I. Program Description
The Natural Resources and Environmental Science (NRES) Ph.D. degree offers graduate study of the ecology, management, and restoration of ecosystems. Areas of specialization include (but are not limited to):
The NRES Doctoral degree program is inherently multidisciplinary and capitalizes upon the broad spectrum of expertise offered by NRES departmental faculty. Student learning outcomes include:
- Students will be able to demonstrate critical thinking, writing, and communication skills that will enable them to succeed after graduation.
- Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the theoretical basis and experimental methods used for study of natural resources and environmental science.
- Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of experimental design; field/laboratory instrumentation and procedures; computer models; and data analyses used in natural resource and environmental science research.
For more information about the NRES Ph.D. program, contact:
Associate Professor and NRES Graduate Program Director
Students are encouraged to contact NRES faculty directly to inquire about graduate opportunities and research interests.
II. Degree Requirements
NRES Ph.D. students must pass the following milestones to earn a Ph.D., each of which are described in detail below:
- Complete required courses as well as earn a UNR-mandated number of credits.
- Declare one or more advisors, establish a graduate advisory committee of at least five (5) members of the UNR graduate faculty, and submit a program of study.
- Pass a written and oral comprehensive exam prepared by the graduate advisory committee meant to test the student's discipline-specific knowledge and science communication skills.
- Prepare a dissertation proposal in collaboration with the graduate advisory committee.
- Perform dissertation research.
- Write and defend dissertation.
In addition to these milestones, all NRES Ph.D. students are required to work with their advisor to draft an annual statement of goals and expectations and provide annual evaluation reports showing satisfactory progress through the program.
1. Required Courses
All NRES Ph.D. students must take:
- NRES 685 "Conversations in Natural Resources and Environmental Science" (typically in the first semester)
- Six (6) credits of approved quantitative coursework at the 600 or higher level
- Four (4) credits of a committee approved seminar series (NRES 685 counts towards this requirement).
Beyond these courses, the NRES Ph.D. degree is intended to be “committee-driven” where the student has flexibility to select most courses and develop a program of study under the guidance of an advisory committee, making sure the minimum credit requirements of the grad school are achieved.
2. Credit requirements
UNR has a set of minimum requirements of graduate credits, which are as follows:
- Minimum of 60 graduate units is required, including at least 40 units in course work.
- Maximum of 24 from completed master’s degree, with no limit on the number of units transferred when the student earns master’s en route to Ph.D. in UNR doctoral program.
- At least 18 units of 700-level courses, exclusive of dissertation units, are required for doctoral degree
- 12-30 dissertation units may be applied toward completion of doctoral degree
- With program director approval, internship/externship experiences can count for dissertation units.
- Fulfill residency requirement; two consecutive semesters (fall/spring or spring/fall) of at least nine (9) graduate credits each; (students on 20hr/week assistantships require 6 credits each semester (fall/spring or spring/fall)
- All requirements for the doctoral program, excluding prerequisite graduate course work or masters degrees, must be completed within a period of 8 years immediately preceding the granting of the degree.
- Continuous enrollment
- Minimum enrollment of 3 graduate credits each fall and spring semester
- Some graduate programs have additional requirements
- No undergraduate credits can be applied to any advanced degree program
- Every graduate course must be completed with a grade of “C “or better
- Identify course number and institutions for all credits transferred
3. Transfer Credits
These are credits transferred from another institution. Credits completed at UNR in another program or as a graduate special do not need to be transferred. Transfer credit can be requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request form available on the Graduate School website, and must be signed by the student, major advisor, and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on Ph.D. work (8 years). Thus, if a student took a course seven years prior to admission, they would have to complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Credits from a completed master’s degree will be exempt from the 8-year time limitation for those students pursuing a doctoral degree.
4. Academic standing
Each graduate course must be completed with a grade of "C" or better for the credit to be acceptable toward an advanced degree. Some departments, at their discretion, do not accept any grade lower than "B" for the fulfillment of graduate program requirements. In addition, students must maintain good standing with an overall cumulative graduate credit GPA of at least 3.0 on a scale of 4.0. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to meet graduation eligibility. If the students cumulative grade-point total is between 2.99 and 2.31, the student is placed on probation. The student must then raise his/her cumulative graduate GPA to 3.0 by the end of the following semester or the student will be dismissed from graduate standing.
B. Advisor, Graduate Advisory Committee and Program of Study
NRES requires any incoming students to have an agreed-upon faculty advisor for acceptance to the program. The advisor must be an active (i.e. has not retired, resigned or transferred to another department) tenure-track, tenured, or adjunct member of NRES. A student may have any member of the NRES/UNR graduate faculty.
2. Graduate Advisory Committee
The graduate advisory committee plays an important role in the NRES Ph.D. program. The committee is responsible for assisting the student in designing a program of study that is tailored to the career goals of the student, fills in any academic gaps that may exist in the student’s prior academic background, and provides the needed knowledge for successful completion of the thesis research. The committee is also responsible for guiding the dissertation research and ensuring that it meets the standards of the graduate program. Therefore, the committee should be carefully selected by the student in close coordination with the advisor.
Consistent with rules of the Graduate School, each NRES Ph.D. committee requires at least five advisory committee members, including the advisor. The committee must contain at least two active tenured/tenure-track members of NRES, one of which can be the advisor, at the time of graduation. These requirements become important to keep in mind if the student's advisor or committee member retires, resigns, or transfers to another department before the end of the student's degree. If, through retirement, resignation or transferring, a student's committee no longer has two active tenured/tenure-track NRES members, they must find additional or replacement members to serve on their committee. At least one (the graduate school representative or “outside” member) must be from a department or program different from the department or program from which the student is graduating. As stated on the Graduate School website, “The Graduate School Representative protects the interests of the student, the advisory committee, and the Graduate School. The Graduate School Representative should also act as an "unbiased person" to whom the Dean may turn for judgment and counsel. The primary responsibility of the Graduate School Representative is that of an observer.” However, the Graduate School Representative may also play an important role in guiding the student, particularly if he/she has expertise in the student’s area of specialization.
3. Program of Study
The membership of the committee must be finalized by the end of the second semester, and is indicated to the Graduate School through the signing of the student’s Program of Study form. Formal approval of all student advisory committees is made by the Graduate Dean. The Program of Study form details both the list of proposed coursework as well as the list of graduate advisory committee members.
4. Termination of Advisor-Student Relationship
At any point, the advisor/student relationship may be terminated for any reason. Both the advisor and student are responsible for first seeking to resolve any conflicts potentially by involving a third-party to serve as a mediator. If the student initiates terminating an advisor relationship for any reason, or if an advisor terminates their relationship with cause, any agreements for future funding via research or teaching assistantships are nullified starting no later than the semester following this termination. A student who no longer has an advisor has one (1) semester to find a new advisor or is considered as having made "unsatisfactory progress" through the Ph.D. program and will be prevented from re-enrolling in the program. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for a new advisor in this case. Establishing a new advisor invalidates the Program of Study. The new advisor may require the student to potentially take new courses, change their advisory committee, retake comprehensive exams or redraft a dissertation proposal, and the student will need to submit a new Declaration of Advisor and Program of Study.
C. Comprehensive Exam
The comprehensive exam's purpose is to test the student's knowledge of their chosen course of study, and along with the dissertation proposal, is designed to ensure a valid course of research has been examined by the student's entire committee before the bulk of the research begins. The timelines and order of completing these two steps are recommendations and can be adjusted as needed with consent of the committee, but must be treated as separate requirements (i.e. the comprehensive exam should not be combined with the dissertation proposal). The student must pass their written and oral comprehensive exams and have an approved dissertation proposal prior to advancing to candidacy. A student must fulfill all candidacy requirements at least 12 months before graduation.
The written and oral comprehensive exam should be focused on knowledge of the concepts the committee deems relevant to the course of study. The exam consists of a set of written questions provided by each member of the committee and will be graded by the same committee member. The length of the exam is up to the committee as is whether the exam is open-book or closed-book.
Each section should be graded as "Pass", "Follow-up Needed", or "Fail". A student must receive a "Pass" or a "Follow-up Needed" from all but one member of their committee before moving on to the oral section of the exam which must be scheduled within 3 months of the written exam. The oral exam should be designed to first address weaknesses in their written exam ("Follow-up Needed") and further discussion of topics of relevance to the student's field of study. The student must receive a "Pass" by all but one of the committee members on the oral portion to pass the comprehensive exam. In general, this exam should be completed within two years of the student's start date.
A failure to meet the requirements of the written exam occurs when the student has not met the threshold described above or when the student's committee decides that the totality of the effort is unsatisfactory. At this point, the student can petition the committee to retake the sections of the exam in which they received a "Fail". If the committee agrees, the student has three months to retake both the written and oral portions in which they received a "Fail". If either 1) the committee does not agree to allow the student to retake the exam or 2) the student does not receive a "Pass" during the second attempt, the student will be deemed as having made "unsatisfactory progress" through the Ph.D. program and will be prevented from re-enrolling in the program. At that time, upon request by the student, the committee may elect to award a M.S. degree if other requirements of the M.S. degree are met. While the student may reapply to the Ph.D. program at a future date, they will be required to meet all of the original program requirements including retaking the comprehensive exam.
D. Dissertation Proposal
The student must submit to their committee a written dissertation proposal, typically by the end of their fifth semester and after passing the comprehensive exam. The student should work with each committee member to modify the draft proposal as needed. The student is encouraged (but not required) to organize a meeting with their graduate advisory committee, present the proposal, and solicit feedback from the committee. Following the satisfactory completion of the proposal, the committee members must approve the dissertation proposal. The approved, signed proposal must be submitted to the Graduate Program Director.
E. Advancing to Candidacy and Dissertation Research
Once the student has taken all required courses, has passed the comprehensive exam, and has completed their dissertation proposal, they should complete and have the committee sign the Doctoral Admission to Candidacy form, at which point the student is considered to have "Advanced to Candidacy".
While the student has likely begun their research before this period, advancing to candidacy is the point at which the Ph.D. student should be working essentially full-time on their research and preparing their dissertation for its ultimate public and private defense.
F. Dissertation and Defense
The objective of writing a dissertation is to demonstrate the ability of a student to communicate their science, hypotheses, methods, and findings in written form. In general, the chapters of the dissertation must be of a quality that is publishable in a peer-reviewed journal of a scientific field relevant to the student’s area of expertise, as judged by the advisory committee or demonstrated by acceptance for publication in such a journal.
Successfully completing a dissertation will typically include meeting the following guidelines:
- The first draft of the dissertation should be provided to the Committee Chair or Major Advisor at least eight weeks prior to the date the dissertation is due to the Graduate College. The Advisor will work with the student directly to revise the dissertation, which may take several revisions.
- Submit the revised dissertation to the Committee at least 6 weeks prior to the date the dissertation is due to the graduate college. The Committee should review the dissertation and return any comments, criticisms, or suggestions to the student within two weeks.
- The student should carefully and thoroughly address comments made by the Committee and return the revised and potentially final dissertation to the Committee two weeks prior to the date the thesis is due.
- The student will perform an oral presentation of their research, followed by a private committee-led defense.
This timeline represents the minimum acceptable time for each step, and can be modified given consent of student, committee, and advisor.
1. Dissertation Requirements
An acceptable dissertation may have two different formats, the "Manuscript Format" and the "Book Format". Of the two, the "Manuscript Format" will likely be the most common format.
A. Manuscript format
This format, which is the recommended format for most Ph.D. students in STEM disciplines, is organized such that the core chapters are effectively draft manuscripts that can be submitted to appropriate peer-reviewed journals in the field of study. These chapters can include literature synthesis, meta-analysis, and review. The specific requirements of this format are:
- An introduction preceding the manuscript chapters. This section should establish the general scientific foundation for the body of work that will be presented in the manuscript chapters.
- At least three (3) manuscript-style chapters.
- A preface that describes what journals each chapter is submitted to or will be submitted to. This will aid the committee and future readers in understanding formatting differences among journals. The preface should also include the status of each manuscript chapter (i.e., published, in press, in review, in preparation for submission).
- A conclusion or summary. This section can also be used to describe implications for management. This section should summarize the body of research in the preceding chapters and can be used to describe implications for management.
All graduate students must have submitted at least one (1) manuscript based on either a dissertation chapter or related research to a peer-reviewed journal before the dissertation defense can be scheduled. Any chapters that are not submitted to a peer-reviewed journal are expected to be submitted within 24 months of graduation. Students should have a clear plan of publication developed in collaboration with their advisor prior to graduation. If a student does not make progress towards submitting their research within this time period, the advisor has the right to publish the work. In this case, student co-authorship will be maintained.
B. Book Format
The format of a book-format dissertation follows the classical, single-document dissertation format. Chapters could include, but are not limited to:
- Introduction / Literature review
- Literature cited / References
This format is generally discouraged by Ph.D.s focusing on natural science research, but may be appropriate for some research. The advisor and committee members should be consulted beforehand if the student intends to produce a book-format dissertation.
The formatting and other guidelines for the thesis are dictated by the Graduate School and must be followed precisely, as indicated on their website. The NRES Ph.D. program does not maintain its own requirements for the thesis format. Students should consult with their advisor, advisory committee, and guidelines established by the Graduate School.
2. Dissertation Defense
The defense consists of a public presentation (announced at least one week prior to the defense date) followed by a minimum 2-hour long private discussion among the committee members. The defense is not a second oral comprehensive exam; the discussion should focus on the research, its implications, and the student’s capacity to converse about their science. Ultimately, the committee must unanimously agree to sign the "Notice of Completion - Doctoral Degree" for the student to graduate. At the conclusion of the defense, the committee should consider three potential outcomes to the defense:
- Unconditional pass: the committee has no further formal requirements of the student. The committee should sign the Notice of Completion at this point.
- Conditional pass: the committee imposes some additional requirements on the student (usually additional dissertation edits, but possibly additional analysis) before they are willing to sign off on the Notice of Completion. Once the student has completed these additional requirements to the satisfaction of the committee, the Notice of Completion should be sent to the graduate advisory committee for signatures.
- Unconditional fail: the committee deems the work and defense to be unsatisfactory. At this point, the student must petition the advisor(s) for a second attempt to revise the dissertation and perform a second defense. The student has one (1) year from the previous defense to accomplish this task. If either 1) the advisor(s) do not agree to a second attempt to defend the dissertation, or 2) the student does not defend satisfactorily the second time, similar to failing the comprehensive exam, the student will be deemed as having made "unsatisfactory progress" through the Ph.D. program and will be prevented from re-enrolling in the program. At that time, upon request by the student, the committee may elect to award a M.S. degree if other requirements of the M.S. degree are met. While the student may reapply to the Ph.D. program at a future date, they will be required to meet all of the original program requirements including retaking the comprehensive exam.
Once all requirements have been met, students must submit a Final Review Approval and Notice of Completion form in order to graduate.
- Notice of completion – this completed form should be submitted after all requirements have been met. If the student has an unconditional pass during their defense, the student should have this form signed by the committee at the conclusion of the defense.
- Final Review Approval form – Obtain sign-off from advisory committee chair
G. Annual Statement of Goals and Expectations and Evaluations
Clear communication of advisor-student expectations and timely evaluations of students' progress meeting these milestones is a critical step towards keeping students on-track for completing their degrees and having a positive and rewarding experience during the process. As such, all students are required to prepare, in collaboration with their advisor, an annual statement of goals and expectations at the beginning of the school year, and an evaluation of the student's progress meeting these expectations at the end of each school year. After each annual evaluation, a new statement of goals and expectations is established for the next year.
H. Teaching Requirements
Teaching and mentorship will be a critical skill for researchers at the PhD level regardless of their ultimate career goal. As such, all PhD students are required to participate in at least one (1) semester of committee-approved teaching or mentorship. This can include direct teaching experience (e.g. a teaching assistantship or full course responsibility), professional training in education, or guided mentorship of other students.
I. Graduate School Academic Requirements
All graduate students must maintain a cumulative graduate GPA of 3.0. If their GPA drops below 3.0, they are either placed on probation or dismissed. Undergraduate courses will not count towards graduate GPA.
Probation: students whose cumulative graduate GPA falls between 2.31 and 2.99 are automatically placed on academic probation for one semester. If they fail to raise their cumulative GPA to 3.0 by the end of one semester, they are dismissed from their graduate program. Thesis, dissertation, S/U graded credits, and transfer credits have no impact on a student’s GPA.
Dismissal: students whose cumulative graduate GPA is 2.30 or lower are dismissed. Dismissed students are no longer enrolled in their graduate program but may take graduate-level courses as a Grad Special. Dismissed students wishing to complete their degree must obtain approval to take graduate-level courses, raise their graduate GPA to at least 3.0, and then re-apply to their graduate program. Any courses taken in an effort to raise their GPA will be included in the graduate special/ transfer credit limitation (9 credits for master’s degrees).
Please refer to Nevada System of Higher Education CODE on Student Program Dismissal Procedures (SPDP) and review conference policies: (NSHE CODE, Chapter 11, Sections 1-3). If program dismissal is based upon failure to maintain required grades or a required GPA as described above, SPDP does not apply and the student may be summarily dismissed from the graduate program.
J. Exceptions to Degree Requirements
The requirements detailed above constitute the expectations of all Ph.D. students entering the program, but we recognize that there may need to be exceptions to these policies under certain circumstances. As such, it is the right and responsibility of the Graduate Program Committee to consider any requests for exceptions to these policies. Policy exception requests should be made, via email, to the Graduate Program Director. The exception request should include a description of the specific policy under question, and why the student cannot meet this expectation. The policy will be voted on in a timely fashion by the Graduate Program Committee, with ties being broken by the Graduate Program Director. If the exception illuminates a more general issue that future graduate students may need to deal with, the Graduate Program Committee may elect to modify this handbook to reflect these changes. Please note that some requirements are set by UNR and are cannot be overridden by the Graduate Program Committee. Exceptions to these UNR-level policies may need to be escalated to the Graduate School in collaboration with the Graduate Program Director.
III. Timeline for degree completion
The following timeline is based on expectations of the Graduate School and the NRES Ph.D. Program. While every student does not progress through their graduate program at the same rate and often more than 8 semesters are required to complete the Ph.D. degree, students should seek to minimize substantial delays. Please note the Graduate School requirement that all course work must be completed within eight years preceding the awarding of the degree (i.e. course work from more than eight years ago cannot be applied towards the Ph.D. degree). Any milestones in bold are not optional, and failure to complete these by their deadline may result in the student being considered as making "unsatisfactory progress" which may result in the student being prevented from re-enrolling and/or being ineligible for graduate assistantships until the milestone is completed. You can find an updated list of Graduate School forms and requirements here.
First 30 days of first semester
Completion of thesis advisor form
End of first semester
End of second semester
Formation of advisory committee and first committee meeting
End of third semester
Second committee meeting: update committee on thesis research progress
End of fourth semester (and every 2nd semester following, e.g. 6th semester, 8th semester)
End of fourth semester
Comprehensive Exam (Written and Oral)
End of fifth semester
Upon satisfactory completion of coursework, comprehensive exam and dissertation proposal:
Before end of final semester
Schedule a date for the public and private thesis defense with committee members and department. The date of the defense should be at least four weeks prior to graduate school deadline for graduation
Submit draft of complete dissertation to committee members at least six weeks before scheduled thesis defense date, revise draft as needed.
Defend thesis (public presentation and private defense with graduate advisory committee)
Revise dissertation as necessary.
Schedule Exit Interview with the NRES Graduate Program Director
Upon graduation, take the Graduate School’s Exit Survey
IV. Graduate Assistantships
Graduate assistantships may take several forms including both research and teaching assistantships. Furthermore, all graduate assistantships are contingent on satisfactory progress through the program, and unsatisfactory progress may result in the assistantships being withdrawn.
Research Assistantships: NRES Ph.D. students who are supported by research assistantships (RAs) should be aware that their assistantships are typically funded by research grants administered by individual faculty members. In this case, stipends and fee waivers follow the same rules as teaching assistantships (see graduate and teaching assistantship), but there are some situations when terms of an RA may deviate from these standards. It is incumbent upon the student to understand any complexities in their funding in conjunction with the advisor.
Teaching Assistantships: Opportunities for NRES Ph.D. students to be supported by teaching assistantships are fairly limited outside of those offered as part of a student's funding package. Students should be aware that teaching assistantships during a semester may be split between more than one class (e.g. 10 hours on one class and 10 hours on another), but will never exceed 20 hours.
Graduate students are also encouraged to apply for outside funding to help support their graduate research. UNR’s Graduate School Association also provides scholarships, small grants and other funding opportunities (including for travel to conferences).
All graduate students holding an assistantship (teaching GTA or GRA) are considered Nevada residents for tuition purposes. Non-resident tuition is only waived for the duration of the assistantship. To be eligible for an assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree-granting program and be in good academic standing. The student must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and must be continuously enrolled in at least 6 graduate level credits (600-700) throughout the duration of the assistantship.
State-funded assistantships (GTA/GRA) may be held for a maximum of five (5) years for doctoral degree students.
V. Health insurance
All domestic degree seeking graduate students, who are enrolled in six or more credits (regardless of the course level) in a semester, will be automatically enrolled and billed for the University sponsored health insurance for each term they are eligible (fall & spring/summer). If a student has other comparable coverage and would like to waive out of the student health insurance, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the University online waiver form prior to the deadline. If approved, a health insurance waiver is good for the current academic year only. A new waiver must be submitted each academic year. All international graduate students are required to carry student health insurance, and the cost will be automatically added to your student account. Any international graduate students with insurance questions must contact the Office of International Students and Scholars directly.
For more information on Graduate health insurance, please visit our health insurance website.
VI. Leave of Absence
Continuous Enrollment: To maintain “good standing” all graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of three (3) graduate credits each fall and spring semester until they graduate. International students may be required to enroll in nine graduate credits each fall and spring semester depending on the requirements of their visa. All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.
Leave of Absence: Students in good standing may request a leave of absence by completing a Leave of Absence form during which time they are not required to maintain continuous registration. Usually, a leave of absence is approved for one or two semesters. The leave of absence request may be extended by the student filing an additional leave of absence form. Students applying for a leave of absence should not have any “incomplete” grades which could be changed to “F” and have a detrimental impact on their cumulative GPA. Requests for leave of absences must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the leave is to begin.
Reinstatement: When a student has been absent for one semester or more without an approved leave of absence, he or she may request reinstatement via the Reinstatement form. This form allows the program the option to recommend the student be readmitted to their graduate program based on their previous admission OR require the student to re-apply for admission which would require students to submit a new application for admission and pay the application fee. The Notice of Reinstatement to Graduate Standing must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the reinstatement is to begin.
VII. Graduate Student Association
The Graduate Student Association (GSA) represents all graduate students and promotes the welfare and interests of the graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The GSA works closely with appropriate university administrative offices, including the Graduate School and Student Services and reports to the President of the University. The GSA government functions through the Council of Representatives, Executive Council and established committees.
VIII. Graduate School Forms
Please refer to the Graduate School forms web page for all forms available at The Graduate School.
IX. Changes to the Ph.D. Handbook
This handbook should be considered a "living document" and may change over time. Current students will use the handbook version at the time of their entry into the program to determine what policies they must follow. Any substantial changes to this document should be approved by an up-or-down vote of all active tenure track/tenured and adjunct faculty who also have NRES graduate faculty status.
Last Updated March, 2022