Division of Coastal Sciences

Coastal Sciences, Ph.D.

The Department of Coastal Sciences offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Coastal Sciences with specialization in a wide range of subdisciplines including aquaculture, coastal ecology, biodiversity and systematics, coastal geology, estuarine and marine botany, fisheries ecology, geochemistry, parasites and diseases, and toxicology. The Ph.D. program emphasizes excellence in research. Knowledge deficiencies will be corrected through enrollment in elective courses as determined by the student's four-member graduate committee.

Qualified students holding a bachelor's degree (B.S./B.A.) or M.S. degree in a relevant field of science are encouraged to apply for admission.

Admission Requirements

Admission into the Department of Coastal Sciences is competitive and is based on several criteria, including grade point average, course background, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, resume, and a letter of interest.

However, we have one additional criterion that is probably more important than any of the aforementioned. The Department requires a faculty sponsor. A faculty sponsor is a member of the Department of Coastal Sciences who is willing to serve as the student’s major professor and provides funds for an assistantship and resources to perform the student’s research.
In order to find a faculty sponsor, prospective students should consult the Coastal Sciences faculty directory to identify a faculty member with whom you might have a common interest. 

Granting of regular admission to the doctor of philosophy degree program is based on several criteria, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Regular admission to the doctor of philosophy degree program requires a GPA at least 3.5 on all graduate coursework (if starting with a master's degree) or a GPA at least 3.5 on all undergraduate coursework (if starting with a bachelor's degree).
  2. Submission of official results of the general section of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Successful applicants have highly competitive scores;
  3. A current CV. 
  4. A statement of purpose stating interests and career goals.  The letter of intent is used as a sample of the applicant's writing and communication skills, and provides information concerning the compatibility of the applicant's interests with departmental research interests.  Applicants should consult the Coastal Sciences faculty directory and contact potential faculty mentors prior to submitting an application.  Applicants should include potential faculty mentors in their statement. 
  5. Three letters of recommendation from people qualified to assess the applicant's readiness for graduate study. These should be uploaded as part of the application in the applications portal.
  6. A minimum score of 560 on the paper test or 220 on the computer test is required on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for applicants whose native language is not English.

Because more qualified students apply to the Department of Coastal Sciences than can be accepted, admission is selective and a complete application must be submitted.

Conditional admission to the Department of Coastal Sciences is considered for students who meet Graduate School standards for conditional admission and who are sponsored by a member of the faculty of the Department of Coastal Sciences. The sponsor must provide a written statement indicating willingness to serve as the applicant's major professor. Conditional students cannot obtain a graduate assistantship until regular status is achieved.

Conditionally admitted students must maintain a 3.50 GPA for the first nine (9) hours of formal coursework numbered 600 and above or on all coursework taken while meeting this requirement, not including research hours and only including up to three (3) hours of Special Problems. If this requirement is not met, the student is not allowed to remain in the program. Upon recommendation of the departmental chair and approval by the graduate dean, the conditionally admitted student may have their admission status changed to "regular admission."

Students must apply to the USM Graduate School and select Coastal Sciences as the program of study under the College of Arts and Sciences.  To apply, students should consult information for domestic applicants and international applicants.  Applicants will not be reviewed until their application is complete and released by the Graduate School to the department.  The application deadline for Fall admission is April 1. The application deadline for Spring admission is September 1. There is a $60 non-refundable, non-transferable application fee.

Admission to the program does not guarantee a graduate assistantship position. Admitted students must contact their faculty sponsor to discuss opportunities for graduate assistantships.

Program Requirements

A minimum of eighty-four (84) hours beyond a B.S./B.A. degree or a minimum of fifty-four (54) graduate hours beyond the M.S. degree is required for this degree. Students must meet the general requirements of the Graduate School of The University of Southern Mississippi. Students advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree by completing the entire program of study (projection of coursework taken during tenure in coastal sciences; see below) developed in consultation with their graduate committee with a 3.0 grade point average or above, completing an approved dissertation prospectus, and successfully passing the written and oral comprehensive examinations.

The below list describes major additional requirements.  Once admitted, students should consult the Graduate Bulletin for the most up to date information. 

  1. Choose a major professor and establish a four-member graduate doctoral committee;
  2. Develop a program of study (projection of coursework taken during tenure in Coastal Sciences) in consultation with major professor and dissertation committee
  3. Research Tool(s). The Ph.D. program requires that the student's Ph.D. committee will convene and examine the student's academic background and progress to date and will together develop a set of research tools based on the student's goals. These research tools will not exceed a total of 15 hours in addition to the core courses and other degree requirements.
  4. The student will present a public prospectus defense to demonstrate an adequate depth of knowledge and ability to conduct research and pursue the Ph.D. program.
  5. Pass an oral and written comprehensive examination which is administered by the doctoral committee
  6. Present an acceptable copy of the dissertation prior to a public defense of the dissertation at a publicly announced meeting.
  7. A 3.0 GPA is required for graduation.
  8. Residency. Students must meet the residency requirements specified in the Graduate Bulletin.
  9. Continuous enrollment - Students must meet the requirement specified in the Graduate Bulletin.

Program of Study

The Division of Coastal Sciences offers five Ph.D. program options.  A student can acquire a general Coastal Sciences degree with no emphasis.  In addition, students have the option to declare one of four emphasis areas:  Aquaculture, Aquatic Health Sciences, Coastal Ecology and Ecosystem Processes, or Fisheries and Fisheries Oceanography.  Required courses differ between the regular degree plan and emphasis areas, as well as between emphasis areas. 


Contact us at coastal.sciences@usm.edu