Duke's Program in Environmental Policy (UPEP) PhD is a 5-year program for intense research training, combining disciplinary specialization in economics or political science with an emphasis on understanding policy settings and the precise nature of the problem we hope to solve with policy.

The program is jointly administered by Sanford and Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.


Nicholas School of the Environment

UPEP builds on a long history of Duke University engagement with environmental policy issues. The predecessors of the Nicholas School—the School of Forestry, the Marine Lab, and the Department of Geology—were founded in the 1930s.

More about Nicholas

Sanford School of Public Policy

The Sanford School of Public Policy traces its history to the formation of Duke’s Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs in 1971. Both schools have offered environment-focused PhD training for many years.

More about Sanford

A Unique Program

Robust Interaction

UPEP fosters interaction among students, Duke faculty, faculty at neighboring universities (North Carolina State and UNC Chapel Hill). Sample seminars:


UPEP is intended for individuals who are interested in conducting PhD studies in environmental policy with an emphasis on economics or political science, under the supervision of Duke University faculty members who have primary appointments in the Nicholas or Sanford schools. 

Other PhD programs at Duke are probably more appropriate for you if you are interested in natural science aspects of the environment, purely disciplinary programs in economics or political science, fields of public policy other than environmental policy, or studying marine resource issues from perspectives other than economics or political science. 

If you are still not sure which program to apply to, please contact the faculty members whose research interests you and ask them which programs admit students that they can supervise.

Typically 5 years.  You can see illustrative timelines for the environmental economics and environmental politics concentrations in the UPEP Student Handbook.

A variety of organizations hire individuals with PhDs in environmental policy, including universities, research institutes, government agencies, private-sector consulting firms, and NGOs.  

UPEP is interdisciplinary in the sense of requiring students to learn about two important dimensions of environmental policy—economics and politics—and encouraging them to develop a basic understanding of natural science aspects of the issues that interest them.  It emphasizes, however, the development of disciplinary expertise in either economics or political science as applied to environmental policy issues.

Duke has a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program, which is administered by the Nicholas School and includes an Environmental Economics and Policy concentration and a Master of Public Policy (MPP) program with the Sanford School.

Details will be provided in your offer letter.

You can earn both a JD and an Environmental Policy PhD from Duke in the following way.  Begin by applying to the three-year JD/MA program, with the MA in either Environmental Science and Policy (through the Nicholas School) or Public Policy Studies (through the Sanford School).  Please contact the Duke Law School for more information on the JD/MA program.  In the final year of the JD/MA program, apply to UPEP like any other applicant.  Depending on the courses taken during the JD/MA program, the number of additional years required to complete the UPEP PhD might be reduced from 5 years to 4 years, but probably not by more. 

Currently, yes.  

Yes.  You should state your intended concentration in your application.  Applicants who are unsure about their concentration will not be admitted.

Please see the UPEP Student Handbook for program and curriculum details.


Alexander  Pfaff

Alexander Pfaff

Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Alex Pfaff is a Professor of Public Policy, Economics and Environment at Duke University. He studies how economic development affects and is affected by natural resources and the environment. His focus is on the impacts of conservation policies (such as protected areas, ecoservices payments, and certifications) and development policies (such as roads and rights). Those impacts are functions of choices by individuals and communities that affect land use, water quantity and quality, human exposures (to arsenic, mercury, mining, and particulates), and both the provision and use of information.

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