If you are interested in teaching forestry or conducting forestry research at the highest academic levels, it is often necessary to earn a Ph.D. degree in forestry. All Ph.D. programs in this subject require students to take advanced courses in forestry and scientific research. These courses are designed to help students successfully complete their dissertation and to prepare them for a career as a post secondary educator. Most Ph.D. programs also require students to work part-time as teaching or research assistants, in which case they must teach undergraduate courses or work in university research labs. As such, Ph.D. students must travel to campus at least half the time to complete their degree requirements.
Nearly all schools require students to choose a particular emphasis of study — for example, ecosystem science or forest management. Depending on the program, most doctoral degrees can be earned within four to eight years. Once completed, graduates are prepared to begin careers in a variety of fields. Most often, Ph.D. graduates go on to work as university professors or academic researchers. However, there are also opportunities in government and private industry research laboratories. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are always interested in hiring directors with graduate degrees.
About Online Ph.D. Programs in Forestry
Students who choose to apply for an online Ph.D. program in forestry should understand that more than half of their work will be completed offline and on campus. The original research required for the dissertation will even require visits to a nearby research station in a government-protected forest, and the teaching or research assistant requirement will be completed on campus. Although required course work will vary depending on where the student attends school and their emphasis of study, most programs look similar to the Ph.D. program at the University of Kentucky. Example courses from this program are described below.
- Research Methods in Forestry. This course teaches advanced research methods, procedures and techniques used in forestry.
- Renewable Natural Resources in a Global Perspective. This course examines world and transboundary issues related to renewable natural resources.
- Conceptual Methods in Ecology and Evolution. This is a hands-on course that teaches the research conceptual techniques used by ecologists and evolutionary biologists.
- Advanced Evolution. This course covers topics and questions related to the understanding of general evolutionary processes.
- Behavioral Ecology and Life Histories. This course studies behavior and life histories through an evolutionary approach.
- Population and Community Ecology.This course reviews the processes that determine population distributions, dynamics, and community structure for both plants and animals.
While completing their required courses, students will begin work on their dissertation. Their research topic must first be approved by their dissertation advisor. Once a student has completed their research and writing, they must submit it to the department board for approval. If approved, the student will be awarded their Ph.D. degree.
Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Forestry
A PhD in forestry is valuable, because there is a growing need for professionals who understand how forests benefit our environment and support all forms of life. Those who study forestry don't just learn the facts of forestry; they also learn how to preserve, foster, and manage the forests of the world. Because many of the world's great forests are in danger of eventual extinction, there is much work to be done in the field. A degree in forestry is also great for anyone who enjoys traveling, especially on a global scale. There are both academic and private industry research opportunities all over the world.
Critics of this program argue that the market is already saturated with post secondary educators and researchers. Because of this, some graduates may find it hard to find a job as a university professor or researcher. Even though positions are always open for forestry professionals, these jobs may not pay the salary that most Ph.D. students expect to earn. For this reason, it is very important to begin planning your career before finishing your doctoral degree. Earning a few years of professional work experience before applying to graduate school is one of the best ways to springboard a great career in forestry education and research.
Application and Admission Requirements
Students who are interested in applying to a PhD program in forestry must hold a bachelor's degree in forestry, biology, or another related science subject. Most universities ask students to satisfy the following admission requirements to be considered for admittance: submit a graduate school application with required fee, submit GRE scores, supply letters of recommendation, and send in official transcripts from all post secondary institutions attended. Depending on the program, there may be additional admission requirements. All schools have different deadlines for admission.
Career Options and Job Market
Although a Ph.D. degree in forestry primarily prepares students for education or research careers, it is also possible to find employment with a government department of land management or a private company. For graduates interested in becoming post secondary educators, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in this field will grow at a better than average rate until 2020. Currently, the average salary for university educators is around $60,000 per year, but this number varies, based on the institution. Job growth for conservation scientists and foresters is expected to grow at a slower than average rate through 2020. Currently, the average salary for conservation scientists and foresters is around $57,000 per year.
Where to Find Information
- The U.S. Forest Service. Established in 1905, this service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is responsible for managing public lands in national forests and grasslands.
- Society of American Foresters (SAF). Founded in 1900, SAF is a scientific and educational organization that represents the forestry profession in the United States.
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This page is devoted to the global practice of forestry and provides information on past, present and future forestry projects.
How to Get Funding
Graduate students typically use a mixture of student loans, fellowship awards and assistantship stipends to cover the costs of tuition. In terms of federal aid, graduate students do not qualify for grants or subsidized loans. They may only apply for federal unsubsidized loans. For detailed information on the types of loans graduate students do qualify for, please click on the links listed below.
- Federal Direct Stafford Loan. This aid program offers students low-interest loans while they pursue their Ph.D. in forestry. The maximum loan available is $12,000 per academic year, and there is a fixed interest rate of 6.80%.
- Federal Perkins Loan. In the case of full-time students with the most need for financial assistance, the Federal Perkins low-interest loan can be awarded, offering an average of $3,500 per academic year — with a fixed interest rate at 5.0%.
- Campus-Based Aif. Campus-based programs are managed by the financial aid office of your university. Of course, all schools actively participate in almost every program made available by the federal government.
- Get advice from current or former students. Ask questions about their experience as a graduate student. Find out what they did to get into the program. If they haven't graduated yet, ask them what they expect to do with their degree once they complete the program.
- Try to apply before the early admission deadline. The sooner you apply, the sooner you will know where you will be going to school. Also, you can increase your chances of admittance by applying for early admission.
- Before applying to graduate school, work in an entry-level position in forestry. Professional experience in the field will help you decide exactly what you want to do with your career, and if you choose to go to graduate school, this experience will increase your chances of getting into the program.
- Have a plan for financial aid. Do what you have to do to secure a fellowship and assistantship. Draw up a plan that will help you pay most of your tuition fees while attending school. This will help you avoid student loan debt after graduation.