Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (Ph.D.)

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (Ph.D.)

NRESS Ph.D. student Sophie Burke in peatland

The NRESS Ph.D. Program draws on the university's strengths in environmental and earth sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and ethical and policy studies. Our Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Ph.D. students 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.

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.

Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (NRES)

The NRESS Ph.D. in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (NRES) focuses 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 typically enter the program with a bachelor's and/or master's degree in economics, environmental conservation, philosophy, political science, or sociology.

Wendy Rose

Pronouns: No pronouns/use my name only
(603) 862-3933
Natural Resources & the Environment
James Hall Rm 114
Durham, NH 03824

Dr. Richard Smith
Program Chair
UNH NRESS Ph.D. Program Chair
Phone: (603) 862-2724
Natural Resources & the Environment
420 Kendall
Durham, NH 03824

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Curriculum & Requirements

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 (or terminal) 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 desired 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 (sometimes referred to as the qualifying exam): The student must prepare an extensive written answer to one question from each committee member that covers the basic concepts and factual material deemed essential for the student’s program. Three weeks are allowed for completion of the exam during which time students are expected to work solely on their answers.  Answers are expected to be anywhere from 10 – 20 pages per question with extensive literature citations. Completed written answers are submitted to the adviser who then distributes copies to the other committee members for review.  Approximately 1 – 2 weeks are allowed for the committee to read the answers, after which time the student gives an oral presentation to the committee. Following the presentation, committee members will ask for clarification of the student’s answers, if necessary.  The committee may require a student to repeat part, or all, of the comprehensive exam if the student’s performance is deemed unsatisfactory. This exam should be taken within three years of initiation of graduate study in the program.

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.

The Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (NRES) PhD degree within the Natural Resources and Earth Systems Science PhD Program trains scientists and scholars whose research addresses problems dealing with the allocation and distribution of natural resources, related policies at the local to global scale, and ethical and societal factors that affect resource management. Through interdisciplinary coursework and doctoral research, we train researchers who can independently pursue the process of science and scholarship, effectively apply their research to both solve basic questions in natural resource and environmental studies and apply their work to issues of relevance to society and the environment, especially in this era of global change. learning outcomes:

  • Critically review and cogently synthesize relevant literature, and identify need for new research.
  • Draw on previously published work to independently design and execute new experiments or field manipulations or develop models with a high degree of sophistication. The design and execution of an experiment or the building of a model should demonstrate an understanding of good laboratory, field or modeling practices.
  • Structure a coherent and convincing academic argument.
  • Lead the writing of manuscripts describing their research and its impacts that are suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals or appropriate professional outlets for their particular sub-discipline, and be able to describe their research in presentations at national meetings of major relevant scientific societies, and at national and international symposia hosted by other professional organizations. The general expectation is that the final dissertation will include three first-authored publications submitted to or accepted in a peer-reviewed journal, or ready for submission.
  • Articulate how their research relates to a broader context outside of academia, and how their expertise will be applicable in the execution of complex research problems.


Applications must be completed by the following deadlines in order to be reviewed for admission:

  • Fall: May 15 (recommended); August 1 (final; timely processing of applications not guaranteed for late submissions)
  • Spring: October 15 (recommended); January 1 (final; timely processing of applications not guaranteed for late submissions)
  • Summer: N/A
  • Special: N/A

Application fee: $65

Campus: Durham

New England Regional: No

Accelerated Masters Eligible: No

New Hampshire Residents

Students claiming in-state residency must also submit a Proof of Residence Form. This form is not required to complete your application, but you will need to submit it after you are offered admission or you will not be able to register for classes.


If you attended UNH after September 1, 1991, and have indicated so on your online application, we will retrieve your transcript internally; this includes UNH-Durham, UNH-Manchester and UNH Non-Degree work. 

If you did not attend UNH, or attended prior to September 1, 1991, then you must request one official transcript be sent directly to our office from the Registrar's Office of each college/university attended. International transcripts must be translated into English. We accept transcripts both electronically and in hard copy:

  • Electronic Transcripts: Please have your institution send the transcript directly to Please note that we can only accept copies sent directly from the institution.
  • Paper Transcripts: Please send hard copies of transcripts to: UNH Graduate School, Thompson Hall- 105 Main Street, Durham, NH 03824. You may request transcripts be sent to us directly from the institution or you may send them yourself as long as they remain sealed in the original university envelope.

Transcripts are required for any school you earned a degree from, attended for at least one year, or attended for 2 or more semesters. Exceptions to this rule may be approved at the discretion of the program you are applying to and the UNH Graduate School Admission’s office.

Letters of recommendation: 3 required

Recommendation letters submitted by relatives or friends, as well as letters older than one year, will not be accepted.

Personal Statement/Essay Questions

A clear, concise statement of the applicant’s relevant past experiences including academics, research, and/or work experience. The statement should also include an expression of interests and an explanation of the student’s goals in pursuing a doctoral degree. Applicants must identify in the application personal statement an NRESS PhD Program Faculty member willing to serve as their graduate advisor.

Statements must be included with your submitted application.

Additional Department Requirements

Applicants must secure a faculty member from the current list of NRESS faculty who will agree to serve as advisor and potentially provide funding for the student’s doctoral studies. Applicants should visit the NRESS program website and review the list of faculty in their area of interest. The applicant should contact potential faculty advisors to discuss their interests to determine if the faculty member(s) would be willing to serve as the student’s advisor before applying to the program.

Important Notes

All applicants are encouraged to contact programs directly to discuss program specific application questions.

International Applicants

Some academic departments recommend that international applicants, living outside of the United States, and planning on pursuing a research based degree, submit a preapplication form before submitting a full application. If your desired program is not on the form, departments prefer a full application be submitted. Preapplication requests will be carefully reviewed and a decision usually provided within 3 weeks. If your preapplication is approved then it is recommended you then submit a full application. If you are currently living in the United States (on a H1B visa, etc.), or you plan on pursuing a professional master’s degree, then you do not need to submit a preapplication.

Prospective international students are required to submit TOEFL, IELTS, or equivalent examination scores. English Language Exams may be waived if English is your first language. If you wish to request a waiver, then please visit our Test Scores webpage for more information.

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