PhD in Earth & Environment

NOTE: In academic year 2020–2021, the Department of Earth & Environment recoded all courses from ES and GE to EE.

The PhD in Earth & Environment provides students with extensive and cross-disciplinary research opportunities within the earth and environmental sciences, geography, remote sensing, sustainability, and energy, environment analysis, and policy. Students may specialize, for example, in—and at the interface of—climate dynamics; carbon & nutrient cycling; surface processes; hydrology; active tectonics and crustal evolution; sustainable food, water, and energy; land use/land cover change; environmental analysis and policy; paleoclimate and earth history; and coastal, marine, and ecosystem response to climate change. Upon completion of the PhD, students should be prepared for postgraduate training and to assume teaching and/or research positions in academia, industry, government, or nonprofit agencies.

Learning Outcomes

  • Demonstrate advanced knowledge of the fundamental concepts and topics in a specific subfield of Earth & Environment.
  • Demonstrate understanding of key research questions, the research design process, and the quantitative and/or qualitative methods used in a specific subfield of Earth & Environment.
  • Communicate research questions and results to the scientific community and communicate about problems in Earth & Environment to a broader audience.
  • Integrate, synthesize, and apply scientific knowledge to societal problems, such as the sustainable use of energy and water resources, the identification and mitigation of risks posed by climate change and natural hazards, and the consequences of human activities on the environment.
  • Produce and defend an original and substantial contribution to the field.

Course Requirements

Students must complete 64 credits at the graduate level (500 level or above); a maximum of 32 credits at the 900 level may be applied toward this requirement. Appropriate coursework will be determined in consultation with the student’s major advisor and dissertation committee. Students with prior graduate work may be able to transfer up to 32 credits toward completion of the PhD requirements. See the GRS Transfer of Credits policy for more details.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Professional Development

The professional development requirement ensures that students are well prepared for academic research at BU and for pursuing their ultimate careers. The requirement may be satisfied through coursework; cocurricular activities sponsored by the University; professional or community organizations; or through activities approved by the student’s dissertation committee.

Qualifying Examination

Students must pass a qualifying examination by the end of the fifth semester in order to be advanced to PhD candidacy. The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to determine whether students have the requisite background and intellectual curiosity needed for successful completion of the PhD. The exam consists of written and oral components. Recommendations to the department for advancement to PhD candidacy will depend on the results from the qualifying examination and on performance in coursework and research.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair/Program Director within a year after passing the qualifying exam. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

A PhD student who has not been advanced to candidacy based on the PhD qualifying examination may still receive a master’s degree. This student may receive a master’s degree in Earth & Environment if all members of the PhD qualifying examination committee vote that the student’s performance on the qualifying examination was of sufficiently high quality for a master’s degree. In addition, this student must have completed at least 32 credits of graduate-level coursework.