Skip to Content Find it Fast

This browser does not support Cascading Style Sheets.


Graduate Course Catalog 2016-2017

Graduate School


Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science (NRES)


» Click to view course offerings

This program is offered in Durham.

Full Program Name Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science Ph.D. Program
Short Name/Abbreviation NRESS
Course Only No
URL (Please be sure to include http://www)
Courses Link grad-nres
Latest Course Descriptions
Program Locations
Durham-Yes   Manchester-No  
Grad School Only

Degree Offered: Ph.D.

The graduate program in Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science (NRESS) is an interdepartmental program offering the Ph.D. degree for interdisciplinary work in areas related to the understanding and management of the environment in the broadest context. Areas of study include, but are not limited to, ecosystem science, biogeochemical cycling, geochemical systems, atmospheric science, environmental philosophy, forestry, geologic science, hydrology, marine science, oceanography, social science, environmental policy and ethics, environmental education, and multidisciplinary natural resources management.

The NRESS Ph.D. program offers two degrees:

Students in NRES focus on problems dealing with the allocation and distribution of natural resources, policies at the local to global scale, and ethical and societal factors that affect resource management.  Students receiving the Ph.D. degree in NRES will typically have a bachelor's and/or master’s degree in economics, environmental conservation, philosophy, political science, or sociology.

Students in EES focus on problems dealing with the physical, chemical, and/or biological processes that affect earth and environmental systems. Students receiving the Ph.D. degree in EES will typically have a bachelor's and/or master’s degree in biology, ecology, environmental science, geology, hydrology, or microbiology.


Admission Requirements

Applicants to the NRESS Program come from a wide range of undergraduate majors and master's degree concentrations. Individuals are admitted based on the quality of their previous work and its relevance to the particular area of study they propose to pursue.

Students are expected to have completed a master's degree before entering the program, although this is not a requirement. 

All applicants must identify an adviser before being admitted, and this faculty member must agree to serve as the applicant's adviser. Certain applicants may be admitted with deficiencies identified by their adviser and/or by the executive committee. These deficiencies normally must be corrected in the first year of the program. All applicants must submit GRE scores. Please see the program website for details on applying to the program.

Degree Requirements

The requirements of the doctoral program are flexible to accommodate the diverse interests and needs of students. All students in the NRESS program must meet the requirements listed below.

Committees and Coursework
The Ph.D. guidance and dissertation committees must consist of at least five members. The chair must be a member of the NRESS faculty. Three of the five members (including the chair) must be NRESS faculty, and committee members must be from more than one academic department. Students are strongly encouraged to include at least one off-campus member. Off-campus committee members must hold a doctoral degree and be approved by the student's adviser, the NRESS Program, and the Graduate School dean. Students should select the guidance committee in a timely manner, within one year for full-time students and two years for part-time students.

Core Area Course Requirements
All students will take one course in each of four core areas while enrolled in the program: natural sciences, ethics/policy/law, methods, and seminar. Students are also required to take NRES 997, Interdisciplinary Research in Natural Resources and Earth and Environmental Sciences, preferably within the first year of enrollment. Any course used to satisfy the natural sciences, ethics/policy/law, and methods core areas must be a classroom course of at least 3 credits. The seminar course must be interactive and must be at least 1 credit. Independent study courses may not be used to satisfy core requirements. Students must complete a Preliminary Coursework Approval Form, which lists the student's planned coursework, within one year for full-time students and two years for part-time students. A Final Course Approval Form, with signatures from the adviser, committee members, and the NRESS program chair is submitted once the coursework is completed.

Students Entering the Program without a Master's Degree
Students entering the program without a master's degree are expected to complete a minimum of 36 credit hours. There is not a specific credit requirement beyond the required four core courses and NRES 997 for students who have completed a M.S. or M.A. degree in a related field. Students enter the NRESS program with diverse backgrounds and preparation in their particular area of study. Therefore, final credit requirements are determined by the guidance committee and may include additional coursework necessary to enhance the student's selected field of study and/or correct any deficiencies in the student's previous program. Students may apply a maximum of 12 credits of independent study and/or seminar courses to their total course requirement.

Transfer Credits
Graduate-level courses taken prior to admission may be transferred into the program and applied to the total only if they were not taken while matriculated in another degree program, as per Graduate School policy. These courses may not be used to meet the core course requirements. Transfer of credits must be approved by the adviser, the guidance committee, and the Graduate School.

Language Proficiency
Language proficiency may be required at the discretion of the student's adviser/committee. If required, a student will need to show proficiency in one foreign language or one computer language.

Each student is required to pass three examinations, each of which has both a written and oral component. Additional preliminary examinations may be administered before the three required exams as the committee deems necessary. Performance on such an exam will determine areas where the student needs additional coursework or could result in the student's removal from the program.

Comprehensive exam: The student must prepare an extensive written answer to one question from each committee member that covers the concepts and factual material deemed essential for the student's program. Three weeks are allowed for completion of the exam, after which the student gives an oral presentation to the committee. This exam is taken within three years of initiation of graduate study in the program. The committee may require a student to repeat part or all of the comprehensive exam if the student's performance is deemed unsatisfactory.

Proposal exam: The student must present to the committee a written proposal on the dissertation research topic. Once the proposal is written, the student will complete a public oral presentation of the proposed research, followed by an oral examination by the committee.

Final exam: The student must complete a written Ph.D. dissertation prior to the final exam. Once written, the student is required to complete an oral defense of the dissertation, which will include both a public presentation and oral examination by the committee.

A student may be required to take additional courses following either the comprehensive or proposal exam, or may be removed from the program following failure of any of the required exams. Students are advanced to candidacy after successfully completing the comprehensive exam, proposal exam, and all coursework required by the guidance committee as summarized on the Coursework Approval Form.

» Click to view course offerings

^ back to top