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Environmental studies graduate programs

Professor Eric Higgs and grad students conducting research for the Mountain Legacy Project

Effective environmental action requires engagement with the land and those who live on it. Graduate students in our MA, MSc and PhD programs work with supervisors and advisory committees to conduct original research. They transform knowledge into positive action in BC and around the world. 

We embrace a full range of learning opportunities, blending natural and social sciences with Indigenous knowledge systems. Our faculty lead innovative research initiatives, and our graduate students collaborate with First Nations, government bodies and NGOs to support this research. 

Admissions

Visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies to learn all you need to know about becoming an environmental studies grad student, from finding a faculty supervisor to submitting your application.

The graduate application deadline is January 15 for the following September. Entry into the program can be flexible, but students typically begin in September.

Admission is highly competitive and the School of Environmental Studies (ES) typically only admits students who meet or exceed the minimum requirements for an MA, or MSc, or PhD.

You can also explore options to study an interdisciplinary graduate program including the Cultural, Social and Political Thought option.

For additional information, please consult the Faculty of Graduate Studies, see our Graduate FAQs, and read our Graduate Student Handbook.

"I approached Oak and Orca Bioregional School about my idea for a rainwater system because they teach project-based learning and both teachers and students were excited about the design process. Education, collaboration and creativity are key to improving how we manage urban rainwater."
~ Catherine Orr, ES master's student

Courses

Grad student Sarah Bird taking soil core samples on Salt Spring Island
Grad student Sarah Bird taking soil core samples on Salt Spring Island.

Please see complete details about environmental studies graduate courses in the graduate calendar. Note that not all elective courses are offered in all years.

MA and MSc degree programs have similar overall program requirements but vary in the types of elective courses and thesis research. Our PhD program is a longer research-focused degree with different course requirements.

All students (Masters and PhD) are required to attend two overnight field trips at the beginning of their program:

  • September: ES 500 (MA/MSc) or 600 (PhD) and
  • March: ES 501 (MA/MSc) or 601 (PhD)

There is no formal residency requirement. However, in practice all students must be living in or near Greater Victoria during their first two terms of study and residency during the first year is encouraged.

Graduate course summary:

The master's program is a research degree concluding with the presentation and defense of a thesis. It normally lasts for 24 months, but typically takes from 30-36 months to complete. The maximum time allowed is 60 months. 

An MA/MSc student must successfully complete 18 units of course study. Of these 18 units, 7.5 units are required core courses (listed below). Three units are taken as electives, and 7.5 units are taken as thesis.

Core Courses (required):

  • ES 500 (1.5) Perspectives on Environmental Theories, Methods and Skills I
  • ES 501 (1.5) Perspectives on Environmental Theories, Methods and Skills II
  • ES 503 (3.0) MA/MSc Research Colloquium
  • ES 593 (1.5) Thesis Proposal Preparation
  • ES 599 (7.5) Masters Thesis

ES 500, 501 and 503 are taken in sequence in the first year of study and are required by all students in this program. ES 593 is completed once the research proposal is approved by your committee (by September 30th on your second year of study).

Elective courses:

  • ES 570 Field Study
  • ES 580 Seminar in Political Ecology
  • ES 581 Seminar in Ethnoecology
  • ES 582 Seminar in Ecological Restoration
  • ES 590 Directed Studies

At least 3.0 elective units must be taken from within, or outside, the School with the permission of the student's supervisor. Up to 1.5 units may be taken at the 400 level. A student's advisory committee may also stipulate additional courses to be taken. Elective courses should be chosen to fill specific gaps in your knowledge or skills or extend your interests into a new domain. We suggest that only one of the two elective courses is a pro forma or Directed Studies (i.e., individual one-on-one course). Directed Studies courses offer flexibility but can look less strong on a transcript. You may choose courses in other departments too, though you will need to consult the instructor to determine if the course is appropriate and open to students outside that department. A course registration form is needed to register for the course outside ES. Students should contact the course instructor and inform the Graduate Program Assistant to submit the form to GARO for registration.  

Master's students must register for both ES 593 (Thesis Proposal Preparation) and ES 599 (Masters Thesis) every term until you complete them. Once ES 593 has been completed, students should continue to register for ES 599 on its own. This will maintain full-time status.

Key components of graduate program timeline:

  • formation of a supervisory committee: within 8 months of entry
  • completion of course work: 10.5 units
  • meeting of supervisory committee: initial meeting (in the first year) and then annually until completion
  • graduate proposal presentation: at the end of ES 501 in the second semester
  • thesis submission and defense:in your final year, watch for emails regarding deadlines

A typical PhD program lasts 4-5 years and focuses mainly on research, concluding with the presentation and defense of a dissertation. The PhD program is normally a 48-month research program. The current average time to completion is closer to 60 months. The maximum time allowed is 84 months.

The University of Victoria requires a minimum of 30 units to obtain a PhD degree (if the student has a master's degree). Core courses contribute 9.0 units toward the 30-unit minimum degree requirement. Elective courses may be taken at the discretion of the research advisor and in consultation with your supervisory committee.

Core courses (required):

  • ES 600 (1.5) Perspectives on Environmental Theories, Methods and Skills I
  • ES 601 (1.5) Perspectives on Environmental Theories, Methods and Skills II
  • ES 603 (3.0) PhD Research Colloquium
  • ES 693 (3.0) Candidacy Examination
  • ES 699 (21) PhD Dissertation

Elective courses:

  • ES 670 Field Study
  • ES 680 Seminar in Political Ecology
  • ES 681 Seminar in Ethnoecology
  • ES 682 Seminar in Ecological Restoration
  • ES 690 Directed Studies

PhD students must register for ES 693 (PhD Candidacy Exam), or ES 699 (PhD Dissertation) if you have already completed ES 693. You must continue to register for these courses every term until you complete them unless you are doing other coursework. You will have full-time student status when registered for either course. If you choose to be a part-time student, you may register for 1.5 units of credit. In this case, you will have part time status. This will reduce your tuition for the term but may affect your eligibility for things like awards.

Key components of graduate program timeline::

  • formation of supervisory committee: within 8 months of entry
  • completion of course work: 3 courses (6 units including ES693, ES600 and ES601: core courses should be completed in the first two semesters)
  • meeting of supervisory committee: initial meeting in the first year then, at least annually until completion
  • PhD proposal presentation: at the end of ES 601 in the second semester
  • candidacy examination: within 21 months of direct entry to the PhD program
  • departmental Seminar requirement: each finishing PhD student will present their work in the ES seminar series the semester before, or the semester of defense.
  • dissertation submission and defense: in your final year, watch for emails regarding deadlines

Outcomes

ES Grad Audrey Popa at the UNESCO Climate and Resilience Conference in Paris
Master's student Audrey Popa at the UNESCO international climate and sustainability conference in Paris, France.

Graduates from environmental studies will publish at least one paper during their studies and can look forward to a variety of impactful careers and opportunities:

  • leading environmental policy and decision-making processes
  • direct involvement in conservation and environmental management projects
  • designing and implementing sustainable practices in businesses or communities
  • educating the next generation on ecological responsibility
  • participating in or leading participatory research initiatives for environmental solutions

Information on professional development is also available from UVic.

Find a supervisor

When looking for a prospective supervisor, it's crucial to learn about our faculty members' research. Many provide information for prospective students on their websites, including what documents they expect in email inquiries.

When contacting potential supervisors, send a well-crafted email of 2-3 paragraphs that demonstrates your familiarity with their work. This could mean mentioning that you've read some of their publications or are interested in joining a major research project they are leading.

Make sure to include your transcripts, CV and a brief outline of your research interests and proposed project. Check if they have specific requirements for initial contacts. Contact them early, ideally a year before your intended start date, and keep in touch regularly to stay on their radar.

It’s important that your research proposal is detailed and demonstrates how it aligns with the faculty member’s work. Mutual interest in the research project is essential, so be open to adjusting your interests to fit with available projects.

Ensure you've connected with potential supervisors well before the admission deadline and follow up to confirm they can supervise you (three to six months before the deadline). If you can't find a supervisor who supports your application, admission is very unlikely.

Information on our faculty can be found under Faculty & staff.

If you are uncertain who to contact, feel free to email our graduate program advisor for advice.

Funding

UVic offers limited financial support, but most of our students receive funds from outside scholarships and awards (SSHRC, NSERC, Trudeau Foundation fellowships for Canadians and Vanier PhD Fellowship). These external funds help make UVic's support go further, so applying early, between September and November for the next year, is important.

Applicants should apply for and secure funding before their intended start date, and a funding offer is normally included with an offer of admission.

We aim to offer competitive funding offers by combining each student's funding with UVic fellowships and awards, supervisor research stipends and bursaries. All graduate students are typically funded for 2 years to undertake full-time graduate studies, with part-time support spread over 3 or 4 years.

Teaching and research assistant positions are also available to graduate students, but availability will vary significantly year to year. Students are recommended not to rely on self-funding due to the demanding nature of graduate studies.

There may be awards available to international students that are not available for Canadian students. Typically, we cannot provide sufficient UVic-based funding to cover the expenses for international students.

Visit funding and employment opportunities for all incoming students to learn more.

Awards & fellowships

  • national or provincial awards are available to those with a first-class grade point average (minimum 7.0 but in practice much higher) in the last two years of undergraduate studies. Eligibility criteria vary with agency. Currently national fellowship holders receive an additional award from the university.
  • a limited number of University Graduate Fellowships are available to applicants with a GPA over 7.5.
  • a limited number of awards are available specifically for environmental studies graduate students, outlined in the awards section of the Graduate Studies calendar. Application and/or nomination may only be done once the student has been admitted to the School.

Emergency funding

Life happens... let us help you. Through Student Awards and Financial Aid, UVic has an emergency loan fund which provides short term assistance to students experiencing an unanticipated and urgent financial crisis.

Sustainability Scholars internship

The UVic Sustainability Scholars Program offers paid internships for graduate students, pairing them with community, government, Indigenous and not-for-profit partners to work on projects that advance sustainability. This hands-on experience enhances career prospects and supports community initiatives, offering professional development and contributing to a more sustainable future.

Eligible candidates include current UVic master's and PhD students from any academic discipline.

For more detailed information, visit the UVic Sustainability Scholars Program page.

Co-op

UVic is home to the largest co-operative education graduate program in Canada.

Our goals for the co-op program in environmental studies are:

  • to foster cooperative research with industry and government
  • to attract high quality graduate students
  • to fund graduate students while undertaking graduate research
  • to support students in developing and understanding their workplace competencies and so help them transition from their academic program to employment

Learn about combining co-op placements with your master's on the co-op for graduate students website.

Grad students are also eligible for the shorter work experience program.

Graduate FAQs

  • Prospective students typically begin contacting their potential supervisors in the spring or fall of the year before they would start their program. As soon as possible is the best approach to take when beginning the application process.
  • The admission deadline is January 15th. We aim to provide admissions offers not later than mid-April, although admission offers can roll out through May and June as well. Under some circumstances, especially for PhD applicants, we can entertain alternate entry dates (January, May). 
  • We strongly encourage both domestic and international students to apply for major scholarships and fellowships. These applications are typically due a year in advance of your program start date. 

The School of Environmental Studies Undergraduate curriculum focuses on three distinctive streams of research: political ecology, ecological restoration, and ethnoecology. While these three streams do continue to play a prominent role in our graduate studies, prospective students are encouraged to visit the current research page in order to learn more about what research our individual faculty members are involved with and what opportunities are available for prospective students.

All of our graduate programs are research thesis-based, requiring an independent advanced research project. We offer graduate courses, some of which are required, but we do not offer a course-based graduate program. You must come prepared to pursue an independent research program. Presently, we offer:

  • MA and MSc degrees, which are distinguished in practice only by the research subject area and your academic background
  • A PhD degree
We are an affiliate of the Cultural, Social and Political Thought Program. In order to learn more about the admission process and requirements to this program. Learn about their admission process and requirements.

The fact that we focus on three streams of research (political ecology, ecological restoration, and ethnoecology) means there are many subjects we do not support or represent. We do not, for example, typically support work in environmental toxicology, remediation, environmental chemistry or environmental engineering.

Yes! We encourage prospective students to visit the University of Victoria. There are options for campus tours including  a virtual or in person tour. For those unable to travel, we recommend telephone and video calls.

If you are interested in coming to campus to tour the School of Environmental Studies, we encourage you to reach out to your prospective supervisor to arrange a visit. While you are here, it is a great idea to familiarize yourself with the city of Victoria, the transit system and the many things that the island has to offer to see if it would be a good fit. 

We encourage students from any academic and professional background who find a strong fit with our program to apply. Students who are training in fields that seem somewhat remote from our specialties will need to make it plain why they wish to make a transition. Generally speaking, students with a strong background in the humanities, social/policy sciences and fine arts would apply for an MA degree program, while students with backgrounds in the natural, physical and applied sciences would apply for an MSc degree.

Admission to the School of Environmental Studies’ graduate programs is highly competitive, and depends on three primary criteria:

  1. Academic record (A- or 7 on the 9-point scale or 3.7 on the 4.0 scale during the last two years of full-time academic study).
  2. Mutually agreeable research project confirmed with a prospective supervisor.
  3. Established funding strategy.

While academic achievement is the clearest predictor of success in graduate studies, it is not the only one. We take into account remarkable personal and professional achievements that show commitment and ability to work at an advanced level.

All students apply directly to the University of Victoria. Learn about the graduate admissions process at UVic.

We endeavor to provide admissions offers not later than March 1st, although admissions offers can roll out through March and into April. Under some circumstances, especially for PhD applicants, we can entertain alternate entry dates (January, May).

Very. We attract many more strong applicants than we can admit. We have historically admitted on average 14 students (MA/MSc/PhD) each year.

  • MA/MSc: 2-3 years full-time.  One year of coursework and thesis proposal preparation and one to two years of thesis research and writing.
  • PhD: 4-5 years full-time. Studies conducted with one year of coursework and candidacy requirements completed in the first two years of study.
  • The Restoration of Natural Systems and Transformative Climate Action Programs offer a number of credentials that can be combined with our graduate research programs and taken at the same time as graduate studies (some conditions apply). 
Co-op terms may also be taken in conjunction with our graduate studies programs. Please note that all of these options will extend the time required to complete your program. Please visit the co-op for graduate students page to learn more.

There is no formal residency requirement, but students are required to participate in weekly classroom-based coursework during the first year of their studies. Any arrangements to live elsewhere after courses are completed need to be agreed upon by your supervisor.

Students must demonstrate English language proficiency to attend UVic. Please visit the Faculty of Graduate Studies page for more information.

Students in graduate programs pay tuition on a program basis, broken into fee instalments. Learn about tuition and costs.

You need to get the correct immigration documents to study in Canada from Immigration and Refugee, Citizenship Canada. Once you're admitted, a UVic immigration specialist can help you with this process.

Study permit procedures can take up to 6 months or more in some countries. You must apply for admission well before the posted deadlines.

Info for international applicants