Each student in the Environment and Resources program designs a unique study plan with the help of faculty advisors. The plan includes courses and a thesis (for the MS degree) or a dissertation (for the PhD).


Students must complete at least 30 credits for a master’s degree and at least 51 credits for a doctorate, including a minimum of 35 course/seminar credits. Courses are drawn from the following four categories to provide both depth and breadth in knowledge related to environment and resources problems:

Category Master’s Degree Doctorate
Natural Science 6 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
9 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
Social Science and/or Humanities 6 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
9 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
Measurement and Analysis 6 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
9 credits (minimum)
At least 3 credits must be from UW-Madison
Individual Program Focus 12 credits (minimum), including a graduate seminar, up to 6 credits of thesis research may be counted; at least 6 credits must be from UW-Madison (not including research credits) 15 course credits (minimum) (9 of the 15 credits can be shared from one breadth category) plus two graduate seminars and a variable number of research credits; at least 6 credits must be from UW-Madison

Students must complete at least one course in each breadth category at UW-Madison.

Every master’s student must complete at least one graduate seminar. Each doctoral student must complete two graduate seminars.

Courses may be selected from many UW-Madison departments to satisfy the ER curriculum requirements. The following lists demonstrate the wide array of subjects in which courses can be taken:

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Natural Science

  • Agronomy
  • Atmospheric and oceanic sciences
  • Bacteriology
  • Biological systems engineering
  • Botany
  • Chemistry
  • Civil and environmental engineering
  • Computer science
  • Entomology
  • Environmental studies
  • Environmental toxicology
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • Geology and geophysics
  • Industrial engineering
  • Landscape architecture
  • Plant pathology
  • Soil science
  • Wildlife ecology
  • Zoology

Humanities/Social Science

  • Agricultural economics
  • Anthropology
  • Business
  • Continuing and vocational education (CAVE)
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Environmental studies
  • Forestry
  • Geography
  • History
  • Journalism and mass communication
  • Landscape architecture
  • Law and environmental law
  • Life sciences communication
  • Political science
  • Public affairs
  • Rural sociology
  • Sociology
  • Urban and regional planning

Measurement and Analysis

  • Statistics
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Remote sensing
  • Cartography
  • Computer sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Modeling
  • Qualitative methods
  • Research methodology and other methodology courses

Individual Program Focus

Because courses in this category depend on the focus of a student’s individual program, specific suggestions are not included here.

Students should not assume that all courses listed under a specific heading will be universally accepted. Each program should be individually tailored to achieve student and program objectives. Courses should be selected in consultation with each student’s faculty committee.

Thesis or Dissertation

Every master’s student must complete a thesis, and every doctoral student, a dissertation, based on original research. Thesis and dissertation topics vary greatly among ER students. Copies of actual theses and dissertations submitted to the Nelson Institute are kept in the Nelson Institute Student Commons, 15 Science Hall. A summary collection of thesis and dissertation abstracts is also available.

The dissertation or thesis plan must include an explicit statement indicating how the interdisciplinary character of the proposed research will be addressed. If the work is primarily in the social sciences, how will a natural science element be included? Conversely, if the work is primarily in the natural sciences, how will a social science or humanities element be included?

For more information, read the final thesis and dissertation defense guidelines.

Satisfactory Progress

Students must maintain at least a B (3.0 grade-point) average and meet the Graduate School’s minimum credit requirement. A student who falls below a 3.0 grade-point average is placed on probation and must achieve a cumulative average of at least 3.0 in the subsequent semester.