Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Programs

The department comprises a large number of biologists with a variety of research interests. 3 broad overlapping themes capture the interests and activities in EEB — biodiversity and macroevolution, ecology and global change biology, and evolutionary mechanisms. The department offers graduate study leading to Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in ecology and evolutionary biology, botany, and entomology. General information about the department and its faculty, current graduate students, admission, and financial support may be found on the department's website.

Neotropical biodiversity is a special area of concentration among EEB faculty. Many faculty members have courtesy appointments in the Latin American Area Studies Program, which fosters multidisciplinary research in Latin America across the campus. KU is a member of the Organization for Tropical Studies, and many faculty members and students participate in advanced, field-oriented OTS courses. Graduate students can receive fellowships for courses, e.g. BIOL 786 Fundamentals of Tropical Biology, or research projects in Costa Rica. Other EEB faculty have research concentrations in Asia, Africa, Antarctica, and elsewhere, creating a genuinely global reach for EEB research activities.

(B.A. and B.S. degree programs in biology are listed under Biology Undergraduate Programs.)

Admission to Graduate Studies

An applicant seeking to pursue graduate study in the College may be admitted as either a degree-seeking or non-degree seeking student. Policies and procedures of Graduate Studies govern the process of Graduate admission. These may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Please consult the Departments & Programs section of the online catalog for information regarding program-specific admissions criteria and requirements. Special admissions requirements pertain to Interdisciplinary Studies degrees, which may be found in the Graduate Studies section of the online catalog.

Graduate Admission

The departmental graduate admissions committee reviews the record of each applicant. Admission is based on background, preparation, test scores, and academic performance. The committee considers each candidate’s overall undergraduate record in the context of the institution(s) from which the record was received. A graduate student should have a broad undergraduate background in natural science and math, including calculus, physics, chemistry, organismal biology, genetics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Faculty recommendations, honors, awards, undergraduate research experience, publications, and professional experience also are considered. Enthusiasm, scientific expertise, and clarity of writing as evidenced by the applicant’s essay are particularly important.

A bachelor's degree or equivalent and a minimum overall grade-point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale is required for regular admission. The master’s degree is not a prerequisite for entering a Ph.D. program. Domestic applicants must provide a certified score report from the Graduate Record Examination for the general test (scores from the GRE biology subject test are optional). Non-native English speakers must provide evidence of English proficiency, typically in the form of certified scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language or from the International English Language Testing System. For more details on admission requirements, visit the EEB website.

Applicants are encouraged to correspond with one or more faculty members before and during the application process, because students cannot be admitted without a faculty sponsor. Interested students are encouraged to visit campus to meet faculty members and graduate students. Graduate school is critically important in beginning a career, and the choice of a program in which to enroll should be made carefully.

The number of students admitted is limited. Qualified candidates may be denied admission because of lack of a faculty sponsor, financial support, or research facilities.

Applications and supplemental materials may be submitted online. Applications from underrepresented groups are encouraged. For a detailed description of the application process, visit the EEB website. All application materials for fall admission must be received no later than December 1. Only complete applications are considered. Send inquiries to the graduate coordinator.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements:

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Required Course Work

Most course work requirements for EEB graduate students are identified during the student’s preliminary advisory 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 to a student’s degree program during annual meetings. Listed below are specific course requirements for all doctoral students in the EEB department:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 701 Topics in Responsible Scholarship during the first year of graduate education in the fall semester. They are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete the BIOL 801 Core Topics in Current EEB Research seminar course during the first year of graduate study in the spring semester.
  3. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841 Biometry I. Alternatively, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge.
  4. Students pursuing the doctorate must complete at least 1 credit hour of BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation.

Botany

Required Course Work

Most course work requirements for EEB graduate students are identified during the student’s preliminary advisory 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 to a student’s degree program during annual meetings. Listed below are specific course requirements for all doctoral students in the EEB department:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 701 Topics in Responsible Scholarship during the first year of graduate education in the fall semester. They are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete the BIOL 801 Core Topics in Current EEB Research seminar course during the first year of graduate study in the spring semester.
  3. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841 Biometry I. Alternatively, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge.
  4. Students pursuing the doctorate must complete at least 1 credit hour of BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation.

In addition, students seeking a Ph.D. in botany must take a specialty seminar focusing on a plant-related topic and must complete a graduate-level course in each of the following 3 areas:

  1. Plant ecology
  2. Plant systematics or morphology
  3. Plant development or physiology

Entomology

Required Course Work

Most course work requirements for EEB graduate students are identified during the student’s preliminary advisory 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 to a student’s degree program during annual meetings. Listed below are specific course requirements for all doctoral students in the EEB department:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 701 Topics in Responsible Scholarship during the first year of graduate education in the fall semester. They are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete the BIOL 801 Core Topics in Current EEB Research seminar course during the first year of graduate study in the spring semester.
  3. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841 Biometry I. Alternatively, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge.
  4. Students pursuing the doctorate must complete at least 1 credit hour of BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation.

Students seeking a Ph.D. in entomology must take BIOL 500 Biology of Insects and BIOL 502 Laboratory in Insect Biology and Diversity unless they have taken equivalent courses. Students who have taken a course equivalent to BIOL 502 elsewhere still are encouraged to take BIOL 502 to familiarize themselves with the local insect fauna. In addition, students must take all 3 of the following courses: BIOL 708 External Morphology of Insects, BIOL 711 Insect Systematics, and BIOL 716 Insect Physiology and Internal Morphology.

Assistantships

Doctoral students must complete at least 2 semesters of half-time supervised teaching, curatorial, or research assistantships. Alternative experiences may be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship

All students aspiring to the Ph.D. are required by the Office of Graduate Studies to respond to the need for training in Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship (see official policy at http://policy.ku.edu/graduate-studies/research-skills-responsible-scholarship and  http://policy.ku.edu/graduate-studies/doctoral-research-skills-requirement). As such, requirements in EEB include training in responsible scholarship BIOL 701 Topics in Responsible Scholarship). In addition, students must develop, in consultation with their preliminary advisory committees, 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 the native language); fluency (reading or speaking) in other foreign languages; and skills such as scientific illustration, phylogenetic methods, 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, in view of the need for effective communication in an increasingly global academic community. These research skills will be determined initially by the student’s Preliminary Advisory Meeting and Research Advisory committees, with the potential for modification as specific dissertation plans evolve, proposed in a letter to the Graduate Coordinator of the department, and approved by the Graduate Program Committee; successful fulfillment will be determined by the student’s Research Advisory Committee, documented in a letter to the Graduate Coordinator of the department, and approved by the Graduate Program Committee.

1. Reading Knowledge of a Foreign Language

Students without prior experience must enroll in a 3-credit-hour reading course in a major modern language and achieve a final grade of A or B. Students with prior knowledge of a language may choose instead to translate, in a set amount of time, a pre-approved passage from the scientific literature in that language. Approval of the foreign language requirement must be obtained from the instructor of the reading course, from an appropriate representative of a language department, or from a qualified individual from EEB or another department.

2. Fluency in a Foreign Language

Fluency in reading, writing, and speaking a language that is not native to the student is determined by a faculty member who is fluent in the chosen language. Whenever possible, a qualified faculty member from the department should make the determination; otherwise, the student should contact the appropriate language department to identify a qualified individual. The faculty member must submit a letter to the EEB graduate program committee indicating that the student is fluent.

If the student is not a native English speaker, the student’s committee may determine fluency in reading, writing, and speaking English. Following the committee’s determination, the student’s advisor must provide a letter to the EEB graduate program committee indicating that the student is fluent.

3. Other Research Skills

Other research skills may be attained either through course work or through completion of a project. A list of previously approved skills appears in the EEB Graduate Student Handbook. Other courses or projects can be added to this list by petitioning the EEB graduate program committee for pre-approval.

Students with no prior experience using the chosen research skill should take a course recommended by the department; students with experience might choose to develop a project. A qualified faculty member must approve the choice of a project. Upon completion, a letter that describes the project and is signed by the supervising faculty member should be submitted to the departmental graduate coordinator for documentation purposes.

Note: Contact your department or program for more information about research skills and responsible scholarship, and the current requirements for doctoral students. Current policies on Doctoral Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship are listed in the KU Policy Library.

Residence Requirement

Graduate Studies requires all doctoral students to complete 2 terms, which may include 1 summer session, in full-time resident study at KU. See the KU Policy Library for details.

Comprehensive Oral Examination

The comprehensive oral examination tests the breadth of a 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, evolution, and systematics, as well as information about general biology. Examinations are conducted in English. Students are recommended to take the examination within four semesters of entering the program and are expected to complete the examination within six semesters. To be eligible to take the examination, both the research skills and responsible scholarship and doctoral residence requirements must be fulfilled and documented. All doctoral aspirants must prepare a dissertation proposal that follows the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant model. The dissertation proposal must be submitted to all members of the examination committee for review and approval at least 2 weeks before the examination. Students must contact the EEB graduate coordinator 2 weeks before the anticipated examination to request departmental and College permission to schedule the event.

Doctoral committees must comply with the Graduate Studies Policy on committee composition.

A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the examination. If the advisor or committee members wish, secret ballots may be used. To award Honors, at least 80 percent of the committee members must judge the student’s performance to be exceptional. An exceptional performance would be one that is judged to be in the top 10 percent of examinations in which the committee members have participated. If a student fails the comprehensive examination, another examination may be scheduled a minimum of 90 days after the first examination, but under no circumstances may a student take the examination more than twice.

A successful pass of the comprehensive oral examination is considered valid by the university for 5 years. Doctoral candidates who do not complete the dissertation within 5 years may be required to take the examination again to demonstrate current knowledge in the field.

Research Progress, Final Oral Examination, and Dissertation Defense

After passing the comprehensive oral examination and advancing to degree candidacy, doctoral students are expected to focus on completing original research and writing of the dissertation. Although opportunities for taking valuable courses may arise, the majority of a doctoral candidate’s enrollment should be in dissertation credits (BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation).

It is generally expected that the dissertation should be completed two to three years after advancing to candidacy. During these years, the student should continue to meet with his or her advisory committee on an annual basis to receive guidance on research progress. Committee membership should follow university requirements.

When the student and the faculty advisor are able to reasonably predict when the dissertation research and writing will be done, the dissertation defense and final oral examination may be scheduled. At least 5 months must have elapsed between successful completion of the oral examination and the date of the defense. Students must contact the EEB graduate coordinator at least 2 weeks prior to the anticipated defense date to request departmental and university approval of the defense.

A complete dissertation must be provided to the EEB Graduate Program Committee and to the student’s entire dissertation committee no less than 2 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. 3 members are designated readers and provide a more detailed review. The dissertation must be written to meet general university regulations.

The dissertation defense and final oral examination include a presentation of the candidate’s dissertation as a formal, public lecture. Whenever possible, the presentation should be part of the regular departmental seminar series. The presentation is followed by a question period, after which the final oral examination committee meets with the student for further discussion of the dissertation. A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the examination; 80 percent of the committee must agree to award a student Honors. Both the dissertation and the presentation are considered in the decision. In rare cases it may be possible for committee members to attend the defense and examinations via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing (for details view the exam attendance policy statement). After passing the final oral examination, the student will make any corrections to the dissertation that are required. Along with the title and acceptance pages, the final version will be submitted for approval to the department and the University.

Time Constraints

A student beginning graduate study with only a bachelor’s degree is expected to complete all work for the master’s degree in 2 or 3 years after initial enrollment at KU. A student beginning graduate study with a master’s degree in the biological sciences should complete all work for the doctoral degree within 4 or 5 years. A student beginning graduate study with only a bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences should complete all work for the doctoral degree within 5 or 6 years.

The maximum tenure for EEB graduate students varies according to degree program. Master’s students are allowed a maximum of 7 years to complete the degree program, and doctoral students are allowed 8 years. If a student earns both an M.A. and a Ph.D. from KU, he or she has a total of 10 years to complete both degrees. Petitions to extend the time limits must be approved by the student’s advisory committee and forwarded to the EEB Graduate Program Committee for consideration before being forwarded to the College for final approval.

As required by the university, doctoral students must complete the equivalent of at least 3 academic years of full-time graduate study. This may include the time spent earning a master’s degree.