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. Typically, I anticipate taking on one or two new grad students at the beginning of each academic year. If you might be interested in joining my research group, please read the following. After giving it some thought, if you remain interested I'd welcome an inquiry via e-mail. Inquiries are most timely through mid-November, for the following academic year.

Areas of interest

Trained as a comparative 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 institutional 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 focused on East Asia, I am interested in comparative European studies, Africa, and Latin America, as well. Doctoral students currently under my supervision are working on topics related to environmental policy and governance in China, South Korea, and the Caribbean, respectively; masters students on 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 and develop a research topic, establish solid theoretical & methodological foundations, obtain external funding, publish and present research findings to scholarly and professional audiences, and achieve all-around excellence in scholarship, teaching (as applicable), and public and professional service. I am interested in some domestic topics, as well as international ones. Interdisciplinary and policy-oriented topics are welcome. Strong writing and organizational skills, and prior experience in social research or policy analysis are a plus.

Doctoral students

I work with doctoral students at ESF through the interdepartmental Graduate Program in Environmental Science (GPES), in the Environmental and Natural Resources Policy (ENRP) and Environmental and Community Land Planning (ECLP) areas of study. The ENRP doctoral program integrates studies in the social and biophysical sciences, and policy analysis; students develop advanced, scholarly competencies in all three areas, plus research methods. Doctoral research projects in this program include social science, policy, and biophysical components. I am affiliated also with the Environmental Policy Group, in the Department of Social Sciences, at Wageningen University, the Netherlands; and the Department of Sociology, in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, at Syracuse University. Together, ESF and its nearby "sister" institutions (Syracuse University, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Cornell University) have terrific resources to support interdisciplinary environmental social science and policy research. Students who do best in the ENRP doctoral program tend to have a strong backgrounds in both social science and the biophysical sciences/ engineering. Graduates go on to tenure-track academic and advanced professional practice positions. I have served as external examiner or committee member for doctoral students at other institutions internationally and in the USA, as well.

Master's students

At the master's level, I work primarily with students in ESF's Environmental Studies (EST) master's programs. EST master's students take a series of required core courses; other classes from across ESF; and, as needed, at Syracuse University. Master of Science (MS) students complete a research-based master's thesis during their second academic year. As prerequisites for admission, EST master's programs require successful completion of upper-division courses in: i) environmental policy or communication, ii) general ecology, and iii) environmental science, respectively. Completion of these courses (plus statistics, for MS students) prior to admission is recommended. Graduates from the MS in Environmental Studies program go on to advanced, doctoral studies in environmental studies, human geography and other environmental social science fields; and to research- and policy-oriented professional practice positions. The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree is designed as a terminal, professional degree. I work with master's students through the Graduate Program in Environmental Science (GPES), as well.


Each year, ESF offers Graduate Assistantships (primarily in the form of teaching assistantships) to a select, few incoming graduate students. These awards are highly competitive. For further information and application procedures, click here. As these awards are made by departments 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 January application deadline; this means getting started in early December or before. For outstanding graduate applicants with a clear research direction, I am open to exploring external grant and fellowship opportunities, as well.

Next steps

If you you think you might be interested in carrying out your graduate studies as part of my group at ESF, please send a note to me at <dsonn (at)>. Describe your academic and occupational background, research interests and professional aims, and explain why you think it would be beneficial to enroll in graduate studies at ESF under my supervision. Attach your résumé / curriculum vitae. If feasible, a visit to ESF's campus in Syracuse, New York, is highly recommended. I look forward to hearing from you!


Current Research

David Sonnenfeld's Home Page

last updated January 13, 2017