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Soil, Water and Environmental Science (PHD)  
Program Description

SWES offers graduate work leading to Ph.D. degree in Soil, Water and Environmental Science. Two tracks are offered, "Environmental Science" or "Soil and Water Science". In addition to the major, each Ph.D. student must complete a minor, which can be intra- or interdepartmental. Many, if not most, SWES graduate students enroll in several non-SWES courses as part of their program. This reflects the multi-disciplinary characteristics of the SWES program in general, and also that a minor is required for all Ph.D. students. The most frequently used outside courses are in Chemistry, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Hydrology and Water Resources, and Microbiology.

Once enrolled in the SWES graduate degree program, students may concurrently pursue a Graduate Certificate in Water Policy. There is flexibility in both course selection and schedule, to meet the specific needs and interests of a variety of students. The program is interdisciplinary.

The department also offers two dual degree options:  the Master of Science in Soil, Water and Environmental Science and a Master of Arts in Journalism; and a dual Ph.D. in Soil, Water and Environmental Science and MBA from the Eller College of Management.  Graduates with the dual MS/MA degrees would be able to make important contributions not only to discussions within news organizations about the ways in which information about science should be gathered and evaluated, but also discussions in the fields of science and journalism about the ways in which this information influences public perceptions and public policy, and therefore the effects of science on society.  Those with the dual Ph.D./MBA would be prepared for science-related careers in industry and government that require understanding of development, production and regulation, as well as skills in management and leadership.

The SWES department strongly supports attendance at professional meetings. Student presentations at meetings and student publications are likewise encouraged. Numerous workshops on topics ranging from the Internet to scientific writing are regularly available.

In addition to graduate student-sponsored activities, various departmental events, such as departmental picnics and weekly seminars, provide students with opportunities to meet and socialize with colleagues.

With a M.S. or Environmental Science, students will be prepared for careers in business and industry, governmental agencies, educational institutions, and private consulting firms. Many Ph.D. students obtain faculty positions at colleges and universities.

Electronic copies of Dissertations and Master's Theses may be accessed through the UA Campus Repository.

Department/Academic Unit(s)

Soil, Water, & Environmental Sciences -

The Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science (SWES) brings together a faculty of outstanding scientists, distinguished by their understanding of soil, water, and the environment, and their ability to carry out research and planning towards the solution of environmental and resource use problems.  The department offers graduate work leading to the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Soil, Water and Environmental Science, with focal areas in either Environmental Science, or Soil and Water Science.  Also offered are an accelerated Master of Science degree in Soil, Water and Environmental Science, dual Master of Science degrees in Journalism and Soil, Water and Environmental Science, and in Business Administration and Soil, Water and Environmental Science, and a Graduate Certificate in Aquaculture. 

Graduate study in the SWES Department is open to students with undergraduate preparation in biological, chemical, physical, earth, or engineering sciences. Students with other backgrounds may be accepted into the program, with course deficiencies noted. Approximately 60 graduate students and 200 undergraduate students are continuously enrolled in the department.

Students with a graduate degree from the SWES Department are highly employable, pursuing careers in academia, the public sector (e.g., consulting), with state, federal and international agencies (USDA, USGS, USFC, NASA, FAO, etc.), and NGOs.

College of Agriculture & Life Sciences  
Campus where offered
Main Campus - Tucson  
Admissions Contact
Kathleen A Landeen
Graduate Program Coordinator
Kathleen A Landeen
Director of Graduate Studies
Marcel G Schaap
Graduate College Degree Counselor
Kristi Renee Davenport
Tuition and Fees
Please refer to the UA Bursar's Office Tuition and Fees Calculator for up-to-date information about tuition and fees. 
Please refer to the UA Registrar's's Office Special Course Fees for up-to-date information about special course fees. 

Admissions Information

Admissions Requirements

ALL applicants must be accepted for admission to both The Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and The University of Arizona Graduate College.  Minimum eligiblity requirements for admission to The Graduate College include completion of a bachelor's degree or an equivalent degree and a 3.000 grade point average on a 4.000 grade scale.

Required application materials include the following:
An official on-line application for admission to the UA Graduate College.
Letter of Intent (one to two page letter specifying your area of interest and goals).
*Three letters of recommendation (letters should be printed on letterhead and submitted electronically.       

Official transcripts from ALL institutions attended.  If you are currently in the process of completing a degree program, please mail your transcript, including your current course schedule, and later submit a MANDATORY final, official transcript that lists your graduation date and degree awarded.  If you are currently in the process of completing a degree program, please mail your transcript, including your current course schedule, and later submit a MANDATORY final, official transcript that lists your graduation date and degree awarded.                                                                                                   

Required prerequisite coursework is listed in the next section.

English language proficiency is one of the conditions for admission for all applicants whose native language is not English. Applicants must submit a minimum TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score of 79 internet based (iBT), 550 paper based (PB), or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) composite score of 7 (no subject area below a 6).TOEFL Institution Code: 4832                                
Submission of GRE scores is suggested, but are not required. GRE Institution Code: 4832

*Recommenders are notified via email and provided directions for uploading the letter of recommendation.


The minimum undergraduate preparation for admission into the SWES graduate program includes the following courses (or equivalent):

Course Descriptions / UA Course Numbers

Fundamentals of Chemistry I - (Lecture & Lab) / CHEM 151

Fundamentals of Chemistry II - (Lecture & Lab) / CHEM 152

Introductory Physics (Lecture & Lab) / PHYS 102/181 or PHYS 141

General Microbiology (Lecture), or / MIC 205 A or

Introductory Biology / MCB 181R

Calculus I / MATH 122A/B or 125

Statistics / MATH 263 or Math 363 or MGMT 276 or SBS 200

Physical Geology (Lec) / GEOS 251 or Soil Science (Lec) / ENVS 200

*Note:  Soil and Water Science (SWS) students must complete both GEOS 251 and ENVS 200; Environmental Science (ES) students may choose either GEOS 251 or ENVS 200.

Students who lack some prerequisites, but who are otherwise qualified, may be admitted with the missing courses listed as deficiencies.  These deficient courses must be completed early in their program.  It is advantageous to take immediate steps toward removing any noted deficiencies within the first two semesters.  A higher-level course may be used to satisfy a prerequisite with prior approval of the Graduate Program Director.  A grade of "B" or better must be obtained to satisfy deficiency requirements.

Standardized Tests

GRE is suggested by not required.

Financial Aid

There is no guarantee of departmental financial assistance.  Prospective students should directly contact faculty members with whom they potentially share research interests regarding Research Assistantships. 

Applicants are encouraged to apply for institutional funding offered through the UA Graduate College, including Graduate Access Fellowships, UA/SIGP Fellowships, and NASA Scholarships.  Domestic students should submit a Free Application for Federal Student Loans, FAFSA, to qualify for institutional funding  Detailed information on UA financial aid may be found at

Admissions Deadlines

Domestic Applicants:

  • Fall: June 1
  • Spring: October1

International Applicants:

  • Fall: December 1
  • Spring: June 1
International Conditional Admission
International applicants may be considered for conditional admission to this program at the department's discretion.
Other Information
The GRE Institution Code for The University of Arizona is 4832
NRC Taxon(a) for this program: Earth Sciences, Chemistry, Microbiology, Plant Sciences

Completion Requirements

Degree Requirements

Major Professor and Required Committees

A student’s Major Professor will be the faculty supervisor who has accepted the student into his/her program.  The two advisory committees with which the student will interact are the Comprehensive Examination Committee and the Doctoral Dissertation Committee.  

The Comprehensive Examination Committee consists of at least four members (three for the major, one for the minor), and should be formed by the end of the first year in consultation with the Major Professor. The purpose of this committee is to conduct the Comprehensive Examination (see below).

The Doctoral Dissertation Committee should be formed by the time the results of the Oral Comprehensive Examination form is submitted to the Graduate College; earlier formation is encouraged. The purpose of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee is to help supervise the student’s research, and to conduct the Final Oral Defense examination. It consists of four members, the Major Professor and at least two additional members must be tenure track faculty from the major; the fourth member may be an approved special member.  It may include members from the Comprehensive Examination committee.  Special committee members must be pre-approved by the Dean of the Graduate College. Generally, a majority of the committee must be faculty members in the SWES Department, with expertise in the immediate field of research. The student may also have a co-director or committee member outside the department, provided that he or she has credentials acceptable  to the Department and the Graduate College.

Credit Requirements and Transfer Credit

The equivalent of at least six semesters of full-time graduate study is required for the PhD program.  A minimum of 63 total units is required for the PhD; at least 36 units of course work in the area of the major subject, 12 units in the minor subject, and 18 units of dissertation (ENVS 920) must be completed.  At least one half of these units must be from courses in which letter grades have been earned.  Graduate credit earned at other approved institutions, if accepted by the SWES Department and the Graduate College and with a grade of A or B, may be counted toward the requirements of this degree, but will not be calculated in The University of Arizona grade point average.  Students who wish to transfer credit must submit a Transfer Credit form in GradPath before the end of their first year of study.  All required units of credit must be at the 500-level or above at The University of Arizona (or, in the case of transfer units, their equivalent at other institutions).  A minimum of 12 units of regular grades taken at The University of Arizona are required to establish a University of Arizona GPA.  Credit for correspondence courses or extension work obtained at other institutions will not be accepted for graduate credit.

At least two full-time semesters (i.e., at least 10 units each semester), and at least 30 credits of graduate work must be completed at The University of Arizona.  For students holding graduate assistantships, the residence requirement can be met by four semesters, during each of which they register for six or more units of graduate credit.  Graduate credit for which a grade of A or B was obtained during a prior program at the UA may be used to meet the credit requirements upon approval of the Major Professor and Doctoral Dissertation Committee.  In addition, graduate credit for which a grade of A or B was obtained may be transferable from other institutions with the approval of the Major Professor and the Graduate College.

Minimum Course Requirements

The minimum course requirements for the PhD with majors in Environmental Science or Soil and Water Science are as follows:

Two MS majors are offered, Environmental Science (ES) and Soil and Water Science (SWS).  The ES major requires completing one course from each of the three categories (9 units); The SWS major requires completion of four of the five courses (12 units).

  • Total Major coursework = 36 credits minimum.
  • Additional course work in Major 24 - 27 credits

A minimum of 18 units are required in graded (A,B) lecture-based courses; the remaining units may comprise credits from non-dissertation research courses (e.g., independent study, laboratory rotation), special-topics discussion courses, seminars, and similar.

  • Two credits of Seminar
  • Minor:  The SWES department requires 12 units for the minor.  Since requirements vary by department, students should check with their minor department if it is not SWES.  The Graduate College requires a minimum of 9 units for all minor programs.
  • 18 units of dissertation (ENVS 920)
  • Total Credits required = 66

Foreign Language Requirement

The SWES Department recommends, but does not require proficiency in a foreign language.

Doctoral Plan of Study

By the end of the first semester, students should develop a list of courses for their PhD graduate program, in conjunction with, and final approval by, the student’s Major Professor and Dissertation Advisory Committee. Suitable courses from other departments can be included in the major program.  The student is responsible for submitting the Doctoral Plan of Study.  The Doctoral Plan of Study requires approval by the Major Professor, Minor Professor, the SWES Department Head, and the Graduate College.  The Doctoral Plan of Study should identify

  1. courses the student intends to transfer from other institutions
  2. courses already completed at the University of Arizona that the student intends to apply toward a graduate degree
  3. additional courses the student plans to complete to fulfill degree requirements


The University of Arizona Graduate College mandates that every student in a doctoral program have an approved dissertation prospectus or proposal on file within their department.  As soon as the student has an approved prospectus/proposal on file within the department, the department's Graduate Coordinator will submit the prospectus/proposal confirmation form in GradPath on behalf of the student.

Doctoral Candidates should submit a final prospectus to their dissertation committee for review soon after advancement to candidacy, and prior to writing the dissertation.  The Prospectus should be approved a minimum of six months before scheduling the Final Oral Defense.  The prospectus provides a preliminary description of the proposed dissertation and should include:

Title Page

-     Title

-     Name, Program, Student ID

Problem Statement (1-2 pages)

-     Argument to address the gap in research literature in terms of relevance to the discipline

-     Evidence (citations) providing justification that this research is meaningful 

-     Purpose of study

-     What needs to be studied, describing variable and conjectured relationship among them

Research Question (which will be the foundation for the generation of hypotheses)

Significance (1-2 paragraphs)

Background (literature search supporting assertions in the problem statement)

Framework (identifies research design decisions: method of inquiry, data collection and analysis)

Other Information (e.g., challenges or barriers that may need to be addressed)


Comprehensive Examination                  

Before admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree, the student must pass a written and an oral Doctoral Comprehensive Examination.  The Comprehensive Examination is considered a single examination, although it consists of written and oral parts.  This examination is intended to test the student's comprehensive knowledge of the major and minor subjects of study, both in breadth across the general field of study and in depth within the area of specialization.  The examination, therefore, should not take place until the student has completed all, or almost all, of their coursework.  The format and administration of the written portion is determined by the Comprehensive Examination Committee.  The minor department controls the minor portion of the written examination and may waive it at their discretion.  A student must pass the written portion before the oral portion. The time between the written and oral portion is determined by the Comprehensive Examination Committee, but the oral portion should come early enough to allow the student to advance to candidacy in a timely fashion.

Upon successful completion of the written portion of the examination, the Oral Comprehensive Examination is conducted before the Comprehensive Examination Committee. The oral portion of the examination must cover both the major and the minor.  In addition to testing a broad knowledge of the chosen field of study and sufficient depth of understanding in areas of specialization, discussion of proposed dissertation research may be included. The examining committee must attest that the student has demonstrated the professional level of knowledge expected of a junior academic colleague.

Should a student fail the oral portion of the Comprehensive Examination, they will be permitted to

re-take the oral exam upon the recommendation of their Comprehensive Examination Committee. Receiving more than one “fail” vote constitutes failure of the exam. An abstaining vote counts as a negative vote.  Prior to re-taking the exam, the student will be directed to complete a remedial program recommended by their Comprehensive Examination Committee.  This remedial program may include additional course work to improve their depth or breadth of knowledge in the targeted area(s), completion of an independent study, or other activities as deemed appropriate by the committee.  Upon successful completion of the remedial program, the student will be granted the opportunity to re-take the oral portion of the Comprehensive Exam.  The second examination, if approved, may not take place sooner than four months from the date of the first examination.  The Comprehensive Oral Examination can only be taken twice.

Normally, the written and oral portions of the comprehensive examination should take place at least three months prior to the Final Oral Examination (defense of dissertation).  The exact time and place of the Comprehensive examination is scheduled with the Comprehensive Examination Committee. 

When the student has an approved Doctoral Plan of Study on file with the Graduate Degree Certification Office, has satisfied all course work and residence requirements, and passed the written and oral portions of the Comprehensive Examination their bursar account will be billed the fee for candidacy, dissertation processing, and archiving. This is a one-time fee and the student will not be billed again if they change their anticipated graduation date. Copyrighting is optional and carries an additional fee.

Doctoral Dissertation Committee Appointment

The Doctoral Dissertation Committee Appointment form must be filed with the Graduate College no later than six months before the student schedules the Final Oral Defense Examination.  This will notify the Graduate College of the student’s intended semester of graduation, title of dissertation, and diploma mailing address.  An approved Doctoral Dissertation Committee Appointment form must be on file with the Graduate College before scheduling the Final Oral Defense Examination. Prior to, or at this time, the student should select the members of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee, who will also serve as the Final Oral Defense Examination Committee. It is recommended that this committee be constituted as soon as possible.

Final Oral Defense Examination            

Upon the completion of the dissertation, the candidate must have a Final Oral Defense Examination. A student must be in good academic standing to schedule the defense. The examination focuses on the dissertation itself but can include general questioning related to the field(s) of study within the scope of the dissertation.

The date, time, and location of the final examination must be scheduled with the Graduate College in advance using the Announcement of Final Oral Defense form in GradPath.  This form should be submitted far enough in advance of the examination that all approvers can grant their approval in time for the form to reach the Graduate College one week prior to the exam. 

The Graduate College will place an announcement on the UA master calendar to invite the public to attend the candidate's presentation of his or her work.  Final Oral Examinations should be scheduled during days when the university is in session and during normal business hours. Permission to hold examinations during university holiday closures or outside of normal university business hours may be granted by Graduate College.

The Major Professor presides over the examination. The initial seminar portion during which the student presents the dissertation and entertains questions is open to the public.  The Doctoral Dissertation Committee's deliberation is closed to the public.  There is no minimum time limit for the Final Oral Examination, but the entire proceedings may not exceed three hours. Members of the Doctoral Dissertation Committee must be present for the entire examination. All committee members must participate for the entire oral examination. If a committee member is participating remotely, that member needs to be able to communicate with the candidate and other committee members during the entire defense. If more than one member of the committee, or the student, is participating remotely, Graduate Student Academic Services needs to be informed prior to the exam for approval.  If there are 3 committee members then all three members must pass the student in order for that student to pass the final defense. If there are more than 3 committee members then there may be only one negative vote (Fail or Abstain) for the student to pass.

If the Doctoral Dissertation Committee requires revisions, those must be done in a timely manner, not to exceed one year, and agreed upon by the committee. If the revisions are not completed by the dissertation submission deadline for the term when the student defends, the student will be required to register for the next semester and will graduate in the semester when the revisions are completed and approved.  If revisions are not done by the end of the time to degree period, the student will have to re-take comprehensive examinations to demonstrate up-to-date knowledge.

Time Limitations  

Students entering the PhD program must complete their degree within five years after taking the Oral Comprehensive Examination.  Students may petition for an extension of time to complete their PhD degree, if they are only slightly past the five-year rule.

Annual Progress Report

All graduate students are expected to submit a SWES Graduate Student Annual Progress Report.  The Report is due annually on June 15th.

Satisfactory Progress Policy

Graduate students in the Soil, Water and Environmental Science Department are subject to annual evaluation for satisfactory progress based on their grade point average and overall progress towards
completion of degree requirements.  A high level of performance is expected of all students in the SWES graduate degree programs. Students must maintain a minimum of a 3.0 cumulative GPA throughout the program.
Students failing to meet GPA requirements will be placed on probation by the Graduate College for one semester. If the cumulative GPA is not raised to the required minimum in the following semester, the student’s major professor and the graduate advisory committee will decide whether to:  (1 ) academically disqualify the student from the program; or (2) with Graduate College approval, allow the student to continue on probation upon approval of a remediation plan.  The Graduate Studies Milestones table below indicates the semester in which certain administrative steps should take place in order to meet satisfactory progress towards completion of degree requirements. These steps include scheduling annual committee meetings, comprehensive exams, submission of research proposals, and timely filing of required forms (e.g., plan of study, committee assignment, etc. ).  No later than one month after final grades are posted for spring semester, all graduate degree seeking students are mandated to fill the annual progress report form to be distributed by the graduate coordinator.  The progress reports will be prescreened by the graduate coordinator and in case of obvious deficiencies forwarded to the graduate committee for further evaluation. Students who fail to make satisfactory academic or research progress will be notified in writing of their status (with a copy of the letter going to the Graduate College). They will be asked to develop and submit a remediation plan signed by the faculty advisor.  Students must be in good standing with the SWES Department to be eligible for inancial aid (including GAs and GTS) and enrollment in individual studies course work. 


Minor Requirements

A minor course of study is required; this constitutes at least twelve units. SWES students have two options for completing their minor:

Intradepartment - In recognition of the diversity of the SWES Department, students whose major department is SWES can also obtain their minor within the SWES Department if they so desire. In this case, the faculty acting as the major Comprehensive Examination Committee and Doctoral Dissertation Committee members must be distinguished from minor committee members.

Twelve credits are required for the minor. The set of courses used to satisfy the minor should comprise a topic area that is clearly distinguishable from the major. For example, a student majoring in Environmental Microbiology could complete an intradepartmental minor in Environmental and Soil Chemistry. The specific courses used to complete the minor will be selected in consultation with the Minor Professor (tenure-track faculty from the minor area of study) who has final approval.

Interdepartment - Students may also obtain a minor from another department. In this case, the requirements of that department must be followed.

Student Handbook  

Program StatisticsInformation about these numbers

Program-level Information
Application Acceptance Rate 61%
Med. Time-to-degree (years) 3.50
Department-level Information
Enrollment Percent Male 43%
Enrollment Percent Female 57%
Enrollment Percent International 23%
Enrollment Percent URM 43%

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Last revised 31 Aug 2016