Arctic and Northern Studies is an interdisciplinary, regional studies program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) – America’s Arctic University and Alaska’s flagship campus – that educates undergraduate and graduate students on a host of issues, opportunities, and challenges related to Alaska, the Circumpolar North, and the Arctic region. As an interdisciplinary program, it draws from several disciplines, including Alaska Native studies, anthropology, art, biology, communication, economics, English, geography, history, languages, political science, psychology, sociology, and rural development, to prepare students to enter into diverse fields with knowledge and skills pertinent to the region.
The University of Alaska has offered a B.A. in Northern Studies for over half a century. In the early 1990s, the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War opened opportunities for considering the Circumpolar North as a region with many similar characteristics and challenges. Indigenous peoples throughout the Circumpolar North could now communicate and collaborate on issues they faced. Scholars in the natural and social sciences and humanities in the East and West could now research collaboratively on such threats as environmental pollution, species endangerment, global warming, and the health and well-being of the North’s many Indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, in the early 1990s, Finland and Canada proposed that the eight states of the Circumpolar North collaborate on transboundary environmental contaminants. This initiative led to the formation in 1996 of the Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum that fosters cooperation and addresses common concerns in the region.
Within this dynamic political and environmental setting, faculty in the History and Political Science Departments and School of Education at UAF proposed an M.A. program in Northern Studies to prepare individuals for living and working in the North in a wide variety of fields. The program accepted its inaugural cohort of students in Fall 1992. Professor Judith Kleinfeld was the founding Director of the program; other core faculty included historians Terrence Cole and Claus-M. Naske and Political Scientists Jerry McBeath and Jim Gladden. The program has benefited from steady and effective leadership since its founding nearly three decades ago and from the inclusive and supportive culture that the program maintains. Following Professor Judith Kleinfeld’s retirement, Dr. Mary Ehrlander led the program for several years, and Dr. Brandon Boylan now serves as Director.
In 2016, owing to the increased attention to the Arctic as a bellwether for global warming and a reservoir for many of the world’s environmental contaminants, both of which negatively impacted wildlife and the lives and lifeways of the region’s Indigenous peoples, we changed the program name to Arctic & Northern Studies. The new name more clearly identified our regional focus, called attention to our faculty’s expertise in issues of critical significance to the Arctic, and would thereby more effectively attract students interested in studying and preparing for careers in the region.
The Arctic is perhaps the most understudied region in the world, yet its importance cannot be overstated. Climate change is occurring at least twice as quickly here as the global average, and these changes are impacting the 4 million people who live in the region. As one example, sea ice thaw is enabling transregional shipping, with implications for coastal communities. How individuals, communities, states, and institutions respond to these changes will have long-lasting implications for societies and governments across the region and world. As experts on the region, graduates can enter careers in government and politics from local to international; thinktanks and research centers; advocacy and policy institutes; non-governmental organizations; educational institutions, and the private sector.
At the undergraduate level, Arctic and Northern Studies offers a B.A. and a minor. At the graduate level, it offers an M.A. Additionally, students interested in pursuing a Ph.D. with a focus on the region can apply to UAF’s Interdisciplinary Studies Ph.D. (managed through the Graduate School) and be housed in Arctic and Northern Studies.
Yes. Students can pursue the B.A., M.A., or the Interdisciplinary Studies Ph.D. in-person or online or through a combination of in-person and online classes. Online classes include both synchronous (in which students meet via videoconference) and asynchronous (in which students do not meet) options. However, not all courses are offered in multiple modalities.
To see which courses are being offered now or in the near future, visit UAF’s Course Finder here. Course designators beginning with F0 or FE are in-person, FX are online synchronous, and UX are online asynchronous. Note that undergraduate courses are at the 100 to 400 level, and graduate courses are at the 600 level.
Students can start the B.A. in Arctic and Northern Studies in the fall, spring, or summer semester.
To see a list of courses in Arctic and Northern Studies, visit here. Note that undergraduate courses are at the 100 to 400 level, and graduate courses are at the 600 level. In addition to ACNS-designated courses, students take a wide range of courses from other departments and programs across UAF.
To see which courses are being offered now or in the near future, visit UAF’s Course Finder here. Course designators beginning with F0 or FE are in-person, FX are online synchronous (in which students meet via videoconference), and UX are online asynchronous (in which students do not meet via videoconference).
Alumni have gone on to work in a wide variety of careers, including in government and politics; advocacy and policy institutes; non-governmental organizations; and the private sector. Many have also gone on to earn graduate degrees.
To apply to the M.A. program, please review the application requirements here. Applicants will submit the application here. After the application is complete, it will be routed to the Director of Arctic and Northern Studies who will put it under review with an admissions committee. The Admissions Office will contact the applicant with the decision regarding the application.
While the review committee considers applications holistically, successful applicants typically have a strong and well-written writing sample on a theme relevant to the Arctic region; a statement that clearly outlines their research interests and prospective thesis or project; three letters of recommendation that speak to their academic strengths and ability to pursue graduate level education and conduct graduate level research; and a strong undergraduate GPA.
Students can start the M.A. program in the fall, spring, or summer semester.
In addition to the course requirements, students must take and pass two comprehensive exams. The student and the student’s supervisory committee decides the topic of each exam. While both topics relate to the student’s research for the thesis or project, the first comprehensive exam topic should be “broad” in scope, while the second topic should be “narrow” in scope. After the student and the supervisory committee identify the comprehensive exam topics, the student should develop a list of readings on the topic. Typically, this includes a blend of 25-30 academic articles, book chapters, and/or books. After the student drafts the reading list, he or she should send it to the committee for comments and feedback. Once the student and committee finalize the list, the student should study the readings on the list. When the student feels prepared to take the comprehensive exam, he or she should work with the committee and the administrative assistant of Arctic and Northern Studies to decide a day and time to sit for each exam. The committee is responsible for designing the exam question and passing it along to the administrative assistant. The exam’s format is a sit-down, three-hour session in which the student responds to the question on a computer. Although the student may have a list of references, no notes or other resources are allowed during the exam. The administrative assistant gives the student the exam at the beginning of the session, and the student must send his or her response to the administrative assistant at the end of the session. The supervisory committee will grade the exam on a pass/fail basis. Full-time M.A. students typically sit for the first exam at the beginning of their third semester of study and second exam a month or two later. Part-time M.A. students typically sit for their first and second exams during their second or third years of study. Once the student passes the second comprehensive exam, he or she advances from M.A. “student” to M.A. “candidate.” After the student passes both comprehensive exams, he or she and the committee must submit to the Graduate School two forms: Report on Comprehensive Exams and Advancement to Candidacy. Both forms are located here.
Finally, students must write a thesis or project (non-thesis) under the supervision of their committee. Although both the thesis and project are academic pieces of writing that require original research, the thesis is standard academic research that engages theory and contributes to a scholarly literature, while the project may address a practical issue for a specific policy audience or community or may be a more creative undertaking. Typically, students who choose to write a project work alongside an organization, institution, or government to meet a practical need for it and its audience/membership. Projects often include images and creative formatting and are made publicly available. Recent project-writing students have partnered with the local hockey community, Cold Climate Housing and Research Center, and the Copper Valley School Association.
Students periodically meet with their committees to discuss their thesis or project research. Their committee provides them with comments, suggestions, and other feedback to help them develop their thesis or project. When the committee believes they are ready to defend the thesis or project, they will do so in a public forum, presenting and fielding questions from the committee and audience. Students must register to graduate by February 15 and defend in March for a May graduation and register to graduate by October 15 and defend in November for a December graduation. Upon defending the thesis or project, students and their committee must complete the Project Defense Report or Thesis/Dissertation Report. Once the committee has approved the final version of the project or thesis, students and their committee must complete the Project Approval Form or Thesis/Dissertation Form. All forms are found here.
The supervisory committee consists of a chair and at least two non-chair members. The chair must be a full-time UAF faculty member who works closely with Arctic and Northern Studies. The second committee member could be a core or affiliate Arctic and Northern Studies faculty member or another faculty member outside Arctic and Northern Studies but at UAF. The third committee member could be a core or affiliate Arctic and Northern Studies faculty member, another faculty member outside Arctic and Northern Studies but at UAF, or someone outside UAF who has expertise necessary for the research.
For a list of Arctic and Northern Studies faculty, please visit here.
Full-time students should assemble their committees ideally no later than during their second semester, while part-time students should assemble their committees no later than towards the end of their coursework phase. Upon assembling the committee, the student and the committee should complete the Appoint/Change Committee Form, the Graduate Study Plan, and Report of Advisory Committee. Students must meet with their committees at least once a year and submit the Annual Report, which consists of a student-generated narrative and the committee’s assessment of the student’s progress. Because this report is due no later than May 15 each spring, most students hold their committee meetings in spring semester. These forms are located on the Graduate School website here.
The Arctic and Northern Studies program has a small number of teaching assistantships (TAs) available to full-time M.A. students on a semester-by-semester basis.
The teaching assistantship requires 15 hours of work per week during the academic semester. TAs assist a professor in teaching an undergraduate class (usually by grading assignments). It covers tuition each semester (up to 10 credits), basic health insurance, and a modest stipend.
To be eligible for a TA position, an applicant must have applied and been accepted to the program by March 1 for the fall semester or October 1 for the spring semester. The applicant must be pursuing the program on a full-time basis. Priority will be given to students pursuing the program face-to-face in Fairbanks.
To indicate interest in receiving a TAship, the applicant should notify the program director (Dr. Brandon Boylan, firstname.lastname@example.org) by March 1 for the fall semester or October 1 for the spring semester. TAs will be awarded based on both a first-come, first-serve basis and need/merit basis.
If awarded a TAship, the student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher and fulfill all work responsibilities. Typically, students awarded TAships will have them for a maximum of four semesters.
The program can also provide limited financial support to students through the Leonard and Marjorie Wright Scholarship on a merit/need basis to offset living expenses.
Moreover, in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives (APRCA) at the Elmer Rasmuson Library, students have easy access to one of the world’s most extensive archival collections on Alaska and the Circumpolar North, as well as thousands of published books, journals, historical newspapers, and other documents on the region. Collections on Alaska’s Russian and American eras through the mid twentieth century are especially rich, as are holdings on missionary history, polar exploration, and exploration in Alaska. Visit APRCA’s website here to see that many items in its holdings can be accessed electronically. APRCA contains the Alaska Film Archives with more than 10,000 films and videos dating back to 1910; the Alaska Native Language Archive, with linguistic field notes and audio recordings, as well as published and unpublished materials; historical manuscripts collections with letters, diaries, scrapbooks, maps, business records, and more; historical photograph collections; a rare books and maps collections with over five thousand rare books on polar and Alaskan exploration and Alaska’s settlement from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, and rare maps from the sixteenth century forward; and an oral history program that houses more than ten thousand recordings.
Finally, the University of Alaska Museum of the North holds over 2.5 million artifacts and specimens that represent millions of years of biological diversity and thousands of years of cultural traditions in the North. The collections are organized into ten disciplines (archaeology, birds, documentary film, earth sciences, ethnology and history, fine arts, fishes and marine invertebrates, insects, mammals, and plants) and serve as a valuable resource for research on climate change, genetics, contaminants, and other issues facing Alaska and the Circumpolar North. The museum is also the premier repository for artifacts and specimens collected on public lands in Alaska and is a leader in Northern natural and cultural history research. These collections form the foundation for the museum’s research, education programs, and exhibits. They are accessible to students on the UAF campus and remotely through the online collection management system, Arctos. All University of Alaska students receive free admission to the museum and are encouraged to consider using the collections as part of their academic work at UAF.
Interdisciplinary studies offers a holistic approach to education and research by drawing from and integrating two or more traditional academic disciplinary perspectives. Recognizing shortcomings inherent in any one academic discipline, interdisciplinary studies allows students to synthesize concepts, issues, theories, methodologies, and methods from multiple disciplines to craft a research project that responds to a complex, multi-dimensional problem or question. As a regional studies program, Arctic & Northern Studies is inherently interdisciplinary. The program exposes all students to a variety of disciplinary approaches to study of the region.
UAF offers degrees in interdisciplinary studies at the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. levels. UAF’s Graduate School manages the INDS Ph.D. Prospective INDS Ph.D. students must apply for admission to the Graduate School. The Interdisciplinary Studies Ph.D. Council reviews and makes recommendations on applications, which the Director of the Graduate School finalizes. Although students apply to the Graduate School for admissions, students must be housed in a department or program at UAF during their doctoral studies. Students interested in Ph.D. work on topics related to the Arctic and Circumpolar North should contact faculty within the Arctic and Northern Studies program to look for advice, support, and potential advisory committee members. Faculty will guide promising students in the application process, if they feel ACNS has the expertise to support the applicant. Such applicants who gain admission to the INDS Ph.D. program will be housed in ACNS. For more information about the INDS Ph.D. visit the Graduate School page here.
Students at the Fairbanks campus have easy access to one of the world’s most extensive archival collections on Alaska and the Circumpolar North, as well as large numbers of published books, journals and other documents on the region in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives (APRCA) at the Elmer Rasmuson Library. APRCA includes rare books and maps; unpublished archival documents, including photographs, letters, journals, proceedings, and other documents; an oral history collection; and a film archive.
Although some full-time M.A. students complete the degree within two years, many full-time M.A. students take up to three years. Part-time M.A. students often take three to five years to complete the degree. For many students, passing the two comprehensive exams and completing a thesis or project takes longer than expect.