PhD in Sustainable Development

The PhD in Sustainable Development at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) is a unique and innovative program that combines rigorous interdisciplinary training with practical application. This program provides a comprehensive education in both the social and natural sciences, preparing students to address complex sustainable development challenges.

Overview: The program's core curriculum includes around ten courses designed to provide interdisciplinary grounding, taught at the level expected of first- or second-year Ph.D. students. The course structure offers PhD-level training in economics and a natural science field, complemented by integrative courses specifically designed for sustainable development and courses in social sciences. This structure allows students the flexibility to pursue individual fields of study while developing broad-based skills and knowledge. Students must complete two social science electives and a coherent sequence of four natural science courses, totaling a minimum of 60 credits, and must maintain an overall B+ average with no grade lower than a B- in core classes.

In addition to coursework, students participate in integrative seminars—Sustainable Development Seminar I (SDEV U9200) and Sustainable Development Seminar II (SDEV U9201)—throughout the first three years of the program. They must also complete an MA thesis, pass an Orals Exam (leading to the MPhil Degree), and present and defend a Ph.D. dissertation.

Advanced Standing: Due to the unique interdisciplinary content of the program, students entering with a master’s degree from Columbia University or elsewhere must still complete all MA and MPhil course requirements and examinations. Advanced standing for previously held degrees may occasionally be granted at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) after the successful completion of the first year.

Advising: Students must select an advisory committee before the end of the fourth semester, ideally earlier, with the help and approval of the DGS and Program Faculty. The advisory committee, typically comprising 2 to 3 members, must include a SIPA faculty member as the main academic advisor. Other advisors can be from different Columbia University schools or universities but cannot be the main academic advisor. The committee should include faculty with expertise in both the social and natural sciences. Initially, the DGS will serve as the academic advisor for the first year or two, guiding and monitoring research progress.

Service Requirements: Students are required to fulfill teaching and research requirements, typically involving six semesters of work as a teaching fellow (TF) or a graduate research fellow (GRF). They usually serve as TFs in SIPA master-level and undergraduate courses. Students who secure external fellowship funding may reduce this requirement with the DGS's approval, but every student must complete at least two semesters as a TA.

Sixth Year: The Ph.D. in Sustainable Development is designed as a five-year program, although some students may need to extend their studies into a sixth year. While administrative accommodations can be made, funding for the sixth year is not guaranteed, and students are encouraged to secure fellowship support or other funding sources.

Contact Us
John Mutter, Professor 
Director of the Ph.D. in Sustainable Development

Tomara Aldrich
Program Coordinator for the Ph.D. in Sustainable Development