Environmental Life Sciences, PhD

Environmental Life Sciences is an interdisciplinary graduate degree program that provides PhD-level training focusing on the interactions between organisms (plants, microbes, people and other animals) and their environments.

The ASU academic units participating in this program include:

You will be trained in core classes, seminars, reading groups and research clusters. The focus of the Environmental Life Sciences Program is on collaborative and integrative study of the causes and consequences of environmental variation across scales ranging from the organism to the globe.

Our goal is to provide a unique, interdisciplinary PhD program that encourages you to explore and solve complex environmental and organismal questions in the context of natural and anthropogenic environmental change.

General Questions
Sharon J. Hall, Co-Director and Associate Professor
Ph: (480) 965-5650 | sharonjhall@asu.edu

Heather Throop, Co-Director and Associate Professor
Ph: (480) 727-2617 | Heather.Throop@asu.edu

Admission Process
Graduate Programs School of Life Sciences-ELS Ph.D. Program
Arizona State University
P.O. Box 874601 Tempe, AZ 85287-4601
Phone: (480) 965-1768 | Fax: (480) 965-7599 | sols.grad@asu.edu

Core Courses

The PhD in Environmental Life Sciences is a research degree culminating in a dissertation that must draw upon multiple disciplinary perspectives. The degree requires the completion of 84 credit hours, 12 of which are for dissertation.

You may apply up to 30 hours from a prior Master's degree toward the total credit hour requirement after the program steering committee provides its approval. Working with your Supervisory Committee, you will develop a unique study plan, which your committee will approve.

There are no foreign language or statistics requirements, except as needed for your particular dissertation project. You will complete the following coursework and milestones.

Required Coursework

  1. ELS 501: Grand Challenges in Environmental Life Sciences (3). This course is required during your first semester and is intended to introduce first-year graduate students to a range of topics, resources and faculty members in Environmental Life Science. The course may be co-instructed and run by different faculty members each year. You will complete writing assignments based on active discussion of current literature. (Please note: The Plan of Study that links to the ASU Academic Catalog still reflects a requirement to take ELS 502. However, this course requirement has been removed and the new catalog will reflect the changes in Feb. of 2018.)
  2. At least two courses (6) from:
    • Earth Sciences (e.g., geology, hydrology)
    • Organismal Biology (e.g., physiology and behavior)
    • Evolutionary Biology (e.g., population genetics)
    • Ecology/Ecosystems/Biogeochemsitry
    • Sustainability/Social/Policy

    Successful completion of each course includes a synthetic paper in the subject area.

  3. A 3-credit course in quantitative/modeling/statistics.
  4. The remaining credit hours will be filled by your graduate elective courses or ELS omnibus courses (ELS 784, Doctoral Internship; ELS 790, Doctoral Reading and Conference).

Requirements to advance to candidacy

  1. Required course work to demonstrate breadth of knowledge (3.0 GPA minimum)
  2. Synthetic NSF-style proposal

Comprehensive Exams and Defense of the Dissertation Prospectus


  1. Semester 2: Graduate Committee decided and program of study approved
  2. Semesters 3-5: Comprehensive Exams and Defense of the Dissertation Prospectus
  3. Defense of the Dissertation

Program of Study

During the second semester and in collaboration with your Supervisory Committee, you will develop a Program of Study that defines what courses you will take.

Comprehensive Exams and Defense of the Dissertation Prospectus

A detailed description of the rationale and experimental plan of the thesis, in NSF grant-style, should be submitted to the graduate committee at least two months before the scheduled comprehensive exam date. You will be engaged in dissertation projects that explicitly involve interdisciplinary research and will be evaluated on it.

The dissertation committee will judge how well your research proposal is designed and justified. Within one month of receiving the dissertation prospectus, committee members should approve the prospectus as “ready to defend” and send any suggestions for prospectus approval to you. All committee members should indicate that the prospectus is “ready to defend” before the exam is held.

At the beginning of the exam, you will give a 15-30 minute presentation on their research plan. This part is open to a general audience of faculty, as well as to the supervisory committee. Questions from the committee in closed session should then focus on the prospectus and on your general knowledge of your research and teaching discipline.

Defense of Dissertation

You will submit your completed thesis to your committee members at least one month prior to the scheduled exam. You are strongly advised to work with your committee members, allowing them sufficient time to provide input on the chapters.

The first hour of the defense is a public presentation of the thesis research. After the public defense, you are examined by your graduate committee, which will judge whether your performance in the oral and written exams are sufficient to award the PhD degree.

Elective Courses

We encourage you to take coursework across multiple disciplinary fields. Graduate elective courses 500-level or higher may be taken from any unit at ASU in consultation with your main advisor.


The Environmental Life Sciences PhD Program makes funding offers in conjunction with admission offers. The program director works with faculty who might serve on a prospective student’s advisory committee to develop funding from a variety of campus resources, such as research assistantships funded by faculty grants, teaching assistantships and fellowships.

Prospective students desiring funding should be sure to list three faculty members they may wish to work with on their online application.

External Support

We encourage all students to seek external support. The following funding agencies provide graduate student fellowships:

  1. National Science Foundation
  2. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  3. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  4. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  5. US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Application Deadline

Applications are accepted Oct. 1 - Dec. 15, with a preference date of Dec. 1.
The Environmental Life Sciences PhD program admits one group of students annually to start their program in the following August. 

There is no guarantee that applications received after Dec. 15 will be reviewed. In January, the top applicants will be invited to a recruitment event scheduled in mid- to late-February. 

Before applying, we encourage you to read our Tips for Applying.

We will notify you of your admissions status by April 15. 

Desired qualifications:

  • Research experience 
  • Undergraduate GPA minimum 3.0 (on 4.0 scale)
  • GRE scores: 50% Verbal and 70% Quantitative 
  • International students: TOEFL score of 100, or IELTS score of 6.5

Note: Your application is evaluated based on your entire application package.

To apply, follow the How and When to Apply link below.

 You will be asked to:

  1. Review the university standards, degree program timelines and application requirements
  2. Complete the graduate admission application
  3. Send official transcripts, general GRE scores and language tests (international students only) to graduate admissions services
  4. Fill out the academic record form and upload it 
  5. Submit a non-refundable application fee

Degree Offered

Environmental Life Sciences, PhD
Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of


Plan of Study

The Plan of Study is the required curriculum to complete the program.

View Plan of Study

Applications for Fall 2019

  • Accepted:  Oct. 1-Dec. 15, 2018
  • Priority deadline:  Dec. 1, 2018

Financial Support for Graduate Education

 More information on financial support through the School of Life Sciences.


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