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Graduate Studies


Ours is a vibrant, cohesive department aimed at the highest standards of scholarship. Faculty and students at the master's and doctoral levels pursue studies that address fundamental questions in the Earth and environmental sciences, spanning deep geological timescales to human timescales. Students in Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES) may pursue the following degrees:

  • NEW!  Ph.D. in Earth and Environmental Sciences
    (to apply, follow online instructions for M.S. application and there will be an option to select the new EES Ph.D.)
  • M.S. in Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • Ph.D. in Environmental Science through the joint program option of Environmental Engineering

The Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in EES is administered by the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Ph.D. program in Environmental Science is jointly administered by the Departments of EES and Civil and Environmental Engineering. Information relevant to both degrees is covered on this page. In addition, the link above provides a more complete description of the Environmental Science option, including degree requirements, admission, financial aid, and interdisciplinary research opportunities in this one-of-a-kind program in the nation.



Our research programs are well-funded; projects are supported by ample laboratory facilities and instrumentation, including computational infrastructure, and they are topically and geographically diverse. Areas of emphasis in graduate studies and research include the following (see Research page for more information): Transport phenomena; sedimentary processes; paleoecology and coupled physical-biological processes; magmatic processes and crustal evolution; and geochemical processes. Current projects are underway in many parts of the U.S., Asia, South America and Antarctica, and include field, laboratory, analytical and modeling components.

This combination of active research on a wide range of problems, and close and enthusiastic interaction among faculty and graduate students, provides an ideal intellectual setting for pursuing graduate studies. The Department's relatively small size contributes to personalized, engaging classes and a close-knit atmosphere.

2010 Sept Field Trip

Admission and Financial Aid

Application is made to the Graduate School. We encourage students to view the Graduate School Catalog and apply via the Graduate School Online Application. Transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and general aptitude GRE scores are required. The deadline for receipt of applications to the Joint EES-CEE Environmental Science Ph.D. program is December 15 (strict date of closure).  The deadline for the Ph.D. and M.S. programs in Earth and Environmental Sciences is January 15.2009 Nevada Applications to EES may be accepted at a later date, but financial aid decisions are generally made in late January. Applications received before the deadline therefore have the best chance of success.

NOTE: In Vanderbilt's online application system, applicants for the Ph.D. or M.S. program in EES should select Natural Sciences & Mathematics as your Area of Study and Earth and Environmental Sciences as your Program. For applicants to the Joint EES-CEE Ph.D. program, you must select Engineering as your Area of Study, then Environmental Engineering as your Program, and finally Environmental Resources and Geologic Processes as one of your Interests.

Graduate students are supported by teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and scholarships, providing full tuition* plus 9-month stipends of $21,200 (2014-2015) and health insurance. Additional funds are available for summer support through research or teaching assistantships. Our policy is generally only to admit students with full support. In rare cases where students are admitted without full support, tuition is charged for courses on a per-semester hour basis (~$1600/hour).

*University Tuition Scholarships are service-free awards that pay all or part of tuition costs. The following graduate awards are normally supplemented by a full University Tuition Scholarship, which usually includes student health insurance coverage: University Fellowships, Graduate Teaching Assistantships, Graduate Research Assistantships, Traineeships, and Teacher Training Awards.

The Process and Outcome of Graduate Studies

The Department excels in terms of the product of its graduate program: well-trained students who produce important research and go on to successful careers in the Earth and environmental sciences and related fields. Our students present their results at national and international meetings, and many M.S. and all Ph.D. students publish their work in major journals (see listings under faculty publications). The M.S. program is designed to span two years. The Ph.D. program is designed around a flexible curriculum wherein candidates' programs of study are tailored to their specialty areas and career goals.

Students completing their graduate degrees at Vanderbilt excel in their careers in the Earth and environmental sciences.

  • After completing their degrees, our M.S. graduates are about equally divided between continuing on for advanced degrees (mostly the Ph.D., at Vanderbilt or other excellent institutions, in some cases law school) and entering the work force. Those who take jobs immediately after their M.S. enter Earth science-related fields: private industry – mostly environmental firms, some in petroleum; government employment – research labs, U.S. and state surveys; non-governmental environmental organizations; and community college and secondary education. Those who have finished Ph.D. degrees following completion of their V.U. M.S. have faculty, research or survey positions.
  • Students who have completed the Ph.D. in our program have faculty and academic and private research positions.

Our graduates are very successful at landing exciting and rewarding jobs in the Geosciences. 
Where are our recent PhD graduates?

Year graduated Position
2006 Tenured Professor at University of Edinburgh
2007 Senior Research Scientist, Arizona State University
2010 Assistant Professor, California State University, Fresno
2011 Senior Lecturer, Vanderbilt University
2012 Post-doctoral fellow, NASA Lunar Planetary Institute
2013  NSF SEES Fellow at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Univ. of Colorado
Associate at Abt Associates
2014 Assistant Professor, Lafayette College
  Assistant Professor, Hanover College 
  Post-doctoral Researcher, Brown University 
  Senior Research Assistant, Oklahoma State University
2015 Assistant Professor, Illinois State University

After graduating our recent M.S. graduates held the following positions:

Year graduated Position
2009 Instructor in Dept. of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University
PhD student, UNC-Chapel Hill
PhD student, Vanderbilt University (2)
Environmental Geologist, Eastern Tribal resources & Environmental Agency, Nashville
2010 PhD student, University of Houston
Staff Scientist, ERM, Nashville
PhD student, Duke University
PhD student, Vanderbilt University (2)
2011 Staff Hydrologist, USGS Tennessee Water Science Center
Director of Crary Research Laboratory, McMurdo Station, Antarctica
PhD student, Vanderbilt University
Staff Scientist, ERM, Nashville
2012 PhD student, Univ. of Wyoming
2013 PhD student, University of Rochester
PhD students, Vanderbilt University (2)
Environmental Scientist, Terracon, Nashville
Paleontological Specialist, San Diego Museum of Natural History
Environmental Consultant, APEX Envirotech, Sacramento, CA


Assistant HERS rater, E3 Innovate, INC
US EPA, Oklahoma
Hydrologist, USGS, Nashville
PhD student, Vanderbilt University


Curriculum and Degree Requirements

Thirty hours of graduate credit and a research thesis are required for the M.S. degree. The Ph.D. involves 72 credit hours (with a minimum of 36 hours in formal coursework, with many of the remaining hours as dissertation research); transfer credit can include, for relevant graduate course work. A student’s program of study is fairly flexible. It is planned by the student in consultation with, and approved by, the Director of Graduate Studies and a Supervisory Committee. All graduate students are expected to have a sufficient background in supporting sciences and mathematics as well as in undergraduate Earth science; some make-up work is permitted. Students pursuing the M.S. degree take most of their courses in the first year and spend summers and much of their second year completing the thesis. Similarly, Ph.D. students take a majority of their formal courses during the first two years and focus primarily on research during their summers and subsequent years.