Graduate Degree Requirements


M.A. Degree

M.A. Degree

Two options leading to the M.A. degree are offered.  Option I (Thesis) is research-oriented and requires a thesis.  Option II (Non-thesis) emphasizes broader graduate training without a concentration on research.

Master’s committees must comprise at least 3 members. All members must be appointed to KU’s Graduate Faculty and authorized to serve on the committee. The majority of committee members (2) must be tenured or tenure-track EEB faculty. As long as the majority requirement is met additional committee members may be from EEB, another department or another institution. Unlike doctoral committees Master’s committees do not require a Graduate Studies representative, a function performed by a faculty member from a department other than EEB.  Students are strongly encouraged to use the breadth of diversity in the department in forming a committee. More information can be found on the Master's Student Oral Exam Committee Composition page.

Most course work requirements are identified during the student’s PAM meeting.  Students are expected to take graduate-level courses (or have equivalent knowledge) in ecology, evolution, and systematics. A student’s advisory committee may add course requirements during annual meetings as necessary. Listed below are specific course requirements for all master’s students in the EEB department:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 805, Scientific Integrity in EEB, in the fall semester during the first year of graduate study – they are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841, Biometry I, in the fall semester during the first year of graduate study. Alternatively, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge or experience.
  3. Students must complete BIOL 801, Core Topics in Current EEB Research, in the spring semester during the first year of graduate study.
  4. Students pursuing Option I (Thesis) must complete a minimum of one credit hour of BIOL 899 (Master’s Thesis). 

Master’s students must meet a credit-hour-completion requirement. Those in the Thesis program must complete a minimum of 30 graduate-level credit hours, with no more than 10 of the 30 from enrollment in thesis or advanced study hours. Those in the Non-thesis program must complete a minimum of 36 graduate-level credit hours, with no more than 12 of the 36 from enrollment in thesis, research or advanced study hours.

(Contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for guidelines and best practices during the COVID-19 pandemic)

During the final semester of enrollment, students pursuing the Option I (Thesis) master’s degree are required to give a public presentation of their thesis research and complete a thesis defense. The thesis presentation should follow the standard departmental seminar format. The master’s thesis defense consists of a substantive test of the student’s knowledge of the field and the thesis topic, with ~50% of the time devoted to general exam questions that cover the full breadth of the candidate’s field of study (i.e., general knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology). At the discretion of the student and adviser, the defense may be held on the same day as the thesis presentation, or the events may be held on separate days. The defense examining committee must comprise of at least 3 members and the majority of committee members (2), which includes the committee chair, must be physically present during the examination and defense. Students must follow the Master's Exam Committee Composition policy. In some cases, it may be possible for committee members to attend the examination via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing according to the exam attendance policy. To pass the thesis defense, a student must receive a majority of passing votes from the examining committee. Under no circumstance is the student allowed to take the exam more than 2 times.

Students must contact the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator two to three weeks prior to the anticipated presentation and defense to request departmental and College permission to schedule the events.

Students planning to defend a master’s thesis must submit copies of the thesis to the entire examining committee and to the GPC no less than two weeks (or longer if requested by the student’s committee) in advance of the planned defense. The thesis should meet general formatting regulations. For more information about thesis and dissertation formatting and the schedule of ETD workshops and enter “Thesis Dissertation” in the Keyword(s) box.

During the final semester of enrollment in course work when the Non-thesis program activities are nearing completion, students pursuing the Option II (Non-thesis) master’s degree must successfully complete a general oral exam. The exam is similar in structure to a doctoral oral comprehensive exam; however, the exam is shorter, and depth and breadth of knowledge required of the student is less comprehensive than expected of a doctoral aspirant. The examining committee must comprise of at least 3 members and the majority of the committee members (2) must be physically present during the examination. Students must follow the Master's Student Oral Exam Committee Composition policy. In some cases, it may be possible for committee members to attend the examination via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing according to the exam attendance policy. To pass the master’s final examination, a student must receive a majority of passing votes from the examining committee. Under no circumstance is the student allowed to take the exam more than 2 times.

Students must contact the EEB Graduate Academic Advisor two to three weeks prior to the anticipated examination to request departmental and College permission to schedule the event.

Students in M.A. Option I (Thesis) must produce a thesis showing the results of original research. The committee-approved thesis must be submitted electronically to the UMI/ProQuest submission site as well as comply with KU’s Thesis and Dissertation formatting rules. Students are encouraged to attend one of the free EDT Workshops offered by KU Libraries advertised on the latter website. As part of the degree completion the student is required to email cogadocs@ku.edu with scans of the title and acceptance pages signed by the examining committee members. The student should include the Graduate Program Coordinator in the email. Additionally, the student must provide an electronic PDF of the thesis to the EEB Program Coordinator for storage in departmental files.

Students in M.A. Option II (Non-thesis) must conduct research with one or more faculty members involving work on a research problem that requires use of literature and laboratory and/or field techniques.  Non-thesis students are required to submit a comprehensive written report to their research advisory committee.  Examples of research problems that could be the basis of the written report include a literature review of a critical issue in a scientific discipline, original research, or other creative activity approved by the advisory committee.  A copy of the committee-approved report must be submitted to the Graduate Program Coordinator as a PDF document. Additionally, the student is required to submit a paper copy of the title page containing signatures of the advisory committee members.

Finishing students in the EEB graduate program must schedule an in-person exit interview with the Chair of the EEB department to discuss their experience in the EEB graduate program. The Chair will summarize the interview, and, with the student’s consent, provide a copy to the Graduate Program Committee. The information gained from this interview will be used to address deficiencies or to further improve existing strengths in the program.

Policy for M.A. to Ph.D. transitions within EEB

The following guidelines apply to students who are admitted to the EEB graduate program as to pursue an M.A. degree and who subsequently decide, after they begin their degree, that they would like to pursue a Ph.D. in EEB.

Policy for M.A. to Ph.D. transitions within EEB

When a student finishes one degree and begins another, the two degrees are treated as independent. The student must formally apply to the Ph.D. program through Graduate Studies as with any new degree-seeking student. The student may request the application fee be waived by asking the EEB Director of Graduate Studies.

If the student is subsequently admitted into the Ph.D. program, all EEB funding guarantees and benchmark timelines automatically reset to department standards for a new Ph.D. student. The student is eligible to be nominated for KU first-year fellowships, such as Self and Chancellor’s fellowships. Regardless whether the student received their M.A. degree from KU or another school, research (e.g. publications) that were used in support of the M.A. cannot be again counted in support of the Ph.D. degree.

When an existing EEB M.A. student switches to the Ph.D. program without finishing the M.A., the process is handled internally to EEB. The student does not apply through Graduate Studies, but submits application materials directly to the EEB Admissions Committee. The submission deadlines and timeline are identical to those for new applicants to the graduate program. Since applications are handled internally, there is no application fee.

If the student is deemed admissible to the Ph.D. program by the Admissions Committee, the mentor must then submit a revised funding plan for approval by the Chair. EEB funding guarantees and benchmark timelines do not reset. The existing 4-semester funding guarantee for the M.A. is extended to 10 semesters for the Ph.D., with time already spent in the M.A. program counted as part of the 10-semester guarantee. The benchmark timelines do not reset but are each delayed by one semester as follows: the qualifying exam and dissertation proposal defense shall be taken by the end of the 5th and 6th semester respectively (pushed back from the 4th and 5th semester). Exceptions due to extenuating circumstances may be considered by the GPC on a case-by-case basis. Since these students are not considered “first year” students, they are not eligible to be nominated for KU first-year fellowships such as Self and Chancellor’s fellowships. Research conducted during the student’s time in the (unfinished) M.A. program prior to switching may be used in support of the Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. Degree

Ph.D. Degree

Coursework requirements for EEB graduate students are identified during the PAM meeting, which comprises the student, the student’s advisor and two additional faculty members.  Students are expected to take graduate-level courses in ecology, evolution, and systematics. A student’s research advisory committee (RAC) may decide to add course requirements to a student’s degree program during annual meetings as deemed necessary. In addition to courses identified during PAM or RAC meetings, all doctoral students are expected to take the following courses or show proof of equivalent knowledge:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 805, Scientific Integrity in EEB, in the fall semester during the first year of graduate study – they are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841, Biometry I, in the fall semester during the first year of graduate study.   In its stead, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge or experience.
  3. Students must complete BIOL 801, Core Topics in Current EEB Research, in the spring semester during the first year of graduate study.
  4. Students pursuing the doctorate must complete at least one credit hour of BIOL 999, Doctoral Dissertation

Doctoral committees must comprise at least 5 members all of whom must be appointed to the Graduate Faculty and authorized to perform their respective functions (chair, graduate studies representative or regular member) on doctoral exams.

The majority (3) must be tenured or tenure-track EEB or EEB affiliate. One member must serve as the KU Graduate Studies Representative and may be a faculty member from a different department or a faculty with a courtesy appointment in the candidate’s home department. Courtesy faculty who fulfill the EEB majority requirement may not simultaneously serve as the Graduate Studies representative. As long as the majority and the Graduate Studies Representative requirement is met, additional members may hail from EEB, another KU department or another institution. Students must follow the Doctoral Student Oral Exam Committee Composition policy.

Doctoral students must complete at least two semesters of half-time (20 hours per week) supervised teaching, curatorial, or research assistantships. Alternative experiences may be approved by the student’s advisory committee. 

Prior to taking the oral comprehensive exam EEB graduate students must complete two semesters (fall, spring or summer) of fulltime study at KU. The student may spend this time on academic or professional pursuits, including working as a teaching or research assistant.

See the policy library for more information concerning Engagement and Enrollment in Doctoral Programs.

Ph.D. students are required by the Office of Graduate Studies to respond to the need for training in Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship. As such, requirements in EEB include training in responsible scholarship (BIOL 805, Scientific Integrity in EEB) and training in basic quantitative research skills deemed necessary for all Ph.D.s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (BIOL 841, Biometry I, or equivalent previous knowledge). In addition, students must develop, in consultation with their preliminary advisory committees (PAM), a list of additional research skills that will be necessary for successful completion of the doctoral program; these skills may include fluency in English (if not a student’s native language); fluency (reading or speaking) in other foreign languages; and skills such as scientific illustration, molecular systematics and evolution, genomic analysis, geographic information systems, advanced mathematics and statistics, computer programming, biochemical analyses, advanced microscopy, and others. Students are strongly encouraged to develop foreign language skills pertinent to their research, given the need for effective communication in an increasingly global academic community.

These research skills will be determined initially during the student’s Preliminary Advisory Meeting (PAM) and by the Research Advisory Committees (RAC), with the potential for modification as specific dissertation plans evolve. Successful fulfillment will be determined by the student’s Research Advisory Committee, documented in a letter to the Graduate Program Coordinator of the department, and approved by the Graduate Program Committee.

The comprehensive oral examination tests the depth and breadth of the student’s knowledge and explores the student’s ability to synthesize information and think critically. The examination should include, but is not limited to, questions relating to ecology and evolutionary biology, as well as information directly relevant to the proposed field of dissertation research. Questions are determined by RAC members, but the following is a suggested outline for oral comprehensive exams, in roughly equal proportions:

  1. General ecology and evolutionary biology
  2. Research area (e.g., ecology, systematics, or evolutionary genetics)
  3. Specific research foci (e.g., genetics/genomics, systematics, niche modeling, carbon cycle, etc.)

Examinations are conducted in English. Students are encouraged to take the examination within four semesters of entering the program and are expected to complete the examination within five semesters. To be eligible to take the examination, both the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement and the Engagement and Enrollment in Doctoral Programs must be fulfilled and documented. Students must acquire approval to take the comprehensive oral examination from (1) dissertation adviser(s), (2) remaining Research Advisory Committee members, and (3) Graduate Program Committee. Students must contact the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator no later than 2 weeks prior to theanticipated examination date to request departmental and College permission to schedule theevent.

The examining committee must be composed of at least 5 members of KU’s Graduate Faculty. The major adviser may participate and vote in the comprehensive oral examination. Students must follow the Doctoral Student Oral Exam Committee Composition policy. In some cases, it may be possible for committee members to attend the examination via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing according to the exam attendance policy.

A majority vote of the committee is required to pass the examination. If the adviser or committee members wish, secret ballots may be used. If the student fails the comprehensive oral examination, another examination may be scheduled at a time deemed appropriate by the department, but under no circumstances is the student allowed to take the examination more than twice.

The university considers a successful pass of the comprehensive oral examination valid for five years. Doctoral candidates who do not complete the dissertation within five years after successfully passing the oral examination may be required to take the examination again to demonstrate current knowledge in the field. Students should be aware that successful completion of the comprehensive oral exam alters enrollment requirements according to the Post-Comprehensive Enrollment policy.

All doctoral students must prepare a dissertation proposal of 5–8 pages, with detail and clarity on par with NSF, NIH, or comparable proposals. Chapters should be described in sufficient detail that RAC members can assess scientific merit, feasibility, and whether the doctoral dissertation will fulfill the scope and requirements for a Ph.D. Dissertation proposals must be approved by the student’s RAC by the time the student submits their second annual report to the department (i.e. at the end of 5 semesters). Failure to obtain approval of a dissertation proposal may result in an “unsatisfactory” annual evaluation. A suggested timeframe would entail: Proposals distributed to the RAC committee at least two weeks prior to the second RAC meeting (end of 5 semesters). At this RAC meeting, students defend their proposal in the form of a presentation and must address any questions or concerns, before being approved by majority of the members of the RAC committee. Approval of the dissertation proposal must be reported in the annual RAC report. Students are encouraged to develop the proposal ideas with their mentor and advisory committee well in advance of the meeting.

After passing the comprehensive oral exam and advancing to degree candidacy, doctoral students are expected to focus on completing their research and writing the dissertation.  Students must enroll in at least one hour of dissertation credit (BIOL 999: Doctoral Dissertation) each fall and spring; keeping in mind that substitution of BIOL 999 with differently numbered or additional graduate courses is not allowed. The enrollment requirement takes effect immediately following the semester in which the student took the comprehensive exam and ends when the student graduates.

Students are expected to complete the dissertation 2-3 years after advancing to candidacy.  During these years, the student must continue to meet annually with the advisory committee to receive guidance on research progress, as such meetings are a required component of the annual evaluation process.  Committee membership should follow University regulations, as well as the suggestions offered with regard to diversity.

When the student and faculty adviser are able to reasonably predict when the dissertation research and writing will be done, the dissertation defense and final oral examination may be scheduled.

Students must contact the EEB Graduate Program Coordinator at least two weeks prior to the anticipated defense date to request departmental and University approval of the defense. 

A complete draft of the dissertation must be provided to the GPC and to the student’s entire dissertation committee no less than two weeks (or longer if requested by the student’s committee) in advance of the planned defense. All members of the dissertation committee are required to read and comment on the work.  Three members designated as “readers,” will provide a more detailed review. The dissertation must be written to meet general university regulations. Additional instructions can be found on the COGA Doctoral Degree Checklist and the Graduate Studies ETD Formatting page.

The dissertation defense and final oral exam will include a formal, public lecture of the candidate’s dissertation. Whenever possible, the presentation should be part of the BIO3 seminar series. The presentation concludes with a question-and-answer session and is followed by a meeting of the examining committee with the student for further discussion of the dissertation. A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the exam; 80% of the committee must agree to award a student Honors. In either case – passing or honors – both the quality of the dissertation and the presentation are taken into account. In some cases, it may be possible for committee members to attend the examination via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing according to the exam attendance policy.

As part of the degree completion the student is required to email cogadocs@ku.edu with scans of the title and acceptance pages signed by the examining committee members. The student should include the Graduate Program Coordinator in the email. After passing the dissertation defense and final oral examination, the student will make any corrections on the dissertation as required by the examining committee. The final version will be submitted for approval to the student’s adviser and the University. University regulations concerning the preparation and submission of the dissertation must be met. More information can be found on the COGA Doctoral Degree Checklist and the KU Thesis and Dissertation Formatting Guide.

Finishing students in the EEB graduate program must schedule an in-person exit interview with the Chair of the EEB department to discuss their experience in the EEB graduate program. The Chair will summarize the interview, and, with the student’s permission, provide a copy to the Graduate Program Committee. The information gained from this interview will be used to address deficiencies or to further improve existing strengths in the program.