Identifying policy solutions to environmental challenges requires a command of social sciences, alongside topical knowledge and understanding of relevant policy processes. Duke's University Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP) PhD is a 5-year program for intense research training, combining disciplinary specialization − in economics or political science − with an emphasis on understanding policy settings and the precise nature of the problem we hope to solve with policy. That requires integrating multiple perspectives to frame useful applications of disciplinary rigor.

Our students and faculty conduct world-class research, in domestic and international contexts, on a wide array of topics in environmental economics, policy, and politics. Graduate placements have included academic positions in disciplinary departments, interdisciplinary units, and professional schools and professional positions in domestic and international public agencies, environmental organizations, research institutes, and consulting firms.

The UPEP PhD program is jointly administered by the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Sanford School of Public Policy. It draws on the extensive resources of both schools, as well as numerous departments and research institutes across Duke University. UPEP students work in close proximity to PhD students in other disciplines, within each School as well as across Duke. We have close affiliations with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Duke University Energy Initiative, and the Duke Global Health Institute.

UPEP builds on a long history of Duke University engagement with environmental policy issues. The predecessors of the Nicholas School—the School of Forestry, the Marine Lab, and the Department of Geology—were founded in the 1930s. The Sanford School of Public Policy traces its history to the formation of Duke’s Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs in 1971. Both schools have offered environment-focused PhD training for many years. In 2010, UPEP was created to bring together groups engaged in social science research and training for environmental policy.

Applying to UPEP

UPEP applicants should apply directly to the Duke Graduate School. All doctoral students must enter the program in the fall.

We welcome applicants from diverse academic, cultural, socioeconomic, and professional backgrounds. Approximately 3-5 students are projected to enter the program each fall, for a total of 20-25 students enrolled at any given time.

Admissions Requirements

Admission to the program is extremely competitive, with less than 10 percent of applicants typically offered admission. Applicants should have a record of high academic achievement and the potential to become leading researchers on environmental policy issues. Although the program’s admissions committee evaluates applicants from a comprehensive standpoint, successful applicants will likely have:

  • High GPA scores.
  • Personalized letters of recommendation that attest to the applicant’s scholarly ability.
  • Research interests that overlap those of one or more UPEP faculty members.
  • A personal statement that explains the applicant’s interest in pursuing an Environmental Policy PhD at Duke and preferred disciplinary concentration, in view of the applicant’s prior education and experience, career objectives, and other pertinent factors.
    • Applicants should clearly specify the preferred concentration in the personal statement. Adequate preparation for PhD-level training in either economics or political science is an important consideration in admissions. 

Matching with Faculty

UPEP conducts program-level admissions review to evaluate applicants’ backgrounds and interests and find matches with potential advisors. Applicants may contact faculty members individually, but it is not necessary to secure an advising commitment in advance in order to be accepted into the program.

To identify faculty members with research interests similar to yours, consult the active UPEP advisor list in the UPEP Handbook and explore the Nicholas School Faculty Database and the Sanford School Faculty Directory.

Other Areas of Study

Candidates should have a strong interest in either the economic or political aspects of environmental studies. If you are primarily interested in other areas, consider the following doctoral programs instead: