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 Ph.D. 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 from the outset is key to fostering a capacity for 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 Ph.D.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.

Interdisciplinary Training for UC San Diego Ph.D. Students

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


Required Coursework

Doctoral 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


First year UC San Diego Ph.D. students in most departments are eligible to participate

All applicants must submit 1) a two page PIER essay and 2) a graduate advisor letter of support to 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 should indicate that the student will have support to complete all of the PIER Specialization requirements. Departments who nominate candidates to PIER are responsible for that student’s summer stipend. The graduate advisor letter must acknowledge this.

Candidates to Scripps Oceanography at UC San Diego

Scripps Oceanography recommends candidates to PIER apply with their Scripps Ph.D. application. In the Ph.D. application portal, submit a supplemental 2 page PIER essay on the additional documents page. Beyond what is in your statement of purpose, this PIER essay should describe your personal and research goals and how these will benefit from the integration of natural and social sciences or humanities. 

There are hundreds of Ph.D. applicants to SIO.  We recommend PIER candidates make contact with a potential PIER advisor (see faculty list above) and communicate with them their interest in PIER.

Student Funding

The PIER specialization is NOT a funding mechanism, it is a way to acknowledge interdisciplinary skills and training beyond a traditional Ph.D.

All students accepted into PIER must have summer support provided their department or advisor. 

CMBC provides summer session registration and campus summer fees for all PIER students.

Donations are welcome!

Donors who wish to support PIER students can give on-line to CMBC Fellowship Fund.


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