If you are thinking about a future that involves natural resources and environmental policy and management please contact me to discuss the opportunities at NAU.    Our programs are interdisciplinary and designed to suit the needs and interests of the individual student.  Entry is competitive and the program is rigorous but our environmental students hold important government positions and teach in well respected universities all over the country.


If you are thinking about doing graduate work in environmental or natural resources policy I invite you to consider the opportunities available at Northern Arizona University.We enjoy near 100 percent placement success for our graduates. Small classes and an interdisciplinary program make this an ideal environment in which to develop your expertise. I have created this page to answer some of the questions I am most often asked about graduate work at NAU. If after reading this you have additional questions and you are thinking about graduate work in environmental policy please do not hesitate to email me (be sure to include your phone numbers and times if you are in the US or Canada).Those of you interested in graduate work in other areas besides the environment and natural resources I suggest you contact the NAU Political Science Graduate Coordinator (call the department at 928-523-3163 and ask for the grad coordinator).


What type of programs do you offer? Most students studying environmental and natural resources policy and administration choose the public policy option in the Ph.D. program. The program allows you to build your own course requirements (with the assistance of an instructor) to suit your own professional needs. In addition these classes can be taken from across the campus.  I insist my students take classes in the sciences (where appropriate) history, economics and other fields. I firmly believe that you can not do good environmental policy if you restrict yourself to what is taught in political science departments.


Do I have to have a political science major? No. In fact many of my best students have never had a political science class prior to coming to work on their graduate degree at NAU.


Is there money available? Some. Each year we have several departmental assistantships available (some years more than others).There are extremely competitive. If you do not get funding when you enter there are often funding opportunities that arise after you get here and people get to know you. Some of my best students, now teaching in fine universities, did not get any funding when they arrived.


Why should I go to NAU? Maybe you shouldn't. Go to a graduate school where you will get the attention you need to become a highly trained professional. Go to a school where you have ample opportunity to learn from professors who will take the time to work with you. Call schools and talk to professors if you don't like the vibes you get take a pass. It won't get better when you get there. The interpersonal side of learning at this level is very important. You should be comfortable with the place and the people you will be working with.


Shouldn't I try and get into the biggest name school that will accept me? Maybe (particularly if you like football games) but there are a lot of other things to consider. The prestige of the degree granting institution may make some difference in getting your first job (sadly some people don't look at the individual) but over the course of your career your ability is what will set you apart. If you learn the profession close at hand from people who are well respected you will go much further than if you attend a very prestigious university where you get little face time with the big names.(In a recent hire here we passed over several applications from Ivy League colleges and hired someone from a mid level state school (smart schools know you often find the best people in any number of places.)


What will I study? That depends on you and what you want to be. We have a set of required courses in our programs but we also have several areas where you can build programs from across the university. We have excellent internationally known faculty in many natural resource and science areas and you can take classes from many of them if you choose.  Students of mine have included everything from organic chemistry to cultural anthropology in their study packages. ( A list of many of the possible classes you might incorporate into your graduate program may be found HERE.)  The department web page has a list of degree requirements for more details.  I wrote an article for Step Ahead the newsletter of the Science Technology and Environmental Policy Section of the American Political Science section titled "Placing the Environmental Policy Ph.D.," that outlines what I think makes for a successful environmental policy Ph.D..  I have a link to the edition of the newsletter HERE.


Do I have to work with you Dr. Smith? Absolutely not. We have many wonderful faculty here -- go to the political science web page and have a look at the descriptions of faculty.  Here is a LINK to the faculty web page. Even if you did become my advisee you would work with many other faculty members in my department and other departments. We can even bring in faculty from other universities when useful to provide advice and sit on your dissertation committee.  If you think you would like to work with me at NAU you need to get my permission in advance.  First email me your contact information and I'll call to talk about the program and your plans.  Then I'll ask you to send me a copy of your application materials in advance -- both so I can determine if we are a good fit to do research together and to facilitate my supporting your application once it is sent into my department.  (Due to the rules of the department we can't see application files -- so if you want my support you have to send me a copy of the materials.)


Can I take a semester off and study in another university or go count the outhouses in Peru? We encourage travel, study abroad and field research. It all depends on what your professional objectives are and how you want to meet them.


What kind of job might I get? At the Masters level they do all kinds of things. I encourage my best students to work toward the doctorate -- a Ph.D. opens all kinds of doors a Masters degree will not open -- the additional two or three years it takes means you can enter government service at a much higher level get instant respect from the NGO you want to work for and can teach in a university setting if you choose. My environmental and natural resource students have enjoyed 100 percent placement success  in universities (in public administration, public policy, political science and environmental science departments); in governments (several have been offered Presidential Management Fellowships) and with NGOs.


Am I cut out for this? A good question only you can answer. Grad school is difficult (or time consuming anyway).I work my students very hard -- I expect them to be well published and have significant teaching and research experience before they even think about looking for a job. Twelve hour work days are common -- particularly in the first two years. In any graduate program you attend you will find students that do what is expected of them. They are average and if you accept average all you can ever hope to be is just like everyone else. I will expect much more from you. If this sounds demanding it is. But there is a very large attrition rate for grad students -- many never get to comps, others never write a dissertation and many never get jobs in their fields. Almost every student I have agreed to advise has gotten through and done well. Pardon the cliché but you get out of life what you put into life.


OK  I'm interested now what? The department web page has all the application materials you need -- you can download them.  The deadline for applications that include support is  February 15th and you need GREs so don't put it off.  I suggest incoming students apply for the MPA prorgam.  These are the dates for application deadline the MPA:  Feb.. 15th (the only application period during which you can apply for an  assistantship); April 15th and October. 15th.  If you want me to be your advisor in the program we will have to spend some time on the phone or corresponding over the internet. I enjoy what I do and want good new students but time is scarce and I have to limit the number of advisees I take on. If I am not willing to be your advisor (sometimes the vibes are not right for me either and other times there are other faculty who are closer to your interests) there likely will be another faculty member here who would be willing advise you.

Any other suggestions?  Yes.  Here are a few tips that may help with the application process.  In your written statement that accompanies the application be sure you identify an area of study interest that faculty are actually teaching!  (Once someone said they wanted to do "central Asia politics" and was denied admission.  I understand that you may change interests after you arrive (most people do) but if you say you want to study something that no one here studies then you won't be admitted.  Second do not identify too many interests -- if you say American politics, policy, IR and Comparative politics the committee will think you don't know what you want and you will be denied.  Third - be sure all your letters of recommendation and ALL the other material required are in (call the office and ask) because if ONE thing -- like one letter of recommendation -- is missing you can be denied admission.  Fourth if you have no political science or social sciences classes in your background try and get something -- if it is too late for that then discuss your interest in the social sciences.  Finally if you want to work under my advisement then email me first -- so that we can discuss the application process before you do anything.


If  you have any other questions I would be happy to help. Email me at zachary.smith at -- be sure to include your phone number.



Comments of some recent graduates of the NAU PhD program.......


"The NAU Political Science Ph.D. program offered me the opportunity to really customize my Ph.D. program and make it an interdisciplinary program, which has been critical for my work. The department's faculty all have some level of expertise in environmental policy issues, and advisors are willing and able to work with students on-on-one to ensure academic success and career success after graduation. Flagstaff and the Northern Arizona region are home to several environmental and natural resource government agencies at the federal, state and municipal level, and I had the opportunity work with many of them on real environmental problems and issues. The real-world context of the education is priceless."  

Ríobart É. (Rob) Breen,   Political Science & Environmental Studies,  Siena College



"A graduate degree at NAU is so much more than an academic experience.  I became intimate with the incredible natural surroundings of Northern Arizona.  The Grand Canyon, the Four Corners area, Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon were all virually in my back yard.  My studies as a doctoral student in Political Science with an emphasis in Environmental Policy, were greatly enriched by small classes, access to professors, lifelong friendships and the physical location of NAU."

Mary Brentwood, Department of Environmental Studies, California Satte University at Sacramento

"My graduate studies at Northern Arizona University was nothing short of a rewarding experience. Not only did I gain the necessary political, economic, legal foundational skills and knowledge to compete in todays workforce, I also worked with culturally sensitive faculty members that shaped my research in North American Indigenous natural resources management. As a Native American, the faculty in the Poltical Science Department are culturally sensitive and they are knowledgeable about

contemporary environmental issues such as water, land , and air policies that face tribal governments. Indeed, the water, the land, and the water are tribes sovereign right to protect as they are paramont in tribal lifeways. Today, I work with the US EPA protecting human health and the environment in Indian Country.

Secody Hubbard,  
Associate Director for Tribal Affairs. USEPA Region 6.


"I can not recommend NAU strenously enough. There is something more than just environmental training and education I recieved at NAU. NAU, set in an atmosphere of natural urgency, places you in a community of scholars who challenge and shephard you through the early years of intellectual and professional life for environmental work. Broad interests-- such as those regarding indigenous studies and ecological sustainability-- are supported by cross-university efforts, and many extraordinary opportunities are there for those who wish to pursue just this kind of life."

 Peter J. Jacques,  Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida


"My experience at NAU provided me with an excellent grounding in political science and environmental policy. Very few schools can compete with NAU's level of commitment to environmental studies. From theory to policy and the applied sciences, NAU offers a first-rate education. Despite a difficult job market within higher education, all of my peers doing environmental policy students were hired by colleges or universities within a year of graduation."

Matt Lindstrom, Director, Center for Public Policy College of St. Benedict/St. John's University



"My graduate experience in the NAU Political Science Department was excellent and life-changing.  I was a non-traditional student - older, working, single parent - but I was welcomed, challenged, and mentored.  I use my graduate training every day
as a professional advocate, educator, and lobbyist for the Great Lakes in the non-profit sector.  My PhD is priceless and
I am constantly grateful for my NAU education."

Grenetta Thomassey,  Policy Director, Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council


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