Environmental Life Sciences, PHD


At a Glance: program details



If you are a critical thinker, this transdisciplinary program can prepare you to address global change and its consequences, from urban to remote ecosystems, using new and integrative approaches.

Program Description

Degree Awarded: PHD Environmental Life Sciences

The PhD in environmental life sciences is an integrative graduate degree program that provides doctorate-level training in several fields focused on the interactions between organisms (e.g., plant, microbe, humans and other animals) and the environment (locally and globally).

This distinct program integrates training across many fields of study. Dissertations may include any of the following, plus related fields:

  • biochemistry and chemistry
  • biology (ecology, physiology, evolution)
  • conservation science
  • environmental engineering
  • geosciences
  • mathematics and statistics
  • social sciences
  • spatial sciences
  • sustainability

Graduate students are trained by means of a core class taught by environmental life science faculty members, through hands-on experiences in the lab and field, with guidance from committee members across multiple disciplines, and in research seminars.

The program focus is on collaborative, interdisciplinary and integrative study of the causes and consequences of environmental variation across scales ranging from the organism to the globe. The overall goal is to provide a valuable interdisciplinary doctoral program that encourages students to explore and solve complex problems in the context of natural and anthropogenic environmental change.

Administered by ASU's School of Life Sciences, eight additional schools participate in this interdisciplinary program to promote broad, collaborative training.



Application and admission information

Applications open September 1 for admission in Fall of the following year. The application deadline is December 1. We accept applications for Fall semesters only. We cannot guarantee that applications received after the December 1 deadline will be considered for admission.

All applicants must apply by filling out ASU's Graduate Admissions application. All application materials must be submitted through the application or to Graduate Admissions directly. Please do not mail or email any documents to the School of Life Sciences. 

Required materials and information include the following:

  • 1-2 page personal statement
  • An up to date CV or resume
  • The names of relevant SOLS faculty you have been in touch with who you might be interested in being supervised by
  • Unofficial transcripts and English proficiency test scores (if applicable)
  • The names and emails of at least 3 recommenders to write you letters of recommendation

Following the December 1 deadline, faculty will begin reviewing applications. Applicants should monitor their My ASU priority tasks to ensure there are no missing materials in their application.

Faculty will decide which applicants they would like to invite to our Graduate Recruitment Weekends (GRWs), typically held in February. Applicants will hear from the School of Life Sciences in January if they are invited to participate in the GRWs.

Admission decisions will begin after the GRWs, and applicants typically receive final decisions by April 1.

Minimum requirements for admission include the following:

  • Cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • International applicants must satisfy university minimum requirements for English proficiency (TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, PTE)
    • There are other ways to demonstrate English proficiency beyond the tests, so please refer to ASU's English proficiency webpage to review how you might satisfy requirements

Desired qualifications typically seen in competitive candidates:

Please note that the GRE is not required.

Students offered admission to a PhD program in the School of Life Sciences will typically receive a funding offer as well. While individual funding offers may differ to some degree, they typically include teaching assistant and/or research assistant positions each semester (summer optional) for 5 years. These positions provide financial coverage through the following:

  • A standard salary stipend paid biweekly
  • Tuition remission covering enrollment in 6-18 credit hours for fall and spring semesters and 1-14 credit hours for summer semesters
  • Health insurance coverage

To discover more, check out the ASU Graduate College's funding opportunities!


Degree Requirements

84 credit hours, a written comprehensive exam, an oral comprehensive exam, a prospectus and a dissertation

Required Core (3 credit hours)
ELS 501 Environmental Life Sciences: Grand Challenge: Global Climate Change (3)

Electives (69 credit hours)

Culminating Experience (12 credit hours)
ELS 799 Dissertation (12)

Additional Curriculum Information
ELS 501 is required for students to take during their first semester at ASU.

For electives, students should see the academic unit for approved coursework. Students also may take ELS omnibus courses to fulfill some of the elective requirements.

When approved by the student's supervisory committee and the Graduate College, this program allows 30 credit hours from a previously awarded master's degree to be used for this degree. If students do not have a previously awarded master's degree, the 30 hours of coursework are made up of electives and research.


Admission Requirements

Applicants must fulfill the requirements of both the Graduate College and The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Applicants are eligible to apply to the program if they have earned a bachelor's or master's degree in a related discipline from a regionally accredited institution.

Applicants must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 (scale is 4.00 = "A") in the last 60 hours of their first bachelor's degree program, or a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.00 (scale is 4.00 = "A") in an applicable master's degree program.

Applicants must submit the following:

  1. graduate admission application and application fee
  2. official transcripts
  3. academic record form
  4. personal statement
  5. curriculum vitae or resume
  6. three letters of recommendation
  7. proof of English proficiency

Additional Application Information
An applicant whose native language is not English must provide proof of English proficiency regardless of their current residency.


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Learning Outcomes

  • Able to effectively communicate environmental biology concepts in oral and written formats.
  • Able to execute a research plan of their own design that addresses a significant scientific question about environmental life sciences.

Career Opportunities

Environmental life scientists address ecological and environmental questions in social-ecological-technological systems, thus students often have a social science or related component in their dissertation. Graduates are prepared for a range of careers related to global environmental change, conservation and resource management, and sustainable industries among others.

Career examples include:

  • climate change analyst
  • consultant
  • environmental compliance inspector
  • environmental engineer
  • environmental safety and health coordinator
  • insect ecologist and exhibits specialist
  • oceans and climate manager
  • professor
  • public health scientist
  • research director
  • scientist

Scientist, professor, consultant and research director roles may involve specialization areas, including:

  • atmosphere and space
  • ecology (community, ecosystem, microbe, population, wildlife)
  • ecosystem restoration
  • forestry and conservation

Program Contact Information

If you have questions related to admission, please click here to request information and an admission specialist will reach out to you directly. For questions regarding faculty or courses, please use the contact information below.