Sustainability is a term used to encompass the field of sustainable development. The theories of sustainable development seek to solve challenges that are essential to the future of human welfare, but the most overarching topic within sustainability programs addresses how the growing human population can work to maintain and preserve our existing natural resources. The theories and practices of sustainability can be applied to many different aspects of human existence, and students from a wide array of backgrounds may participate in a Ph.D. program in the subject. Once admitted to a program, students can expect to explore further specialties in public policy, public health, engineering, natural science, or economics in relation to sustainable development.
Why a Ph.D. Degree?
The theories and practices developed by sustainability scholars address some of the most challenging problems of humanity. The areas of research and their potential real-world impact are enormous. Candidates in doctoral sustainability programs can research social inequality, poverty causes, energy systems, agriculture systems, water resources, public health, ecosystems, and public policy. Graduates of doctoral programs in sustainability may work in academia, continue with post-doctoral research and fellowships, or enter the workforce within the private or public sectors.
Getting Into a Ph.D. Degree Program
Because the principles of sustainability can be applied to a number of fields, students from many different backgrounds compete for entrance into Ph.D. programs in sustainability management. Each department will have its own qualifications, many of which will demand a certain level of math and economics in addition to a background in both natural and social sciences. However, there are a few common elements to can expect when applying to a Ph.D. program:
- A master’s degree in sustainability or related program
- Desired GPA as evidenced by transcripts from all universities and colleges attended
- GRE or GMAT scores
- Supplemental documents, such as letters of reference, resume, and/or statement of intent
Inside a Sustainability Ph.D. Degree Program
Earning a Ph.D. in sustainability typically requires a minimum of 60 credit hours, and may even exceed 80, depending on the program. Because Ph.D. programs are research intensive, it is recommended that students enroll in programs full time. Full-time enrollment is also recommended to students who hope to earn an online PhD in sustainability, but some online doctoral programs allow students to attend on a part-time basis. However, most Ph.D. candidates work to complete their degrees within five years to maintain eligibility for financial aid. In preparation for their doctoral dissertation, Ph.D. students will develop a research methodology by taking core classes designed to strengthen quantitative and qualitative reasoning skills. Depending on the student’s area of specialization, the curriculum may also include advanced topics in community development, human rights, ecosystems management, public policy, or energy conservation.
Online PhD programs in sustainability allow students to take lecture-based courses online, but many programs are designed in hybrid formats that require some on-site participation. Students hoping to earn a sustainability PhD online will most likely participate in a low-residency program that requires face-to-face meetings with mentors and peers throughout the school year. Such residencies vary in length and are held in locations across the United States. Ph.D. candidates enrolled in residency programs must consider travel requirements when planning a budget and schedule for their doctoral studies. During residencies, students will receive hands-on training in research and will receive guidance on preparing and defending their doctoral dissertation. Both traditional and online students are required to defend an original doctoral dissertation before receiving their degrees.
What’s Next for Sustainability Ph.D. Degree Holders?
Students looking to enter the workforce with a doctorate in sustainability will enjoy a number of opportunities as green jobs only grow in popularity every day. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that most jobs require candidates to have at minimum a bachelor’s degree, but higher-level degrees help individuals soar into leadership roles.
In the specific subject of sustainability there aren’t many additional career options beyond the doctoral level, but individuals can go on to specialize in different sects of the field. Also, it might be in their interest to pursue an MBA, as it will help them succeed in the business world.