The Bren PhD Experience
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Because the Bren School is smaller than many schools of its kind, it promotes a strong sense of community among students, faculty, and staff. Students have extraordinary access to faculty and resources, and a high level of exchange with their Bren colleagues. This interaction is an important element at Bren, and one that is supported even by the architecture of Bren Hall, which became the nation’s first LEED Platinum-certified laboratory building when it was completed in 2002. Designed around a central courtyard and configured to invite occupants to use exterior stairs rather than elevators and to hold meetings and take breaks outdoors, Bren Hall facilitates interaction among students, faculty, and staff. The open design ensures that Bren folks literally see each other.

The Bren PhD experience is characterized by rich intellectual exchange. Workshops lasting from a few hours to a few days, as well as seminars, colloquia, and other activities present continuous opportunities to experience new perspectives and engage with experts in a range of fields relevant to environmental science and/or management.

student in labStudents are invited to join informal faculty-to-faculty lunchtime round-tables at which Bren professors share their research in a process that furthers understanding, stimulates thought and discussion, and may provide a spark for new interdisciplinary collaboration. It is one of many actions taken to ensure that information and knowledge are shared, distributed widely, and used to leverage further interaction and study.

For students pursuing research that requires extensive laboratory time, the lighting, equipment, access, and overall condition of this important working environment can substantially enhance or detract from their experience. Bren Hall is new, it is superbly equipped, and it is maintained to the highest standards. It also serves as a “living laboratory” for the most up-to-date sustainability systems, technology, and innovations. Bren students work in labs that are bright, clean, comfortable, well lit, and thoroughly modern in every way. All teaching labs and research labs, including the school's state-of-the-art computer labs and associated work rooms, are located close to each other in the laboratory wing of Bren Hall.

To further extend its intellectual reach, the Bren School has forged links and affiliations with departments, initiatives, programs, and organized research units across and beyond the university. And because many of our faculty hold joint appointments in other UCSB departments, they are particularly well positioned to support students in locating, collaborating with, and receiving counsel from colleagues in a vast network of UCSB faculty who may contribute to a student’s research.

The Bren School is located adjacent to the Marine Science Institute and the College of Engineering, and is a minute's walk from departments, particularly in the natural sciences, that may be highly relevant to a student's individual research pursuits.

students in lab, laughing and smiling for the camera
Even hardworking PhD students need some fun: a break from research in Hunter Lenihan's lab.

Under Chancellor Henry T. Yang, UC Santa Barbara has earned an international reputation for its commitment to collaboration across traditionally separated disciplines. The university’s efforts in this area are of special benefit to Bren students, whose research often involves understanding and solving inherently multidisciplinary environmental problems. At Bren, students have ready access to resources that might be out of their reach or remain beyond their awareness at nearly any other university offering a PhD in Environmental Science & Management, where lines separating academic disciplines and departments tend to be more traditionally and firmly drawn.

The School’s location – across the street from the beach and the Pacific Ocean – provides both daily aesthetic enhancement of the Bren experience as well as access to a bounty of natural laboratories. Channel Islands National Park is visible from the campus. Estuaries and a variety of coastal habitats are to be found on or adjacent to campus. The Santa Ynez Mountains rise to the north, a gateway to interior valleys and the Santa Barbara wine country. The University is further linked to important natural systems through its management of five reserves in the extensive University of California Natural Reserve System. Providing a broad range of ecosystems from intertidal zones to coastal dunes systems and Sierra Nevada high country, they are:

  • Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve

  • Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve

  • Kenneth S. Norris Rancho Marine Reserve

  • Santa Cruz Island

  • Sedgwick Reserve

  • Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory and Valentine Camp, both part of the Valentine Eastern Sierra Reserve

In combination with our excellent faculty of widely known experts in the sciences, economics, business, policy, and law, these tremendous natural resources substantially enhance the educational experience available to Bren School PhD students.