Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)

Nutritional Sciences (Ph.D.)
detail of food

Why pursue a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences at UNH?

A Ph.D. in nutritional sciences will help you advance your career in nutrition and advance your understanding of the role of nutrition in human health. As a graduate student in the department of agriculture, nutrition and food systems, you will be a part of an interdisciplinary department focusing on the farm to fork to the health and wellness continuum. You will also develop independent and team research experience and graduate prepared to pursue a wide range of careers.

Program highlights

UNH is among the nation’s highest-performing research universities, having earned a Carnegie Classification R1. Our research portfolio brings in more than $110 million in competitive external funding each year. Federal and state funding is available for research on diverse aspects of nutrition, foods and agricultural sciences, and you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with leading researchers worldwide. As a graduate student at UNH, you’ll have the opportunity to work in several top-notch research facilities, as well as in state-of-the-art assessment and teaching facilities including a simulation clinic and an applied research laboratory. Coursework offers numerous experiential learning opportunities to build research, food system, and epidemiology skills to give you a strong foundation for work in a variety of clinical, community or research settings.

Potential career areas

  • Community nutrition
  • Government agencies
  • Healthcare
  • Higher education
  • Industry
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Public health
  • Research

Phone: (603) 862-1341
Office: Agriculture, Nutrition, & Food Systems, Keener Dairy Research Building, Durham, NH 03824

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  • UNH graduate student Anne Bodenrader
    Seeking connections between diet and health
    Anne Bodenrader is a nutritional sciences doctoral candidate from Pelham, New Hampshire. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Dartmouth College and bachelor’s degree in nutrition: dietetics from UNH.
    Learn More
  • UNH doctoral candidate Brandy Moser
    At the intersection of nutrition, health and the gut microbiome
    Brandy Moser '26G is a nutritional sciences doctoral candidate from Northampton, Pennsylvania.
    Learn More
  • UNH doctoral candidate Rawan AlSarraf
    Preparing for a career in nutritional epidemiology
    Rawan AlSarraf ’27G is a doctoral candidate in the nutritional sciences Ph.D. program.
    Learn More

Curriculum & Requirements

The Ph.D. in Nutritional Sciences trains students to gain advanced knowledge and develop research expertise in such areas as nutritional epidemiology, gut microbiome-host interactions, nutritional assessment, behavioral nutrition, and community nutrition as it pertains to chronic disease risk (e.g., cardiovascular disease, obesity, cognitive function) and food access, dietary patterns, and policy.

Degree Requirements

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) graduate students work with their advisor and Doctoral Guidance Committee to plan a program of study including the required core courses, competencies, and develop a research proposal. To complete the degree, students must complete a research proposal, pass a qualifying exam, conduct dissertation research, and complete and defend a dissertation.

Guidance and Dissertation Committees: During the first semester, the student and advisor jointly select members of a guidance committee. A nomination form must be sent to the graduate school to officially appoint the committee membership. The Guidance Committee consists of 3-5 members and is responsible for approving the proposal and oversees the qualifying examination. Once the student has advanced to candidacy, the Doctoral Dissertation Committee is formed. The Dissertation Committee is responsible for administering the dissertation exam.

Dissertation Proposal and Defense: All Ph.D. students are required to develop a formally approved research proposal typically by the end of the third semester and no later than the fourth semester. Proposals are approved by the dissertation committee and the major advisor. In addition to the written proposal, students are expected to present a proposal defense presentation. This proposal should consist of the following:

  1. Comprehensive review of the literature related to the student’s research topic.
  2. Statement of need/justification.
  3. Research goal with a list of research objectives with stated hypotheses that address the major research questions.
  4. Plan of work describing the experimental approaches or methods to be used in answering the thesis questions.
  5. Expected outcomes and potential pitfalls for each objective.
  6. Timeline for completion of the work.
  7. Preliminary research where appropriate.

Candidacy: Following approval of the research proposal and completion of coursework, doctoral students should advance to candidacy. Candidacy is reached after passing a formal qualifying examination that assesses both broad basic knowledge of the student’s field, and topics central to the research project. The purpose of the exam is to measure of the student’s likelihood of successfully completing a doctoral program. The qualifying exam comprises written and oral components.

  1. Written exam: Student choose three areas of specialization in consultation with their Doctoral Guidance Committee. The advisor solicits questions from Committee members and administers the exam. Once completed, Committee members evaluate the responses. The student is expected to demonstrate competence in each of the chosen areas, reflected in clear, concise, well-organized synthetic essays, or written materials in grant format. The exam may be “closed book” or “open book” at the discretion of the advisor.
  2. Oral exam: An oral exam is conducted by the Doctoral Guidance Committee and chaired by the advisor. The student should demonstrate mastery of fundamental concepts in the designated areas of specialization, drawing upon a broad spectrum of information to answer theoretical and practical questions. There may be focus on any area that was deemed weak in the written exam.

When the student has passed both parts of the qualifying exam, the advisor will inform the Graduate School and recommend that the student be advanced to candidacy in the Ph.D. degree program.

Dissertation and Oral Defense: All students must complete a dissertation reporting original research. After completion of the research, the candidate must provide a copy of the dissertation to the Doctoral Dissertation committee at least two weeks prior to the final oral examination. The final thesis defense consists of two parts: an oral presentation of the research in a public seminar, and an oral defense of the dissertation conducted by the Doctoral Dissertation Committee. Final approval of the dissertation will be determined by a majority vote of the committee.

Number of Credits Required: There is no specific credit requirement for the Ph.D., though students must take the required core courses and fulfill the competences outlined below. Up to 8 credits of graduate credit from another institution may be transferred, provided the credits were not counted toward another degree, and the course grade was a B or higher. Petitions requesting transfer credit must be supported by the advisor and graduate committee and approved by the UNH Graduate School.

1. Core Course Requirements:

ANFS 901Introduction to Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems Graduate Studies 11
ANFS 997Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems Seminar 21
ANFS 999Doctoral Dissertation Research 30
NUTR 960
NUTR 961
Research Methods in Nutritional Science I
and Research Methods in Nutritional Science II 4
NUTR Electives 5

To be taken at the earliest opportunity, typically in the initial fall semester of the graduate program.


All students are required to register and participate in this course for a minimum of 3 credits.


All students are required to register and participate at least twice, and must be taken after candidacy.


Providing students foundational and practical application related to science communication and experimental design analysis, most students will complete during their first year of studies.


In consultation with their guidance committee, students are required to complete a minimum of 8 additional graduate NUTR credits.

2. Competency Requirements: Students will design a program of study in close consultation with their guidance committee, including their academic courses and scientific research project. 

3. Electives: Each student, in consultation with their graduate committee, will define one or more areas of informal specialization, and will take additional courses appropriate for their area(s) of specialization.

4. Additional Information: 

  • All students in the Nutritional Sciences Ph.D. Program are expected to present their research in ANFS departmental seminar at least three times (including the defense seminar). Students are also encouraged to present at professional conferences and acquire teaching and/or mentoring experience.

Annual Evaluation: The annual evaluation of graduate students ensures that students receive the mentorship they deserve and are making progress toward completion of their degrees. The annual evaluation of graduate students consists of a collaborative effort between faculty adviser and student to:

  • Complete a self-assessment;
  • Present a professional quality CV suitable for awards, job applications, and internships;
  • Produce a narrative of service or other activities not captured on a CV;
  • Develop annual goals.

Nutrition knowledge-related  

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding in key content areas of nutritional sciences and public health nutrition issues 

Research design and analysis   

  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses of study designs utilized in nutrition-related research
  • Independently conduct nutrition-related data analyses
  • Interpret the results and scientific literature to inform dietary recommendations, public policy, or chronic disease intervention  

Scientific method  

  • Demonstrate the ability to independently design and defend an original, hypothesis-driven project to advance the field of nutritional sciences.

Critical thinking  

  • Integrate scientific evidence and critically evaluate research findings in specific fields related to nutritional sciences.

Communication skills  

  • Disseminate evidence-based information on nutritional sciences and public health
  • Deliver nutrition research findings to multiple scientific audiences (i.e. research conference, academic journal)
  • Incorporate critical feedback in their research and academic work


  • Conduct research in an ethical manner
  • Demonstrate collaboration and leadership skills
  • Master concepts of equity, diversity, and inclusion in different settings (e.g. healthcare, education, community health)

Apply now


Applications must be completed by the following deadlines in order to be reviewed for admission:

  • Fall: Jan. 15 (priority*), Aug. 1 (final) *Applications completed by Jan. 15 will be given priority consideration for admission and financial support. Applications completed after Jan. 15 will be considered based on openings and funding.
  • Spring: Oct. 15 (final)
  • Summer: N/A
  • Special: N/A

Application fee: $65

Campus: Durham

New England Regional: No

Accelerated Masters Eligible: No

New Hampshire Residents

Students claiming in-state residency must also submit a Proof of Residence Form. This form is not required to complete your application, but you will need to submit it after you are offered admission or you will not be able to register for classes.


If you attended UNH or Granite State College (GSC) after September 1, 1991, and have indicated so on your online application, we will retrieve your transcript internally; this includes UNH-Durham, UNH-Manchester, UNH Non-Degree work and GSC. 

If you did not attend UNH, or attended prior to September 1, 1991, then you must upload a copy (PDF) of your transcript in the application form. International transcripts must be translated into English.

If admitted, you must then request an official transcript be sent directly to our office from the Registrar's Office of each college/university attended. We accept transcripts both electronically and in hard copy:

  • Electronic Transcripts: Please have your institution send the transcript directly to Please note that we can only accept copies sent directly from the institution.
  • Paper Transcripts: Please send hard copies of transcripts to: UNH Graduate School, Thompson Hall- 105 Main Street, Durham, NH 03824. You may request transcripts be sent to us directly from the institution or you may send them yourself as long as they remain sealed in the original university envelope.

Transcripts from all previous post-secondary institutions must be submitted and applicants must disclose any previous academic or disciplinary sanctions that resulted in their temporary or permanent separation from a previous post-secondary institution. If it is found that previous academic or disciplinary separations were not disclosed, applicants may face denial and admitted students may face dismissal from their academic program.

Letters of recommendation: 3 required

Recommendation letters submitted by relatives or friends, as well as letters older than one year, will not be accepted.

Personal Statement/Essay Questions

Prepare a brief but careful statement regarding:

  1. Reasons you wish to do graduate work in this field, including your immediate and long-range objectives.
  2. Your specific research or professional interest and experiences in this field.

Important Notes

Applicants should visit the Nutritional Sciences program website and review the list of faculty in their area of interest. The applicant should contact potential faculty advisors to discuss their interests and determine whether the faculty member(s) may be willing and able to serve as the student’s advisor before applying to the program. See the Nutritional Sciences Faculty List for a current list of faculty.

All applicants are encouraged to contact programs directly to discuss program specific application questions.

International Applicants

Prospective international students are required to submit TOEFL, IELTS, or equivalent examination scores. English Language Exams may be waived if English is your first language. If you wish to request a waiver, then please visit our Test Scores webpage for more information.

Inquire with the Department about Research Interests

As part of your application process, we recommend touching base with the academic department or specific faculty about your research interests, fit with the department, and available space. You can Submit an Extended Inquiry and we will inform your desired academic program about your interest. By submitting an inquiry form, you are not guaranteed to hear back from specific faculty. This can be a helpful step before going through the full application process.

Explore Program Details

A limited number graduate research assistantships are available on a competitive basis from the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition, and Food Systems (ANFS) for highly qualified applicants pursuing one of our thesis-based graduate degree programs. Applicants with strong demonstrated intellectual merit and research experience are encouraged to apply to work with our faculty.

Because funding is limited and competitive, we encourage you to apply early. Funding decisions for the following academic year will commence beginning January 15th.  Assistantships are generally awarded for one academic year (beginning in August) and may be renewed provided that funds are available and the student's academic performance, as well as performance in carrying out the responsibilities of the appointment, is satisfactory.

ANFS offers both teaching and research assistantships for students enrolled in the master’s and doctoral programs. Assistantships at UNH involve 20 hours per week of teaching or research effort during the academic year; students receive a tuition-waiver, a stipend, and the university’s student health plan.  More information related to graduate assistantships at UNH can be found here

We are specifically recruiting talented students to work in the following cutting-edge research programs:

Bigornia Lab

The Bigornia Lab uses epidemiological approaches to identify potential nutritional targets to inform therapies and prevention strategies to modify metabolic risk factors and reduce the burden of chronic disease. Areas of interest include dietary risk factors of overweight and obesity, the roles of inflammation and insulin resistance in vascular dysfunction, dietary fat quality in brain related health, and health disparities.

Contact: Dr. Sherman Bigornia

Human nutrition, cardiometabolic risks, and the gut microbiota

Research in the Dao Lab focuses on human nutrition, obesity and its comorbidities, and the gut microbiota. We use a multi-disciplinary approach to identify biological and psychosocial targets for tailored lifestyle interventions for weight management and healthy eating. A primary focus is on populations that are disproportionately impacted by the obesity epidemic. There are diverse research opportunities for prospective students, ranging from data analysis of the gut microbiome in relation to dietary intake and clinical outcomes, to community-based research to identify lifestyle and psychosocial factors associated with overweight.

Contact: Dr. Carlota Dao

Promoting healthy eating in early childhood

Research in the Mena Lab focuses on child nutrition and promoting healthy lifestyle habits at home and in early care and education (ECE) settings. A primary focus is on children under the age of 6 and families disproportionately impacted by obesity and food insecurity (risk).  We use a socioecological approach to identify targeted approaches for enhancing home-ECE environments to support the development of healthy eating habits in early childhood. There are a variety of research opportunities for prospective students, ranging from data analysis of diet quality in relation to home-ECE concordance of food and nutrition environments and health outcomes, to community-based research to identify home-ECE factors associated with diet quality and chronic disease risk in pediatric populations.  

Contact: Dr. Noereem Mena

Take the Next Step

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