Ph.D. in Environmental Science & Engineering

A Doctor of Philosophy degree in Environmental Science & Engineering (ESE) is offered to students at the Institute of Environmental Health by the Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems.

Upon completion of the program students will be equipped with:

  • Conceptual knowledge and in-depth understanding of biogeochemical links within Earth systems in environmental and public health contexts, with a particular emphasis on prediction of the effects of a changing climate on river, estuary, and ocean systems.
  • Technical know-how in using systems thinking to solve environmental and public health problems.
  • Enhanced capability and competitiveness in the development of a career related to predicting and mitigating the effects of a changing climate, particularly in health and environmental fields, with a special emphasis on river, estuary, and ocean systems.  


The Environmental Science &Engineering curriculum provides a unified and interdisciplinary understanding of natural and engineered environmental systems, with emphasis on aquatic media, including surface waters, soils, sediments, and the subsurface. Coursework addresses scales from nano to molecular, cellular, community, and ecosystem. The program emphasizes fundamental concepts from science and engineering, including chemical equilibrium and kinetics, biogeochemical cycling, and computer modeling and simulation. Collaborations with Biochemistry &Molecular Biology allow ESE students to engage in multidisciplinary research involving the application of molecular biology and genetics to environmental studies.

The curriculum is designed to ensure a common foundation of core concepts and skills, but also to allow considerable flexibility for customization to provide the optimal educational experience for each student. Core concepts and skills are taught through a series of three required core courses, with the remaining coursework consisting of advanced electives, readings groups, and special topics courses selected in consultation with the student's advisor.


The Environmental Science &Engineering degree program includes three concentrations of study: Environmental Science &Engineering, Estuary &Ocean Systems, and Environmental &Biomolecular Systems. 

Environmental Science & Engineering is for students who wish to focus their graduate study on the fate and transport of substances in the environment. Applications include: remediation of contaminated soils, sediments, and groundwater;treatment of water and wastewater;disinfection of drinking water;and nutrients in surface waters.

Estuary & Ocean Systems is for students interested in a multidisciplinary approach to understanding marine systems. Applications include biogeochemical monitoring, coastal oceanography, ecosystem modeling, and environmental microbiology.

Environmental & Biomolecular Systems is for students interested in a holistic view of the physical, chemical, and biological processes at the molecular, cellular and particle levels. Applications include bioremediation, assessing environmental health effects, and multiscale biogeochemistry.


All Ph.D. students mass pass a written qualifying exam near the end of their first year, prepare and defend a dissertation proposal in their second year, conduct original research leading to multiple peer-reviewed publications, and finally submit a written dissertation and complete an oral defense of the dissertation. The typical time to complete the Ph.D. in ESE is 5-6 years.

Most students accepted into the ESE Ph.D. program have Bachelors (or equivalent) degrees in physics, chemistry, geoscience or biological sciences, engineering, or related disciplines (e.g., computer science). Prospective students with different backgrounds are encouraged to inquire, if they have professional or other experience that might provide adequate background. Requirements for admission to this program include all the general requirements are described on the Admissions web page. Admission to the Ph.D. program relies upon funding and the successful identification of a faculty member with room for a student in their research program.

Most Ph.D. students are full time, but Ph.D. students can be part-time under special circumstances. To matriculate, students should follow the instructions on the Admissions web page.