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PhD Emphasis in Economics and Environmental Science

Environmental and resource economics is the study of the connections between economics and the environment.

At the core of environmental economics is the recognition that markets often do not provide the right amount of environmental protection, and that some intervention by government, typically through regulation, tax policy, or the establishment of property rights, is frequently needed to strike the right balance between conflicting societal needs.

UCSB PhD students in the Bren School or the Economics Department may choose to supplement their PhD program by establishing an emphasis in Economics and Environmental Science (EES). Students who pursue this option acquire a deep and expert knowledge of economics, as well as an understanding and appreciation of the research questions and methods of a natural science that complements their economics research. The EES program typically starts in the second year of the PhD program, following successful completion of a first-year core sequence in microeconomics and econometrics.

Career Preparation

In an age when economic activity stresses the environment and utilizes fisheries, forests, minerals, energy sources, and other environmental resources, it is increasingly important to use economic tools in developing environmental approaches and policies. Armed with these tools, environmental economists are able to conceptualize economic problems related to environmental issues, then apply appropriate quantitative and qualitative techniques to design and implement appropriate research methods.

This dual emphasis uniquely prepares students for a wide variety of careers, including faculty positions in disciplinary departments (e.g. economics or agricultural economics) and multidisciplinary departments (environmental studies programs and graduate schools of the environment), and for non-academic careers in government, industry, and consulting.

Student taking notes in lecture

Academic Preparation

Prospective UCSB students who are considering the EES emphasis should have interest in economics and the problems of environmental protection and natural-resource use. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of the emphasis, a variety of student backgrounds are entirely appropriate for EES. A master's degree is not necessary, though having one is a plus.

Although students need not have majored or minored in economics prior to entering the program, they should have been successful in their economics coursework, have an understanding of basic principles, and demonstrate a strong interest in the field. Students having little formal training in economics should be able to demonstrate an understanding of the nature of an economics graduate program and a career in economics.

It is desirable that participants have some training in natural science at the university level. Students should have taken one or more of the introductory sequences in biology, chemistry, and physics offered for science majors at most universities. Students having relatively little preparation in natural science are advised to remedy this deficiency during the year and the summer immediately preceding their enrollment in the EES emphasis at UCSB. This can be achieved, for instance, by enrolling in university physics and/or chemistry during the fall when applying to graduate school and then continuing the sequence through the remainder of the academic year.

It is important that all prospective students be well prepared in mathematics and have comfort and facility with quantitative methods and problems. Most successful EES students have done well in a rigorous course sequence in single and multivariate calculus. It is helpful to have taken such additional coursework as linear algebra, differential equations, real analysis, or mathematical statistics.

How to Enroll in the EES Emphasis

Only currently enrolled UCSB PhD students in the Department of Economics or the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management may add the Economics and Environmental Science emphasis. The emphasis begins during Year 2. However, preparing for the EES emphasis begins in Year 1. Students will need to complete prerequisites offered by the Department of Economics - a core course sequence in Microeconomics and Econometrics (ECON 210A-B-C, ECON 241 A-B-C) - and the achievement of a PhD-pass on the preliminary examination in these areas in order to be considered for enrollment in the emphasis.

Academic Requirements

PhD students must satisfy all requirements in their home departments in addition to the emphasis requirements. Work completed in satisfaction of departmental PhD requirements may also be used to satisfy emphasis requirements.

  • Environmental economics coursework. Completing ECON 260A-B-C, a three-course graduate sequence defined by the UCSB Department of Economics, is required.
  • Establish proficiency in a second field of economics. Completing a series of two to three courses specified by Economics, or of a custom field curriculum defined by the student.
  • Seminar in economics and environmental science. Students must enroll for at least one quarter in this seminar, ESM 595PB.
  • Field seminar. Students must enroll for four quarters in the PhD seminar in environmental and resource economics, ESM 594ER.
  • Natural science focus. Prior to being admitted to the emphasis, students work with their advisory committee to define an area of natural science to establish competency, such as applied ecology, climate, hydrology, or marine science. The focus will involve four to six courses of lectures, seminars, lab, research, and more.
  • Dissertation. Although the expectation is that a student's dissertation be a contribution to economics, the specific subject of the dissertation is a matter between the student and their PhD committee. 
Woman working on laptop outdoors

Program Timeline

The EES program typically starts in the second year of the PhD program, following successful completion of a first-year core sequence in microeconomics and econometrics. In the second year, students take coursework in environmental and natural resource economics and a second field of economics of their choosing. Students also begin to acquire an understanding of an area of environmental science. This culminates in a research experience, working in the laboratory of one of the EES natural-science faculty members. A student's dissertation is typically in an area of environmental economics.

Schedule Preview: PhD with EES Emphasis

Year 1

Six-course core sequence in economic theory and econometrics (Econ 210ABC; Econ 241ABC); A course or directed reading with an EES natural-science faculty member; One or more electives (natural science, macro, or other); Preliminary exams in micro and econometrics. During the summer after Year 1: An optional natural-science research experience or policy internship.

Year 2

Identify an advisor and apply for admission into the emphasis. Natural-resource and environmental-economics sequence (3 courses); An additional field in economics (2-3 courses); Coursework and directed reading in chosen area of natural science; Problem-based cross-disciplinary seminar (ESM 595PB); Environmental Economics seminar (Econ 594ER) - Fall and Spring; Fall quarter- students must submit PhD Committee petition to department; Spring quarter- students must take written exams (Bren students only). During the summer after Year 2: An optional natural-science research experience or policy internship.

Year 3

Environmental Economics Seminar (Econ 594ER); Dissertation proposal and defense; Fall quarter- students must take oral exams (Bren students only).

Years 4 & 5

Dissertation research; Environmental Economics Seminar (Econ 594ER); Upon completion, certify your progress with the EES coordinator.

Are you ready to solve environmental problems?

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