The PhD NRES is intentionally interdisciplinary in nature, stressing the interconnections between the physical, biological and social/ethical components of natural environments. Students within this degree may choose to pursue research within one or a combination of research areas, but will have a firm foundation in understanding how their research contributes to a broader understanding of natural resources and environmental studies.  

Research Areas

Many of our doctoral students fall within the following research areas within Natural Resources & Environmental Studies.

Earth Systems & Dynamics

Earth Systems & Dynamics explores the physical sciences aspects of the environment, such as: the role of water in landscape evolution; environmental processes that determine climate; the evidence for, types of, processes affecting, and impacts of global climate change; etc.

Societal Structures and Value

Societal Structure & Values considers those aspects of the social sciences and humanities that influence, or are influence by, the environment, such as: relationships between people and place; human adaptation to the environment; patterns of resource exploitation; etc. 

Ecological Patterns and Processes

Ecological Patterns & Processes explores the biotic components of environments, such as: requirements for sustainability of life; environmental adaptations; functions of different trophic levels within ecosystems; biodiversity; etc.

Combined Research Areas

Many students also explore the intersections of these broad research areas, requiring thought and understanding of issues from different perspectives.

Here are some examples:

  • The intersections between Earth Systems & Dynamics and Ecological Patterns & Processes might consider ecosystem productivity, resilience and vulnerability to change, or the impacts of climate change on biotic systems.
  • The intersection between Societal Structures & Values and Ecological Patterns & Processes might include: the sustainability of fisheries, wildlife, forestry, and recreation; policy decisions and their role in conservation; the role of the public in resource decision making, or how value systems and culture influence resource use, etc.

Ultimately, the goal of our PhD courses is to help the student look outwards from this central perspective, and relate these different viewpoints to various problems/issues within natural ecosystems.

Program Overview

First Qualifying Year

Students in the PhD NRES Program will take four courses in their first, qualifying, year. The goal of these four courses is to introduce the students to the breadth of perspectives within NRES, as well as to have them learn to apply these differing perspectives to their own research, and effectively be able to communicate these ideas to specialists within their own fields, as well as to researchers in other fields, policy makers and the general public. 


  • NRES 801 - Integrated Environmental Systems I
  • NRES 802 - Integrated Environmental Systems II
  • NRES 803 – Integrated Environmental Systems III
  • NRES 804 – Graduate Seminar

These courses introduce the students to a range of physical, biological and social/ethical perspectives on natural resources and environmental studies and teach students to think across these perspectives. 

Additional Course Work

Students in this degree may opt to take additional course work in specialized areas (at the 600 or 700 level), or may have additional coursework recommended by their supervisory committees to provide detailed understanding of theories or methods relevant to their research projects.  Students may also choose additional courses at other universities.

End of Qualifying Year

At the end of their Qualifying Year, the students write two sets of Qualifying Exams. The General Exam tests the students grasp of the interdisciplinary material presented in the 800 courses. The Specialty Exam is set by the student’s Supervisory Committee and tests the students grasp of research underpinning their proposed research. This exam draws upon readings assigned earlier by the Supervisory Committee.  Upon successful completion of the Qualification Exams, the student will also prepare and defend a dissertation proposal.