Environmental Social Science PhD


For information on the application process, deadlines and funding, please see our Graduate Admission FAQs.


Q: What is the environmental social science (ESS) PhD degree? 
A: This degree was created because reducing human impacts and developing more sustainable environmental practices will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve unless we develop a fuller understanding of the social forces and dynamics that are at the root of human-environmental interactions. There is a pressing need for leadership in academic/teaching, research, government and NGOs to investigate, articulate and advocate transdisciplinary social science understandings of the environmental crisis. Thus, our program is designed to provide opportunities to engage in such transdisciplinary research.

Q: What makes ESS different?
A: The ESS program allows students to tailor a doctoral program to their specific environmental research interests while participating in a core series of seminars designed to provide broad critical exposure to environmental issues using multidisciplinary social science approaches. This results in highly individualized and flexible training with a focus on real-world skills.

Our focus is on identifying the best ways to use the insights, methods and theories of various disciplines to identify and critically analyze contemporary environmental problems in order to identify solutions. Because ESS collaborates with faculty from a variety of disciplines, students will have a significant advantage over students restricted to a single discipline or academic department during the course of their education. With ESS, students are able to customize their education while receiving grounding in core research and theory foundations.

Q: Who is the ideal ESS PhD student? 
A: If you want to develop a top-notch professional social science skill set, are driven, open-minded and willing to work as part of a collaborative team with the faculty and other students, this is definitely the right place for you. In this degree we train and professionalize you, not just provide supervision. Arizona State University’s fast-paced, dynamic campus is an academically demanding environment and a vibrant laboratory for demanding adaptation, collaboration and innovation. If you find that you do not like to work collaboratively, that you prefere more direct supervisor or that you are focused more on the environmental part than the social science part, this program may not be the best fit for you.

Q: What type of graduate-level training will I receive within the ESS degree?
A: A few areas of faculty expertise at ASU where we provide particularly strong graduate-level training for this program include:

  • Urban environments and environmental justice studies
  • Environment and health studies
  • Geographic information systems and GIScience
  • Political and cultural ecology research
  • Hazards geography and vulnerability studies
  • Social network analysis in environmental research
  • Archaeological studies and the deep history of environments
  • Institutional analysis and mathematical modeling
  • Environmental and resource policy analysis

We are very interested in graduate students who wish to work in two or more of these areas.

Q: What faculty will I work with?
A: The degree is administered by the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and leverages ASU’s campus-wide strength in environmental issues, with over 30 faculty from a broad range of environmental fields, including human and physical geography; cultural, medical and environmental anthropology; community resources; demography; geographic information systems; urban planning; public affairs; environmental sociology; and mathematical modeling. ASU is also home to numerous environmentally focused research projects and centers, affording students opportunities for direct research experience. Please see the Graduate College website for a complete list of faculty.

Q: What career is this ESS PhD suited for? 
A: Essentially, the application of the degree is similar to any social science PhD. About 70 percent of our students intend to pursue academic careers, mostly as professors in transdisciplinary programs like this one, in which they will be doing research and teaching university students. Other students plan to use the degree to move into leadership positions in NGOs, government agencies and research positions in environmental fields.

Q: What degree will I graduate with?
A: A PhD in environmental social science.

Q: What are some of the baccalaureate degrees of current ESS PhD students? 
A: Our students come from areas such as anthropology, design studies, political science, communications and geography, but you can enter the PhD with an MA in a relevant field or directly from a bachelor’s degree. We generally recommend that people have a master’s degree in a relevant field before they join the program, and this is looked upon favorably in the selection process. Students entering with a background in the social sciences usually find the transition easier than those entering from the biological or ecological sciences. For those with no social science background, we highly recommend taking some key social sciences courses at the graduate level before you apply (e.g., social theory, social research methodologies, human geography, environmental sociology, political ecology), and to have completed a master’s degree.

Q: Can I talk to someone about the program? 
A: Yes, we have a full-time student support specialist dedicated to our graduate programs. She can guide you through the process, refer you to others on campus as needed and answer or further research all of your questions. She can be reached at shesc.grad@asu.edu.