Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Updated June 18, 2021
Prospective students may apply to the Interdisciplinary Degree Program in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology through the TAMU Office of Graduate Studies. The overall graduate admission criteria are based on the entire record of the applicant and availability of institutional resources. Admission to the Interdisciplinary Degree Program in EEB will be based upon the following criteria:
- Hold a four-year baccalaureate degree from a college or university of recognized standing (i.e., a U.S. or foreign degree recognized as equivalent to a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution in the U.S.),
- Show promise of intellectual and academic ability, as evidenced by a minimum of three letters of recommendation from persons capable of judging the applicant’s capabilities, a Statement of Purpose essay, an overall evaluation of the student’s transcript, and the grade point average in the last 60 hours of coursework.
- Submit, with application, scores on the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which will be evaluated in a manner that complies with House Bill 1641.
- Demonstrate research aptitude in the form of prior research experience, presentations at professional meetings, and/or publications in the scientific literature.
- An applicant from another country seeking admission to graduate studies must demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language. Prospective students whose native language is not English must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is administered by the Educational Testing Service in over 200 centers around the world. All applicants from non-English-speaking countries must present a computer-based TOEFL score of at least 213 to be admitted to graduate studies at the University.
- Importantly, each EEB applicant must contact a prospective faculty sponsor before the application deadline. That faculty sponsor must provide a letter of support before the applicant’s materials will be reviewed. A student will only be admitted if an EEB core faculty member agrees to serve as committee chair for the student.
The EEB GRAC (Graduate Recruiting and Admissions Committee) will evaluate each application. Funding will be allocated to invite the top 10 candidates each year for in-person interviews on campus. The GRAC will also evaluate transfer students from other TAMU graduate programs according to the criteria outlined above.
The doctoral program provides a broad foundation in EEB through a first-year core sequence, as well as training in the quantitative skills required to conduct cutting-edge research. The program is distinctive in that students will be exposed to an interdisciplinary array of approaches to thinking about ecology and evolution, from faculty and students associated with different scientific emphases and a range of connections to real-world applications. Students entering with Master’s and with undergraduate degrees will both be required to follow the first-year core course sequence; students entering with a Master’s will be required to take fewer seminar hours, elective courses, and dissertation credits.
Students entering with an undergraduate degree:
|Category||Semester Credit Hours|
|Required EEBL Courses||15|
Students entering with a Master’s degree or equivalent:
|Category||Semester Credit Hours|
|Required EEBL Courses||12|
|EEBL Core Courses (Appendix IV.A)*||8|
|First-year Graduate Seminar (EEBL 610)||1|
|Seminar (EEBL 681)||6 (entering with BS/BA)
3 (entering with MS/MA)
|Prescribed Elective Courses (students entering from BS/BA)||SCH|
|Minimum of 9 credits total in at least two different departments from the following categories (complete list in Appendix IV.A): Quantitative, Ecology, and Evolution||9|
|Prescribed Elective Courses (students entering from MS/MA)||SCH|
|Minimum of 6 credits total in at least two different departments from two of the three following categories (complete list in Appendix IV.A): Quantitative, Ecology, and Evolution||6|
|Free Elective Courses||SCH|
|Students will choose free electives in conjunction with their committee chair and subject to approval of the research committee; free electives may include formal courses or dissertation hours.||24 (entering with BS/BA);
14 (entering with MS/MA)
Candidacy/Dissertation Schedule and Requirements
EEB students will be expected to fulfill the following requirements. Any exceptions must be approved by the Program Chair through the Coordinator and the Curriculum Chair.
- Successfully complete the two-semester EEB Core Course sequence (EEBL 601-608) in the first year.
- Register for the weekly EEB seminar (EEBL 681) while in residence in College Station.
- Successfully complete the First Year Graduate Seminar (EEBL 610) in the first semester.
- Establish a research committee and file a graduate degree plan by the end of the second semester. This committee should conform to the general requirements of Texas A&M University (page 163 of the 2010-2011 TAMU Graduate Catalog). At least one half of a student’s research committee must be EEB core faculty with primary appointments spanning at least two academic departments.
- At least 2 semesters of teaching experience is strongly recommended. We also encourage additional teaching experience, such as leading a workshop or giving guest lectures.
- Establish a preliminary examination committee at the beginning of the fourth semester.
- Pass the two-part Comprehensive Examination. The first part is the Preliminary Examination and the second part is the Research Proposal Defense.
- Continued participation in EEB seminars and related events (e.g., Ecological Integration Symposium) throughout the student’s tenure on campus.
- Annually submit progress report and meet with research committee.
Near the end of the second year, all EEB students will be required to participate in a Comprehensive Examination intended to:
- Determine whether a student has the preparation, intellectual capacity, and professional attitude to successfully complete an EEB Ph.D. program (preliminary exam);
- Explore deficiencies in the student’s background and training in order to plan additional course work that may be needed (preliminary exam);
- Assess the student’s research plans (research proposal defense)
- Assess the student’s verbal and written English competency (preliminary exam and research proposal).
Comprehensive Examination Structure
All EEB Ph.D. students must pass a Comprehensive Examination consisting of written and oral competency exams (preliminary exam) and a research proposal defense. Students will have their exam committee meeting in their fourth semester and take the written and oral component of the Comprehensive Examination by the end of their fifth semester. Students will defend their research proposal no later than the end of their sixth semester. The timing of the exam can be changed due to certain circumstances, such as required courses not being offered or research needing to be conducted off campus at the time of the exam. In these situations, the student must request a change from the EEB Chair. The Comprehensive Examination will evaluate knowledge of fundamental principles presented in the EEB module courses, EEB related courses, and the literature of special importance in the field.
Preliminary Exam: Written and Oral Competency Exams
- Students will select four areas from the following list:
- Physiological Ecology (i)
- Population Ecology (i)
- Community Ecology (i)
- Ecosystem/Landscape Ecology (i)
- Conservation Biology/Restoration Ecology (i)
- Integrative Animal Behavior (i) or (ii)
- Evolutionary Ecology (ii)
- Populations and Quantitative Genetics (ii)
- Phylogenetics and Comparative Biology (ii)
- Evolutionary Genomics (ii)
- The areas are linked to either ecology (i) or evolution (ii). Students must have at least one area from ecology (i) and one area from evolution (ii) included in their four areas. If Integrative Animal Behavior is included, the remaining three areas must include both ecology and evolution areas.
- EEB Faculty will be listed per their core areas of expertise in a document that will be available to EEB graduate students. Based on the subject areas they chose, students will pick members of the EEB core faculty that correspond to the four core subject areas to form a four-member committee. This Preliminary Exam Committee is separate from the student’s research committee and will administer the written and oral exams (not the research proposal defense). Members on the student’s research committee cannot also be on the exam committee.
- Once all four faculty members have agreed to serve on the student’s preliminary exam committee, the student will inform the EEB Program Coordinator and EEB Graduate Chair. The Program Coordinator and Graduate Chair must be notified at each step through the Comprehensive Exam process.
- At least 60 days before the written and oral exams, the student will meet with each member of their competency exam committee for instruction on what topics/questions to focus on for each subject area in preparation for the written and oral exams. This meeting will be referred to as the exam prep meeting. All members of the exam committee will attend this meeting, along with the faculty chair of the research committee and the Program Coordinator. The exam committee will be expected to tailor the exam topics to courses the student has completed or is currently enrolled. At this meeting, the exam committee can make recommendations about books and/or papers the student should read to prepare for the Preliminary Examination.
- One week before the exam prep meeting, the student will send to the exam committee a one to two-page document summarizing the student’s research interests, dissertation topic, list of research committee members, and relevant coursework. This will help the exam committee tailor the exam to the student.
- Written exams will be administered approximately two weeks before oral exams. Each exam committee member will send the student exam questions with instructions on how to complete each question (e.g., open book, closed book, length, etc.). Exam questions from each committee member should not exceed 48 hours to complete. The student will need to submit answers to all written exams before the oral exam can take place. The members of the examination committee will provide written feedback to the student at least one week in advance of the oral exam.
- The committee will perform the oral examination after the student has successfully submitted the written exam. At the start of the oral exam the exam committee, plus the faculty research chair, will meet (without the student) to discuss the student’s performance on the written exam. The oral exam will not exceed 3 hours and should focus on the topics that were discussed in the exam prep meeting and written exams. The faculty chair of the research committee can attend the oral examination, but may not ask questions or intervene on behalf of their student.
- Students will be evaluated on mastery of the subject material, synthesis and analytical capacity, critical thinking and relevance of literature review.
- The student is allowed to “fail” a research theme without failing the whole exam. If an exam committee member is not satisfied with the student’s performance on their theme, but the student passes the other themes, that exam committee member will determine the best way to retake their portion of the exam. Evidence of theme mastery might mean having to pass another face-to-face exam, write a paper, or complete a course. If the student passes the second round of the exam, the exam is considered passed. If not, the exam is considered failed.
- Once the student has passed the written and oral competency exams, the preliminary exam is complete and they can move to the research proposal defense. However, if the student fails one or both parts of the preliminary exam, they can retake the exam after three months and no more than six months from the date of their first try. If they fail a second time, they will not advance to candidacy. Since EEB does not grant MS degrees, the student will have to petition their home department to be allowed to graduate with a MS degree.
Research Proposal Defense
- The research proposal defense will be completed by the end of the student’s fifth semester (first semester of the third year). This component of the Comprehensive Examination will be administered by the student’s research committee – which has a different composition from the exam committee. The student’s research committee, which guides the student through their doctoral research, should be formed by the end of their second semester. Additionally, their degree program should be submitted by this time.
- The exact length and structure of the research proposal will be approved ahead of time by the student’s PI and research committee. The finished proposal should be distributed to the research committee two weeks before the proposal defense.
- The research proposal defense will consist of a research presentation that will be open to the public. The research presentation will be followed by a closed door oral defense of the research proposal. This exam will be administered by the student’s research committee. This exam will only cover the student’s research project.
- Students will be evaluated on their ability to successfully explain and defend their research proposal.
- The Research Proposal Defense is considered passed once the student’s research committee signs off on the proposal. In the event the student fails the research proposal defense, they will have three months to retake it. It will be up to their research committee chair to select a date. If they fail a second time, they will not advance to candidacy and will be released from the EEB program. Because the EEB program does not grant an MS degree, the student will be encouraged (if appropriate) to seek an MS degree in their home department.
- The Comprehensive Examination is considered passed once the student submits signed documentation from the preliminary examination and research proposal defense to the EEB Program Coordinator.
Annual Progress Report
All EEB students are required to submit an annual progress report at the end of the spring semester. The report should consist of courses taken (and grades earned), papers published, talks presented, proposals submitted and funded (including both scholarships and research), courses taught or TA’d, and any other activities relevant to good standing in the EEB program (e.g., serving on the organizing committee of the annual TAMU Ecological Integration Symposium). The report will be filed as part of the student’s record and used to track progress as well as serve as a basis for information for scholarships and other such opportunities. Failure to submit a report will result in dismissal from the EEB program. After a student’s research committee has been approved by the University, the student is required to meet with that committee to present progress at least once per year. The proposal defense may be counted as the annual meeting.