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Ph.D. in Environmental Science

Program Overview
The doctoral program in environmental science equips students with skills and training in the basic and applied sciences with the objectives of improving society’s understanding of environmental problems and helping manage, mitigate, and avoid those problems.

The doctoral program in environmental science is a rigorous, interdisciplinary course of study. The overall objectives of the program are: (1) to clarify and improve understanding of environmental problems and to identify solutions to these problems; and (2) to foster collaborative, interdisciplinary research amongst scientists from various disciplines.

More specifically the Ph.D. in environmental science requires students to:

  1. Acquire substantial knowledge in a primary environmental science concentration;
  2. Develop breadth in related environmental science fields;
  3. Become proficient in advanced research methods and develop expertise in a chosen dissertation topic; and
  4. Compose a dissertation that evidences original research and high proficiency in the interpretation, analysis, and explanation of environmental phenomena.

Additional curricular and administrative aspects of the Ph.D. in Environmental Science program are found at SPEA ES PhD Handbook.

Dissertation research may be interdisciplinary or may focus on one sub-discipline of environmental science. SPEA’s environmental science faculty perform research in one or more of the following areas: applied ecology, atmospheric chemistry, biogeochemistry, bioremediation and environmental microbiology, conservation biology, contaminant fate and transport, forest ecology, environmental chemistry, GIS applications, global climate change, groundwater flow modeling, limnology, mathematical biology and statistics, meteorology and climatology, and toxicology and developmental neurobiology. Specific research projects are highlighted in the individual faculty research profiles, within the home pages of some of SPEA’s research centers, institutes, and laboratories, and with faculty affiliates.

Applicants to this program should possess a minimum of one baccalaureate degree in science or mathematics or engineering, or a closely related field. Completion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test is required for admission. The candidate’s statement of his/her research interests is a key component of the admissions application. This statement is used during the admissions process to match students' research interests with those of one or more faculty members. The statement should refer to a specific area (or areas) of research interest, and, if possible, identify potential research mentors by name.

Degree Requirements
The Ph.D. degree requires the completion of at least 90 credit hours in advanced study and research beyond the bachelor's degree. A student must complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of advanced course work to provide breadth in environmental science. Students must also complete a minimum of 30 credit hours of research, normally taken as SPEA E625 or SPEA E890. The student, with approval of the advisory committee, should complete some combination of additional course work and research credit sufficient to meet the 90 credit hour requirement.

Students should note that all 30 credit hours of advanced course work, if properly selected, and 6 credit hours of research, may be applied toward the Master of Science in Environmental Science (MSES) degree. With an additional 12 credit hours of approved course work, a student may be awarded the MSES degree while completing the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in environmental science. Completion of the MSES degree as part of this doctoral program is not a requirement; however, this option may be appropriate for many students.

Course Requirements
The exact nature and amount of course work in each of three areas:

  • Principal field of study
  • Breadth in environmental science
  • Research methods

will be determined by the advisory committee after review and approval of the student's plan of study in each of these areas.
Selection of specific courses will focus on obtaining:

  1. Adequate knowledge for qualifying examinations,
  2. Appropriate preparation for a research project, and
  3. A mixture of courses that meet the individual professional goals of the student.

Fields of Study
Each student will define an interdisciplinary principal field of study and describe it in a narrative statement. The narrative statement should discuss the student's previous educational experiences, outline a program of course work that lies within the student's proposed field of study, and state the student's career objectives.

Each student is also required to prepare a program of course work that fulfills the requirement of breadth in environmental science and policy. The breadth requirement may be fulfilled by using a wide spectrum of environmentally related courses, including areas such as economics, law, and management, in addition to other science courses. Each student is also required to prepare a statement of activities for meeting the research methods requirement. Normally these will include computer applications and areas of applied mathematics such as statistics and mathematical modeling, although other technical skill areas such as electronics and analytical chemical techniques may be appropriate.

The research undertaken by the student will be interdisciplinary in nature rather than specifically disciplinary as in a traditional science department. Because knowledge of the basic sciences is necessary to understanding environmental problems, and the application of that knowledge is necessary for the development of solutions to those problems, the research may be primarily basic, primarily applied, or some mixture of both.

The degree requires (1) substantial knowledge in a primary environmental science concentration; (2) breadth in related environmental science and policy; (3) an understanding of research methods; (4) an in-depth knowledge of the dissertation topic; and (5) a dissertation that demonstrates the student's ability to analyze, explain, and interpret research clearly and effectively.