Brock launches Canada’s first PhD in Sustainability Science

Brock University’s Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (ESRC) has launched a PhD in Sustainability Science, the first program of its kind in the country.

Offered by only a few leading institutions internationally, the PhD in Sustainability Science marks Brock’s 10th doctoral program and will welcome its first cohort next September.

The program is the latest addition to the ESRC’s academic offerings, which include a master’s program in Sustainability Science and Society, an undergraduate minor in Sustainability and a new micro-certificate in Environmental Sustainability.

ESRC Assistant Professor Jessica Blythe says the PhD program offers a scholarly opportunity for changemakers who are keen to address some of the pressing issues of our time.

“Climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality really define the most urgent challenges that we need to address, from local to global,” says Blythe, who, with fellow ESRC faculty member Julia Baird, was a co-recipient of the Faculty of Social Sciences Early Career Researcher Award for 2021. “We’re really excited because our program will tackle those challenges head on. Students will also be integrated into our research networks with leading scholars around the world to really advance sustainability science, not only on the practical front but also on the theoretical and research fronts.”

Ryan Plummer, Director and Professor of the ESRC, is delighted to see the launch of the PhD program, which was part of the original vision of the Centre when it was formed in 2012. He says it has been nearly a decade in the making, but good things come with age.

“Part of the vibrancy of having a world-class research centre is that you need a critical intellectual mass,” says Plummer. “For the change we need in the world, we require people working at the interface of science and society who are catalysts, advancing scientific knowledge as part of the academy as well as being change agents. A PhD now is much more than academic training, and sustainability science broadens our mission to engage community partners, which is critical for meaningful change.”

Associate Professor Marilyne Jollineau, Graduate Program Director for the ESRC, says she is eager to welcome students from diverse backgrounds and to enact principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. She notes that the program is designed to support students coming from different academic fields and to foster mentoring relationships among scholars at different points in their journeys.

“We start everybody from the same position and set the foundation for sustainability science,” says Jollineau. “Students may take their courses with master’s-level students, so there’s a reciprocal relationship, and they’re learning from each other as well as learning from different academics who are part of the program. The courses are also tailored to suit the needs of a PhD student, which facilitates mentorship and bridges the gap between professors and students.”

Blythe says she looks forward to the richness that applicants from various academic backgrounds will bring to the program.

“I think one of the very exciting things that draws us all to sustainability science is how it cuts across everything and is becoming mainstreamed in every single field and profession,” says Blythe. “One of the real strengths of our graduate program is how transdisciplinary we are, with graduate students coming from business backgrounds, biology and health backgrounds, among others. We need sustainability thinkers with strong academic training in all fields.”

Associate Professor Julia Baird, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Human Dimensions of Water Resources and Resilience, says the program will best suit students who are wholly committed to solving problems.

“I hope to welcome students who have a keen interest in working on matters at the nexus of scholarship and practice,” says Baird. “That’s what we want — people who are passionate about engaging in world-class scholarship and really focused on very real, very urgent problems.”

Suzanne Curtin, Vice-Provost and Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, says that the launch of the PhD in Sustainability Science marks a true milestone for the institution.

“Under the supervision of the outstanding faculty members associated with Brock’s ERSC, this program will train the next generation of researchers in a discipline that is extremely relevant to the issues our planet is facing today,” says Curtin. “Our students will be able to the break the boundaries of traditional disciplines and make valued contributions to both academic and industry challenges. I look forward to meeting the first cohort of students in the Fall of 2022. I know they will do great things.”

Ingrid Makus, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, is keen to see the launch of the Faculty’s third PhD program in the cutting-edge field of sustainability science.

“The launch of this program creates a striking opportunity for scholars in various disciplines to merge their own disciplinary knowledge with the urgent and widely relevant field of sustainability science,” says Makus. “We will be delighted to see this unique graduate program welcome its first cohort of students next fall.”

Applications, which open Thursday, Oct. 7, are due Jan. 14, 2022. Interested students are encouraged to review the details of the program, including its structure and admission requirements, and begin planning now to apply. Anyone with questions about the program is invited to contact

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