Oct 26, 2020  
2018-2019 Graduate Catalog 
2018-2019 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Coastal and Marine System Science, PhD

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Program Description

Coastal and Marine System Science studies the interactions within the coastal and marine environment, which includes most of the critical physical and biological systems that support life on Earth. The mission of the Coastal and Marine System Science (CMSS) program is to support interdisciplinary research and scholarship on the biotic and abiotic components of this zone, as well as quantitative investigation of socio-economic and political processes. The program addresses this mission by integrating the tools of Earth System Science: biogeochemistry, geographic information science, ecosystem dynamics, and quantitative modeling. Students who earn PhD degrees in the sciences are typically employed in teaching or research positions in universities, or in pure research applications at specialized institutions or governmental agencies.


With the increasing efficiency of real-time data collection, transfer, and processing, aided by autonomous observation systems such as satellite sensors, oceanic buoys, and remotely controlled or autonomous submersibles, Coastal and Marine System Science is at the forefront of extracting meaningful scientific results from large data sets in near real time. Graduates of the CMSS program will demonstrate proficiency in understanding and applying the concepts and principles of all of the natural sciences as well as a working competence in mathematical modeling and geospatial analysis.

All students share a core of five interdisciplinary courses that cover the foundations of mathematical modeling, environmental policy, and case studies in system science. Topical specialized coursework (determined by the graduate advisory committee of each individual student) provides grounding in the specific scientific disciplines needed to effectively manage the coastal and marine system. After the completion of any required leveling courses and all core classes (with the exception of the seminar class, CMSS 6102 ) students must successfully complete a comprehensive examination for advancement to doctoral candidacy. This examination should be scheduled no later than 24 months after initial enrollment. The required dissertation involves an independent, detailed research project of importance to the international scientific community. The graduate advisory committee of each student will guide them through the conception, design, construction, and execution of a systems-based inquiry. 

Student Learning Outcomes

As part of their progression through the Coastal and Marine System Science program, the students will:

  • acquire the skills required for system science studies applied to coastal and marine topics such that they are prepared to conduct CMSS original research
  • perform original and hypothesis-driven quantitative analyses that will lead to comprehensive verifiable models of natural systems
  • emphasize mathematical and/or analytical skills to generate new data and critically evaluate models that will aid in our understanding of dynamic natural systems, become a resource capable of answering environmental “what if” questions by providing comprehensive interpretation
  • develop the skills necessary to present and publish their work at national and international venues
  • develop the skills necessary to effectively teach effectively a college-level class in the area of sciences and technology
  • develop a skill set and research record such that they can secure employment at universities, federal agencies, private companies, or non-governmental organizations where they can apply the skills and knowledge acquired during their time in the program

Admission Requirements

Applicants seeking admission to the CMSS Program must apply through the Office of Recruitment and Admissions. In addition to the documents required by the Office of Admissions and Recruitment, applicants must submit GRE general test scores, an essay of no more than 1,000 words describing their educational background, career interests, goals and challenges, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of evaluation from persons knowledgeable about their potential for success in graduate studies. Applicants seeking admission to the PhD Program in CMSS should first contact the program faculty and identify a faculty member willing to serve as their graduate advisor. In addition, applicants will not be admitted to the program without a graduate advisor. Applicants may optionally submit other relevant materials, e.g., copies of published works or reports of past scientific research. All materials submitted will be considered. A campus visit with personal interviews involving prospective faculty mentors is highly recommended. Completed applications must be received by the Office of Recruitment and Admissions by the deadlines posted on Admissions website.

  • Fall Semester-February 1
  • Spring Semester-August 1 (June 1 for international applicants)
  • Summer Semester-January 1

Incomplete applications are not considered. The applicant will be notified of acceptance or rejection by letter.

Students accepted into the degree program must demonstrate proficiency in the natural sciences, mathematical modeling, and geospatial technology. This proficiency can be demonstrated by the successful completion of undergraduate classes in these topics, or by presentation of satisfactory evidence to the CMSS Program Coordinator. Students who are unable to demonstrate proficiency in the natural sciences, mathematics, or geospatial technology may be required to take undergraduate or graduate leveling courses in these areas. These courses will not apply towards the required credit hours for the PhD degree.

Teaching assistantships, graduate research assistantships, and fellowship positions are available to admitted degree-seeking students who maintain full-time graduate student status (9 credit hours per long semester and 3 credit hours during the summer). 

Degree Requirements

Each student admitted to the PhD in the Coastal and Marine System Science degree program must complete a minimum of 90 hours beyond the bachelor’s degree or 60 hours beyond the master’s degree. No more than one-third of the required hours may be taken at the 5000-level with approval from the student’s graduate advisory committee. The remainder must be taken at the 6000-level. A student’s advisory committee must approve the program degree plan. All students must successfully complete at least nine semester credit hours per long semester to remain in the program. All students must pass a final dissertation defense, to be administered by their advisory committee, during their last semester before graduation.

The program normally requires a minimum of 18 credit hours (for students with an MS degree) or 30 credit hours (for students without an MS degree) of regular graded coursework on a PhD degree plan. Justification for exceptions to this rule should be prepared by the student and advisor(s), endorsed by the advisory committee, and attached to the degree plan when submitted for the department head’s signature.

A. Admission from a Bachelor’s Degree Option (90 semester credit hours)


Students accepted into the Coastal and Marine System Science PhD Program with only a bachelor’s degree (i.e., without an MS degree) must complete a minimum of 90 semester hours of coursework and research.

B. Admission from a Master’s Degree Option (60 semester credit hours)

Students accepted into the Coastal and Marine System Science PhD Program with a master’s degree (i.e., with a MS degree) must complete a minimum of 60 semester hours of coursework and research.


C. Elective, Specialized, and Topical Coursework

Elective and Specialized coursework are chosen from among approved biology, chemistry, coastal and marine system science, computer science, environmental science, geographic information science, geology, marine biology, or other course offerings, in consultation with student’s advisory committee.

Students admitted with a bachelor’s degree must choose two electives with substantial marine content from this list of CMSS courses: Coastal and Marine Systems, Physical Oceanography, Coastal Oceanography, Geological Oceanography, Global Geochemical Cycles and Change, Global Change and its effects on Aquatic Ecosystems, Coastal Geoenvironments and Change, Marine Ecosystem Dynamics. Students admitted to the doctoral program with a master’s degree must choose one elective course from this list.

Topical coursework is offered under the heading of CMSS 6590 - Advanced Topics . Classes or research projects designated as part of the elective coursework requirement must receive the approval of a student’s graduate advisory committee. Students must demonstrate to the committee that the selection of classes or research projects produces a coherent course of study focused on the student’s particular area of emphasis. Depending on the emphasis area, selections may include coastal and marine system science, marine biology, the natural sciences, computer science, geographic information science, mathematics, political science, public administration, business law, or other areas as stipulated by the graduate advisory committee.

D. Dissertation Format and Style

The dissertation must be prepared in a standard format and style prescribed by the advisory committee. Guidance can be found in the CMSS Student Handbook. For more information about dissertation formatting guidelines, consult the College of Graduate Studies.

Upon approval by the student’s graduate advisory committee, a copy of the dissertation will be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies. For more information, see the Doctoral Student Handbook available from the College of Graduate Studies. See also “Requirements for Doctoral Programs ” in the general section of this catalog.

E. Research, Dissertation Research, and Dissertation Defense

Three courses are taken for the main research component of the degree: CMSS 6996 - Research  (1-9 credit hours), CMSS 6998 - Dissertation Research  (1-9 credit hours), and 

  (3-9 credit hours). During the initial phase of the program, students take CMSS 6996 - Research  (1-9 credit hours), with approval of their advisor. Students can also enroll in CMSS 6596 - Directed independent Study  (1-5 credit hours), supervised by their advisor or other faculty members at any stage of the program progression. Once students have passed their qualifying exam and become degree candidates, they must take CMSS 6998 - Dissertation Research  (1-9 credit hours), with approval of their advisor. The courses CMSS 6996 - Research  and CMSS 6998 - Dissertation Research  are graded with an S or U, and may be repeated. Finally, students must enroll in   (3-9 credit hours), during their last semester (see below).   is taken as Credit/No Credit.

F. Final Dissertation Defense

Each student must pass a final dissertation defense examination during the last semester before graduation, to be administered by the student’s graduate advisory committee. The exam will cover topics related to (1) all graduate coursework undertaken for the CMSS program, (2) the student’s dissertation research area, and (3) broad concepts of system science, requiring familiarity with the literature and appropriate professional societies. The student is responsible for scheduling the defense in consultation with his or her graduate committee. A student who fails the defense may repeat it once, but only after an interval of four months or more. If a student fails the second defense, he or she will be terminated from the program. Students must enroll in the course 

  during the semester in which they are planning to take the dissertation defense and/or graduate.

For Additional Information



Campus Address:

Natural Resource Center, Room 3500; Phone: (361) 825-2814 (Alessandra Garcia)

Mailing Address:

Coastal and Marine System Science Program, Unit 5850
College of Science and Engineering
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas 78412-5850

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