School of the Environment

118 Science Research and Teaching Center (SRTC)


  • M.S. Systems Science
  • Ph.D. Earth, Environment, & Society
  • Ph.D. Systems Science
  • Graduate Certificate in Computer Modeling and Simulation
  • Graduate Certificate in Computational Intelligence

The School of the Environment was formally established in 2009. This School is made up of four participating departments (Environmental Science and Management, Geography, Geology, and Systems Science), associated faculty from across the university, and several affiliated groups (USGS Oregon Water Science Center, the Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center, the Institute for Natural Resources, and others). Multi-disciplinary research groups, institutes, and centers within the School support its efforts in problem-based research. The School of the Environment administers the Earth, Environment, & Society doctoral program, the Systems Science doctoral program, and the Systems Science master's program. For more information on the composition of the School, please see

Earth, Environment and Society Ph.D.

Systems Science M.S.

Systems Science Ph.D.

Graduate Certificates

Systems Science Ph.D.

Strong emphasis on systems ideas and methods. Topics include systems thinking, system structure and dynamics, data modeling, computer simulation, networks, complex adaptive systems, decision analysis, and optimization. Subjects areas include environmental systems, sustainability, energy, health policy, biomedical data analysis, and other topics where systems ideas or methods make unique contributions to knowledge. (see Program documents on web for more information).

Admission Requirements

Students with a baccalaureate and/or master's degree should have a combined GRE score of at least 1150 (quantitative plus verbal) taken within the last five years. The Admissions Committee will consider exceptions to the five-year requirement if both GRE scores are in the 90th percentile or higher.

In considering an applicant for admission, the admissions committee seeks evidence of demonstrated intellectual capacity, undergraduate and/or graduate training in one or more appropriate disciplines, adequate preparation in mathematics and the potential to pursue advanced study and research for the Ph.D. The following are recommended as a technical background for the program (but not prerequisites for admission): calculus up to and including simple ODEs, statistics, including introductory multivariate, and programming and linear algebra at introductory levels. Students are admitted to the program in Fall Term.

Undergraduate GPA requirement is 3.0, and graduate GPA requirement, if applicable, is 3.25.

In addition to transcripts and test scores, the application requires three letters of recommendation, and a statement of personal goals.  

Application materials are available online at The Office of Admissions must receive: 

(1) the completed Application to Doctoral Program form, 

(2) the application fee, 

(3) one copy of all undergraduate and graduate transcripts to be sent by the institutions to Portland State University, and 

(4) TOEFL if a foreign student. 

The applicant must arrange for Systems Science to receive: 

(1) the completed Application to Doctoral Program form, 

(2) one copy of all undergraduate and graduate transcripts to be sent by the institutions, 

(3) GRE aptitude or GMAT scores, 

(4) three letters of recommendation from faculty and/or professionals acquainted with the applicant's abilities and record, 

(5) statement of the student's expectations of the program, and 

(6) TOEFL score of 575 or other evidence of English competency if a foreign student.

Each applicant who has received formal notice of admission to the Systems Science Graduate Program should contact the Program office for initial advising. Adviser(s) will be appointed to assist and consult with the admitted student regularly in planning the program of study and research. A comprehensive examination committee is appointed for each student to give required oral and written examinations. A dissertation committee supervises the research and preparation of the dissertation.

Degree Requirements

See University general requirements for doctoral degrees. Minimum requirements specific to the Ph.D. in Systems Science include 72 course credit hours, organized as follows:

Systems core component

Students are required to complete SySc 511 and SySc 513

Additional coursework requirements

Beyond the systems core component described above, additional graduate courses are required to meet the 72 credit hour program minimum for advancement to candidacy, including 3 credits of SySc 507 (offered at 1 credit per term) and an additional 16-24 credits of Systems Science labeled courses beyond the core systems component, depending on the student's track. Design of the student’s comprehensive exam and anticipated dissertation research should guide course selection.

Courses taken to satisfy the systems component and additional coursework requirements must be at the 500- or 600-level. Credit for graduate work done elsewhere (with a grade of B or better) may also be approved. However, at least 27 credits of coursework (not including dissertation credits) must be taken at Portland State University.

Decisions to transfer credits are made by the program director upon recommendation of the student’s adviser(s). There is no specific time limitation on when courses were taken; however, the student is expected to be familiar with, and may be examined on, material being given in current courses equivalent to those included in the comprehensive examination proposal.


Students are required to be enrolled continuously, except if a leave of absence is formally requested and approved by the Program director. Failure to take courses for a year, or failure to maintain continued progress after coursework is completed will result in a student being dropped from the program. At some point during their study all PSU doctoral students must meet a doctoral residency requirement consisting of registering full-time (at least 9 credit hours) for three consecutive quarters.

Comprehensive examinations

Written and oral comprehensive examinations are required in appropriate areas to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the student’s academic competence and expertise in research techniques pertinent to his/her intended dissertation area. Written exams cover three distinct areas representing at least 48 course credit hours, with each area including a minimum of 15 course credit hours. See the Systems Science Graduate Program Supplemental Rules for more details (available on the web).

Advancement to candidacy

All students must establish competency in appropriate research methodology before beginning their dissertation research. After this and all other requirements have been met, the student prepares a proposal for independent research leading to a significant and original contribution to knowledge in the systems field. When the proposal is accepted, the student is advanced to candidacy, and then focuses exclusively on research. Students must register for at least 27 credits of dissertation research after advancement to candidacy.


Completed research is presented in a dissertation which must be approved and successfully defended in a final oral examination. After Advancement to Candidacy, but prior to this examination, students are required to present their research at the SySc 507 Seminar, a pre-announced 50-minute formal presentation. The student can anticipate approximately four to five years of full-time study beyond the baccalaureate degree in order to satisfy the program requirements. Detailed additional information on requirements and procedures are contained in the document, “Systems Science Graduate Program Supplemental Rules,” and should be obtained by visiting our Web site: or contacting the Systems Science Graduate Program.