Geography - Doctor of Philosophy

The New Mexico Doctoral Program in Geography is administered and delivered collaboratively by the Geography faculty at both New Mexico State University and The University of New Mexico.  This program brings together two outstanding institutions and offers a unique opportunity for doctoral study in New Mexico’s diverse and distinctive landscapes. The program offers advantages for students by merging two departments across the state and allowing students to have access to faculty and institutional resources on both campuses. The program is designed to build both theoretical and applied knowledge in geography, which enables students to pursue a wide range of career pathways. 

The New Mexico Doctoral Program in Geography builds upon the strengths of the two departments by providing the education, training, and experience necessary for professional careers in higher education, private industry, and government. The program offers a rigorous, research-based degree that is focused on environmental change, dryland resource management, complex cultural landscapes, and the methods needed to understand them.  During the program, students will learn qualitative and quantitative research methods, and how to use them in combination to create a mixed-methods approach to geographic research.  Expertise in multiple methodologies requires intensive study, and applicants should carefully consider their preparation to enter a program that requires both qualitative and quantitative research proficiency. 

Both campuses offer state-of-the-art technical facilities, and easy access to distinctive geographic features ranging from wilderness areas to urban centers, and the Rocky Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert. Students reside in either Las Cruces (for NMSU) or Albuquerque (for UNM) -depending on which institution is selected as the “home” university—but students will take classes on either campus, whether remotely or in-person. 

On both campuses, graduate study in Geography has been characterized by a close, collegial working relationship between students and faculty and this singular program is delivered jointly at the two campuses, with collaborative participation from both faculties. 

Students will travel to both campuses and experience field trips to other locations during the first-year sequence of core courses, thus gaining familiarity with two distinct communities and environments.  Each student develops an individualized program of study in consultation with their dissertation committee. Individual requirements for each student are based on existing expertise and future career goals.  Students will work with faculty advisors to develop a dissertation research project within the program’s three specialty areas, using appropriate research methodologies.  Being a joint doctoral program, all students must have faculty from both campuses on their dissertation committee.

The program builds on existing resources and strengths at the two universities, and the curriculum will evolve to adapt to ever-changing human-environment interactions and career needs within professional geography.  The program’s main regional foci are New Mexico and the broader Southwest region, the Mexico-U.S. borderlands, and Latin America. 

The two geography departments have complementary strengths.  Students will be based at the institution where the faculty can best support their research interests.  The NMSU faculty specializes in applied geographic research and teaching, particularly in the fields of geographic information science, physical geography, cultural geography, and natural resource management.  The UNM department specializes in basic research, and its faculty have particular expertise in geographic information science, political ecology, historical geography, health geography, and data science.  To better understand research strengths within the program, please visit the admissions page for the Ph.D. program {insert hyperlink} and review the faculty pages in the department websites at:

To be admitted to the New Mexico Doctoral Program in Geography, applicants must have a master’s degree in Geography or a related field, with demonstrated professional research capacity as a fundamental expectation. GPA and GRE scores must be submitted but will not individually determine whether an applicant will be admitted. International students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in English through the TOEFL or a phone interview. All candidates must submit three letters of reference and a letter of intent that explains the student’s purpose in undertaking graduate work, details the student’s research interests, and identifies a desired advisor at the primary (home) institution as well as a primary sponsor at the partner institution. Only candidates who show purpose and promise, and whose research needs can be appropriately met, are admitted by a joint committee of faculty from both NMSU and UNM.

The most competitive applicants to the New Mexico Doctoral Program in Geography will show evidence of having a thesis completed or in progress in geography or related discipline. In addition, special attention will be paid to following elements of the application:

  • GRE scores and grades: We neither admit nor deny applicants on the basis of GRE or GPR scores; rather, we aim to consider the applicant as a whole. For guidance, our average GRE score is expected to be around 300 combined (or 1200 combined verbal and quantitative on the old scale).
  • Statement: Applicants’ statements should consist of an essay describing past experiences relevant to the joint doctoral program and should indicate a proposed research topic in integrative human-environment dynamics. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact faculty with whom they share research interests, and they should explicitly identify which faculty members at each institution they would desire as sponsors in the joint program. Strong essays that provide an argument for why an applicant seeks graduate study in our program, making reference to specific faculty expertise, will be favored.
  • Letters of recommendation: We encourage letters of recommendation that are provided from academic referees, rather than previous employers. Letters from supervisors at workplaces involving issues relating directly to a student’s planned PhD course of study will also be welcomed.

Potential applicants are encouraged to contact the graduate advisor before applying to determine which institution is the best fit for the student’s “home” institution. Application is made directly to the desired home institution.

Taking into consideration the experiences and purposes of each student, individualized programs are planned to ensure broad competency in the discipline as well as research training that combines both theory and practice in the student’s area of primary interest. At least 48 credit hours of course work are required for the Ph.D.:

  • Required introductory graduate sequence (601, 602, 603): 9 credit hours
  • Dissertation hours: minimum of 18 credit hours
  • Additional coursework as determined by the student’s doctoral committee to provide the student with sufficient opportunity to develop and demonstrate competency in three subject areas: human geography, physical geography, and Geographic Information Science & Technology (GIS&T). The doctoral committee will evaluate existing competencies in a first-semester diagnostic interview and will then provide individualized guidelines for the student’s program of study that lead to a successful demonstration of these competencies.

Additional requirements:

  • Maintenance of an overall GPA of 3.0.
  • Completion of all core courses with a grade of B or better.
  • Written qualifying examination.
  • Oral research examination.
  • Completion of a written doctoral dissertation and oral defense.