PIER | PhD specialization

The PIER 2024 applications closed on January 31.

Student Driven, Solutions Focused

The Program for Interdisciplinary Environmental Research (PIER) is designed to train students to find creative and practical solutions within ecological, social, economic, and ethical constraints. PIER provides graduate students from existing UC San Diego PhD programs with the opportunity to specialize in research and training on the biological, physical, economic and social aspects of environmental research, conservation, and sustainability.

Through PIER, graduate students interact and communicate with peers in radically different disciplines throughout the duration of their PhD projects. Such communication across disciplines is key to developing interdisciplinary “language” skills and conceptual flexibility.

PIER is an approved UC San Diego Specialization available in 11 departments:

  • Anthropology
  • Biological Sciences
  • Chemistry and Biochemistry
  • Economics
  • Ethnic Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Rady School of Management
  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Sociology
  • Visual Arts

PIER Degree Codes

Note: Current PhD students outside the approved PIER departments may apply with support of their faculty advisor. If admitted, CMBC will work with the new department and Graduate Council to amend PIER and approve a new degree code for the additional department.


PIER Requirements

The PIER Specialization has both 30 units of coursework requirements, as well as doctoral committee and dissertation requirements.


COmmittee & Dissertation


Apply to PIER

CMBC is seeking the next generation of scholars capable of confronting the biological and societal issues with respect to the health of the world’s ocean. We are interested in people that bring unusual and valuable skills to the program and think creatively about how to solve environmental problems.

Application Materials

Submit both: 1) a two page PIER essay; and, 2) a graduate advisor letter of support to Allison Kellum (akellum@ucsd.edu) by January 31.

  • The essay should expand on the applicant’s personal and research goals and how they will benefit personally from the integration of that natural, and social sciences or humanities. 
  • The letter of support from their graduate advisor (or prospective graduate advisor) should indicate that the student will have support to complete all of the PIER Specialization requirements. 

NOTE: Departments who nominate candidates to PIER are responsible for that student’s summer stipend. The graduate advisor letter must acknowledge this.

New Applicants to UC San DIEGO

Scripps Institution of Oceanography — We recommend that applicants to Scripps Oceanography apply to PIER at the same time instead of waiting until after their first year of the PhD. This is so you can take the required Summer course during "Summer 0" before beginning your PhD in the Fall. 

In the Scripps' PhD application portal, submit your PIER essay as a supplemental document. Make contact with your prospective PhD advisor and communicate with them their interest in PIER, ask if they know about the PIER program and put them in contact with CMBC so we can share more information and help support your PIER and Scripps/UC San Diego application.

Other UC San Diego Departments — Other Departments do not have the PIER essay embedded in the application. Email us your materials by January 31st.

Continuing STUDENTS 

We recommend applying to PIER as early as possible! It is harder to fit in the additional coursework as you progress in your PhD and have summer research, jobs, and other obligations. 

First year students are warmly encouraged to apply to PIER. 

Advanced PhD students should contact Allison Kellum (akellum@ucsd.edu) the Fall before applying and prepare a proposal for how they would complete all PIER requirements prior to graduation. 

All students, regardless of affiliation with PIER, are invited to enroll and participate in SIOB 269 – IFER Seminar during Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters.


Student Funding

The PIER specialization is NOT a funding mechanism, it is a way to acknowledge interdisciplinary skills and training beyond a traditional PhD. All students accepted into PIER must have summer support provided by their department or advisor. CMBC provides summer session registration and campus summer fees for all PIER students.

Give to PIER

Your gift opens opportunities for interdisciplinary training to all students! This type of training is critical in our changing world, but it is underfunded by national funding agencies. Financial opportunities in the form of fellowships and scholarships also vary drastically for students across our member departments. Help us bridge the gap for students of all backgrounds and disciplines to participate in this life-changing, world-shaping program. 

GIVE to PIER Students

Photo credits on this page - Top "PIER|PhD Specialization": Dante Capone, Bottom "Students in Lab": Erik Jepsen