Graduate Certificate in Terrestrial Biogeoscience

Overview

Biogeoscience is the study of the processes in and interactions among the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere.
There are two key elements in the study of terrestrial biogeosciences:

  1. Biogeophysics, the processes associated with the movement of water, mass, and energy within and across ecosystems
  2. Biogeochemistry, the processes related to the cycling of elements within and across ecosystems

The field of terrestrial biogeoscience therefore provides the scientific basis for understanding the role of terrestrial processes in some of today’s most pressing environmental issues, including climate change, deforestation, eutrophication of lakes and rivers, and the effect of sea level rise on coastal and estuarine ecosystems.

The program is a community of faculty and students whose research interests converge at the boundaries of traditional natural science disciplines. The program emphasizes interdisciplinary research and coursework, focusing on the biogeochemistry and biogeophysics of terrestrial ecosystems, with faculty and students drawn from the Departments of Biology and Earth & Environment.

Faculty in the Departments of Biology and Earth & Environment have unique strengths in biophysical interactions and biogeochemical processes at the land-ocean and land-atmosphere interfaces, making BU a natural home for a program of this nature. The Department of Biology has faculty expertise in ecosystem science, terrestrial biogeochemistry, and plant biology. The Department of Earth & Environment includes faculty expertise in biogeochemistry, hydrology and the geomorphology of land and coastal systems, physics of land-atmosphere interaction, physiological ecology, and remote sensing. The goal of the program is to integrate faculty and student research interests across the two departments.

Graduate Certificate Program Requirements

Upon admission to the Certificate Program, students are required to complete 16 credits of coursework. Of these, 12 credits require successful completion of three 4-credit courses, one in each of three focal areas:

  • Biogeophysics
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Methods in Biogeoscience

The remaining four credits are satisfied by a yearlong colloquium and practicum in biogeoscience: two-credit courses offered in the fall and spring semesters, respectively. For a full list of approved courses, please see the certificate program’s website.

Mid-course PhD students will have completed some of the required four-credit courses, requiring only minor adjustments in coursework to complete the program. Mid-course students are also required to participate in the colloquium and practicum in biogeoscience.

The certificate program is designed such that requirements can be fulfilled as part of, and not in addition to, requirements for the PhD in the student’s home department. Many students will complete more than the 16-credit requirement for the certificate because of their interest in the subject matter.

Research

Research and teaching are centered on ecosystem processes at the land-atmosphere and land-ocean interfaces. By integrating existing strengths in biogeochemistry with biogeophysics, global-scale modeling, and remote sensing, BU offers a PhD research and training program that is unique both nationally and internationally.

Research and curricular themes include the role of energy, mass and nutrient cycles in biosphere-atmosphere interactions, coastal processes, ecohydrology, climate change, regional-to-global environmental change, coupled human-natural systems, and sustainability science. The program is centered on graduate student training, and is specifically designed for students wishing to pursue interdisciplinary research in topics spanning more than one discipline.

Eligibility & Admission

PhD students enrolled in either of the two participating departments—Biology and Earth & Environment—qualify to complete the Certificate Program. Interested students should first confer with their advisor to determine if the certificate program is appropriate within the framework of their particular course of study and research interests.

Admission to the certificate program requires a one-page summary of the student’s background and the relevance of the certificate to their PhD research. There is no specific application form. This statement is submitted to the Director of the Terrestrial Biogeoscience Certificate Program at any time after matriculation to the eligible PhD programs, and is reviewed by the Program Director and advisory committee. Admission is based on the student’s potential and match of interests with the program’s mission.

Committee

Each student admitted into the program is required to constitute a five-member PhD committee. At least two of the members must be drawn from participating faculty, one of whom must be outside of the student’s sponsoring department. This requirement, in combination with the coursework requirement, ensures strong, interdisciplinary education and training in terrestrial biogeoscience.

Colloquium and Practicum in Terrestrial Biogeoscience

This yearlong seminar focuses on topics and applied problems in the terrestrial biogeosciences. Each semester fulfills two units of credit. All participating PhD students are encouraged to attend the research presentations beyond the year in which they are enrolled for course credit. Depending on the subject matter and instructor, students may be allowed to take the colloquium and practicum for credit more than once.

It is highly recommended that the yearlong seminar (colloquium and practicum) be taken in sequence. This is not required, however, in cases of extenuating circumstances such as spring admission to the program and travel for research.

Colloquium

The fall colloquium includes talks by participating faculty and speakers from outside BU, followed by an intensive reading and discussion period. This course is taught annually, and serves as a focal point for students and faculty participating in the program.

In addition to providing a foundational course in interdisciplinary research, the colloquium introduces new students to faculty research at BU and brings together the BU-based community of scientists in the field of terrestrial biogeoscience.

Practicum

In the spring semester, students complete a practicum in terrestrial biogeoscience, the second 2-credit course. The practicum focuses on an in-depth analysis of an emerging topic in the biogeosciences. The practicum is designed to teach students how to read and organize information from the primary literature, develop basic data synthesis techniques, and prepare a position paper. The specific topic varies from year to year.