Why choose this course
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.
What you will study
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.
The professional development of postgraduate researchers is supported by the Doctoral College, which provides training in essential skills through its Researcher Development Programme of workshops, mentoring and coaching. A dedicated postgraduate Careers and Employability team will help you prepare for a successful career after the completion of your PhD.
- Sustainable development policies and practices
- Energy, water, food nexus
- Behaviour change
- Waste systems
- Environmental-energy-economic system analysis
- Sustainable transportation
- Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage
- Built environment
- Social research on sustainability
- Smart Local Energy Systems
- Lifestyles and resource consumption
- Low carbon energy technologies
- Resource consumption and land use
- Sustainable systems: design and modelling
- Life cycle assessment, including social LCA and Life Cycle Costing
- Carbon and water footprinting
- Vertical Farming
- Low carbon energy supply
- Organised Crime and Sustainability
- Energy demand and efficiency
- Policy and strategy: for governments and businesses
- International development and sustainability.
Our academic staff
As a research student within CES, you’ll have access to newly refurbished office space, personal IT facilities, specialist sustainability software and advanced computer facilities for modelling-based research.
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).
View entry requirements by country
English language requirements
IELTS Academic: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category.
View the other English language qualifications that we accept.
If you do not currently meet the level required for your programme, we offer intensive pre-sessional English language courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.
Selection is based on applicants meeting the expected entry requirements, assessment of application, successful interview and suitable references where required.
Students are initially registered for a PhD with probationary status and, subject to satisfactory progress, subsequently confirmed as having PhD status.
Start date: April 2021
Start date: July 2021
Start date: October 2021
Start date: January 2022
For fees payable in 2020/1, these will increase by 4 per cent, rounded up to the nearest £100 for subsequent years of study. Any start date other than October will attract a pro-rata fee for that year of entry (75 per cent for January, 50 per cent for April and 25 per cent for July).
Overseas students applying for 2021 entry should note that annual fees will rise by 4% rounded up to the nearest £100.
There are additional costs that you can expect to incur when studying at Surrey. Find out more.
A Postgraduate Doctoral Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate doctoral course.
Code of practice for research degrees
Surrey’s postgraduate research code of practice sets out the University's policy and procedural framework relating to research degrees. The code defines a set of standard procedures and specific responsibilities covering the academic supervision, administration and assessment of research degrees for all faculties within the University.
Download the code of practice for research degrees (PDF).
Terms and conditions
When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations, and our terms and conditions. These terms and conditions are provided in two stages: first when we make an offer and second when students who have accepted their offers register to study at the University. View our offer terms and conditions and our generic registration terms and conditions (PDF) as a guide as to what to expect.
Please note: our offer terms and conditions will be available in the September of the calendar year prior to the year in which you begin your studies. Our registration terms and conditions will vary to take into account specifics of your course.
This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the academic year to which it applies. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.