male student overlooking water in Samoa

About Our Doctoral Program

The Departments of Geography at San Diego State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara offer a distinctive doctoral program in Geography, bringing together two outstanding institutions. The joint doctoral program complements but does not duplicate the existing Ph.D. program at UCSB, which functions separately from the joint doctoral program. The joint doctoral program provides the essential education, technical training and creative experience necessary for professional activity including college-level teaching.

Graduate study at San Diego State University has long been characterized by a close, collegial working relationship between students and faculty. Exceptional technical facilities are available on both campuses. Students spend a minimum of one year on each campus and will normally start and finish their work at SDSU. The joint doctorate is unique and presents many advantages for the student. Because it includes two departments, students entering the program have access to a much larger and more diverse set of faculty than in perhaps any other program. This gives students an opportunity to be exposed to more perspectives and approaches to geography than in most settings. Also, residency on both campuses allows students to experience two different university systems, the California State University and the University of California. Students also become familiar with two attractive but very different communities and environments.


The idea of establishing a joint Ph.D. program in Geography between UCSB and SDSU evolved from preliminary negotiations between Dr. Dave McArthur (SDSU) and Dr. Reginald Golledge (Chair of UCSB Geography at that time). McArthur had been a graduate student in Geography at the University of Canterbury (NZ) when Golledge taught there in the early 1960s, so the negotiations took on a personal note from the start. But progress was slow. There were only five other joint programs at SDSU at that time, and this suggestion was at first negatively viewed by UC officials.

The mid 1980s saw a number of meetings regarding the program, both at UCSB and at SDSU. The Chair at SDSU, Ernest Griffin, pursued the idea very vigorously on his campus. At UCSB, David Simonett had become Graduate Dean, and, together with a series of Chairs (Reg Golledge, Rick Church, Ray Smith, and Jack Estes), shouldered the burden of convincing UCSB and UC systemwide administrators that the idea was feasible and could benefit both institutions. The idea was strengthened by the appointment of several of UCSB’s best Ph.D. graduates to SDSU, including Douglas Stow, Janet Franklin, and Serge Rey.

The joint Ph.D. Program officially began in 1991, but its formal origins go back to 1988 when both institutions “agreed to agree” to explore the idea. The formal proposal was drawn up in December of 1988, the final details were hammered out in 1989, the University of California’s Office of the President granted final approval of the proposal in October of 1990, and the joint Ph.D. program officially began in 1991. Stuart Phinn received the first Ph.D. as a result of the Joint Program in 1997 with a dissertation titled “Remote Sensing and Spatial Analytic Techniques for Monitoring Landscape Structure in Disturbed and Restored Coastal Environments.”

The program has been very successful for more than two decades, and continues to evolve as new faculty members have been hired in both departments, reflecting the changes, dynamism and cross-disciplinary thinking that characterize contemporary geography.

Note: Some of the contents of this historical narrative and timeline have been adapted from a description available at the UCSB Geography website.

The program is designed around a set of systematic geographic specialties and methodological techniques.

  1. Human Geography: Urban, Social, Cultural and Political Geography

  2. Environmental Geography: Society and Environment, Watershed/Ecosystems Analysis

  3. Physical Geography: Biogeography, Climatology, Hydrology, Landscape Ecology

  4. Methodological Techniques: Spatial Quantitative and Qualitative Methods, Cartography and Internet Mapping, Geocomputation and Spatial Modeling, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing and Image Processing, Visualization and Visual Data Mining, Spatial Decision Support Systems and Participatory GIS

Each student’s program is designed around at least one of the four specialty areas and normally at least one of the methodological technique emphases. The main regional foci are California, Latin America, Mexico-U.S. borderlands, Africa, and Asia. To better understand the department’s research, review the Faculty Specializations and Research sections of our website. 

All of our graduates to date have attained employment in professional positions that utilize the knowledge and skills developed in the Joint Doctoral program. Most have secured the types of positions that they have sought. These range from research- and teaching-oriented university professorships, to corporate and government research positions. 


Dr. Piotr Jankowski
Office: Storm Hall 301C
Phone: (619) 594-0640
Email: [email protected]

Important Links:

Career Paths

Geography careers offer opportunities to develop solutions to many of the most pressing challenges to our environment and society, including climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, wildlife habitat degradation and species extinction, overpopulation, urban expansion, multicultural integration and social justice.

Examples of jobs that recent Geography Doctoral students have obtained following their graduation are:

  • Faculty Member
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow
  • Chief Data Scientist (Data Mining)
  • Owner or Co-Owner of Consulting Companies
  • Vice President of Banking and Financial Services
  • GIS Software Engineer
  • Biophysical Remote Sensing Scientist
  • Research Ecologist
  • Associate Water Scientist
  • Water Resources Specialist
  • Senior Director of Data Science
  • Jared Aldstadt. Associate Professor of Geography, University of Buffalo
  • Ryan Bart. Post-doctoral Researcher, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Magdalena Benza. Senior Spatial Scientist, The Climate Corporation
  • Leah Bremer. Director, Environmental Policy and Planning Group, Economic Research Organization and Water Resources Research Center, University of Hawaii
  • Christopher Brown. Professor of Geography, New Mexico State University
  • Christopher Carter. Professor of Geography, Long Beach City College and Adjunct Professor, California State University Long Beach
  • Dongmei Chen. Professor of Geography and Planning, Queen’s University (Canada)
  • Lodevicus (Luc) Claessens. Lecturer, Department of Geography, Rowan University
  • James Craine. Professor of Geography, California State University Northridge
  • Stephen Crook. Assistant Professor of Geography, Palomar College
  • Sean Crotty. Assistant Professor, Texas Christian University
  • Giorgio Curti. Co-owner, Cultural Geographics Consulting
  • Boris Dev. Software Developer, hiQ Labs
  • Ryan Engstrom. Professor of Geography, George Washington University
  • Debbie Fugate. Deputy Director, National Geospatial Program, United States Geological Survey
  • Denise Goerisch. Associate Professor, Integrative Studies Programs, Grand Valley State University
  • Yuki Hamada. Geospatial Scientist and Remote Sensing Specialist, Argonne National Laboratory
  • Thomas Herman. Project Director, YESS Research Center, San Diego State University; Director, California Geographic Alliance
  • Mark Janikas. Product Engineer, ESRI, Inc.
  • Marta Jankowska. Associate Professor, City of Hope
  • Kristopher Kuzera. Teaching Associate Professor and Internship Director, University of Denver
  • Ick-Hoi Kim. Research Fellow, Department of Geography, National Singapore University
  • Arika Ligmann-Zielinska. Associate Professor of Geography, Michigan State University
  • Caitlin Lippitt. Senior Lecturer III, Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico
  • Christopher Lippitt. Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico
  • Anna Carla Lopez-Carr. Adjunct Professor of Geography, San Diego State University; Geospatial Consultant, Direct Relief International, Santa Barbara
  • Chris Lukinbeal. Professor of Geography, Development and Environment, University of Arizona
  • David Lulka. Lecturer, Department of Geography, California State University, San Marcos and San Diego City College
  • Stephen McElroy. GIS Program Chair, American Sentinel University
  • Christine McMichael. Associate Professor of Geography, Institute for Regional Analysis and Public Policy, Morehead State University
  • Jennifer Miller. Professor of Geography and Department Chair, University of Texas at Austin
  • Christopher Moreno. Co-Owner and Ethnography Program Manager, Cultural Geographics Consulting
  • Scott Munroe. Senior Vice President, Network Strategy Manager, Citibank
  • Stuart Phinn. Professor and Director, Biophysical Remote Sensing Group, School of Geography, Planning & Architecture, University of Queensland (Australia)
  • Barbara Quimby. Assistant Professor of Marine Policy, Hawaii Pacific University
  • Tarek Rashed. Chief Scientist and President, Geospatial Applied Research Experts House, Austin, Texas
  • John Rogan. Professor of Geography, Clark University
  • John Ryan. Lecturer, San Diego Mesa College
  • Zia Salim. Associate Professor of Geography, California State University, Fullerton
  • Lauren Scott. Spatial Statistics Software Engineer, ESRI, Inc.
  • Pete Scull. Professor of Geography, Colgate University
  • Nicole Simons. GIS Business Process Analyst, BNSF Railway
  • Justin Stoler. Associate Professor of Geography and Public Health Sciences, University of Miami
  • Martin Swobodzinski. Associate Professor of Geography, Portland State University
  • Alexandra Syphard. Research Scientist, Conservation Biology Institute
  • Sarah Wandersee. Spatial Scientist - Owner, Anderson Geographics
  • Ninghua Wang. Senior Data Scientist,
  • Michael Wells. Lecturer, Department of Biology, University of San Diego. Environmental Scientist, California State Parks and Recreation
  • Eric West. Associate Professor of Geography, Southern Connecticut State University; Owner/Manager, Advanced Location Solutions, LLC
  • Sally Westmoreland. Associate Scientist, Inyo County Water Department, California
  • Xinyue Ye. Professor of Urban Planning, Texas A&M University.
  • Tong Zhang. Associate Professor, Wuhan University
  • Alex Zvoleff. Director of Science, Vital Signs Program, Conservation International

For more information about what geographers do, where geographers work, list of jobs in geography, geography career tips, and career multimedia resources, some exemplar geographer profiles, and the like, visit the Association of American Geographers career page.

Student Resources

Please see our Student Resources page for information regarding student life, housing, dining, and other topics of interest when attending SDSU.