Skip to main content

Prospective Graduate Students


The Department of Watershed Sciences combines coursework and research in aquatic ecology, hydrology, geomorphology, and climate science into an integrative interdisciplinary aquatic sciences program. Our degree programs prepare students for careers in natural resources research and management. Our recent graduates have secured employment with federal and state agencies, universities, and private organizations.

Our department offers graduate programs at both the Master and Doctoral levels in:

  • Ecology
  • Fisheries Biology
  • Watershed Science

We further offer graduate specializations in:

  • Conservation Biology
  • Fisheries Management
  • Watershed Ecology
  • Watershed Hydrology
  • Watershed Management
  • Geomorphology
  • Earth Surface Processes
  • Climate Adaption Science

How to Apply


Applying for graduate study in Watershed Sciences is a two-step process.  We admit applicants to begin graduate study during Fall, Spring, and Summer Semesters.  Applications should be submitted by the following deadlines.

Summer: March 15
Fall: June 15
Spring: October 15

Preference is given to applicants who apply before January 10.  Fellowships for non-University funds, such as Quinney Fellowships, have different deadlines.  Please see individual applications for deadlines.

Step One:

Contact a faculty member you would like to work with directly.  Students cannot be admitted to the program without first having a faculty sponsor and funding provided by their sponsor or an outside agency.  In your email please explain why you are interested in working with your prospective mentor and discuss your qualifications for graduate study, including any undergraduate research.  Be sure to also include your GPA and GRE scores.  To choose a prospective mentor, consult the list of faculty who have current active graduate programs.

Step Two:

Once you have secured a faculty sponsor and funding, you will be invited to officially apply through the School of Graduate Studies, send official transcripts and GRE scores, and pay the application fee.

If you have additional questions about the application process or our graduate program, please contact our graduate coordinator, Brian Bailey, at 435-797-2459.

Admission Requirements


  • GPA of 3.2 or higher
  • Combined verbal and quantitative GRE scores of at least 307 (1100 on the old system)
  • Sponsorship by a faculty member (gaining a sponsorship usually requires correspondence directly with the faculty)
  • A formal application
  • A detailed statement outlining your objectives in graduate education, your future goals, and your specific area of research interest.

Utah State University is committed to providing equal educational opportunities, regardless of race, sex, color, religion, national origin, marital or parental status, physical or mental disability, veteran status, or age. Equal education opportunities include admission, access to course offerings, financial assistance, housing, and extracurricular activities.

Graduate Program Overview


MS Degree

The Master of Science degree in Fisheries and Biology, Ecology, or Watershed Sciences emphasizes the management of fisheries or watershed resources and prepares students for decision-making roles in natural resource agencies. This degree is offered for students motivated toward an administrative career and for applicants with previous agency experience.

The minimum requirement for an MS degree is 30 credits, including 24 credits in residency and 6 credits of thesis research. A thesis based on original research performed by the student is required.

PhD Degree

The Doctor of Philosophy degree in Fisheries Biology, Ecology, or Watershed Science is for students interested in pursuing a research or academic career. The minimum requirement for a PhD degree is 60 approved graduate credits for students entering the program with a master’s degree or 90 approved graduate credits for students entering the program with a bachelor’s degree. At least two consecutive semesters (a minimum of 32 credits) of full-time registration must be in residence. A dissertation based on original research performed by the student is required.

Immediately prior to each Fall Semester, all incoming students participate in a graduate induction course. The course is an intense, five-day introduction to the fundamental concepts of watershed science, as well as to the faculty, staff, and current students.

WATS 6260, section 1 (CRN 44846) - Watershed Sciences Graduate Induction Course (Course Website)

The Department of Watershed Sciences runs an introductory course for all its incoming graduate students immediately prior to each Fall semester. The course is an intense, five day introduction to the fundamental concepts of Watershed Science, as well as the people (faculty, staff and existing students) who make up the Department of Watershed Science and the techniques they use in their research. The course will typically begin with two to three days exploring the Logan River Watershed with field activities scattered about everywhere from its source in the Bear River Range to its mouth in the wetlands of Cutler Reservoir.

During this introduction to the Logan River Watershed, students will meet most of the WATS faculty as they lead students on short field exercises that highlights some mix of fundamental research questions and/or some of the cutting edge tools and technologies we use in WATS to address those questions. The course will then typically shift focus to some of the even more dramatic landscapes within a half-day’s drive of Logan (e.g. Grand Tetons). l In this part of the course, we discuss broader-scale geologic and regional controls on the landscape, and work on interpreting landforms and understanding their organization in the landscape. The course is residential and involves a mix of camping and rustic accommodation in cabins. Students should be prepared for moderately strenuous outdoor activity, including hiking, wading in streams, and white-water rafting. No previous experience is necessary and field and recreational gear is provided.

Class Objectives:

The general objectives of the course are to help incoming graduate students get acquainted with the nearby landscape, the people in the Department of Watershed Sciences, some of the broader concepts and questions that define Watershed Science, and some of the techniques that USU faculty use to answer those questions. A sampling of the techniques demonstrated: topographic data acquisition (with terrestrial laser scanning rtkGPS, and total stations), collection of aerial photography using drone aircraft, field mapping, rapid assessment surveys, soil evaluation, collection and analysis of climatic data, fish sampling (electrofishing, snorkel surveys, mobile-antennae PIT tags), macroinvertebrate sampling, water quality monitoring, large-scale landscape interpretation, and hydrography (e.g. with ADCP).

Financial Assistance


Most of our students are supported by research assistantships provided by the faculty.  There are no separate applications for financial assistance.  All applicants accepted into the graduate program before January 10 are considered for College and University fellowships for the following year.  Fellowships are competitive and usually awarded to PhD students.  Award recipients will be notified by April 30 that they will receive a fellowship for the following school year.  For more information on financial assistance, view our Graduate Scholarships and Fellowships page.

Multiple PhD Fellowship Opportunities -

Doctoral Fellowships -

Two four-year fellowships, including stipend, tuition, and fees, are available for Ph.D. students in any discipline within the Watershed Sciences Department.  Nominations and applications are due from the prospective faculty advisor (not the student applicant) by Feb. 10 for the next academic year.  Application packets for these fellowships should include:

  1. A cover sheet filled out by prospective faculty advisor
  2. A letter of interest from the student applicant
  3. A letter of strong support from the faculty advisor
  4. A current Curriculum Vitae from the student applicant
  5. The student applicant’s completed general application to Utah State University (transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation). Departmental staff have access to and can provide these materials to the faculty, upon request.

Colorado River Scholarships – Two four-year scholarships, including stipend, tuition and fees, and research support, are available for Ph.D. students whose focus is the application of science to the management of the Colorado River (https://qcnr.usu.edu/wats/colorado_river_studies/).

Climate Adaptation Science – For students admitted to the graduate program, one-year fellowships are available to support participation in the Climate Adaptation Science program, a traineeship that combines interdisciplinary research, work-place experience, instruction, and collaboration among scientists, land and resource managers, policy-makers, trainees, and citizen stakeholders (https://climateadaptation.usu.edu/admission/program-description/).

Where to start: contact a faculty member within the Department of Watershed Sciences with whom you would like to study.  Graduate admissions in the Department of Watershed Sciences requires faculty sponsorship and funding (http://qcnr.usu.edu/wats/people/faculty)

Watershed Sciences is a multidisciplinary department in the Quinney College of Natural Resources.  Our faculty conduct research in geomorphology, hydrology, aquatic ecology, limnology, fish ecology, wetland ecology, water quality, biogeochemistry, and paleoecology. We find collaborative opportunities in addressing problems of management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems. Utah State University is Utah’s land-grant university with a student body of over 24,000 in 42 departments and 8 academic colleges. USU is well situated for research on streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands, and their catchments, which span desert to alpine environments. The main campus is located in Logan, a community of 100,000 people. Logan is 85 miles north of Salt Lake City in scenic Cache Valley, a semi-rural mountain basin with nearby ski resorts, lakes, rivers, and mountains providing many recreational opportunities.