Prospective Students

Interested in joining our lab?

Sara Rathburn and Ellen Wohl each advise MS and PhD students, and all of the geomorphology graduate students work closely together. We seek to maintain a supportive environment that fosters collaboration and learning from each other. Please note that Sara Rathburn is not accepting new graduate students for Fall 2024 but Ellen Wohl will admit at least one new MS student.

The Geosciences Department at Colorado State University has graduate programs leading to MS and PhD degrees in geosciences. One of our strengths is the opportunity to design your own program and to do interdisciplinary coursework and research.  In addition to courses offered through the Geosciences Department, there are many good supporting courses offered through the departments of ecosystem science and sustainability (land use hydrology, hillslope hydrology, cumulative impacts, GIS), civil and environmental engineering (surface and groundwater hydrology, hydraulics, and sediment transport, river restoration), agronomy (soil genesis and morphology), biology (fisheries, stream biology, community ecology), and statistics.  There is a large group (more than 100) of graduate students interested in various aspects of watershed science, geomorphology, and fluvial geomorphology in Geosciences and in other departments on campus. Graduate students working on water at CSU interact extensively with each other.  We have excellent field sites close at hand, because Fort Collins is at the boundary of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains, and is only a few hours drive from the Colorado Plateau.  We also have excellent flume facilities, if you are interested in experimental geomorphology.

Admission to the graduate program in fluvial geomorphology is limited and very competitive and we seek highly motivated students. Our expectation is that MS students will submit at least one paper from their thesis research to a peer-reviewed journal and PhD students will submit at least two papers, preferably before completing the degree. We expect that MS students will be able to complete a degree within two years and PhD students within three, although each student has the option to negotiate a longer program of study with his/her primary advisor.

Please note that it is rare for us to admit graduate students who are not US citizens. Prospective students who are not US citizens cannot qualify for in-state tuition rates and our grants do not support the cost of out-of-state tuition. US citizens admitted to the program with GRA or GTA support receive in-state tuition rates for the first year and can then easily qualify for Colorado residency (and in-state tuition rates) for the 2nd and subsequent years.

The typical timeline for MS students is as follows:

  • 1st academic year: finish most or all formal course work, develop a thesis proposal and present the proposal to a graduate committee;
  • summer between 1st and 2nd academic years: conduct field research;
  • 2nd academic year: analyze data, write and defend thesis, & submit journal paper.

The typical timeline for PhD students is:

  • 1st academic year: take courses, develop a dissertation proposal, and present the proposal to a graduate committee;
  • summer between 1st & 2nd academic years: conduct field research;
  • 2nd academic year: complete formal course work, take oral preliminary exam;
  • summer between 2nd & 3rd academic years: analyze data, write and defend dissertation, & submit journal manuscripts.

Financial support for graduate students in Geosciences takes three basic forms: (1) teaching assistantships (TA) are awarded competitively on the basis of undergrad (and for PhD applicants, grad) GPA , and are available primarily to students with sufficient background to teach lab sections in introductory geology, as well as geomorphology; (2) research assistantships (RA) are awarded on the basis of faculty research grant funds – that is, if we have research grant funding available for a student, then you may receive this funding, with the understanding that your thesis/dissertation research would be based on some portion of the originally proposed research; and (3) scholarships are limited, but available (scholarships are usually awarded in combination with a teaching or research assistantship for the second and subsequent years). Funding availability varies greatly from year to year, depending on the number of teaching assistantships that are being vacated by graduating students, and our research funding.  We only accept students for whom we can guarantee some level of funding. If you are admitted with a TA or an RA, we guarantee two years of funding for an MS student and three years of funding for a PhD student. Colorado State University waives out-of-state tuition for the first year that a graduate student is supported as a teaching or research assistantship. Students can establish residency in Colorado during that first year, and then qualify for in-state tuition in subsequent years. TA funding also includes a waiver of in-state tuition. RA funding may include in-state tuition, but this depends on the funding source. Students typically have to cover university fees on their own.

We do not have specific course or degree requirements for admission because we draw on people with diverse disciplinary backgrounds. However, we highly recommend that you have at least one undergraduate, upper level (300 or 400) statistics course, math through calculus, and basic biology, chemistry, and physics courses, as well as courses in Earth science, including introductory physical geology and a geomorphology course. There is no firm threshold for admittance with respect to GRE scores and undergraduate GPA. In most years, however, successful applicants typically have a GPA of 3.5 or better.

The department does not have a specific deadline for admission, but it is best to have your file complete by January 15 if you wish to be competitive for the next academic year’s funding. Sara and Ellen strongly encourage you to contact us by November of the year before you hope to be admitted into the program. Ellen will be accepting new grad students for Fall 2024. Sara will NOT be accepting new grad students for Fall 2024. More information on the application process from the department can be found at the  Department of Geosciences Website

Warner College of Natural Resources Website

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