The M.A. Program of the Department of Geography at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, provides training for students seeking to advance their understanding of the concepts and methodologies applied by professional geographers in both the public and private sector, as well as in academia. Our graduate students have obtained employment in education, federal or local government service, and business or industry, or have continued in their studies for higher degrees. The department prides itself on the standard of excellence it maintains and the resulting demand for its graduate students by the local, national and international community.

Students are encouraged to develop their own fields of specialization drawing upon the resources of the department and those of the university community in general, but the department expertise does concentrate in several specific fields, although this is not necessarily constant over time. Students are advised to consult the Faculty Profiles which can be viewed at and the List of Recent Graduate Degrees Awarded (, as well as to familiarize themselves with the work of the faculty in order to gauge the range of opportunities the department has to offer. Early consultation with faculty and graduate students of the department is desirable.


The M.A. is an advanced degree and graduating students are expected to be able to perform according to standards of professionals in the field. The academic objectives of the M.A. degree are as follows:

a. Develop a basic understanding of the discipline of geography as a whole, its relationship with cognate fields, and its contribution to knowledge. This entails a working knowledge of the general literature in geography, and familiarity with the structure of the discipline, including the principal sub-disciplines, the main philosophical approaches and unique geographical concepts.

b. Develop a detailed understanding of at least one specialty within the discipline. This entails thorough knowledge of a particular literature, its major works, its historical development and its main theories and empirical findings.

c. Develop an ability to do independent research of professional quality. This requires gaining theoretical and practical knowledge of specific research techniques and demonstrating this knowledge in the conduct of original research.

d. Develop an ability to communicate the results of research in both oral and written forms. This requires the demonstration of skills in oral presentations and formal papers within the context of graduate course work. The thesis ultimately provides evidence of the ability to write up research and, although a formal presentation and defense is not required, students are strongly encouraged to present their work orally to the department.

e. Develop a familiarity with, and respect for the codes of practice established for academic study, including academic honesty and research ethics (as outlined in the Appendix of the UHM General Graduate and Information Catalog [] and the Student Conduct Code in the Schedule of Courses ). All students are expected to conform with these codes of conduct.

Requirements for the Degree

The following requirements will apply to all incoming students as of Fall 2001. Students in residence prior to Fall 2001 will be governed by the requirements in force in the academic year in which they entered the graduate program, typically the May 1995 revised MA program statement.

Responsibility for familiarization with and adherence to departmental and university regulations rests with the student. Please consult the General Graduate and Information Catalog. If you have any questions concerning the interpretation of specific requirements please consult the Chair of the Graduate Field of Study (hereafter Graduate Chair).

Prior to beginning graduate study, each student should carefully read the latest Graduate Division Bulletin as well as this statement.

a. Pre-Program Deficiencies
Upon admission to the program, and before the initial course registration, students should meet with the Graduate Chair and their interim advisor. Together they will review the student's previous record and determine whether admitted students have any significant gaps in basic geographical knowledge. This will apply especially, but not exclusively, to those whose undergraduate degrees are in other disciplines and who did not take under-graduate geography courses.

Faculty are concerned that students graduating from the program are not narrow sub-disciplinary specialists, but that they develop a breadth of geographic knowledge during their program. To meet this goal, the faculty require students to have basic cartographic, and quantitative course skills. Additionally, a basic knowledge in both human and physical geography must be obtained during the student's degree program. Pre-program deficiencies in these areas will be identified by the Graduate Chair, and can be remedied by completing the following courses:

Courses identified as pre-program deficiencies may be taken as credit / no credit (with credit being defined as a grade of C or better) or for grade (A-F).

b. Coursework
Each student is required to complete a minimum 31 credit hours of coursework in addition to any pre-program deficiencies. Students should consult with their advisors before registering for courses and should maintain a Synopsis of Program which summarizes their coursework. Students, in consultation with their advisor, are responsible for planning their coursework and should aim to complete their program in a timely fashion (see the Guide to Progress Through the M.A. Program page 7). Upon completion of coursework, and pre-program deficiencies, a final Synopsis of Program must be submitted to the Graduate Chair who may transmit to the Graduate Program Committee (GPC) for approval.

i. The Core Program (7 credits)
This program consists of three related courses designed to introduce students to the world of professional geography and to the faculty of the department. These courses are best taken in sequence although it is recognized that this is not always possible. It is preferred that all students take these courses regardless of their background. It will not be possible to receive credit for these courses by taking Geog 699 (see below). Also, students must obtain a B grade or better to satisfy the core requirement. These courses should be taken in sequence, beginning with the first Fall semester in residence. They are as follows:

Geog 692, Faculty Seminar Series (1 credit)
This course introduces students to the profession of geography and particularly the sub-disciplines of the UHM faculty via seminar-style presentations by individual faculty members. This course is required of all MA students. Faculty will generally assign readings of their own work and present their research. Students will be expected to participate in class discussions and to complete two short papers during the semester. This course will be offered in the Fall and will run concurrently with Geog 695.

Geog 695, Introduction to the Concepts and Theories of Geography (3 credits)
This seminar course provides students with an introduction to the major concepts and theories of modern geography. The aim is to provide students with a basic understanding of the various epistemological and methodological approaches to the study of geography, and the major intellectual debates within the field since its inception as a university discipline in the late nineteenth century. The course is required for all entering graduate students, and will run concurrently with Geog 692 in the Fall semester.

Geog 696, Introduction to Research Design and Field Methods (3 credits)
This course introduces students to the basic research methods used in the various sub-disciplines. It may include fieldwork exercises. Students will be required to write a research proposal as the major paper in this course. It is expected that this will be the basis for their thesis research, although this will not always be the case. This course will normally be open only to classified graduate students and it will be offered in each Spring semester. [Prerequisite Geog 695]

ii. The Specialization (15 credits)
Students, in consultation with their advisor, should devise a program of courses that together constitute a coherent specialization. Faculty are presently supervising students with specializations in the following areas:

Students proposing a specialization that is not currently recognized by the department will be required to petition the Graduate Chair or the GPC. A specialization must be recognizably geographical, intellectually defensible, and there must be expertise within the faculty of the department. A specialty must include:

iii. Research Skills (3 credits)
Students must take one course in research techniques appropriate to their field of specialization. This might include, for example, cartography, remote sensing, GIS, quantitative methods, field methods, experimental methods or bibliographic techniques. Where appropriate, and with the approval of the advisory committee, candidates may also satisfy this requirement with a foreign language. Candidates will demonstrate their competence in a language other than English in one of the following ways. The main method of demonstrating competence is by passing the foreign language proficiency examinations administered by there respective language departments. In some cases, individuals can also be certified competent in their language by a qualified instructor or examiner. The department will also accept the completion of the second semester of 300-level language instruction with a grade of B or better. Students who specialize in a methodology (this includes cartography and GIS, for example) must take a graduate seminar in either another systematic field or in regional geography.

iv. Thesis Writing (6 credits)
The student receives credit while writing the thesis under the direction of an advisor.

c. The Thesis
The thesis must demonstrate the student's ability to formulate a research problem, to assemble and analyze relevant data, to draw appropriate conclusions, and to express findings clearly and concisely. It should be of publishable quality as judged by the advisory committee. In practice, it varies considerably in length and style, and students are advised to review the collection of departmental theses to obtain some idea of this variety. All students must present one copy of their thesis to the department for binding and placement in the reading room. Students should refer to the Graduate Division guidelines for further information on format and deadlines for thesis submission. Students can obtain a current copy of the UH Manoa Graduate Division "Style and Policy Manual for Theses and Dissertations" at the following address:

Time Limits for the M.A. Degree

It is in the interest of all parties to have graduate programs completed with reasonable dispatch so as to make most efficient use of university resources and faculty and student time. Graduate students should be aware of various university and departmental policies which have been instituted to ensure that students maintain a reasonable rate of progress in completing degree requirements.

The program should take 24 months to complete including coursework, field work, and the writing of the thesis. In practice, time taken will vary according to the prior experience of the student and the nature of the thesis research project. The Graduate Division requires students to complete all requirements within seven years of entering the program. Candidates who fail to complete all requirements within the specified time are automatically dropped from the program. Reinstatement for a limited period of time is only possible upon approval of the Associate Dean of the Graduate Division. Recommendation for approval will be made by the Graduate Chair only if the student submits an acceptable degree plan and time line for completion of all degree requirements endorsed by their advisor. Failure to comply with this plan will usually result in the student being dropped from the program.

Students pursuing graduate degrees and not on an approved leave of absence must maintain continuous registration during the academic year or they will be considered to have voluntarily dropped from the program and must petition for re-admission should they desire to return.

Evaluation of Progress

In the Spring semester, the progress of all graduate students will be reviewed, except those students on leave of absence or those that have had a recent "degree check" completed by the Graduate Chair. The "Spring Review" requires students to consult with their advisors who will report to the Graduate Chair. The report will consist of an up to date Synopsis of Program together with a brief statement by the advisor. This is a way of making sure that students are progressing satisfactorily and is useful for recognizing and solving problems before they become serious. In some cases, however, the Graduate Chair may consider that further action needs to be taken and the file will be referred to the GPC who may, if the student's performance is deficient, place the student on departmental probation. Students should refer to the Guide to Progress below for further details on the ideal path of progress through the program.

The Administration of the M.A. Program

a. The role of the advisor
All incoming graduate students will be assigned an interim advisor based on information provided by the student at the time of application. It is recognized that such information may not always be an accurate reflection of the student’s interest, which may often change in the course of the first few semesters. The function of the interim advisor is, therefore, to direct and guide the student’s program of courses and research until a permanent advisor and advisory committee is appointed, typically by the end of the second semester. In many cases the interim advisor will become the permanent advisor, but students should always try to identify the faculty with interests most closely related to their thesis topic. One of the most common problems experienced by graduate students is an inappropriate choice of advisor.

The advisor, who is chair of the advisory committee, is primarily responsible for directing the thesis research, scheduling all formal meetings of the committee, and communicating decisions of the committee to the student, geography faculty, Graduate Chair, and Graduate Division, as appropriate. The advisor must be a member of the graduate faculty and is usually the faculty member with the greatest expertise on the thesis topic. The advisor will work most closely with the student on the proposal, development and completion of the research.

Please note that advisory services are provided to assist the students, but the student is responsible for following the procedures of the department and the Graduate Division.

b. The role of the M.A. advisory committee
The M.A. advisory committee consists of three or more members of the Graduate Faculty, of whom at least two are from the Department of Geography. The student, in consultation with the interim advisor, proposes an advisory committee to the Graduate Chair and / or the GPC. If approved the Graduate Chair will then recommend approval by the Associate Dean of the Graduate Division. The advisory committee should consist of the best qualified faculty to guide and evaluate the proposed thesis research. The committee should be selected as early as possible, and ideally by March 1 for students entering in the previous Fall. It is possible to change the composition of the committee should this be necessary-such as when faculty leave on sabbatical-but this must also be approved by the Graduate Chair and / or the GPC.

The advisory committee will meet with the student to review progress, typically when the student and advisor decide that the student is ready to begin thesis research. At this point the committee will review the Synopsis of Program and discuss the thesis proposal. The committee must approve the proposal in order for the student to advance through the program, and it will often require revisions. Once approved there should be regular consultation between the committee and student concerning progress in the thesis research. The committee must approve the final product so it is highly recommended that the student inform them of progress and any deviations from the proposal as they occur.

c. The role of the Graduate Program Committee (GPC)
The Graduate Program Committee is advisory to the Graduate Chair and arbitrates for faculty or students on all graduate program matters and recommends changes in the graduate program for consideration by the Graduate Faculty as a whole. The GPC consists of members of the faculty and may include students as representative of the diverse interests of the department as is possible. Functions of the GPC may include: 1) reviewing the composition of advisory committees; 2) receiving and acting upon the student's statement and advisor's report in the annual progress review; 3) reviewing the Synopsis of Program made by each student prior to approval of thesis topic; 4) deciding upon graduate program petitions for such matters as the waiver of departmental requirements; 5) reviewing the M.A. program periodically and may recommend changes to the Graduate Faculty as a whole; 6) deciding in cases where there may be disagreements between students, advisors or the Graduate Chair on rules and procedures; and 7) performing other functions that the faculty, Department Chair or Graduate Chair may request with relation to the graduate program.

d. The role of the Graduate Chair
The Graduate Chair administers the graduate program and serves as a liaison between the Department of Geography and the Graduate Division. This person administers the application process for admission to the department graduate programs, answers routine questions, maintains student files, schedules conferences and examinations, advises students about tuition waiver awards, and signs all official forms marking a student’s progress through the degree.

Guide to Progress Through the MA Program

1. The Preliminary Conference
Students meet with their interim advisor followed by the Graduate Chair as soon as possible before registering for classes during the first semester. They will together decide whether any deficiencies should be made up immediately and will discuss the student's proposed course of study. Potential course transfers will be discussed with the Graduate Chair. If suitable courses are identified, the Graduate Division's 'Petition to transfer course credits' will be filed in the student's first semester. Note that the Graduate Chair facilitates course credit transfer, however, the appropriateness for the student's degree program will be determined at a later date in concert with the advisor and degree committee.

2. Advancement to Candidacy
Once all pre-program course deficiencies have been successfully completed the student will be admitted to candidacy. Graduate Division's Form I (Revised July 2001; see sample document appended) will then be completed by the Graduate Chair and submitted to the Graduate Division.

3. Appointment of the Advisor and Advisory Committee
The permanent advisor, who may or may not be the same person as the interim advisor, should ideally be identified by the end of the second semester, by which time students will have written at least a preliminary research proposal (in Geog 696). At the same time other members of the student's advisory committee should be nominated. The student will submit the internal Department of Geography form "Proposed MA Advisory Committee" to the Graduate Chair and / or the GPC (form appended).

4. Synopsis of MA Program
The Department of Geography requires that each student's "Synopsis of MA Program" (form appended) be completed before submission of Graduate Division's "Student Progress Form II" . The student, in consultation with the advisor, should prepare a finalized Synopsis of Program demonstrating that all course requirements have been met. This should be submitted to the Graduate Chair.

5. Advancement to Thesis Stage
A formal research proposal must be approved by the student's MA advisory committee. Additionally, it is important to note that if the proposed research involves the use of human subjects, non-human vertebrate animals, recombinant DNA, radioactive materials, scuba diving, or hazardous materials (including microorganisms) the student must receive approval from the appropriate subcommittee of The Committee on Human Subjects (CHS) before formal thesis research is initiated. The Graduate Chair submits Graduate Division Form II (Advancement to Thesis Stage --- Revised September 2000 --- sample form appended) when the proposal has been approved by all committee members and the appropriate protocol approvals have been received, if necessary. The student will be eligible to register for Geog 700 (Thesis Research) once Form II has been approved by the Graduate Division.

6. Thesis Research
The these will ideally be completed by the end of the fourth semester. Each committee is slightly different in its expectations of the student during the period of writing. Some members of some committees may want to see rough drafts, others may want to read only completed versions of chapters. In any case, the advisor will usually work with the student closely on the drafting of chapters, and will determine, with the student, when it is appropriate to present work to other members of the advisory committee. Even though committee members may have been consulted during the writing, the student should expect to make at least some revisions. When the committee finally approves the thesis it must then be prepared to the specifications of the Graduate Division. When the thesis is complete, the committee will then sign the signature page. A completed copy of the thesis must be presented to the department and Graduate Division's Student Progress Form III (Final Examination and Approval of Thesis --- Revised October 2000 --- sample form appended) will be signed.

Form III and the Thesis may then be submitted to the Graduate Division. There is no oral defense of an M.A. thesis, but students are encouraged to present their research to the department in a colloquium or seminar.

N.B. The original hard copy document includes six sample documents and forms as follows:

  1. (grad div) Master's Plan A Student Progress Form I: Advancement to Candidacy
  2. (grad div) Petition to Transfer and/or Substitute Courses
  3. (dept) Proposed MA Advisory Committee
  4. (dept) Synopsis of MA Program
  5. (grad div) Master's Plan A Student Progress Form II: Advancement to Thesis Stage
  6. (grad div) Master's Plan A Student Progress Form III: Final Examination and Approval of Thesis
N.B. This text has been proofed for content against the hardcopy official (yellow) version (dated August 2009) and reformatted, as near as possible to the original document as my rudimentary html allows. Consider this version "unofficial". (McG 8Jul09)