Much information about life as a graduate student in the Ecology Program can be found in the Orientation Guide for New Students.
To learn more about student research interests, visit our list of active graduate students.
Information about our courses can be found by reviewing our list of approved Ecology Graduate Courses.
Information about graduate admissions can be found here.
Graduate Degree Requirements
Described below are the requirements for graduate degrees of the Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology. In addition, the Graduate School Handbook, Guide to Theses and Dissertations, and the instructions for electronic submission contain the Graduate School guidelines and requirements. If the requirements change after a student is admitted to a graduate program, the student may choose to follow the rules in effect at the start of the program or any subsequent set of rules in effect during the students tenure in the graduate program.
A. Graduate Degrees Offered
The Ecology Graduate Program offers the Ph.D. degree and two master's degrees: the Master of Science degree requiring independent research and a thesis, and the Master of Arts degree requiring a written library report. Master's students wishing to pursue a subsequent Ph.D. degree following completion of all requirements for the master's degree must petition the Program to submit to the Graduate School the Permission to Continue Beyond the Master' s Degree form. Upon award of the master's degree, the student' s eight-year doctoral time limit begins. However, students admitted directly to a Ph.D. program may elect to complete a master' s degree during their graduate program, in which case permission to continue is not necessary.
(The requirements for the Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees were reversed effective January 2003. A formal letter of explanation is available.)
B. Course Requirements
Every graduate student must gain an understanding of the breadth and depth of the field of Ecology as it is treated among various traditional disciplines. This is accomplished in two ways: through the required Ecology 567 and 569 courses, and through the course of study prescribed by the student' s Graduate Advisory Committee.
For a master' s degree a minimum of 30 hours of graduate credit is required, of which no fewer than 24 hours must be earned in regular courses (including Ecology 567 and 569) and at least three hours of which must take the form of research and completion of the thesis (MS, Ecology 993) or library report (MA, Ecology 992).
Each Ph.D. student, in addition to taking Ecology 567 and 569, must register for Ecology 994 at least once for 3 hours credit. There are no other course requirements for the Ph.D. except for those designated by the student' s graduate advisory committee in the Plan of Study.
Owing to the diversity of research methods and approaches within the field of Ecology, the Program has no explicit research skill course requirements for graduate degrees; the student' s graduate advisory committee is responsible for seeing that the student has gained the proficiencies expected of a degree candidate in the student' s selected area of expertise. Where courses are prescribed, this should be documented in the Plan of Study.
C. Graduate Advisory Committee Meetings
Graduate Advisory Committee. A partial or Preliminary Advisory Committee of at least two for a master' s program and three for a Ph.D. program must be appointed by the end of the first semester. A complete Graduate Advisory Committee must be assembled by the completion of the third semester.
The Graduate Advisory Committee will consist of 3-5 members for a master' s program and 5-7 for a Ph.D. program. Normally the chair of the committee and all except one of the remaining members must be members of the Curriculum faculty, though a Ph.D. student may petition the Curriculum Chair to reduce the number of required Curriculum faculty to three. The academic appointments of the Curriculum faculty must span at least two departments within the University. The composition of the advisory committee must be submitted to and approved by the Curriculum Chair prior to being submitted to the Graduate School for approval. The full Graduate Advisory Committee will be responsible for administering required examinations and evaluation of the thesis or library report.
Graduate students are required to hold at least one Graduate Advisory Committee meeting each academic year.
Diagnostic evaluation. By the start of the second semester a student must meet with the Preliminary Advisory Committee for a diagnostic evaluation. This evaluation will be used to assess the student' s initial background and skill level and determine appropriate additional course work and training.After the formal evaluation the candidate will prepare a short report indicating approximately what he or she thinks will be the plan of study prior to the comprehensive examination. This might best be thought of as the first draft of the formal Plan of Study to be filed by the end of the second semester. The intent is to make sure the candidate does not lose time by missing out on taking courses or acquiring skills that clearly will need to be included in the formal Plan of Study. The report can include formal course work or other educational activities such as learning skills on your own. The major professor will look over the proposed report, consult with the candidate about any changes needed, and forward the report (in digital form) to the Curriculum office to be placed in the candidate's file.
Plan of Study. During the second semester the preliminary advisory committee will work with the student to draft a written Plan of Study, recognizing the student's background and goals and committing the committee to implement the interdisciplinary spirit of the Curriculum. A copy must be forwarded (in digital form) to the Curriculum Chair for approval prior to completion of the second semester. The Plan of Study is intended to (1) help the candidate select in a timely fashion courses and educational experiences needed prior to the comprehensive examiniation and the feasibility meeting, (2) insure that the program of study retains the intended interdisciplinary character of the Curriculum, and (3) protect the candidate from shifting expectations that might inhibit normal progress.
D. Annual Reports
Each student must submit an annual report (in digital format) to the Curriculum and the members of the student' s Graduate Advisory Committee. The report should be 1-3 pages in length and summarize progress over the previous year and plans for the coming year. Ordinarily these reports should be submitted during the final three months of the spring semester (March, April or May). A Graduate Advisory Committee meeting is the preferred means for presenting and evaluating the report. For first-year students, the "Plan of Study" will suffice for this purpose.
Subsequent to submission of the report and prior to the start of the first summer session, the Chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee should submit an evaluation to the Curriculum and share this with the student.
E. Written Examinations
Each graduate student is encouraged to take the required written exam by the end of the fourth semester of study, and required to take the examination by the end of the fifth semester.
For master' s students each member of the Graduate Advisory Committee will submit to the committee Chair a set of one or more questions designed to be answered within a two-hour period. The Chair will coordinate the examination, suggest modifications to the question authors as needed to reduce confusion and redundancy, and will convey the examination as independent question sets to the student. Each question should be answered in its entirety within a two-hour period selected by the student. The full examination must be undertaken and completed within a two-day period. Each question will be graded by at least two members of the committee. Passing of the exam is contingent upon approval of two-thirds of the entire committee.
Ph.D. students may select either the examination format employed for master' s students (see above), or the alternative major-review-paper format.
The review paper should be a focused and critical evaluation of the literature on a topic formulated by the student in consultation with the student's advisor and advisory committee. The quality and depth of the paper should be that of a manuscript that could ultimately be revised to form the first chapter of the dissertation. The review paper is envisioned as the culmination of a year-long exploration of the literature with the major advisor, other faculty, and peers in a field of developing interest to the student. Ideally, the paper should help the student to gain a detailed understanding of the history, current status, and future direction of the field, and to define major questions remaining to be addressed in the field. The student should provide a detailed outline of the paper to the advisory committee for review within the first few weeks of the semester in which the written exam will be taken. In researching the literature and preparing this outline, the student may consult with others about the focus, scope, and organization of the review. Upon approval of the detailed outline by the advisory committee, the student should embark on writing the paper over the course of no more than two months, working independently of input from faculty and peers. Committee evaluation of the paper should be completed within one month of submission. Grading will be in the form of a journal manuscript review. The six possible grade options and their consequences are: (1) accept as written (unqualified pass), (2) accept with minor revision (Pass; improvements to the paper are the responsibility of the student and advisor), (3) accept with major revision (Pass; improvements to the paper as the responsibility of the student and advisor), (4) re-evaluate after major revision (Conditional pass ; substantial improvements in response to committee comments must be reviewed by the major advisor and one other committee member before passing), (5) reject with resubmission allowed (Fail; the student must change the scope, focus, or depth of the paper according to committee comments, (6) reject (Fail). Passing the examination requires approval of 2/3 of the doctoral committee.
F. Oral Comprehensive Examinations (Ph.D. only)
Ph.D. students are required to take a comprehensive oral examination. This examination may be taken either before or after the Ph.D. written examination, but must be taken by the end of the sixth semester in residence. The oral exam is the primary examination of general knowledge and should be separated in time from the evaluation of the dissertation proposal. To encourage breadth while simultaneously providing some circumscription, the student is required, in consultation with the advisor, to identify three areas of proficiency that will serve as a focus for preparation and questioning. The Chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee will assign at least one committee member responsibility for evaluating the student' s background in each of the focal areas. The intent requiring identification of focal areas is not to limit the scope of the exam or the role of the advisory committee, but rather to help the student to prepare and the committee to probe limits of knowledge in areas that have been the focus of preparation. Recommended areas of proficiency include: Biogeochemical cycling and ecosystems fluxes; Ecogeography and landscape processes; Causes, consequences and mitigation of global change; Conservation and management of natural resource; Disease ecology and human health; Environmental policy, land use and planning; Evolution and diversity; Human ecology; Demography and population/community ecology. A student may petition the Curriculum Chair for inclusion of an alternative area of proficiency.
G. Approval of Thesis and Dissertation Proposals
Each graduate student is required to prepare a thesis proposal (or for MA students, a proposal for a library report) for approval by the Graduate Advisory Committee. In general, proposals are expected to be no more than15 pages in length, single-spaced). As creation of an acceptable proposal is often an iterative process, students are strongly advised to present a preliminary proposal to the Graduate Advisory Committee at least a year before the deadline for approval of the final proposal. The approved proposal (in digital form) and the approval form signed by all members of the advisory committee must be submitted to the Curriculum office by the end of the fourth semester for master' s students and the end of the sixth semester for Ph.D. candidates. In addition to the proposal, the student must submit in digital form a one-page, non-technical abstract written in a style consistent with NSF guidelines for proposal abstracts, which is to say that it should be reasonably understandable to an educated person outside the field. The non-technical abstracts will be posted on the Curriculum website.
H. Defensive of Thesis and Dissertation
A student who has prepared an M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation will present a final defense which is an oral exam comprised of a public seminar on the results of the research, followed by a discussion of the work with the student's Graduate Advisory Committee. A student who has prepared a library report for an M.A. degree will take a final oral examination which is a combined examination of the student's comprehension of their area of specialization and a defense of the report. In either case, passing of the final exam is by an absolute majority vote of all members of the Graduate Advisory Committee.
I. Other Requirements
Residence credit of two semesters is required for a master' s degree and four semesters is required for a Ph.D. degree.
The degree time limit for master's students is 5 years from the date of registration, and for a Ph.D. student 8 years.