About the Master’s in Conservation Ecology & Sustainable Development

The MS in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development (CESD) aims to train the next generation of conservation professionals.  The CESD curriculum has been re-envisioned with key innovations to build students’ capabilities for addressing complex environmental challenges in real-world collaborative contexts. The CESD program’s core courses adopt an interdisciplinary, knowledge-to-action approach to conservation and sustainability.  CESD students conduct applied research projects that are developed and carried out in collaboration with non-academic partners, while gaining essential knowledge and practical skills through classroom-based and experiential coursework.  By integrating scientific training into real-world, multi-stakeholder contexts, the program prepares graduates for influential positions in conservation organizations, international non-profits, governmental agencies, and the private sector, or for pursuing PhDs in ecology, conservation, and sustainability-related fields.

The need for this solutions-oriented MS training program arises from the complexity of major environmental challenges we face today, including the loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems and their life-sustaining benefits, intensifying impacts of climate change, and consequences for environmental justice and equity. Ecological research is essential for understanding such problems and identifying potential solutions.  Yet all too often, research-generated knowledge is not successfully translated or implemented into practice and policy.  Today, a key strategy for bridging this implementation gap is for scientists to engage directly with practitioners and decision-makers to identify research needs and share findings.  To do so effectively, ecologists need to build holistic understandings of the social and economic contexts surrounding ecological problems, as well as skills for communicating and collaborating with diverse stakeholders.  This holistic, engaged approach to conservation and sustainability problem-solving provides the foundation for the ICAS program.

Objectives of the CESD program

The objectives of the CESD program are:

  1. to offer a flexible training program at the M.S. level that integrates research and collaborative engagement skills in the areas of conservation ecology and environmental sustainability;
  2. to provide hands-on, applied experience for students through partnerships with collaborators outside of academia; and
  3. to empower a new generation of leaders and problem-solvers to confront the complexity of today’s social-environmental challenges.

The Odum School of Ecology, with its ongoing interdisciplinary and stakeholder-engaged activities, provides the physical and intellectual environment needed for such a program. The Odum School of Ecology draws faculty members from across the UGA campus, in addition to the UGA Cooperative Extension, the Savannah River Ecology Lab, the UGA Marine Institute at Sapelo Island, the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the UGA Wormsloe Center for Research and Education, the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, the US Department of Agriculture, the US Geological Survey, the US Forest Service, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

CESD Degree Program Structure

Partnership Model for Research

The CESD program adopts a partnership model for thesis research.  Conducting engaged research via collaboration with non-academic partners is increasingly considered a vital strategy for effectively bridging the persistent gap between knowledge generation and its real-world implementation.

Compared to the Odum School’s MS in Ecology and conventional MS programs at other institutions, the new CESD model has four distinguishing features that highlight its focus on integrating research, practice, and problem-solving:

  1. Three required courses adopt a knowledge-to-action approach to deliver conservation training and experiential learning.
  2. Research is co-designed with the student’s faculty advisor and a non-academic partner.
  3. Students generate a deliverable product specific to partners’ needs.
  4. The deliverable product is included in the thesis document.

The benefits of this partnership model are (1) students get experience in designing and conducting the kind of need-driven research activities they are likely to perform in non-academic positions after they graduate; (2) students have enhanced opportunities to build collaboration skills useful for their future careers; (3) students make contacts and relationships that may lead to future jobs; (4) the output from their thesis will have real-world relevance and use; and (5) students develop skills for communicating research findings in formats that allow direct application.

Students and their advisors identify and propose a collaboration with a non-academic partner (state agency, local government, NGO, consulting firm, etc.) early on in the degree program, and engage with them at multiple points along the project timeline. The non-academic partner may be identified independently by the student, or with guidance/coordination from their advisor, or may be a collaborator on an existing project with the advisor.  The partner will be involved in: co-designing the thesis questions and scope, identifying a type of deliverable product from the research which is useful for the partner’s needs, and providing collaborative engagement and mentoring during the program.  The student, advisor, and partner will complete a mentorship compact that describes the agreed-upon roles, responsibilities, and goals.

Thesis Format

The student will conduct original research that demonstrates the scientific rigor and analytical competencies expected of MS-level students, which will be fully documented within the thesis.  The thesis will also include the deliverable product created for the non-academic partner.  The inclusion of the deliverable product reflects the program’s solution-oriented emphasis, and acknowledges the effort and communication skills that students demonstrate in delivering research outcomes in applicable formats for their partners. To allow the inclusion of a broad range of potential product types, and to minimize duplication of effort, the organization and format of the thesis will be flexible.

Some students’ deliverable products may be formatted as a peer-reviewed paper or a technical report, which is compatible for inclusion in a traditional thesis.  If so, the thesis document would not differ from a standard MS thesis.  However, some deliverable products will not be readily formatted as a thesis chapter, or doing so would remove elements that are integral to the end-user communication objectives.  Possible examples include a graphically-designed situation analysis report, a research-informed action plan or guide, audience-specific informational media, an analytical tool or program, a website, etc.  In such cases, the deliverable product will be included as an appendix of the thesis, and the thesis body will contain chapter(s) providing the standard components to describe the research (i.e., literature review, methods, and results).  Those chapter(s) will fully explain components that are not covered in the deliverable product, and can summarize components that are richly presented in the deliverable. This allows the thesis to satisfy university format requirements, and importantly, it recognizes the student’s boundary-spanning communication work and contribution to the non-academic partner.

Coursework

The program consists of a minimum of 30 hours of graduate credit, including 10 hours of interdisciplinary core courses on principles and practice of conservation and sustainability, 11 hours of elective courses, and 9 credit hours of thesis research and writing:

  • 21 hours of in-class instruction
    • 6 hours of the following courses specific to CESD
ECOL 6080Principles of CESD I4 hours
ECOL 8400Perspectives on CESD2 hours
    • 4 hours of a practicum course, selected from the following:
ECOL 8710Environmental Practicum4 hours
ECOL 8750Endangered Species Practicum4 hours
    • 11 hours of electives, which could include an additional practicum course
      • Some suggested electives:
ECOL 8310Population Ecology
ECOL 8322Concepts and Approaches in Ecosystem Ecology
ECOL 8730Environmental Policy
ENVM 6800Water Resource Economics and Management
FISH 6520Conservation Decision-Making
FANR 6750Experimental Methods in Forestry and Natural Resources Research
FANR 6810Natural resources Law
FANR 7620GIS Applications for Natural Resources
FANR 8400Advanced Spatial Analysis for natural Resources
FANR 7860(Natural Resource and Environmental Economics I
LAND 6030Nature and Sustainability
LAND 6350Ecological Landscape Restoration
JURI 5667/7667Sustainable Business: Transactions and Strategy
WILD 8330Landscape Ecology
WILD 8680Animal Biodiversity and Conservation
    • 9 hours of thesis research and writing
ECOL 7000Master's Research6 hours (a maximum of 6 hrs can count toward the 30 hr requirement)
ECOL 7300Master's Thesis3 hours (3 hrs, and no more, must be applied toward the 30 hr requirement)