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III. Degree Requirements and Time Lines

A. Degree Requirements

1. Academic Program
2. Teaching
3. Education Requirements
4. Application Procedures
5. Deadline for Applications
6. Course requirements for a dual-major Ph.D. in EEBB and the student’s affiliated home department
7. Course requirements for a Master’s degree (Plan A or B) in the student’s affiliated home department with a specialization in EEBB
8. Course Waivers and Substitutions
9. Typical Time Line for the Ph.D. Program
10. Typical Time Line for the Master’s Certification

 

The graduate program for a student in the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior Program varies with the home department in which he or she is enrolled. Because EEBB is a dual-major (Ph.D.) and certification (Masters) program, graduate students must also be accepted by and enrolled in one of the participating departments. Specific curriculum details can be obtained from the graduate office of each of those departments.

Section A below lists the formal degree requirements for the EEBB Program, including course options and a typical schedule for taking those courses. Section B provides a typical time line and milestones for students to achieve in completing a Ph.D. or Master’s degree, and it discusses some of the factors that may cause delays relative to that typical time line.

1. Academic Program

Doctoral and Masters degree programs are planned on an individual basis by the student, major professor (thesis adviser), and guidance committee. The guidance committee has four to five faculty members for the Ph.D. program, and two to three faculty members for the Master’s program. The guidance committee must have two faculty members from the EEBB Program for Ph.D. candidates, one of whom must serve as the student's major professor, and one faculty member from EEBB for Master’s candidates. The committee assists the student in designing an appropriate program of course work and research leading to the preparation of a thesis that presents the results of original research. Formal training is supplemented by a broad spectrum of seminars and colloquia sponsored by the EEBB program and affiliated departments.

Because entering graduate students have heterogeneous academic back grounds, students are required to complete a series of graduate-level courses in their first two years in order to acquire a common base of knowledge. The EEBB program consists of a core of three required courses including ecology, evolution, and quantitative methods in biology. Additional coursework in an area of specialization should be undertaken in consultation with the student’s major professor and guidance committee, and as needed to fulfill the student’s home departmental requirements. The goal is to tailor each program to fit the needs and objectives of the student.

2. Teaching

The amount of teaching that is required of EEBB students depends on the source of their assistantships and their affiliated home department. However, all students will receive some experience in teaching because of its importance to the career development of all scientists.

Teaching assistantships, if any, are administered through the student’s home department.

3. Education Requirements

Applicants should have a minimum grade-point average of 3.0, grades of 3.0 or better in biological science courses, and should have taken the Graduate Record Examination. For admission to the program, students are expected to have had preparation in calculus, introductory genetics, chemistry, and basic biology. Deficiencies in one or more of these areas may be rectified by taking appropriate undergraduate or graduate courses for collateral credit concurrently with graduate courses in the EEBB program curriculum.

4. Application Procedures

Students must be admitted to both the EEBB Program and one of the affiliated departments listed in Section 1.C. Applicants should first contact the affiliated department of their choice for specific details of admission. This first contact with the participating department is crucial to avoid delays in the application process. Generally the following items will need to be submitted:

• University on-line Application available at www.grad.msu.edu/apply.htm
• Application Fee
• 2 Official Copies of Transcripts
• Departmental Application
• Letters of Recommendation (usually 3)
• Statement of Purpose or Professional Goals
• GRE Scores
• TOEFL Scores and Statement of Financial Proof (International Students only)

Additionally, these items should be submitted to the EEBB Program:

• EEBB Application
• Statement of Professional Goals (may be identical to the departmental statement)

5. Deadline for Applications

The EEBB Program does not have an application deadline. However, the affiliated department will have a deadline. Generally, applicants for fall semester should have all their application materials submitted by mid-December to be in the best position to compete for departmental assistantships and various University, College, and Department awards. Refer to the application instructions from the affiliated department for their deadlines.

Graduate students may also be admitted to the EEBB Program after they have enrolled in one of the participating departments, provided they (i) meet all of the requirements for admission to the EEBB Program, and (ii) are making satisfactory progress toward their intended degree. An enrolled student interested in admission to the EEBB program should submit an EEBB application for current MSU students, and should include a supporting letter from his or her major professor.

6. Course requirements for a dual-major Ph.D. in EEBB and the student’s affiliated home department

The EEBB Program requirements for the Ph.D. include 800-level courses in three areas: ecology, evolution, and quantitative methods in biology. Several approved courses are listed below that can fulfill these requirements. In addition to these three biologically oriented courses, Ph.D. students are also required to complete two courses in statistics, STT464 and either STT465 or STT814, or other courses that are equivalent in coverage. Substitution of any course not listed below requires formal approval as described in section III.A.8.

The majority of EEBB doctoral students take Population and Community Ecology (ZOL896) to fulfill the ecology course requirement, Evolutionary Biology (ZOL849 or PLB849) to fulfill the evolution course requirement, and Quantitative Methods in Ecology and Evolution (ZOL851) to fulfill the quantitative methods course requirement.

Most EEBB students take the ecology and evolution courses in their first year of graduate study, along with the statistics courses STT464 and either STT465 or STT814. Most students will take the quantitative methods course in their second year. The extent to which EEBB course requirements also fulfill some of the requirements in a student’s home department varies considerably among participating departments. Fulfilling additional course requirements in a home department may cause some delay in completing the course requirements for EEBB.

All EEBB students are expected to regularly attend the EEBB seminars each semester. Ph.D. candidates must also have at least two EEBB faculty members on their guidance committee. One EEBB faculty member must serve as the student's Ph.D. advisor.

The courses that fulfill the ecology, evolution, and quantitative methods requirements are listed below:

Graduate Ecology Course (800 Level - l course)

PLB826 Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach (OTS)
ENT844 Insect Ecology and Evolution
FW824 Analysis of Wildlife Population
FW840 Landscape Ecology
FW877 Fish Population Dynamics
FOR804 Forest Ecology
ZOL822 Topics in Ethology and Behavioral Ecology
ZOL896 Population and Community Ecology
ZOL897 Ecosystem Ecology & Global Change

Graduate Evolution Course (800 Level - l course)

ZOL/PLB849 Evolutionary Biology
* FW828 Conservation Genetics
* FOR842 Population Genetics
* ZOL855 Molecular Evolution

*These are advanced courses and require broad evolutionary biology background.

Most EEBB students will prefer to take the more general broadly based Evolutionary Biology course (cross-listed as PLB849 and ZOL849). Those students who already have a strong background in evolutionary biology may elect to take one of the more advanced courses listed above (*), but must receive approval of the instructor. Of course, more than one evolution course may be taken upon suggestion by a student’s guidance committee.

Quantitative Methods Course (800 Level - l course)

EEBB doctoral candidates are required to complete one course from the following list:

ANS870/943 Techniques of Analyzing Unbalanced Research Data
CSS921 Contemporary Statistical Models in Biology
FW850 Applied Multivariate Statistical Methods
FW857 Theoretical Ecology
ZOL851 Statistical Methods for Ecology and Evolution

In preparation for the selected class from the list above, many EEBB students  (particularly those who do not enter MSU with a strong background in statistical analysis of data) elect first to take STT 464 (Statistics for Biologists) and STT 814 (Advanced Statistics for Biologists), or courses that are equivalent to these in topical coverage.

7. Course requirements for a Master’s degree (Plan A or B) in the student’s affiliated home department with a specialization in EEBB

The EEBB Program requires courses in ecology, evolution, and quantitative methods for a specialization in association with a Master’s degree through the student’s participating home department. Several approved 800-level courses are listed below that can fulfill the ecology and evolution requirements. All EEBB Master’s students are also required to complete two courses in statistics, STT464 and either STT465 or STT814. An 800-level quantitative methods course is optional for the Masters Program. Substitution of any course that is not listed below requires formal approval as described in section III.A.8.

All EEBB students are expected to regularly attend the EEBB seminars each semester. Also, EEBB Master’s candidates must have at least one EEBB faculty member on their guidance committee.

The courses that fulfill the ecology, evolution, and quantitative methods requirements are listed below:

Graduate Ecology Course (800 Level - l course)

PLB826 Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach (OTS)
ENT844 Insect Ecology and Evolution
FW824 Analysis of Wildlife Population
FW840 Landscape Ecology
FW877 Fish Population Dynamics
FOR804 Forest Ecology
ZOL822 Topics in Ethology and Behavioral Ecology
ZOL896 Population and Community Ecology
ZOL897 Ecosystem Ecology & Global Change

Graduate Evolution Course (800 Level - l course)

ZOL/PLB849 Evolutionary Biology
* FW828 Conservation Genetics
* FOR842 Population Genetics
* ZOL855 Molecular Evolution

*These are advanced courses and require broad evolutionary biology background.

Most EEBB students will prefer to take the more general broadly based Evolutionary Biology course (cross-listed as PLB849 and ZOL849). Those students who already have a strong background in evolutionary biology may elect to take one of the more advanced courses listed above (*), but must receive approval of the instructor. Of course, more than one evolution course may be taken upon suggestion by a student’s guidance committee.

Quantitative Methods Course

An 800-level quantitative methods course from the list below is optional for the Masters Program. However, EEBB Master’s degree candidates are required to complete STT 464 and STT 814, or courses that are equivalent in coverage (requiring formal approval as described in section III.A.8 below).

ANS870/943 Techniques of Analyzing Unbalanced Research Data
CSS921 Contemporary Statistical Models in Biology
FW850 Applied Multivariate Statistical Methods
FW857 Theoretical Ecology
ZOL851 Statistical Methods for Ecology and Evolution

8. Course Waivers and Substitutions

EEBB core course waivers and substitutions of any courses not listed in sections III.A.6 (Ph.D.) or III.A.7 (Master’s degree) above must be approved by the EEBB Graduate Committee. To apply for a course waiver or substitution, a written request should be sent to the EEBB Graduate Committee, by way of the EEBB Office (103 Giltner Hall), explaining why you need the substitution and especially why you think the substitution is appropriate. A course description, course syllabus and reading list should also accompany the request.

9. Typical Time Line for the Ph.D. Program

This section is meant to give a rough outline of the progression of a typical EEBB student towards completion of his or her Ph.D., and some of the important challenges faced along the way.

The typical student will devote most of his or her first year toward required and elective coursework, in order to begin mastering the relevant subject areas. An important aspect of graduate coursework – and one that is unfamiliar to many students – is delving into the primary scientific literature, learning how to summarize this information both in speaking and in writing, and engaging in open discussion and good-natured debate about the strengths and limitations of that literature. Many graduate students also serve as teaching assistants in their first year (and often in subsequent years as well). This experience presents the additional challenge of developing effective teaching skills. (Those students serving as teaching assistants should also become familiar with the Graduate Employees Union. The GEU contract is available at http://grad.msu.edu/geu/agree.pdf.) Most students will identify their major professor in their first year, and they should begin to meet regularly with that individual to discuss possible ideas for research, suggestions for scientific literature to read, the composition of their guidance committee, required and recommended courses, and so on.

In the second year, most students will continue with their course work, and they will usually also assemble their guidance committee. Most students should also begin hands-on research in their first or second year of graduate school, even if that research does not become their dissertation project. As the second year progresses, students will typically begin preparing for comprehensive and/or qualifying exams, although the timing and the format vary among participating departments. In some departments, one component of these exams is developing a written proposal for the student’s dissertation research. Most departmental exams also include an oral phase, in which the student is challenged to display his or her general knowledge of the field, defend his or her proposed research, or both by the guidance committee. While these exams sometimes generate anxiety, they also serve to sharpen a student’s understanding of the nature of scientific discussion and debate, while also helping to identify deficiencies that can be remedied by additional coursework or revising the proposed research plan.

In any case, students should develop a concrete plan or proposal for their research by the start of their third year of graduate school, or earlier if possible, in consultation with the major professor, guidance committee, and home department. However, every Ph.D. student should realize that there are no guarantees that a scientific project, however interesting or clever, will succeed. Hence, students should remain flexible by considering changes to their original research plan or even the development of a new project to replace their original one. All of this planning should, of course, involve deliberation and consultation with the major professor and guidance committee. Other faculty and one’s graduate peers in the EEBB Program will also often be excellent sounding boards to discuss research challenges and opportunities.

The typical EEBB doctoral student is thoroughly immersed in his or her research in the third, fourth, and fifth years. Many students will also avail themselves of occasional courses, seminars, and reading groups to further master the knowledge base in their areas of interest and even to look ahead toward areas they might want to pursue later in their scientific careers. Consultation, discussion, and even good-spirited debate with one’s major professor, guidance committee, and peers should occur while the research is in progress. EEBB students in these years should also avail themselves of opportunities to attend scientific meetings and, once they are ready, present the results of their own on-going research via posters and talks.

In the fifth year or so, most EEBB students will face the triple challenge of wrapping up their research project, writing their dissertation, and seeking a postdoctoral position or other employment. The difficulty of writing a dissertation can be greatly reduced if the student makes a concerted effort to write portions along the way, including background reviews of the relevant literature, methods and materials used in the research, and the results of component parts of the dissertation research as they are completed. Moreover, by writing and submitting for publication those parts of the research as they are completed, a student is positioning himself or herself much better in terms of obtaining a postdoctoral position and other subsequent employment. In essence, a student becomes a Ph.D. by mastering a body of knowledge, performing original research that extends that body of knowledge, and disseminating that new knowledge via a dissertation and related publications.

Throughout an EEBB student’s career, it is expected that he or she will take advantage of the weekly seminars by experts from across MSU and around the nation and world.

A number of factors can prolong the time required for a Ph.D. For example, the course requirements for the EEBB Program and some participating departments have little overlap, which means that some students may require an extra semester or even year to complete their coursework. Some students may struggle more than others at various stages including completing required course work, passing qualifying exams, developing a research proposal, successfully performing the doctoral research, and preparing a written dissertation on this research that satisfies the student, major professor, and guidance committee. Also, some students may serve more terms as teaching assistants to satisfy departmental requirements or obtain financial support, which may slow their progress relative to students who have obtained fellowships that allow them to devote all their time to studies and research. And, of course, different students have different levels of outside responsibilities such as family obligations. Hence, it is impossible to provide a precise time line for obtaining the Ph.D. degree. Any prospective or current student should keep in mind the considerable intellectual challenges imposed by the requirements for mastering a subject area, performing original research, and writing up the results of that research.

Formal time limits are imposed by the student’s home department and by MSU on completing examinations and the dissertation. See Section VII.C below for general MSU time limits.

10. Typical Time Line for the Master’s Certification

The typical time required for an EEBB Master’s degree candidate is two years or so, with the time line depending on the requirements of the student’s home department as well as the type of program that is pursued. The EEBB-required coursework can be reasonably completed in a single year, although more time may be required if the home department requires many additional courses. Prospective EEBB Master’s students should consult their prospective department. Formal time limits are imposed by the home department and MSU (see section VII.C) for completing examinations and other requirements for the Master’s degree.