Majoring in Environmental Sciences
The Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Department’s Environmental Sciences (ES) major is an interdisciplinary program that deals with the impact of human activities on natural systems. In order to address these problems, students are trained to apply tools and techniques from a variety of disciplines such as biology, ecology, chemistry, toxicology, geology, hydrology, meteorology, geography, engineering, statistics, behavioral science, policy analysis, economics, and law.
In the lower division courses (i.e., freshman and sophomore level courses), the ES major emphasizes basic science in a rigorous curriculum drawn from a variety of departments including biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, economics and environmental science. In the upper division courses (i.e. junior and senior level courses), students take electives in their area of interest and courses in statistics, research methodology, and environmental modeling to prepare for the senior research thesis seminar. In the research seminar, each student designs and conducts a research project of his or her own choosing. This yearlong course is the capstone of the major. The experience is extremely helpful for students as they prepare for environmental careers or graduate/professional school.
What will I study?
Students choose one of three concentrations: Biological Science, Physical Science, or Social Science. Although there are slight differences in the lower division courses for each concentration area, all students take courses in biology, chemistry, math, physics, environmental science, and economics. Students should choose a concentration based on their intended research area.
The upper division ES courses blend core requirements with a great deal of flexibility, allowing students to tailor their coursework to their own research interests. Just as in the lower division, upper division coursework is interdisciplinary. Students cap off their coursework and explore a research interest of their choice in ESPM 175A, 175B, and 175L, a year-long senior research project.
What can I do with this major?
ES students are well prepared not only for environmental careers, but also for careers in many different areas. Every year, ES graduates pursue a variety of opportunities including working for the government, working in non-government or non-profit agencies, and working in the private sector. Many students also attend graduate school in academia (M.S. or Ph.D. programs) or in medicine, law, and other professional programs. The rigor and flexibility of the ES major allow students to adapt their coursework to best meet their career goals.
The Senior Research Seminar in Environmental Sciences
ES students finish their degree with a year-long senior research project, ESPM 175A, ESPM 175B, and ESPM 175L (formerly ES 196A, ES 196B, and ES 196L). The thesis experience is the capstone of the major. In 175A/B/L, students have the opportunity to investigate an environmental problem or issue of their own choosing. Using the skills and knowledge from their previous courses, students learn how to formulate testable hypotheses about biological, physical, or social patterns and processes associated with an existing or potential environmental problem, collect data to evaluate their hypotheses, and present their results in a professional manner. This experience fosters the development of critical and objective thinking, a skill that will help ensure the credibility of their future work on environmental issues.
For more information about the senior research seminar, please see the ESPM 175 website . This site includes suggestions for possible thesis topics, information about the structure of the course, descriptions of previous projects, and much more.
Declaring the major
Students must take their upper division statistics course prior to enrolling in ESPM 100ES (formerly ES 100). ESPM 100ES, which is only taught in spring semesters, must be completed before students enroll in ESPM 175A. In turn, ESPM 175A is a prerequisite to ESPM 175B. This creates a chain of four classes beginning in fall of the junior year. Students who plan to study abroad or otherwise not continuously enroll at Berkeley for their junior and senior years should talk to the ES advisor about planning options.
Environmental Sciences Student Association (ESSA)
The Environmental Sciences Student Association (ESSA) is a student group for students interested in environmental sciences. ESSA's main goal is to bring together students with interests in the environment in a fun, academic, and social atmosphere. Membership is open to all UC Berkeley students. ESSA organizes academic, social, and career/internship events throughout the year. Among the events are advising nights, service projects, hiking & camping trips, and several career events. To subscribe to the ESSA mailing list, send a request to be added to the list with your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also join ESSA on Facebook.