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. I am no longer taking on new graduate advisees. For further information regarding opportunities for graduate studies at ESF, please contact Prof. Paul Hirsch (, Graduate Studies Coordinator, Dept. of Environmental Studies.

Areas of interest

Trained as a comparative sociologist, my research program is described in detail on the research pages of my web site. At the core of my research interests are processes, contexts and challenges of institutional environmental transformation and governance under conditions of accelerated globalization and systemic uncertainty (see my recent publications). I am undertaking new work on transboundary water governance and continuing work on environmental advocacy and reform in authoritarian contexts. While much of my research has focused on East Asia, I am interested in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America, as well.

General characteristics & expectations

I enjoy 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 strong 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 working on domestic as well as international topics. Interdisciplinary and policy-oriented topics are welcome. Strong writing and organizational skills, and prior experience in social research or policy analysis are a plus.

Master's students

At the master's level, I have worked with students in ESF's Environmental Studies master's programs and through ESF's college-wide Graduate Program in Environmental Science (GPES), including in the Policy, Planning, Communication, and Society (PPCS) area of study. Environmental Studies (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 design, execute, and complete a research-based master's thesis. Prior completion of upper-division courses in environmental policy or communication, and general ecology or environmental science are recommended for EST masters students; plus statistics, for MS students. Graduates from the MS Environmental Studies program go on to to research- and policy-oriented professional practice; and to advanced, doctoral studies in environmental studies, human geography, public policy, and other social science fields. The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree is designed as a terminal professional degree. Coursework can be completed in one academic year for both Environmental Studies master's degrees. Part-time study and graduate certificate options are available, as well.

Ph.D. students

I work with Ph.D. students through ESF's Graduate Program in Environmental Science. And am affiliated 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, and Cornell University) have terrific resources to support interdisciplinary environmental social science and policy research.

Support & deadlines

Each year, ESF offers a limited number of Graduate Assistantships (primarily in the form of teaching assistantships) to incoming graduate students. These awards are highly competitive. For further information and application procedures, click here. These awards are made by various departments and programs; applications to multiple units may be advised. For optimal graduate admissions and support consideration, all documentation (letters of recommendation, GRE scores, transcripts, etc.) should be received in advance of the January 15 graduate admissions preferred application deadline; this means getting started in November or before.


Current Research

David Sonnenfeld's Home Page

last updated September 6, 2022