Academic PHD Geoinformatics Plan of Study

Please check the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College for a complete description of the Ph.D. guidelines and requirements of the Graduate College. The requirements described here, specific to the Geoinformatics Ph.D. program, are in addition to the University-wide requirements for doctoral degrees.

The Geoinformatics Ph.D. will require completion of a minimum of 72 semester hours (s.h.) beyond the bachelor's degree. Twenty-one semester hours must satisfy the Informatics/Geoinformatics requirements. The remaining 51 s.h. will be documented in an approved plan of study. Ph.D. students may take up to six hours of thesis credit.

Each student, in consultation with her/his committee, will prepare a plan of study by the end of their first semester that will be reviewed at least once each year and revised as necessary. The plan will reflect the research interests of the student and consist of coursework from the computational sciences (defined here as geographic information science, computer science, informatics, and statistics) as well as application areas. Most students might expect that at least 60% of their total semester hours will be in the computational sciences.

Within the computational sciences, students typically develop expertise in a core area of geoinformatics. Examples of core areas of expertise include:

  • 3-D modeling analysis and visualization
  • Agent-based modeling
  • Big spatial data analysis and visualization
  • Earth observation systems (e.g., remote sensing technologies)
  • Geosensor networks
  • Hazard modeling and analysis
  • Health geoinformatics
  • Location-based mobile technologies
  • Navigation, routing and wayfinding
  • Spatial or spatiotemporal data modeling
  • Spatial/spatiotemporal data mining and knowledge discovery
  • Spatial/spatiotemporal decision support systems

Relevant coursework or domain experts exist on campus in each of these topical areas.

Advising and Committee Composition

Students are expected to identify a faculty member with expertise in their area of interest and ask that individual to be their advisor. Students who arrive on campus without an identified faculty advisor will be assigned one by the admission committee. Students who are assigned an advisor will either confirm that this individual will remain in this role or identify a different advisor as early as possible and before core requirements are completed. Once an advisor has been selected, each student, in consultation with the advisor, will select no fewer than four additional members of the Graduate Faculty to complete the committee. This committee will be chaired by the advisor.

Examination Structure

The Ph.D. student must demonstrate satisfactory performance on a qualifying written examination, comprehensive oral examination, research proposal defense, and the production and formal defense of a dissertation that describes original research results. The requirements described here are in addition to the university-wide requirements for the Ph.D. degree as described in the Graduate College Manual of Rules and Regulations, Section XII.

Each student must pass the dissertation defense within five years of the comprehensive oral examination, but no sooner than the term following this examination. A student’s proposal defense and comprehensive oral examination will typically be held during a single meeting of the committee. The structure and evaluation of the final examination follows the procedures outlined in the Graduate College Manual of Rules and Regulations, Section XII(O). The examination committee must include a member of the graduate faculty selected from outside the student's subprogram.

The dissertation can be structured as a traditional manuscript, or as a set of three or more journal articles with introductory and concluding sections that place the work in the broader context of related disciplines and literatures.

Degree at Comprehensive Examination

Students not already holding a University of Iowa M.S. degree may request that an M.S. in Geoinformatics be granted at the comprehensive exam. The M.S. degree is normally awarded upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam. Students who fail to pass the comprehensive exam may complete the requirements of a non-thesis M.S.


Students may petition the IGPI Advisory Council for deviations from the requirements outlined here.


Students will be considered to be making satisfactory progress toward their degree by meeting the following benchmarks:

First year

  • Advisor identified
  • Working plan of developed
  • Core geoinformatics completed

Second year

  • Geoinformatics electives completed
  • Committee
  • All students for whom English is not their native language must be eligible to take on the duties of a Teaching Assistant by their third semester in the program

Third year

  • All coursework (excluding thesis hours) completed
  • Qualifying written examination passed

Fourth year

  • Comprehensive oral examination and dissertation proposal passed first semester
  • Dissertation complete and successfully defended for students entering the program with a relevant master’s degree

Fifth year (assuming no master’s degree upon entry)

  • Dissertation complete and successfully defended