Academic Programs: PhD

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The Bren School’s PhD in Environmental Science and Management program is designed to develop the broad knowledge, analytical powers, technical skills, and creative thinking demanded of leaders in Environmental Science and Management. The program is also designed to accommodate a wide range of research interests, from those highly focused in a particular discipline to strongly interdisciplinary.

What distinguishes Bren PhD training from that of a conventional disciplinary department?

  • Focus on a wide variety of environmental issues
  • Multidisciplinary in nature and individualized in implementation
  • Highly personalized
  • Vibrant and dynamic intellectual community
  • Diverse interests and expertise of faculty
  • Emphasis on communication between and among disciplines

The Bren School is now accepting applications to its PhD in Environmental Science and Management program. Visit PhD: Admissions for more details on how to apply. Applications due Dec. 15.

Students on a small boatThe PhD program at Bren is a mentoring program: each student works closely with one or more Bren professors in his or her field of interest. There are two ways that PhD students are admitted to the program.

For students focused on the natural sciences or engineering, admittance to the PhD program requires the support of a Bren School faculty member who agrees to be the student's sponsor. These students enter the PhD program with a faculty advisor.

For students focused on economics, political science, management, or other social sciences, admittance to the PhD program does not require sponsorship by a specific faculty member. Instead, the faculty in these areas collectively
admit cohorts are students who will conduct research based in a social science. As these students complete coursework and develop their research direction, they then choose
an advisor.

Because of the large number of fields in which a doctoral student can specialize, there are few universal requirements for the PhD degree in Environmental Science and Management. Students plan their academic program in consultation with faculty mentors and, eventually, their PhD committee. All courses offered by the Bren School are open to PhD students. Courses are also available in such other departments as Geography, Earth Science, Economics, Political Science, and Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, as well as others.

Bren faculty engage in research that crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries, and students are encouraged to do so as well. While we encourage broadening disciplinary perspectives, we expect that each PhD student will become an expert in one field, whether it has an interdisciplinary or disciplinary focus. The PhD dissertation must be an original contribution to knowledge and of exceptional quality.

PhD students may enroll in any courses offered by the Bren School and other UCSB departments, such as Geography, Earth Science, Economics, Political Science, and Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, among others. PhD students who wish to gain deeper knowledge of a particular field may complete coursework to add a formal emphasis, certificate program or master's degree. PhD emphases offered at UCSB include Economics and Environmental Science, Environmental and Society, and Technology and Society, as well as others. More information on graduate emphases and certificate programs is included in UCSB's General Catalog.

Students who wish to obtain a stronger multidisciplinary background before focusing on one research area should consider enrolling in our Master of Environmental Science and Management (MESM) program and applying to the PhD program in the second year. A Master's degree is not required for admission to the PhD program, although some professors prefer that applicants have a Master's degree.

See a list of current and past PhD students and their research topics. The application deadline is December 15. Visit the UCSB Graduate Application to complete yours today.

PhD Program Requirements

The PhD program requirements are highly individualized, as detailed in the Bren School Graduate Student Handbook. There is no specific unit requirement for the PhD program. The PhD is not a unit-count degree but a research degree awarded upon demonstration of academic excellence and performance of original research. PhD students complete an individual program of study guided by their PhD committee. All Bren PhD students must completed the following interdisciplinary seminar courses prior to graduation:

  • ESM 510: Faculty Research Speaker Series— students attend faculty research presentations and discuss and analyze the research in a separate session under the direction of the course instructor

  • ESM 512: Research Ethics and Conduct— This course introduces the ethical principles that apply to scientists to incoming PhD students of the Bren School. We will discuss key concepts and cases in research conduct and research ethics including: (1) Brief history and basic terms and concepts in ethics; (2) Plagiarism and authorship; (3) Falsification and fabrication; (4) Peer-review process; (5) Human subjects & bioethics; (6) Conflict of interest; (7) Policies and protocols to prevent research misconduct; and (8) Miscellaneous ethical issues in the academic environment. We will also review historical cases of research misconduct, and we will analyze recent retraction cases.

  • ESM 514: Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research— exploration of a problem oriented-topic (e.g. management of invasive species, fisheries management, climate change and policy responses)
At the end of the second year but no later than the end of the third year, the PhD committee prepares a written examination that tests the student’s knowledge of his/her specialization in the context of Environmental Science & Management as well as research skills, problem-solving skills, and ability to perform academic work.

After passing the written exam, the student prepares a written dissertation proposal, and the PhD committee conducts an oral examination. The oral examination is based on the dissertation proposal, readiness to do the required research, and preparation and aptitude for completion of the PhD program. Upon successful completion of the oral examination, the student is eligible to advance to candidacy. Advancement normally occurs in the third year.

For the PhD degree in Environmental Science and Management, students must present a dissertation demonstrating the ability to conduct significant, independent, and original research in their major field. Upon completion of the dissertation, a public lecture on the research must be presented, followed by a closed-door defense before the PhD committee.  

In summary, the guidelines require that PhD students:
  • Form a PhD committee (1st year)
  • Complete an individual program of study
  • Complete 3 interdisciplinary seminars
  • Pass a written examination (normally at the end of 2nd year but no later than the end of 3rd year)
  • Prepare a dissertation proposal (3rd year)
  • Pass an oral examination (normally at the end of 3rd year)
  • Prepare the dissertation
  • Defend the dissertation (by the end of the 5th year)

For additional information regarding PhD requirements, see the Bren School Student Handbook.

Other Training Opportunities for PhD Students

PhD student in a laboratoryCertificate in College and University Teaching (CCUT)
The UCSB Certificate in College and University Teaching (CCUT) is designed for students who wish to demonstrate superior competence and experience in preparation for teaching at the university or college level. Certificates are awarded in conjunction with a PhD degree. Learn more.

Kuni Fellowships for Collaborative Interdisciplinary Doctoral Research
Kuni fellowships provide Bren PhD students with the opportunity to collaborate with one or more of their PhD colleagues on an interdisciplinary research project related to solving an environmental problem. Selected projects include at one student from the natural sciences and one from the social sciences. Funding supports data gathering or acquisition, fees for relevantspeakers and costs associated with presenting a paper from the project at a professional conference. Learn more.

Graduate Program in Management Practice
For doctoral students across the UC Santa Barbara campus seeking a structured and diploma-enhancing business education, the Technology Management Program in UCSB's College of Engineering offers a UC-wide recognized graduate certificate. Learn more.

PhD Emphasis in Technology and Society
This optional emphasis is a degree supplement that provides multi-disciplinary training for graduate students planning dissertations dealing with the societal implications of technology. Learn more.

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