researchers in the desert

About the Doctor of Philosophy degree

The PhD in sustainability, offered only on ASU’s Tempe campus, engages scientists and leaders in research to investigate the urgent sustainability challenges of this century.

The flexible, interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to focus on problems of interest to them, drawing upon relevant knowledge from a variety of disciplines.

Students may be admitted to the PhD program with either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution or the equivalent of a US bachelor’s degree from an international institution officially recognized by that country.

Learning outcomes

PhD graduates will have an advanced understanding of the dynamics of coupled socioecological systems and will be able to lead others in research and providing adaptive solutions to specific sustainability challenges. In addition to the common learning outcomes, PhD students will be able to:

  • Understand the concepts and methods of a number of critical disciplines bearing on the sustainability of systems at different spatio-temporal scales.
  • Lead others in applying these concepts and methods to developing sustainable strategies for water, land, air, and urban management at the local and global level.
  • Lead others in the analysis and design of the built environment and institutions’ policies, regulations, and technologies to support sustainable development.


Requirements and electives

With a bachelor’s degreeCredits
Core courses:11
Solutions workshops:6
Total credits required86
With a master’s degreeCredits
Core courses:11
Solutions workshops:3
Total credits required56

Courses and electives

Core courses

  • SOS 510 – Perspectives on Sustainability
  • SOS 520 – Research Design
  • SOS 525 – Social-Ecological-Technical Systems: Domains & Interfaces
  • SOS 589 – Community of Scholars (taken twice)

Solutions workshops

Solutions workshops are listed under SOS 594 and are designed to provide students with experience solving real-world problems that involve multiple sustainability challenges. As such, they will be problem-based and not specifically attached to one of the main themes.

Some example workshops include:

  • SOS 594 – Sustainability Short Form Documentary
  • SOS 594 – Sustainable Development in Action
  • SOS 594 – Sustainable Neighborhoods for Happiness
  • SOS 594 – Urban Sustainability – Best Practices/Case Studies
  • SOS 594 – Operationalizing Corporate Sustainability through ESG Programs

Elective courses

Students may choose courses from any discipline at ASU that relate to their research project or dissertation. Electives must be approved by a student’s supervisory committee.

Research and dissertation

At least 12 credits of the approved PhD program of study must be SOS 792 Research and at least 12 credits must be SOS 799 Dissertation. After completion of the dissertation, the student must pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation.

  • SOS 792 – Research
  • SOS 799 – Dissertation

Exams and Dissertation

When students have completed the coursework, they must pass a comprehensive examination and begin a prospectus (proposal) for their dissertation. After passing the prospectus defense, students enter candidacy. The culminating experience for the doctoral degree program is publication of the dissertation, accompanied by a dissertation defense. The non-coursework portion of the program usually lasts 2 years.

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