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, students are required to enroll in the 2-quarter sequence of ENVS 201A-B, which introduces basic concepts in ecology and the social sciences, and their applications in environmental studies.

The requirement for a quantitative methods course provides training in research design and the selection of appropriate quantitative tools for research and analysis.  Pre-approved courses include: AMS 202*, AMS 203*, AMS 205B*, AMS 206*, AMS 207*, AMS 211*, AMS 212A, AMS 215*, AMS 214, AMS 256, AMS 274, AMS 221, AMS 223, AMS 225, AMS 241, AMS 245, AMS 256, AMS 274, BIOE 248A/B, BIOE 286/L*, CS 242, EART 225, EART/OCEA 260, ECON 216, ECON 217, ECON 210B, ECON 211A, ECON 211B, PSYC 204*, PSYC 214*, SOCY 204*

The requirement for a qualitative methods course provides training in research design and the selection of appropriate qualitative tools for research and analysis. Pre-approved courses include: ENVS 272, ANTH 208A, EDU 237, FMST 201, FMST 216, HIST 200, POLI 202, PSYC 248, PSYC 249, PSYC 261, SOC 205

Students are required to take a minimum of two Area Specialization courses, one each from the social sciences (ENVS 210 or ENVS 240) and the natural sciences (ENVS 220 or ENVS 230). 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. You are expected to bring to the course a solid undergraduate foundation in the area.

Students must also take an elective in area of expertise. Pre-approved courses include: ANTH 211, ANTH 238*, ANTH 246*, ANTH 249*, ANTH 273*, BIOE 200B, BIOE 208*, BIOE 245*, BIOE 247*, BIOE 272/L*, BIOE 274, BIOE 279*, BIOE 2810*, BIOE 281P*, BIOE 287, BIOL 200B, BIOL 200C, BIOL 200D, EART 206, EART 208, EART 220, EART 229, EART 254, EART 258, EART 270, EART 272 EART/OCEA 213, ECON 234, ECON 243, ECON 259A, ECON 259B, ECON 272*, EDUC 230*, EDUC 267B*, LALS 200*, LALS 230, METX 200, METX 201, METX 250, OCEA 200, OCEA 211, OCEA 215, OCEA 218, OCEA 220, OCEA 224, OCEA 230, OCEA 280, OCEA 285, OCEA 286, OCEA 290*, POLI 247*, SOCY 201*, SOCY 202*, SOCY 223, SOCY 227, SOCY 256*, SOCY 268A*, SOCY 286B*,SCIC 201A, SCIC 201B, SCIC 201C, SCIC 201D, SCIC 201E, WRIT 203*

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.