Program Requirements

The typical duration of the doctoral program is five to six years. A dissertation in environmental studies is expected to present an original contribution to the understanding of a significant environmental problem or issue. It should demonstrate a clear understanding of the relevant literature, careful and rigorous research design, and effective communication of the results within the context of their area of emphasis.

Other important things to note:

  • Students are expected to serve as teaching assistants in undergraduate courses for two quarters, unless they can demonstrate equivalent experience. All students are expected to TA for ENVS 100 Ecology and Society or ENVS 190 Senior Capstone at least once in their career.
  • Students have the option of pursuing a “Designated Emphasis," the equivalent of a graduate minor. They provide a framework for in-depth study in specialized fields in your area, and an opportunity for recognition of particular scholarly expertise. We currently have agreements with Applied Math & Statistics, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Latin American & Latino Studies, and Sociology, and are pursuing agreements with others.
  • We do not offer a terminal master's degree, except in the case of students who have been advanced to candidacy but do not complete the Ph.D. dissertation.

Program Prerequisites

The interdisciplinary nature of the core curriculum requires rigorous preparation at the undergraduate level. Calculus is useful in many areas of the program and essential to independent work in some. All students should have, either from prior course work or independent reading, an advanced upper-division knowledge of: ecology, genetics, and evolutionary biology; macroeconomics, microeconomics, and political economy; politics, anthropoloy, or sociology; and statistical analysis or probability.  Preparation in these areas is best accomplished by upper-division course work.


On admission to the program, each student is assigned a guidance committee of three faculty: two from his or her general research area, and one from a complementary field. Thus all students will have committee members from both the social or natural sciences. Though the membership of the committee may change as the student forms relationships with particular faculty and begin to define their dissertation research, subsequent committees will always include environmental studies faculty members from both social sciences and natural sciences.

Under the guidance of an interdisciplinary faculty committee, students are expected to plan their further education and research. For some students, this may involve closely focused preparation and additional course work in particular fields (such as ecology, economics, or politics). Depending on the student's background, interests, and intentions, his or her advisers may suggest or require additional course work, including courses from other departments.

The guidance committees work with students throughout the first two years to ensure that their preparation is individually designed to meet particular needs and interests. At the same time, the various research seminar formats are intended to encourage students to work collaboratively in reading and research preparation.


In the first year, core courses ENVS 201 A & B introduce students to basic concepts in ecology and the social sciences, and their applications in environmental studies. These conceptual foundations are complemented by three courses, one quarter each, in research methods (ENVS 201M), research design (ENVS 201N) and quantitative techniques. 

In fall and winter quarters of the second year, students are required to pass a minimum of two Area Specialization courses (one in the natural sciences and one in the social sciences):

  • 210 Political Ecological Thought and the Environment
  • 220 Conservation Biology
  • 230 Agroecology and Sustainable Agriculture
  • 240 Public Policy and Conservation

These courses are designed to ensure that students acquire disciplinary depth in their chosen research fields, gain experience of their research communities, and refine the research skills necessary to perform successfully in the professional arena.

Throughout their career, students are encouraged to participate in ENVS 291 - Interdisciplinary and disciplinary topical readings courses in areas of interest.

In addition, every quarter before advancement to candidacy, all students are required to participate in:

  • 290 Departmental Interdisciplinary Research Seminar (2 credits)
  • 290L Graduate Research Seminar (2 credits)
  • 292 Topics in Research in Environmental Studies (2 credits)

Pre-Qualifying and Qualifying Exams

During the second year students will prepare for the Pre-Qualifying Examinations, which must be passed no-later than winter quarter of the third year.

The Qualifying Examination for Advancement to Candidacy should be passed by the end of the spring quarter of the third year.  UCSC policy requires that the Qualifying Exam be completed no-later than the end of the fourth year, in order to remain in good academic standing.

If the venue of a student's research is in a non-English-speaking country, a language exam testing for reading and speaking competence in the language of that country must be passed before advancement to candidacy.