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New PhD program in Environmental Science at UTSC creates pillar of advanced research

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE: A new PhD program in Environmental Science is being offered this fall. Pictured here are former UTSC master's students (L to R) Hang Xiao and Gillian Daly in Banff National Park's Observation Peak, where they were installing an air sampler device used to analyze contaminants. (Photo courtesy of Frank Wania.)

by Laura Matthews

The University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) is responding to the world’s pressing need for more qualified scientists trained in Environmental Science. A new PhD program in Environmental Science will launch in fall 2010 and aims to prepare students at the advanced graduate level to investigate the critical environmental challenges facing our planet.

“This is a significant milestone for UTSC,” says Professor Franco Vaccarino, Principal of UTSC. “With the launch of the first-ever PhD program to be administered outside of the downtown campus, we’re affirming the expansion of our graduate studies and research platform as strategic priorities. This important new PhD program speaks to our continued focus on developing distinctive academic offerings and attracting world-class scholars in order to further establish our campus as a vital hub for learning and discovery."

The new PhD in environmental science at UTSC aims to prepare the next generation of scientists to help close the gap in the knowledge the world needs to tackle emerging environmental challenges. The program will appeal to students interested in research at a fundamental scientific level, yet is uniquely designed to support an interdisciplinary approach to research. Students will gain a broad knowledge of current environmental issues, especially those emerging at the interface between traditional disciplines, and will receive training in advanced research methodologies.

“This PhD responds to a critical need to prepare more scientists for advanced environmental science research,” says William Gough, Vice-Dean Graduate Education and Program Development. “Our PhD takes a unique interdisciplinary approach and is based on our distinctive research strengths. We expect this to be the first of many advanced research programs that leverage the best of UTSC.”

According to Professor Gough, the environment will increasingly demand attention of everyone on the planet in the coming decades. From groundwater pollution in urban settings to rising sea levels, the effects of human impact on our environment will continue to threaten the sustainability of our natural world and humankind itself, posing one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time. To address the challenges that are increasingly complex and often global in scale, scientists will need new approaches to their investigations, and a greater exchange between disciplinary and interdisciplinary inquiry.

For more than two decades, UTSC has been at the forefront of preparing students to work in the interdisciplinary context of environmental science. A research and teaching capacity began with the formation of an undergraduate environmental science degree program launched in the early 1990s. Under the direction of Chair Don Cormack, the department has attracted many new top-caliber researchers and collaborators from both the private and public sectors, creating a strong interdisciplinary capacity within the department. A professional Master’s Degree, launched in 2006, attracts students from around the world who are interested in the opportunity to gain academic training along with internships or research experience.

The PhD program draws on UTSC’s depth of expertise in the full spectrum of environmental science: physical, chemical, biological and earth science. The program will be taught by faculty researchers internationally known for their expertise in areas such as aquatic biogeochemical modeling, global migration of trace environmental contaminants, climate change, and soil and water degradation, to name only a few. Experts from industry, government and affiliate universities will collaborate as supervisors, adding alternative perspectives to research initiatives. Students will also be supported by nationally and internationally recognized research facilities, which feature state-of-the-art technology such as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and an ultra-clean room for the analysis of trace environment contaminants.

Core areas of the PhD include:

• Contaminant flux through surface and subsurface environments and biogeochemical cycles

• Urban geosciences

• Remediation/restoration of degraded environmental systems

• The Great Lakes ecosystem

• Climate change and the environment

• Environmental science and transitional economies

Students of the PhD in Environmental Science will be well prepared for careers in teaching and research within universities and colleges, and also in government laboratories or private organizations where fundamental research on the environment is carried out. Graduates will find themselves in high demand and able to contribute directly to one of the world’s fastest-growing industries – which, in Canada, is facing a severe skills shortage.

The PhD in Environmental Science received approval from University of Toronto’s Governing Council in April, and has pending approval from the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies (OCGS). Applications are now being receiveded for the program to begin in fall 2010. Within seven years, enrollment is expected to grow to a stable level of approximately 40 students.

"The launch of our PhD program is great affirmation of the critical mass of expertise in environmental science at UTSC,” says Professor Malcolm Campbell, Vice-Principal, Research. “While the other campuses of the University of Toronto also conduct research and teaching in this area, UTSC now becomes a real focal point for advanced research in environmental science at the university. In addition, as graduate students are crucial drivers of the research engine in Canada, the new PhD program increases and augments our ability to lead in research and discovery in an area of science so vital to our collective future."

© University of Toronto Scarborough