Research course

Environment and Sustainability

University of Surrey · Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences

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Entry requirements

Applicants are expected to hold a first or upper-second class degree in a relevant discipline (or equivalent overseas qualification), or a lower second plus a good Masters degree (distinction normally required).

Months of entry

January, April, July

Course content

The University of Surrey has been leading the way in environmental and sustainability research for more than 25 years. From investigating people’s attitudes to the environment to exploring the opportunities for solar power mini-grids in sub-Saharan Africa, our researchers are taking innovative approaches for a more prosperous, equitable, safe and secure future.

Established in 1992, the Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) has gained an outstanding international reputation for multi-disciplinary research and teaching in all aspects of sustainability. Some examples of our major contributions include: life cycle assessment and environmental impact analysis; industrial ecology and the circular economy; techno-economic analysis; the water, energy and food nexus; bioenergy and biorefineries; low carbon transitions; lifestyles and behaviours; prosperity without growth; environmental and energy policy. 

We champion two of the University’s main research themes, sustainability and urban living, and we are also home to the prestigious Economic and Social Research Council-funded Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), led by Professor Tim Jackson. We collaborate with staff across the University on a huge range of sustainability-related projects, giving you an excellent opportunity to learn from and contribute to this vital area of human development.

It normally takes three or four years of full-time study to complete our PhD programme, or about twice as long part-time. By the end of your programme, you’ll be an independent researcher with expert knowledge on the technical, economic, social and policy aspects of environment and sustainability.

You’ll have the opportunity to work across the full breadth and depth of theoretical and applied approaches to sustainability. Many of our postgraduate researchers are working on projects with local and multi-national businesses, with policy makers, and with international bodies, such as the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the World Health Organisation and others.

You’ll be assigned at least two supervisors, who’ll guide you through your PhD. Your supervisors will meet with your regularly and monitor your progress, and they’ll make sure you have the support you need throughout your programme.

In addition, you’ll attend a small number of mandatory training courses to ensure you have exposure to the rich diversity of research and data gathering methodologies, and to understand how to apply the necessary data analysis techniques relevant to solving the problem you will have settled to address. As part of this, you’ll also co-design an individual researcher development programme with your supervisor. This will include several relevant masters-level taught modules in CES or other departments (covering both research skills and subject-based material), as well as training in research budgeting, seminar and conference presentation skills, and research publishing. You’ll also take a number of voluntary training and transferable skills courses provided by the University’s Doctoral College.

You’ll be assessed by formal progress reports at six-monthly intervals, a confirmation report and a viva examination after around 12 months (times are extended for part-time students), and by submission and oral examination of a final PhD thesis by independent external and internal examiners.

A lot of your research will be done on campus and it might also involve fieldwork, including on-site interviews, surveys, and working with external organisations both in the UK and abroad. If your project involves experimentation or sample processing or analysis, you’ll be able to do this work in laboratories at collaborating departments at the University, with external collaborators, such as external research organisations or companies, or through fieldwork in the UK or abroad.

Postgraduate researchers are a core part of CES, and they have an active role across our intellectual and social activities. For example, you’re encouraged to attend our monthly external seminar series, and you’ll also attend and contribute to our regular internal seminar series. You’ll also become a member of our Postgraduate Forum, which meets regularly with the Centre Director and the Postgraduate Director to discuss supplementary training, support and the Centre’s social activities.

Four of our taught masters modules are recognised by the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) and will qualify you for professional membership of the IEMA at Graduate level). You’ll have the option of taking up this opportunity during your studies as well as complete the Teacher Training for Researchers that is the first step in your possible career as an academic

Completing your PhD with us also gives you strong support for an application for the managerial IEMA membership level and to become a Chartered Environmentalist. Depending on the focus of your research, your PhD might be strong evidence for chartered status with other professional bodies, such as those in engineering.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • PhD
    full time
    48 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
    part time
    96 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details

Postgraduate Admissions
+44 (0)1483 682 222