We’re preparing the next generation of scientists, researchers,  and policymakers who are committed to exploring, protecting, and preserving one of our most vital natural resources.

Our PhD in Freshwater Sciences is a dissertation-based program that prepares you for a rewarding career in academia, research, or industry. With a strong emphasis on research, doctoral students concentrate on complex, interdisciplinary issues through a well defined focus of study.  You’ll have the opportunity to work alongside some of the world’s leading freshwater scientists, while advancing critical research.


You must earn 54 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree, of which 24 credits may be taken from formal coursework completed as part of a master’s degree.

You are required to take two integrative Seminar courses (FRSHWTR 901) and two Freshwater Sciences Practicum courses (FRSHWTR 512), as well as Quantitative Freshwater Analysis (FRSHWTR 504). In addition, you must complete at least 9 credits of dissertation research. Elective courses are selected in consultation with your PhD committee. A minimum of 27 credits must be earned in residence at UWM. You may take up to a maximum of 9 credits of independent study counting toward the degree.

You must be proficient in at least three of the four areas of study: 1. freshwater systems, 2. human/ecosystem health, 3. freshwater technology, and 4. freshwater policy and economics. To meet this requirement, core courses are offered in each of these respective areas:

  • Aquatic Ecosystem Dynamics (FRSHWTR 502)
  • Environmental Health of Freshwater Ecosystems (FRSHWTR 506)
  • Aquatic Technologies (FRSHWTR 508)
  • Economics, Policy and Management of Water (FRSHWTR 510)

Learn more about Freshwater Program requirements

An undergraduate bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, public policy or other appropriate natural science, social science or engineering discipline is required. Additionally, the following prerequisite courses are strongly recommended.

  • At least one semester of any three of the following topical areas: chemistry, biological sciences, physics, and calculus.
  • One additional semester of chemistry, biological sciences, or physics.

Students lacking prerequisites are often unable to complete courses in the recommended sequence and find it difficult to complete the required courses for graduation within the normal time frame of study.


As a doctoral student, you have the opportunity to work in open waters, in the field and in the lab, from the Great Lakes of North America to the Great Lakes of Africa. Explore the School’s freshwater areas of research: Freshwater System Dynamics, Human and Ecosystem Health, Freshwater Technology, and Freshwater Policy and Economics.

Major Advisor
We strongly recommend you reach out to faculty members whose interests align with your own early in the application process to discuss potential research and funding opportunities.  Meet our faculty and explore their research. Students in the PhD program must be accepted by a faculty member who will serve as the major professor, and be primarily responsible for matriculation.

Funding Your Education
Doctoral students are typically funded through faculty research grants.

We strongly recommend you reach out to faculty members whose interests align with your own to discuss potential research and funding opportunities. The School of Freshwater Sciences also offers competitive assistantships and scholarships. For more information about other financial aid options, please visit UWM Financial Aid.

Launching Your Career

Graduates from the doctoral program work in academia and research with government agencies, private companies, and nonprofit organizations.
Along with guidance from their faculty advisers and dissertation committee, SFS Career Services staff provide networking, workshop, and volunteer opportunities. Explore the UWM Career Development Center for additional resources and job listings. You are encouraged to get involved and join the Student Water Council, volunteer in the community, help at school events, and participate in conferences and symposium to grow your academic and professional networks.