About Focal Departments

Focal Departments 

A distinctive feature of our doctoral program is that our students gain a thorough grounding in a “focal” discipline. This is achieved by having each student complete requirements for a doctoral degree through another department at the University of Oregon. The result is that our graduates are fully trained in the methods and knowledge base of the “focal” discipline and can pursue employment either in that field or in an interdisciplinary setting. 

In addition to completing the requirements of the focal department, our doctoral candidates also complete 16 credits of coursework in a secondary concentration outside the focal department. The secondary concentration provides an opportunity to gain perspectives from other disciplines, leading to a richer grasp of complex issues and the opportunity for interdisciplinary innovation. Any areas of graduate study that complement the student’s main research may be pursued as concentration areas. (subject to the approval of the major advisor and Environmental Studies Graduate Studies Director). 

In principle, any department at the University of Oregon that offers the doctoral degree may be proposed as a focal department (see a full list of graduate programs on our campus). In recent years, we have admitted students with focal departments of Biology, Economics, English, Geography, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. We encourage interested applicants to consider other opportunities as well. 

Because our doctoral students work so closely with their focal departments, their admission applications are evaluated independently by the admissions committee of the focal department as well as by the Environmental Studies Program. Only students accepted into both programs will be offered admission. Funding for admitted students is shared by both programs, so that our doctoral students will have the opportunity to serve as teaching assistants in the focal department as well as in Environmental Studies. Our doctoral students are treated as full-fledged members of both programs and may draw on the faculty and resources of both. 

Since admission to our doctoral program is contingent on admission to the focal department, applicants should consider whether they have the appropriate background to pursue doctoral work in the focal department. In some cases, focal departments require specific degrees at the bachelors or master’s levels for admission, and some also require additional documentation as part of the application process. Strong academic preparation in the focal area is the expectation for all applicants. Prospective applicants should consult with the Graduate Director or Graduate Studies Coordinator in their proposed focal departments early in the process to be sure that they have met all necessary requirements.