PhD in Environmental Health Sciences
Our comprehensive PhD training program in environmental health sciences combines didactics and research. The didactic curriculum offers a solid foundation in relevant basic sciences, while research training gives students the opportunity to design, conduct, and interpret studies that address specific scientific issues in environmental health disciplines.
The diversity of research led by our investigators allows trainees to develop skills using various investigatory approaches. We provide advanced training in many scientific disciplines in environmental health and focus on major health problems such as cancer, respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and musculoskeletal ailments.
Our trainees acquire specialized knowledge in environmental health areas including exposure assessment and health effects, molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis, and systemic toxicology. Our integrated approach offers perspectives on the interrelationships between environmental health problems and competence in basic science in the areas noted above.
Areas of Study for PhD Students
PhD students can formally focus on one of three areas of study: exposure assessment and health effects, molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis, or systemic toxicology. The systemic toxicology track has two subconcentrations to choose from: aquatic toxicology or inhalation toxicology.
Please note that the distinctions between these areas are often more for academic planning than for trainee research, and there is much overlap in the research approaches available. The full range of research resources and expertise of the faculty are available to all trainees regardless of the concentration selected.
Exposure Assessment and Health Effects
The exposure assessment and health effects concentration is focused on the scientific basis for the anticipation, identification, evaluation, and control of health effects from human exposure to environmental pollutants. Most research projects are aimed at identifying factors that play significant roles in the causation and exacerbation of disease associated with inhalation exposure to air contaminants in both occupational and general community settings.
Research may also include the study of physical agents in the environment, such as ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Trainees can participate in studies that include designing strategies for the evaluation and measurement of exposure and developing new methods for measuring the air concentrations of toxic agents; experiments and theoretical modeling to evaluate the dose that people receive when they inhale airborne toxicants; and field studies and epidemiological analyses of exposure–response relationships in natural populations.
Molecular Toxicology and Carcinogenesis
In the molecular toxicology and carcinogenesis concentration, trainees focus on the underlying molecular mechanisms by which environmental agents act to disrupt normal biological function, leading to carcinogenesis and genetic susceptibility to disease.
Research in this concentration is broad and involves studying the genetic and epigenetic effects on gene expression and perturbations of cellular signaling pathways and basic carcinogenesis studies in vivo. Trainees can conduct research in areas including the chemistry of carcinogen–DNA interactions, DNA damage, DNA repair, DNA methylation, mutagenesis, epigenetic gene silencing, cell cycle and mitosis controls, cell growth control and apoptosis, signal transduction, mechanisms of cellular resistance, biological parameters of tumor progression and chemoprevention, biomarkers of exposure, and genetic polymorphisms in exposed human and non-human populations. These projects often involve taking multiple approaches from scientific disciplines such as organic chemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, and experimental pathology.
Research also evaluates environmental chemicals and mitigating or cooperative lifestyle factors such as diet. The molecular toxicology of metals is a particular research strength of this program.
In the systemic toxicology concentration, trainees focus on understanding the biological responses that result from exposure to environmental chemicals, the mechanisms underlying these responses, and their relationship to disease. Research approaches extend from the molecular to the organismic level.
The ability to examine effects of chemical pollutant exposure at multiple investigatory levels and using in vivo and in vitro exposure methodologies allows for the development of an integrated, mechanistic evaluation of toxicant action and disease pathogenesis.
Graduate studies in this concentration can be focused within two specific research subconcentrations: aquatic toxicology and inhalation toxicology.
The aquatic toxicology subconcentration addresses mechanistic questions on the effects of environmental contaminants such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on the structure and expression of environmentally sensitive genes in fish from highly exposed natural populations, such as those in the Hudson River. Oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, and metabolic genes are characterized in fish from impacted and control populations, and effects at the molecular level are related to those at higher levels of biological organization.
Efforts are made to understand the mechanistic bases of responses seen in wild populations by conducting controlled laboratory exposures with fish from natural populations. Research in this area can also address the use of fish species as ecological indicators of aquatic pollution and as alternative models to mammals for examining the biological effects of environmental chemicals.
The inhalation toxicology subconcentration focuses on assessing adverse health effects that may arise from inhalation exposure to environmental chemicals. The overall scope of research in this area is very broad, and trainees may be involved in studies on the etiology and pathogenesis of environmentally related disease as well as the underlying mechanisms. Diseases studied include pulmonary disease and diseases associated with chemical exposure in the immune system, cardiovascular system, and nervous system.
Research can focus on factors that affect the disposition of inhaled toxicants within the body. Research also explores the development of new or improved exposure technology.
Collaborative research allows for opportunities to extrapolate findings in animal models to human pathology.
PhD Admissions Requirements
Applicants to the PhD training program in environmental health sciences must have a strong academic background in a basic or applied science as demonstrated by their undergraduate academic performance, recommendation letters, in-person or virtual interview, performance on the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE)(optional), prior graduate studies, and any relevant work or research experience.
Learn more about how to apply.
PhD Degree Requirements
Our graduate students follow NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science degree requirements for the PhD in environmental health sciences.
In addition to coursework, PhD students are required to attend divisional seminars and journal clubs. Laboratory rotations may be arranged in consultation with the student’s academic advisor. PhD students complete a minimum of two and a maximum of four lab rotations until a thesis research mentor is identified.
Financial Support and Costs for PhD Students
All full-time PhD students qualify for graduate assistantships. For the 2022–23 academic year, PhD students received a stipend of $40,000 per year plus tuition and fees.