Social Ecology Core Program - Ph.D.

The training program that leads to the Ph.D. in Social Ecology allows students to develop a tailored course of graduate study that draws upon the knowledge of several traditional academic disciplines. The emphases of this training program are in keeping with the academic mission of the School, namely, its emphases on an interdisciplinary approach to theory and research, and the application of research to policy and intervention. Students are encouraged to integrate the diverse theoretical and methodological insights of several disciplines to analyze important psychological, social, legal and environmental problems from a perspective of breadth as well as depth. In doing so, students gain familiarity with the classic and contemporary literature in social ecology and with the application of the ecological paradigm, as it has evolved in the natural and behavioral sciences. This program is ideally suited for independent students who wish to develop a unique interdepartmental program of study in consultation with faculty from several departments.

Program Benefits

  • Guaranteed funding for the first five years of the program
  • Research Assistantships
  • Teaching Assistantships
  • Fellowships and Top-Off Awards
  • Guaranteed placement in on-campus housing

Program Learning Outcomes

  1. Integrate theoretical and methodological insights from multiple disciplines to analyze important psychological, social, legal, and environmental problems across the multiple contexts in which they are situated.
  2. Design research the results of which can be used to mitigate those problems.

Academic Requirements

Graduate Courses in Social Ecology

Each incoming student takes Seminar in Social Ecology (Social Ecology 200), an approved course in Research Methods, two Data Analysis courses (Social Ecology 264A and Social Ecology 264B), one additional approved research methods or statistics course, and six elective courses, chosen in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students enrolled in the PhD program in Social Ecology are encouraged to take courses throughout the university, both within and outside of the School of Social Ecology. Linked is a list of elective courses that have been pre-approved to count towards the degree. The normative time for completion of the Ph.D. is five years, and the maximum time permitted is seven years.

A sampling of faculty research and teaching interests includes human stress; health promotion; program evaluation; economic change; end-of-life medical decision-making; violence and aggression; legal sanctions and deterrence; white-collar and organized crime; transitions to parenthood; personality and psychopathology; urban growth management; transportation policy; poverty and homelessness; community design and development; regional economic development; water and air quality; biotechnology; community approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention; the health impacts of work environments; and environmental regulation. Social Ecology Core students will have the opportunity to collaborate with faculty, within the School of Social Ecology, and across the UCI campus.

Second Year Research Project Requirement

Students are strongly encouraged to become involved in research very early in their graduate careers by participating in the research projects of the faculty. Students complete a supervised research project before they begin work on their doctoral dissertation. Research is broadly construed to include experimental methods, questionnaire and interview studies, systematic field observation, secondary analyses, legal analyses, etc. Students should begin work on this second year research project during their first year and should complete the project during the second year in residence (preferably by the end of the winter quarter of the second year). The research project must be evaluated and approved by a committee of three Social Ecology faculty members. Normally, one faculty member will serve as the chair of the committee and the major advisor for the research, but students should consult with all three members of the committee about their research plans. A written report of the research must be prepared for evaluation by the members of the committee. The report typically will be comparable in scope and format to articles that appear in leading journals in the social and behavioral sciences. Approval of the student's research project must be certified by obtaining the signature of each committee member.

Students may submit the written report of their research as a thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the M.A. in Social Ecology.

Breadth Requirement

Students complete the Breadth Requirement during their third year of study, through which they demonstrate mastery of theory, research, policy, and practice on two social or environmental problems relevant to Social Ecology, or two papers on a single problem provided the two papers are clearly distinct (e.g., a review of research literature on the problem and a separate empirical analysis bearing on the problem). Writing one paper for each of the two problems selected, or the two papers on a single problem, meaning a total of two papers written, satisfies the Breadth Requirement. The papers should be different from the second-year research project and demonstrate an interdisciplinary understanding of relevant research bearing on these two problems and show how that research can inform policies, programs, or practices designed to solve or mitigate these problems. Each student’s plans for completing the Breadth Requirement are developed in consultation with a committee of three Social Ecology faculty members and the Faculty Graduate Advisor. Students are encouraged to assemble and meet with this committee as early as possible during their graduate career, and are required to do so by no later than the third quarter of their second year of study.

Once the student's plans have been approved and implemented, the committee will review the student's work to evaluate whether the Breadth Requirement has been fulfilled and to recommend additional work if it is deemed necessary. The Breadth Requirement must be completed before the student can advance to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Advancement/Prospectus Requirement

The fourth year of study is devoted to developing and defending a dissertation proposal and conducting dissertation research. The normative time for advancement to candidacy is four years. Students complete the dissertation in their fourth or fifth year. Please take special note of the School of Social Ecology deadline that requires students to advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. by the end of their fifth year of study.


The final years of doctoral study are devoted to developing and defending a dissertation proposal and conducting dissertation research. Students should strive to complete all requirements for the Ph.D. in Social Ecology by their fifth year of study, but those requirements must be completed no later than their seventh year of study, adjusted for any approved leaves of absence that the student may have taken. Failure to complete all degree requirements by the end of the seventh year may result in initiation of steps to terminate the student’s status as a doctoral student.


Current students may access the SE Core Resources page for the student handbook and forms.