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 take on one or two new grad students each academic year. Please read the following for information about joining my research group. Inquiries are most timely through 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 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. While much of my research has focused on East Asia, I am interested in Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Africa, as well. Graduate students currently under my supervision are working on topics related to environmental policy and governance in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico), East Asia (South Korea), South America (Bolivia), and United States, respectively. I serve on Steering Committees for doctoral students from Israel, Nepal, Nigeria, and the United States. (For a listing of graduate students currently under my guidance, scroll down my official web page.)

General characteristics & 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 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 with students 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 work 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 Water and Wetland Resource Studies (WWRS) 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. As prerequisites for admission, EST masters programs require successful completion of upper-division courses in environmental policy or communication; and general ecology or environmental science. 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 to research- and policy-oriented professional practice; and to advanced, doctoral studies in environmental studies, human geography, 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. Both degrees may be taken on a full- or part-time basis.

Ph.D. students

Currently, I am working with Ph.D. students in ESF's Graduate Program in Environmental Science, in the Environmental and Natural Resources Policy (ENRP) and Environmental and Community Land Planning (ECLP) areas of study; and in the Department of Geography, at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ESF's 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. Ph.D. research projects in this program include social science, policy, and biophysical components. I am affiliated, as well, 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 proximate "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.

Support & deadlines

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. These awards are made by various 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 15 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, including prior to formal matriculation at ESF.

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. Share your thoughts about how it might be beneficial for you to carry out your graduate studies at ESF, and with me/ our group. Attach your résumé / curriculum vitae. 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 September 9, 2019