The Stockholm Resilience Centre PhD programme in Sustainability Science develops researchers that take a transdisciplinary approach to sustainability challenges of the Anthropocene.

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PhD programme in Sustainability Science

The Stockholm Resilience Centre PhD programme aims to develop researchers who are able to address the sustainability challenges of the Anthropocene

The SRC approaches sustainability science from the perspectives of complexity and social-ecological interactions in the Anthropocene, a new and novel global epoch in which the social and the ecological are intertwined. Based on this there are three key core propositions that provide the foundation for Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) research:

1. People are part of the biosphere

2. People and nature are intertwined within integrated social-ecological systems

3. People need to respond to, engage with, and purposefully shape the biosphere to develop a sustainable future.

We aim to produce researchers who understand this area of sustainability science and have expert knowledge within a specific problem domain.

Core knowledge

The sustainability challenges of the Anthropocene require a transdisciplinary approach to science. We expect that students will develop usable knowledge, but not mastery, across the SRC’s key knowledge domains: complex adaptive systems, social-ecological systems, cross-scale dynamics, diversity, transformations and biosphere-based sustainability. The relative emphasis within these domains will of course vary among students.

SRC’s core knowledge domains

Each of the six knowledge areas of the SRC embraces multiple conceptual frameworks, research questions, methods, and data. They are:

Resilience: the ability of a system to cope with change and continue to develop while maintaining its identity. Key concepts: systems-thinking, complex adaptive systems, regime-shifts, thresholds, feedbacks, adaptive cycle, panarchy

Social-Ecological Systems: linked system of people and ecosystems that emphasizes that people are part of nature and that the divide between social and ecological systems is arbitrary. Key concepts: agency, institutions, ecosystem services, ecological engineering, human ecology, ecological economics, mental models, social-ecological memory, and social-ecological learning.

Cross-scale dynamics: interactions across different scales, for example, between agricultural fields and monsoon dynamics, or between a neighbourhood and a city. Key concepts: connectivity, nestedness, hierarchy theory, panarchy, tele-couplings and tele-connections

Diversity: the variety, disparity and relative frequency of system elements. Key concepts: biological diversity, heterogeneity, modularity, functional diversity, response diversity, institutional diversity, polycentric governance

Transformation: a purposefully intiated reorganization of a social-ecological system. Key concepts: agency, opportunity context, transition theory, panarchy, adaptive governance.

Biosphere-based sustainability: a civilization in which humanity and the biosphere mutually support one another. Key concepts: challenges of sustainability, history of sustainability, Sustainable Development Goals, planetary boundaries.

Developing these competencies is expected to primarily occur through the practice of research by PhD students, guided and mentored by their supervisory committee. The development of these competencies is also supported by a set of PhD courses (for more info see below). The SRC also offers a varied annual stream of formal and informal seminars, events, and mentorship opportunities to help PhD students develop their core competences in concepts, methods, and analysis at the intersection of the social and ecological sciences.

The SRC has a special, productive, supportive research culture that relies upon four core research values: sharing, inclusiveness, respect and contributing to the common good.

Core Skills & Core Methodologies

The Core Skills & Core Methodologies of the SRC research school serve as a guide to map and discuss competence development of PhD students. Because students are working on different projects and have different goals it is unlikely that any two PhD students will have or wish to develop the same competencies. However, we expect all SRC PhD students to be at least “somewhat acquainted” (green zone) with all skills and methodologies presented below.

Core Skills are skills that SRC doctoral students should develop during SRC ‘s PhD programme. Many of these skills would apply to most PhD students, but at the SRC there is more emphasis on skills important to our synthetic and trans-disciplinary research environment.

These skills are:

  • Research design: how develop research questions and identify methods and data that are able to answer those questions.
  • Data analysis: how to use analytical methods to reliably and effectively address research questions. Includes issues of coding, statistical and non-statistical analysis, such as grounded theory.
  • Scientific writing: being able to write scientific papers, being able to identify target journals, being able to write different types of papers (data-based, synthesis, reviews, policy/opinions), being able to write grant proposals, being able to write popular science.
  • Teaching & mentorship: being able to build and give lectures, being able to supervise and mentor (e.g. master students, traineeships).
  • Presentations: how to effectively communicate verbally, visually, and dramatically with different scientific, policy, and public audiences.
  • Exploratory/Transdisciplinary practice: how to manage ethics, balancing practical vs. scientific demands, and conflicting goals, and world-views that occur in trans-disciplinary practice, how to build collaborative networks, designing workshops, facilitating and moderating dialogues, running participatory processes.

    Core Methodologies are broad categories of methodological approaches that SRC doctoral students should develop an awareness of during SRC ‘s PhD programme. Some of these methodologies are covered in the required PhD courses, while others of these methodologies are expected to be developed during by the PhD student and their supervisory team during their PhD.

We have organized methodological approaches into six broad categories each of which will be developed differently depending on student PhD goals and research.

These groups are:

  • Descriptive: how to characterize key structures, flows, interactions, changes over time, networks, patterns
  • Identifying mechanisms: identifying causal relationships, drivers of change, feedbacks, key interactions, systemic causation
  • Visioning: forecasting or projecting future dynamics, constructing scenarios, using visions as catalyst for action, narratives and their problems
  • Dialogue: using dialogue to bridge multiple knowledge systems, participatory methods, participatory modeling, facilitation, adaptive management
  • Comparison: comparing alternative methods, case studies, models to one another, and constructing null models; statistics and non-statistical contrasts
  • Synthesis: how to generalize and construct new compressed understanding from diverse and disparate knowledge and data. Especially with focus on integrating across social and biophysical knowledge domains.

Core research values

The SRC has a special, productive, supportive research culture that is a key element of our success, and this culture relies upon four core research values:

  • Sharing: sharing of ideas and insights with fellow colleagues to maintain an open and creative atmosphere.
  • Inclusive: Collaborate rather than exclude, to find common grounds and novel insights.
  • Respect: respect for individuals and others’ ideas (intellectual property right). This is imperative for maintain a sharing and inclusive environment. Respect the diversity of research being conducted, which contributes to the progress and success of SRC.
  • Common good: Actively contribute to make the SRC working environment great by helping maintain the physical commons of the SRC, but even more so contributing to making the SRC a fun, exciting, and vibrant place to work and meet people.

Further information

Further information on PhD studies at the SRC is available in the SRC’s handbook for PhD students [link to handbook on intranet] and further general information on PhD studies in Sweden is available here

Compulsory PhD courses

Resilience Research School

For further questions, please contact Garry Peterson, head of head of subject in sustainability science,

Related info

Further information on PhD studies at the SRC is available in the SRC’s handbook for PhD students [link to handbook on intranet] and further general information on PhD studies in Sweden is available here

Compulsory PhD courses

Resilience Research School

For more information, please contact:

Magnus Nyström, Director of the PhD research programme

Garry Peterson, head of subject in sustainability science


Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201