PhD: Program Details
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Program Details
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The Bren School’s PhD program is designed to develop the broad knowledge, analytical powers, technical skills, and creative thinking demanded of leaders in Environmental Science & 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?

  •   breadth of focus; the ability to include a variety of environmental issues
  •   emphasis on multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary work. (See Kuni Fellowships, below)
  •   highly personalized curriculum, catered to individual student's interest within a given area of study

  •   diverse interests and expertise of faculty

  •   emphasis on communication between and among disciplines

The PhD program at Bren is a mentoring program, with each PhD student working closely with one or more Bren professors in his or her area of expertise.

In the natural sciences and engineering, many new PhD students enter the program with a faculty advisor – in most cases, the particular professor who has agreed to sponsor them.

In economics or political science, new PhD students are advised initially by a group of social science faculty before selecting a primary advisor.​

Because of the large number of areas in which a PhD student can specialize, no required core curriculum has been established. The student plans her/his academic program in consultation with the advisor and, eventually, their PhD committee. All courses offered by the Bren School are open to PhD students. Courses are also available in other departments such as Geography, Earth Science, Economics, Political Science, and Ecology, Evolution & Marine Biology, as well as others.

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

Students who wish to obtain a stronger multidisciplinary background before focusing on one research area should consider enrolling in our 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. Please see PhD Admissions Requirements for more detail.


Bren PhD Program Details

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 PhDStudent wearing a wet suit in Tahiti students must completed the following interdisciplinary seminar courses prior to graduation:

  • ESM 510: Faculty Research Speaker Series (formerly ESM 595SS) — students attend faculty research presentations and discuss and analyze the research in a separate session under the direction of the course instructor

  • ESM 512: Conduct & Professional Skills for Interdisciplinary Research (formerly ESM 595SB) — development of important skills such as preparing proposals, writing manuscripts and statistical methods

  • ESM 514: Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research (formerly ESM 595PB) — 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)


Other Training Opportunities for PhD Students

  • Kuni Fellowships for Collaborative Interdisciplinary 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. Click here for more information.

  • Economics and Environmental Science (EES) Emphasis
    The EES emphasis is a joint undertaking of the UCSB Department of Economics and the Bren School, administered through the Bren School. The goal of the emphasis is to provide a new model for doctoral training in environmental and resource economics. EES students receive PhD-level training in economics and a companion area of natural science (climate, hydrology, applied ecology, and marine science are examples). Please see the Economics and Environmental Science pages for more detailed information.

  • Certificate in College and University Teaching (CCUT)
    The UCSB Certificate in College and University Teaching (CCUT) is designed for students who want to demonstrate superior competence and experience in preparation for teaching at the university or college level. Certificates are awarded in conjunction with PhD degrees. Click here for more information.

  • Master's Group Projects Mentorship Program
    A distinct aspect of the Bren PhD Program is the optional opportunity to mentor Bren Master's students as part of their Master's Group Projects. Group Projects function as master's theses and cover a highly diverse set of topics related to environmental science and management. Although Group Projects are formally advised by Bren faculty, PhD students commonly have important analytical skills and expert perspectives that can benefit projects in various ways. The Group Project Mentorship Program effectively augments the availability of intellectual resources to master's students and provides PhD students with experience in advising and working with students in applied research settings. Many PhD graduates eventually become academic advisors or research supervisors in some capacity, so the opportunity to mentor groups of students is truly a unique and valuable component of the Bren PhD Program.  

Training Opportunities for Prospective PhD Students (Pre-Enrollment)

    The goal of the University of California's new Leadership Excellence through Advanced Degrees (UC LEADS) program is to educate California's future leaders by preparing promising UC students for advanced education in science, mathematics, and engineering. The program is designed to identify upper-division undergraduate students who have the potential to succeed in these disciplines but have experienced situations or conditions that have adversely impacted their advancement in their field of study. UC LEADS scholars embark on a two-year program of scientific research and graduate school preparation guided by individual faculty mentors. Scholars receive financial support over two years and are provided with an excellent opportunity to explore their discipline, experience a research environment, and improve their opportunities for future study in their chosen field.