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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Soil Science (SOILS)

Program Home Page

MICHEAL G. MESSINA, Head of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
116 ASI Building
814-865-2025

JOHN E. (JACK) WATSON, Coordinator of the Graduate Program in Soil Science
409 ASI Building
814-863-6714

Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.S.
Dual-Title Ph.D. (Soil Science and Biogeochemistry)
Dual-Title Ph.D. (Soil Science and International Agriculture and Development)
Dual-Title M.S. (Soil Science and International Agriculture and Development)

The Graduate Faculty

  • Douglas B. Beegle, Ph.D. (Penn State) Distinguished Professor of Agronomy
  • Mary Ann Bruns, Ph.D. (Michigan) Assistant Professor of Soil Microbial Ecology
  • Ray B. Bryant, Ph.D. (Purdue) Adjunct Professor of Soil Science
  • Rick L. Day, Ph.D. (Penn State) Associate Professor of Science and Environmental Information Systems
  • Jerzy Dec, Ph.D. (Warsaw, Poland) Research Associate
  • Curtis J. Dell, Ph.D. (Kent State) Adjunct Assistant Professor of Soil Science
  • Patrick J. Drohan, Ph.D. (Penn State) Assistant Professor of Pedology
  • Sjoerd W. Duiker, Ph.D. (Ohio State) Associate Professor of Soil Management and Applied Soil Physics
  • William E. Easterling, Ph.D. (UNC, Chapel Hill) Professor of Geography and Agronomy
  • David M. Eissenstat, Ph.D. (Utah State) Professor of Woody Plant Physiology; Coordinator, Physiological Ecology Option
  • Peter J. A. Kleinman, Ph.D. (Cornell) Adjunct Assistant Professor of Soil Science
  • Sridhar Komarneni, Ph.D. (Wisconsin) Professor of Clay Mineralogy
  • Hangsheng Lin, Ph.D. (Texas A&M) Associate Professor of Hydropedology/Soil Hydrology
  • Carmen Enid Martinez, Ph.D. (Rutgers) Assistant Professor of Environmental Soil Chemistry
  • Andrew S. McNitt, Ph.D. (Penn State) Assistant Professor of Turfgrass Science
  • Andrew S. Rogowski, Ph.D. (Iowa State) Adjunct Professor of Soil Physics
  • Maxim J. Schlossberg, Ph.D. (Georgia) Assistant Professor of Turfgrass Nutrition and Soil Fertility
  • Andrew N. Sharpley, Ph.D. (Massey, New Zealand) Adjunct Professor of Soil Science
  • Richard C. Stehouwer, Ph.D. (Ohio State) Assistant Professor of Environmental Soil Science
  • David M. Sylvia, Ph.D. (Cornell) Professor of Soil Microbiology
  • John E. (Jack) Watson, Ph.D. (Arizona) Professor of Soil Science
  • Ann M. Wolf, Ph.D. (Penn State) Affiliate Assistant Professor of Soil Science

The Soil Science program is administered in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, College of Agricultural Sciences. Each student will be associated with an adviser who may provide financial support, research facilities, and/or office space. Applicants are encouraged to explore, study, and research opportunities by contacting faculty who may be prospective advisers.

This program provides opportunities for candidates interested in soil and related water resources to become a professional leader and an independent scholar. Faculty in this program are competent to prepare candidates in the subfields of Soil Science including: soil genesis, soil classification, soil morphology, soil mapping, soil physics, soil chemistry, soil mineralogy, soil microbiology, soil fertility, soil conservation, geographic information systems, computer mapping, watershed analysis, soil hydrology, soil and water management, resource inventory and assessment, remote sensing, land evaluation, land waste disposal, and land management.

Admission Requirements

Scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), or from a comparable substitute examination, are required for admission. At the discretion of the graduate standards committee, a student may be admitted provisionally for graduate study in the program without these scores. Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Prerequisites for major work in Soil Science vary with the area of specialization and the degree sought, but courses in chemistry, mathematics, physics, geology, basic and applied biological sciences are required.

The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the Internet-based test (iBT). The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS is 6.5.

International applicants are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

Applicants must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

Applicants for the M.S. degree must have a baccalaureate degree including 76 credits of basic and applied natural sciences. Admission to the Ph.D. program usually requires an M.S. or equivalent degree with a minimum cumulative grade-point average of 3.25 (on a 4.00 scale). Applicants for the Ph.D. program will be evaluated on the quality of work completed in all previous degree programs. Students who lack some of the prerequisite courses may be admitted but are required to take these courses without degree credit. The best-qualified applicants will be accepted up to the number of spaces available for new students.

Master's Degree Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for the M.S. degree as defined by Graduate Council, (see http://bulletins.psu.edu/graduate/degreerequirements/masters) the department requires 12 credits of 400- or 500-level formal courses in Soil Science of which 6 must be 500-level. Participation in at least one colloquium course each semester is required and students must complete at least 1 credit of colloquium (SOILS 590), as well as 1 credit of Teaching Experience (SOILS 602). An advisory committee will be appointed for each student and additional courses and requirements may be determined by this advisory committee.

A thesis based on field or laboratory research is required for the M.S. degree. M.S. candidates must pass a final examination.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Beyond the general requirements for the Ph.D. defined by Graduate Council, the department has a number of specific requirements regarding course level and distribution that are defined in the departmental publication "Graduate Degrees in Soil Science." While a minimum number of courses for the degree is not specified, the doctoral committee has the responsibility of specifying courses and credits essential for the education and development of the candidate. Students are expected to be educated in depth in a specific subfield of Soil Science and to have a perspective of the general field. Normally, 55 to 60 credits in formal course work beyond the B.S. degree are required.

Doctoral candidates are required to participate regularly in a departmental colloquium and to register for at least 2 credits of Colloquium (SOILS 590) during the Ph.D. program. A teaching experiecne, consisting of two separate semesters, is also required of all Ph.D. students.

The communication and foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree may be met either by demonstrating a knowledge of at least one foreign language or by completing at least 6 credits of course work in an area of English communications approved by the student's doctoral committee.

Graduate students with research and educational interests in biogeochemistry may apply to the Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program. Students in the Biogeochemistry Dual Title program are required to have two advisers from separate disciplines: one individual serving as a primary adviser in their major degree program and a secondary adviser in an area within a field covered by the dual-title program and a member of the Biogeochemistry faculty. Additional coursework from an approved list of courses is required. All students must pass a candidacy examination that includes an assessment of their potential in the field of biogeochemistry. A single candidacy examination that includes biogeochemistry will be administered for admission into the student's Ph.D. program, as well as the biogeochemistry dual-title. The structure and timing of this exam will be determined jointly by the dual-title and major program. The student's doctoral committee should include faculty from the major program of study and also faculty with expertise in biogeochemistry. The field of biogeochemistry should be integrated into the comprehensive examination. A Ph.D. dissertation that contributes fundamentally to the field of biogeochemistry is required.

Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program

Graduate students with research and educational interests in biogeochemistry may apply to the Biogeochemistry Dual-Title Degree Program. Students in the Biogeochemistry Dual Title program are required to have two advisers from separate disciplines: one individual serving as a primary adviser in their major degree program and a secondary adviser in an area within a field covered by the dual-title program and a member of the Biogeochemistry faculty. Additional coursework from an approved list of courses is required. All students must pass a candidacy examination that includes an assessment of their potential in the field of biogeochemistry. A single candidacy examination that includes biogeochemistry will be administered for admission into the student's Ph.D. program, as well as the biogeochemistry dual-title. The structure and timing of this exam will be determined jointly by the dual-title and major program. The student's doctoral committee should include faculty from the major program of study and also faculty with expertise in biogeochemistry. The field of biogeochemistry should be integrated into the comprehensive examination. A Ph.D. dissertation that contributes fundamentally to the field of biogeochemistry is required.

Dual-Title Graduate Degree in Soil Science (SOILS) and International Agriculture and Development (INTAD)

Graduate students with research and educational interests in international education may apply to the Soil Science/INTAD Dual-Title Degree Program. The goal of the dual-title degree Soil Science and INTAD graduate program is to enable graduate students from Soil Science to acquire the knowledge and skills of their primary area of specialization in Soil Science, while at the same time gaining the perspective and methods needed for work in the international agriculture. Graduate study in this program seeks to prepare students to assume leadership roles in science, science education, outreach, and project management anywhere in the world. Students are required to write research proposals and expected to write grants to support their research activities, reflecting the dual-title degree. As part of their professional development presentations, publication of research articles and active participation in professional societies is expected. Emphasis is placed upon the professional development of the student. Students are able to specialize in the research program areas of soil genesis, classification, morphology, mapping, microbiology, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, fertility, geographic information systems, remote sensing, watershed analysis, hydrology, and land management. At the same time they will acquire a broad perspective about how to apply their research findings in the context of the broader international community. Thus, the dual-title will allow students to master their field of specialization from an international perspective so that they can compare practices and outcomes between countries and regions.

Admission Requirements

For admission to the dual-title graduate degree under this program, a student must first apply and be admitted to the Soil Science graduate program. Once accepted into the Soil Science program, the student can then submit an application to the INTAD Academic Program Committee for the dual-title degree program. The application consists of an application form, a written personal statement indicating the career goals that a student hopes to accomplish by earning a dual-title SOILS/INTAD degree, and a letter from the Soil Science academic adviser supporting the student’s taking on additional academic responsibilities. The letter also must confirm that the student is in good standing and is capable of taking on the dual-title degree. The application will be reviewed by the INTAD Academic Program Committee, which will make all final admission decisions. Students must be admitted into the INTAD program prior to the candidacy exam.

Degree Requirements

To qualify for this dual-title degree, students must satisfy the requirements of the Soil Science program. In addition, they must satisfy the requirements described below, determined by the student, the INTAD adviser, and the Soil Science program adviser.

Degree Requirements for SOILS/INTAD Dual-Title M.S.

The master’s in Soil Science and INTAD is a dual-title degree awarded only to students who are admitted to the Soil Science master’s program and admitted to the dual-title degree in INTAD and who complete all requirements for the degrees.Students may choose to enroll in the dual-title SOILS/INTAD program with or without a minor.In addition to the requirements of the Soil Science degree, dual-title degree students must:

Course Requirements

Complete a minimum of 12 INTAD course credits (400, 500, or 800 level) as follows:

  • 9 credits from the core curriculum:
    • AEE 450. Program Design and Delivery (3)
    • CEDEV/R SOC/AEE 505. Leadership Development (3)
    • INTAD 820. International Agricultural Development Seminar (3)

3 credits of internship or applied courses/independent studies with international development content
Note that credits for the INTAD courses listed above may also count toward the SOILS graduate program requirements for the minor or General Studies course requirements. The double-counting of credits must be approved by the student’s adviser(s), the head of the SOILS graduate program and the INTAD Co-Chairs.

Thesis

  • Write a master’s thesis on a topic that reflects both the graduate program in soil science and the dual-title offering in INTAD. Thesis research credits (SUBJ 600) must be taken in the major program.
  • In addition to adhering to the Soil Science graduate program’s policy on master’s thesis committee composition, the committee must include at least one graduate faculty member from INTAD. A Degree Committee form should be filed upon selection of the committee members and should be approved by the INTAD Academic Program Committee Co-chair.

 Candidates for the dual-title master's degree in Soil Science and INTAD will also be required to pass a final oral examination covering the general field of soil science and INTAD, with emphasis on the student's area of specialization. The oral exam is to be administered by the student's thesis committee. A favorable vote of a two-thirds majority is necessary for passing.

Some courses may satisfy both the graduate primary program requirements and those of the INTAD program. Final course selection is determined by the students in consultation with their INTAD advisers and their Soil Science program advisers. Permission from a student's academic adviser, in consultation with the program chair, is required to substitute a 400-level course for a 500-level course; however, the requirement for 18 credits at the 500-level or above must still be met, in total, across both the major and the dual-title courses of study. Students and advisers should maintain the INTAD Master’s Degree Plan of Study, which must be submitted to the INTAD program office immediately after the student is admitted to the INTAD program, and updated each spring semester.

Degree Requirements for SOILS/INTAD Dual-Title Ph.D.

The doctoral degree in Soil Science and INTAD is a dual-title degree awarded only to students who are admitted to the Soil Science doctoral program and admitted to the dual-title degree in INTAD and who complete all requirements for the degrees.Students may choose to enroll in the dual-title AGRO/INTAD program with or without a minor.The minimum requirements for the dual-title Ph.D. degree in SOILS/INTAD, in addition to the Soil Science requirements, are as follows:

Course Requirements

Students must complete a minimum of 18 INTAD course credits with study in the following categories:

9 credits from the core curriculum

  • INTAD 820. International Agricultural Development Seminar (3)
  • R SOC 517. International Rural Social Change (3)
  • R SOC 508. Sociology of Agriculture (3)
  • R SOC 555. Human Dimensions of Natural Resources (3)

9 credits from INTAD elective curriculum/courses with international development content/internships/independent study

Note that credits for the INTAD courses listed above may also count toward the SOILS graduate program requirements for the minor or General Studies course requirements. INTAD elective courses may directly overlap with the required SOILS coursework, including (but not limited to) SOILS 502 and ENT 457. The double-counting of credits must be approved by the student’s adviser(s), the head of the SOILS graduate program and the INTAD Co-Chairs.

Permission from a student's academic adviser, in consultation with the program chair, is required to substitute a 400-level course for a 500-level course. Particular courses may satisfy both Ecosystem Science and Management Department requirements and those in the INTAD program. Final course selection is determined by the student in consultation with the INTAD adviser and the Soil Science program advisers.

Graduates of the dual-title INTAD master's degree program who wish to pursue an INTAD doctoral degree must re-apply to the INTAD program for admission. INTAD master's degree credits may be carried over to the doctoral program. Six additional INTAD credits will be required. INTAD master's degree graduates who pursue an INTAD Ph.D. are required to take the INTAD 820 International Agricultural Development Seminar a second time.

Candidacy

Candidacy procedures will be based on the procedures of the Soil Science graduate degree program, but will integrate the fields of Soil Science and International Agriculture and Development. Although not encouraged, the dual-title degree student may require an additional semester or more to fulfill requirements for the dual-title degree program. Therefore, under exceptional circumstances, the candidacy exam may be delayed at the discretion of the student’s Soil Science adviser in consultation with the INTAD program coordinators.

Committee Composition

The doctoral committee of the Ph.D. dual-title degree student must include a minimum of four faculty members, i.e., the chair and at least three additional members, all of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty; and the committee must include at least one representative from the INTAD Program faculty. The chair of the committee can be a member of both Soil Science and the INTAD Program faculty. If the chair is not an INTAD Program faculty member, the INTAD representative must be the co-chair of the committee. An official “outside field member” also must be appointed to the committee, in accordance with the requirements outlined in the Graduate Bulletin.

At least one regular member of the doctoral committee must represent a field outside Soil Science in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.

Additionally, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one regular member of the doctoral committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser's primary appointment is held (i.e., the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, this is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Unit Member.” In the case of co-advisers, the Outside Unit Member must be from outside the administrative home(s) of both co-advisers. In some cases, an individual may have a primary appointment outside the administrative home of the student’s dissertation adviser and also represent a field outside the student’s major field of study; in such cases, the same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

Additionally, the committee must include at least one representative from the INTAD Program faculty. The chair of the committee can be a member of both Soil Science and the INTAD Program faculty. If the chair is not an INTAD Program faculty member, the INTAD representative must be the co-chair of the committee.

Comprehensive Exam

At the end of the coursework, candidates for the dual-title doctoral degree in Soil Science and INTAD will be required to pass an oral comprehensive examination based on their dissertation proposal and area of specialization in Soil Science, while reflecting their dual-title curriculum. A separate comprehensive examination is not required by the INTAD program, but international agriculture must be one of the key areas of the comprehensive exam and the INTAD representative on the student’s doctoral committee must have input into the development of and participate in the evaluation of the comprehensive examination.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

Ph.D. students enrolled in the dual-title degree program are required to write and orally defend a dissertation on a topic that reflects the integration of their original research and education in Soil Science and International Agriculture and Development. In order to satisfy the INTAD dissertation requirement, students may: 1) conduct all or part of their research in an international location, 2) conduct an analysis of a subject in an international context, 3) conduct an analysis of secondary data of international origin, or 4) incorporate another international dimension by approval of the INTAD committee member. Additionally, the dissertation should reflect the student’s technical knowledge, knowledge of and sensitivity to a wide diversity of cultures and backgrounds, and the perspective needed to transfer their knowledge in other cultures, particularly in the developing world. The dissertation should contribute to the body of knowledge in soil science and global agricultural development and have potential application in both U.S and international contexts. A public oral presentation of the dissertation is required.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Courses

Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 699 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.

SOIL SCIENCE (SOILS) course list
INTERNATIONAL AGRICULTURE AND DEVELOPMENT (INTAD) course list

DATE LAST REVIEWED: 5/11/04

Last Revised by the Department: Spring Semester 2014

Blue Sheet Item #: 42-05

Review Date: 02/25/2014

Faculty updated: 10/10/13

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