic Units of classes during their PhD, which roughly translates to between six and eight courses. Students already possessing Master’s Degrees may be allowed to waive up to half of their course requirements.


PhD Timeline

  • By the end of the first academic year (second semester): the student submits: (1) tentative titles of research proposals for review by the oral examination committee and (2), a list of courses planned to satisfy the PhD requirement, for review by the academic advisory committee.
  • By the end of the second academic year: (1) passage of oral exam; (2) satisfactory completion of course requirements; (3) submission of a tentative thesis topic and adviser, and thesis advisory committee; (4) admission to candidacy.
  • End of the subsequent academic years: satisfactory progress toward completion of thesis.
  • Completion of PhD thesis by the end of fourth year. If warranted, the student may request an extension of up to two years from the academic advisory committee.


Advising and Thesis Supervision

An academic adviser will be assigned for each incoming student. This academic adviser serves as a mentor with broad responsibility for a student's academic welfare throughout the graduate program. The academic advisor is responsible for initially guiding students through the academic program, including course work, identifying potential research advisors, and completing ASE requirements and prerequisites. Academic advisors are chosen from the student’s area of interest. After a student has found a thesis advisor and chosen a research topic, that thesis advisor becomes responsible for helping the student meet the Division’s remaining academic requirements.


Program Requirements

All students are required to take a minimum of 24 academic units before candidature. Beyond the minimum requirement of 24 AU’s, students can take an additional 12 AU’s. At least 12 AU’s should be from courses offered within ASE. A minimum of 6 AU’s is required before the QE. For applicants with a Master’s degree in related fields, up to half of the course requirements may be waived.


Basic Division Course Requirements

During the first year, every graduate student will take ES 7002 and ES 7003. These courses should be completed during the first year. Throughout their graduate careers, students are expected to attend departmental seminars and seminar courses led by visiting scientists.

Course  AU    Prerequisite Next  Offered
3AU NIL Semester 2
3AU NIL Semester 2
4AU NIL Semester 2
4AU NIL Semester 2
ES7022 Issues in Ecology 3AU NIL Semester 2
ES7023 Fundamentals of Data Science for Earth and  Environmental Systems Science 3AU NIL Semester 2
ES7026  Coupled Human and Natural Systems 4 AU NIL Semester 2


Exploratory Research Projects

Graduate student exploratory research projects are carried out during the first year of residence. The purpose of the research projects is for the student to demonstrate the ability to carry out scientific research on their chosen topics, to place it in the context of previous knowledge, and to recognize its implications. Each research project should be a careful oral statement of what has been learned up to the time of the examination, together with a discussion of the implications of the research. The research projects should be supported by evidence that may include maps, graphs, photographs, samples, etc. These materials need not be in final form or represent the last word on the subject.

Each exploratory project shall be from within the research areas represented by faculty within the Division or the Earth Observatory. The student should demonstrate breadth in the selection of research project topics. The projects should not focus on the same topic using different techniques, nor should they represent different research problems all studied with the tools of one discipline. The name of the faculty member most closely involved should appear on the written abstract of each research project. The same faculty member cannot be closely involved with both research projects.

A carefully written abstract and the ~10 minute presentation must concisely convey to the examining committee the motivation behind the research project, the results of the investigation, and any implications for broader issues in the Earth Sciences.

Both research projects are treated with equal weight in the oral qualifying exam.


Qualifying Oral Examinations

Qualifying oral examinations occur in the first semester of the second year. In preparation for the oral exam, the student will meet with their research project advisors during the previous semester to discuss the requirements.

A. General Comments
All students must pass a qualifying oral examination within the third semester of admission in order to continue within the graduate program. The qualifying oral examination will assess a student’s research and coursework progress and confirm that the student has the background knowledge and capabilities necessary for PhD-level research. The examination provides a test of their general knowledge in their field and of their ability to formulate problems. During the qualifying exam, the student shall orally present his/her work and field questions from the oral examining committee normally consisting of 5 NTU faculty members.

B. The Qualifying Examination Committee
The oral examining committee normally consists of five faculty members and will include the faculty involved in supervising the two exploratory research projects (see section D) and three members of the academic advisory committee in the interest of maintaining uniform standards. The chair of the oral examining committee will be a member of the ASE academic advisory committee. In special circumstances, where the expertise of another professional scientist is crucial to the proper evaluation of the student, the chair of the examining committee, with the approval of the academic advisory committee may invite an external member to participate in the examination.

Qualifying examination committee definition: Five members consisting of two research project advisers, and three faculty from the academic advisory committee. If the academic advisor serves as a research project adviser, other faculty from the academic advisory committee (one faculty member from each of the three areas of ASE’ reasearch) are required. A member of the academic advisory committee serves as examination chair.

C. The Oral Qualifying Examination
The oral exams will be conducted in September through December, each year. ASE’s Academic Manager (reporting to the Head of Division) will organize and coordinate the exam schedule for the Division with the Oral Examining Committee.

One week prior to the student's oral exam date, the student will submit one-page written abstracts of the two exploratory research projects and a summary of course work already completed. During the oral examination, the student will present a 10-minute summary describing objectives, results, conclusions and implications that follow from the research. The presentation of each research project summary will be followed by detailed and general questioning concerning the research project itself and the fundamental science underlying the research project and/or the student’s academic specialty. The chair of the oral examining committee will direct the discussion to ensure that all major aspects of each research topic and of the student’s major interests are aired.

Immediately after the examination, the committee chair will inform the student of the exam result. Should the student fail the qualifying exam, he/she may, subject to approval of the Academic Advisory Committee, be allowed to make a second presentation within three months.

In all cases, the examining committee will prepare a written memo to the student and his or her adviser, which states the result of the exam and makes recommendations regarding the student's further preparation. The division faculty will review the response to recommendations when the student applies for admission to candidacy (see Section F).

D. PhD Research
After passing the oral qualifying examination, students should move rapidly into their PhD research topic. This is commonly developed from one of the two exploratory research projects. By the end of the second year, students should identify a thesis adviser. A student may also choose to have a co-advisor from NTU, NUS, or other suitable external institution.

In consultation with the thesis adviser, each student will form a thesis committee composed of at least four faculty, with at least three ASE faculty, chaired by the thesis adviser. A committee member from outside NTU is required. Committee membership may be changed if a student’s research interests change. The student must consult each committee member every year, prior to the progress review. The thesis may be a collection of manuscripts (e.g., chapters) for publication with a separate extended abstract and introduction that integrates all of the chapters.

E. Candidacy
The requirements for candidacy are as follows: (1) a successful qualifying exam, (2) completion of coursework in the Division, (3) completion of the field requirement, and (4) identification of a thesis advisor and PhD research topic. Students should have their Application for Candidacy form completed and approved by their advisor(s).

All students are expected to complete their PhD by or before the end of their 5th year at NTU. Pending the recommendation of the academic advisory committee and Division Head, extensions of up to 2 years may be granted.


Thesis Committee

Before the end of their second year, students will, in consultation with their thesis adviser, select a thesis committee, composed of four members, with at least three Division faculty members. The thesis adviser is the committee chair. An external committee member from outside NTU is required.


Thesis Defense

The student must submit their thesis to the thesis committee at least one month in advance of the thesis defense. The thesis defense consists of a public presentation (45-50 minutes), with questions from the audience. Following the public presentation, the student will meet for private discussion with the thesis committee. In exceptional circumstances, an external committee chair may be appointed by the HOD.

Revisions requested by the committee must be completed and submitted to the committee chair for final approval. If the student fails the thesis examination, subject to the recommendation of the thesis committee and the Academic Committee and the approval of the Division Head, the student may undergo another examination within six months.

Thesis committee definition: A minimum of 4 faculty members, with at least three faculty from ASE. The thesis adviser serves as committee chair for general advising, evaluation of the thesis, and thesis exam. An committee member from outside NTU is required. Continuation/Termination of Candidacy

The Division faculty (as a committee of the whole) can decide whether the student’s candidacy should continue or cease on the basis of the annual progress reports, as well as the assessments and recommendation of the student’s advisor(s).


Committee Definitions

Academic advisory committee: One faculty member each from the three areas of ASE’ research.

Qualifying examination committee: Five members consisting of two research project advisers, and three faculty from the academic advisory committee. If the academic advisor serves as a research project adviser, other faculty from the academic advisory committee are required. A member of the academic advisory committee serves as examination chair.

Thesis committee: A minimum of 4 faculty members, with at least three faculty from ASE. The thesis adviser serves as committee chair for general advising, evaluation of the thesis, and thesis exam. An committee member from outside NTU is required.