How to Get a PhD in Environmental Science

Looking to affect environmental issues for years to come? Students choose to earn their PhD in environmental science to make a lasting difference in environmental policy, research, and education. If you're ready to advance your training and research in environmental science, a doctoral degree offers the professional education you need.

Advance Your Environmental Science Knowledge

Earning an environmental science PhD puts you in the top percentage of experts in the field. The degree combines high-level seminars and doctoral coursework with original research and a publishable defense presented to a panel of advisors.

This page shows you the basics behind earning your PhD in environmental science, alternate environmental degrees, and how you can start the research process that can help you make a confident, informed decision about your education.

Earning a PhD in Environmental Science

Unlike some focused doctoral degrees, the environmental science PhD offers a broad perspective on the field. Depending on the specific degree program, a PhD in environmental science may involve natural science, social science, engineering, or forestry departments.

A PhD in environmental science is designed to train students to:

  • Understand high-level environmental issues
  • Complete original and accurate research in the field
  • Focus on traditional or emerging areas of environmental science
  • Teach, consult, or create new policies within the industry

This highly personalized degree allows you to tailor your education to your specific environmental interests. Whether you're interested in one aspect of the field or an interdisciplinary blend of training, the environmental science degree gives you options.

Coursework for Environmental Science PhD Degrees

You have the power to choose among your degree and research interests. Typical coursework options in an environmental science doctoral degree might include theory and training in the following subjects:

  • Long-range transportation of hazardous materials
  • Political implications in environmental resource management
  • Deforestation and land-use waste management

The above topics are just a small sampling of the potential education you could receive in a doctoral program dedicated to environmental science. As in most doctoral programs, the first few years are dedicated to high-level coursework. After students pass a comprehensive exam, they go on to complete their own research, making a significant contribution to the field through a dissertation and oral examinations.

Earning an EdD in Environmental Education

The popular Doctor of Education (EdD) degree offers options for future environmental educators. Doctoral coursework in an environmental education EdD program might include the following options:

  • Environmental Curriculum Theory
  • School Law & Leadership
  • Sociocultural Analyses of Education

Once students complete required coursework and pass a comprehensive exam, they may begin to complete research and earn their doctoral degree. Graduates go on to become educators, administrators, and leaders in public policy governmental initiatives in environmental education.

Alternate Doctoral Degrees in Environmental Science

Your interests in environmental science and policy help determine your ideal degree. If you have a specific specialty or career in mind, consider a targeted alternative doctoral degree that meets your needs. Here are just a few alternative doctoral degrees in environmental science:

  • PhD in Environmental Psychology: Defining the relationships between people and place, this degree offers a critical perspective on human/environment relationships.
  • PhD in Economics and Environmental Science: This research-based degree concentrates on the consumer and cost side of environmental science. Graduates may go on to help create governmental policy as it relates to the national budget.
  • JD in Environmental and Energy Law: This law degree prepares lawyers to practice law as it relates to environmental regulations, industrial disposal practices, and more. Graduates may go on to private practice or governmental work.

Whether you're interested in practicing law, teaching at the college level, or working as a researcher or consultant at the top of your field, a doctoral degree in environmental science can help you prepare for career success.

Campus-Based or Online PhD in Environmental Science

Whether you're working full-time or living far from your dream school, online education may be an excellent option for you. Earning an online EdD or PhD in environmental science comes with specific benefits and challenges. Check out your options for an online PhD program in environmental science, and consider each type of education:

  • Online PhD in Environmental Science: Earning a doctoral degree online comes with a number of benefits. Many working adults keep their jobs while attending class online, and the pressures of travel and mandatory attendance are removed. Among the challenges are the facts that students must be self-motivated, and they may not have access to some campus-based lab or research equipment.
  • Campus-Based PhD in Environmental Science: A campus-based doctoral degree in environmental science comes with the benefits of access to professors, lab materials, and peers on a face-to-face basis. While classroom and campus attendance are mandatory, many students benefit from the hands-on education.

Your own decision for the type of doctoral training in environmental science you receive are up to you, your needs, and your career goals. Some degree programs may offer hybrid course options, offering both campus-based requirements and online flexibility.

Begin Your Environmental Science Degree Search

Finding your ideal environmental science doctoral program does not have to be a complicated process. Begin your search by compiling a list of potential doctoral degree programs using the resources you find online. Here are a few sites that can help you begin your search:

  • The National Council for Science and the Environment compiled a list of graduate schools for their Directory of Environmental Programs. Search the directory by subject, school, location, or degree, and find complete listings of potential doctoral programs.
  • WorldWideLearn.com offers a portal of environmental science education programs. Use this page to learn more about campus-based and online PhD programs in environmental science, and easily contact prospective schools using the site's online tools.
  • U.S. News and World Report presents their ranking of the best Earth sciences graduate degree programs in the country. Rankings can be organized by zip code, and many school listings include contact information.

Create an extensive list of potential environmental science programs and you can begin narrowing your options down to a few top choices. Starting with a long list of possible choices is essential to finding the school that closely meets your needs.

Narrow Down Potential Environmental Science Schools

Once you've made an initial list of potential doctoral programs in environmental science, you can begin to narrow your choices down based on your preferences and needs as a student. Use the following categories to help guide your decision process:

  • Admissions: Each environmental science program determines its own admission requirements. Said requirements may include TOEFL or GRE scores, GPA requirements, letters of recommendation, and other prerequisites, along with application fees. Selective programs typically have stricter requirements for students.
  • Faculty: Aim for a group of faculty members that are publishing and active within the environmental science community. The department should provide you with faculty information, including publications, papers presented, and research interests. Finding a faculty group with research interests that match your own could make your time at school more personalized and productive.
  • Program: Try to select coursework, majors, and minors that align with your career goals in environmental science. Beyond specializing in a particular doctoral field, look for schools with coursework that offers a new dimension to your own research and education.

  • History: Learn more about the history of potential environmental science programs. A doctoral program with years of history in environmental science may have a stronger precedent of success and a more close-knit faculty. On the other hand, a newer program may feature more innovations in science and a younger, more relevant faculty.

  • Community: Your surroundings in an environmental science program can greatly affect your satisfaction with the program. If you wish to make a career out of studying wetlands, choose a school nearby that might offer on-site lab work. If public policy is your goal, search for a school with a community that matches your career interests.
  • Alumni: Ask alumni groups and departmental representatives about job placement rates, notable alumni, and more information on graduating classes in environmental science. Schools should be able to provide information on their doctoral graduates. Healthy alumni groups can also provide a career networking opportunity after graduation.

Apply each of the categories above to each school on your list, and you'll be more likely to make an informed decision about your education. The school research process may seem daunting, but the benefits to your academic and professional future make it worth the effort. With a little research and know-how, you'll be more likely to find an environmental science program that suits your needs.

Additional Degree Resources from WorldWideLearn.com

The free tools at WorldWideLearn.com aren't limited to the environmental science degree page. Check out the helpful, free pages you can use at any part of your degree search. From financing your education to landing a great job interview, you can benefit from the tools offered on the site.

  • Guide to College Majors. Use this guide to learn more about college majors and minors across the disciplines. Whether you're interested in changing majors, advising another potential student, or choosing a minor with your doctoral degree, the page is a helpful resource.
  • Financial Aid. Learn more about government grants and loans, federal funding, and scholarship opportunities available to you as a doctoral student. This page can help clear up your financial aid questions.
  • Education Resources. Use this page for accreditation facts, online education information, and a mission statement from WorldWideLearn.com.

Think of these pages as just another tool to help you learn more about the college experience. Whether you're moving directly to your PhD degree after a master's degree program, or you're returning to school after many years away, the tools above can help simplify your transition into doctoral study.

Joining the Environmental Science Community

Becoming a part of the environmental science community goes beyond attending class and earning your degree. Joining professional organizations, attending conferences, and publishing in professional journals helps you make connections, keep your skills current in the field, and network with other professionals. Here are just a few ways to join the environmental science community:

  • Publish in Journals: GeoJournal, Energy Policy, Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, Culture and Agriculture, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, Journal of Applied Ecology, Southeastern Naturalist
  • Present Papers in Conferences: Mines and Money London, Canadian Renewable Fuels Summit, International Fire Ecology and Management Congress, The Future of Air Transport, Communication and Environment: Transformation for a Sustainable Tomorrow
  • Join Professional Organizations: Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, National Association of Environmental Professionals, National Association of Environmental Management

Take your first steps towards working at the top of your field in environmental science. Take the time to research potential schools, reach out to department advisors, and educate yourself about the process of earning a doctoral degree in environmental science. Eventually, you may even present professional papers and publish research findings in top journals within the industry. As you learn more about environmental science, you'll find your place within the field.

 

Sources

  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • National Council for Science and the Environment
  • U.S. News and World Report