Note to Prospective Graduate Students

David A. Sonnenfeld, Ph.D.

Dept. of Environmental Studies

State University of New York
 College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Thank you for your interest in graduate studies at ESF and in my work. I currently anticipate taking on one or two new grad students at the beginning of each academic year. If you think you might be interested in joining my research group, please read the following closely. After giving it some serious thought, if you remain interested I'd welcome an inquiry via e-mail. Inquiries are most useful through the end of November, for the following academic year.

Areas of interest

Trained as a comparatively-oriented environmental sociologist, my research program is described in detail on the research pages of my website. At the core of my research interests are processes, contexts and challenges of environmental transformation and governance, especially in newly/ rapidly industrializing nations, under conditions of accelerated globalization, and at times of systemic uncertainty (see my recent publications). While much of my work has been and will likely continue to be in relation to East Asia, broadly defined, I also am interested in comparative European studies, and potentially Africa and Latin America, as well. Doctoral students currently under my supervision are working on topics related to environmental policy and governance in the Philippines, China and India, respectively; masters student research includes both domestic and international topics. (For a listing of graduate students now under my guidance, scroll down my official webpage.)

General characteristics and expectations

I am especially interested in working with graduate students with strong academic training in the social sciences and/or policy studies, significant life experience (i.e. some time well-spent, out of school), and a clear sense of direction. Graduate students working under my supervision can expect active engagement and encouragement to define a research topic, establish a solid scholarly foundation, obtain external funding, publish and present research findings to scholarly and professional audiences, and achieve well-rounded excellence in research, teaching (as applicable) and public and professional service. As a comparativist, I am keen on international topics, but am interested in some domestic ones, as well. Interdisciplinary and policy-oriented topics are welcome. Strong writing and organizational skills, prior research experience are a plus.

Doctoral students

I work with doctoral students primarily through ESF's Environmental and Natural Resources Policy (ENRP) Ph.D. program, part of the College's interdepartmental Graduate Program in Environmental Science. The ENRP program integrates social and biophysical sciences, and policy studies; students develop advanced competencies in all three areas. Doctoral research projects in this program include biophysical, social science and policy components. Combined, ESF and nearby institutions (Syracuse University; SUNY Upstate Medical University; Cornell University) have terrific resources to support interdisciplinary, environmental research. Students who do best in the ENRP doctoral program will have a strong backgrounds in both social and biophysical sciences. Graduates go on to both academic and advanced professional practice positions. I have served, as well, as external committee member for doctoral students at other institutions in the US and internationally.

Master's students

At the master's level, my primary focus has been working with students in ESF's M.S. in Environmental Studies program, a 21-month, research-based course of study. Students in this program take a series of required core courses in Environmental Studies, plus courses from across ESF and, as needed, at Syracuse University. A formal, research-based thesis is completed during the second academic year. As prerequisites for admission, the program requires successful completion of upper-division courses in: i) environmental policy or communication, ii) general ecology, and iii) environmental science, respectively. Completion of these courses prior to admission is recommended. (The requirement may also be fulfilled upon matriculation at ESF, but such courses do not fulfill graduate degree course requirements.) Graduates from this program go on to doctoral studies in environmental studies, human geography and other environmental social science fields; and to research- and policy-oriented professional practice positions.

Currently, I am working also with students in the Environmental Policy and Democratic Processes and Environmental and Community Land Planning areas of study within ESF's Graduate Program in Environmental Science (GPES), a cross-college, interdepartmental program. Students in this M.S. in Environmental Science program follow a more independently tailored course of study than in Environmental Studies. Prerequisites include successful completion of undergraduate-level coursework in i) micro- or environmental economics, ii) ecology, and iii) statistics; these may be taken as co-requisites upon admission, but prior completion is recommended. This, too, is designed as a 21-month, research-based master's program, with a thesis.


Each year, ESF offers a few Graduate Assistantships (primarily in the form of teaching assistantships) for new, incoming graduate students. These awards are highly competitive. For further information and application procedures, click here. Note that these awards are made in a largely decentralized manner, by department and programs; applications to multiple units may be advised. For optimal admissions and support consideration, it is important that all documentation (letters of recommendation, GRE scores, transcripts, etc.) be received well in advance of the application deadline, January 15; this means getting started in December or earlier. For outstanding prospective graduate applicants with a clear research direction, I am open to advance exploration of possible external grant and fellowship opportunities.

Next steps

If you'd like to discuss the possibility of working together for a couple of years (or more, for the Ph.D.), please send me a note at <dsonn (at)>. Describe your academic and occupational background, research interests and professional aims, and explain why you think it would be beneficial for you to enroll in one of the programs mentioned above (or one of ESF's other graduate programs) under my supervision. Attach your résumé or curriculum vitae. If feasible for you, a visit to ESF's campus in Syracuse, New York, could be quite helpful as part of your (pre-) application process. I look forward to hearing from you.


Current Research

David Sonnenfeld's Home Page

last updated July 10, 2013