Program in Ecology, Ph.D. Program
Office of Graduate Education
Old Main 310
Phone: (307) 766-4128
Program Director: Melanie Murphy, Ph.D.
Ph.D. in Ecology
The Program in Ecology prepares doctoral students to lead the discipline of ecology during the coming decades. The program is grounded in the natural history of organisms in their environment, but incorporates tools and perspectives from across the biological, physical, mathematical, computational, and earth sciences. Students develop conceptual, historical, and philosophical perspectives spanning the entire range of subdisciplines in ecology, while receiving advanced training in the subdiscipline of their individual interest.
The program fosters long-term career development by exploring the linkages of ecology with other disciplines, and by scanning the ecological horizon for emerging questions, concepts, and approaches that will shape the field in years to come.
Faculty members from several departments and colleges participate in the Program in Ecology. Their interests span the full range of topics covered in the field of ecology, and students in the program reflect this diversity.
Program Specific Admission Requirements
Only students seeking a doctoral degree will be admitted into the program. Minimum criteria for admission to the Program in Ecology are:
- Minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.000
- Agreement by a member of the PiE faculty to sponsor the student, or to co-sponsor the student together with a PiE affiliate
- Admission to a home department at the University of Wyoming
All applications to the program will be reviewed by the Graduate Affairs Committee, which has authority on admissions. Students applying to the program who lack a master’s degree must show exceptional promise and commitment (e.g., through undergraduate or post-graduate research experiences, peer-reviewed publications, and/or success in competing for research fellowships). Such students are encouraged to consult with their prospective adviser on whether to apply directly to PiE or to master’s programs in individual home departments of PiE faculty.
Students already admitted to doctoral programs in individual departments at the University of Wyoming may apply to transfer to the program. Transfer is not pro forma. Transfer applications are subject to the same criteria as for entering students, and admission to the program for transfer students must be approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee.
Program Specific Degree Requirements
Before the end of the second semester of study, the student should nominate a five-member advisory committee to the Office of the Registrar. At least three members of the committee, including the committee chair (usually the student’s adviser), will be members of the PiE faculty. One other member, who will serve as Graduate Faculty representative, must be from outside the home department of the major adviser, although (s)he can be a faculty member in a department that participates in the program. The committee will advise the student on his/her program of graduate study, execute and evaluate the student’s preliminary examination, evaluate the student’s dissertation proposal and dissertation, and conduct the student’s dissertation defense.
Program of Study
All students are required to take ECOL 5100 or equivalent. This course should be taken during the first year of residency. Exceptions or substitutions of these requirements are subject to approval by the graduate affairs committee.
The program of study must include at least 6 credit hours aimed at developing a tool skill, which except for rare cases shall be in the quantitative/analytical domain (e.g., statistics, modeling, GIS, remote sensing, bioinformatics). Courses relating to research tools should be taken early in the student’s residency to ensure that they can be used in thesis research and advanced studies. Specific coursework and tool-skill development for the student’s program of study will be developed in consultation with and subject to approval by the student’s advisory committee.
Admission to Candidacy
Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. requires two steps: 1) providing evidence that the student is prepared to identify a research question, design an approach for investigating that question, and a plan for executing the approach, all in the format of an NSF-style research proposal, and 2) illustrating adequate proficiency in the subject matter of ecology through a process involving both written and oral exams.
Students must submit a NSF-style proposal to their committee outlining their project, typically by the end of the fourth semester. Each committee member will provide feedback to the student on the proposed research and indicate approval of the proposal or request revision. The proposal must be approved by all committee members prior to starting the preliminary exams.
While this proposal should be a plan for actual dissertation research, unforeseen circumstances may require altering the student’s dissertation work after the proposal has been approved by the committee. In the case of a major alteration, the student should reformulate a research plan and submit it to the committee in writing for committee approval.
Passing the preliminary exam is the official admission to candidacy.
Written portion of the preliminary exam. The student will take the written exam portion of the preliminary exam no fewer than two weeks following approval of the research proposal. The goal of this exam is to test breadth of knowledge in ecology. The design of this exam will be coordinated by the graduate committee under the leadership of the adviser. Each written exam will cover the following topics:
- Ecological topics ranging from organismal/evolutionary to ecosystem-level perspectives, integrating concepts and perspectives from across the discipline, over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.
- The philosophical and historical development of ecology.
- The conceptual background of the student’s area of specialization.
The exam will consist of four to six questions developed collectively by the committee and organized by the student’s major professor. The exam will be open book; however, the answers will be solely the work of the student. Answers should be fully cited and collectively should be no longer than 30 pages double-spaced exclusive of references cited. Students will have one full week (seven days) to complete the exam. Committee members will indicate pass/fail within one week following completion of written exams. Four of five passing votes are required.
Oral Portion of the Preliminary Exam. No sooner than two weeks after successfully passing the written exam, the student may proceed to an oral exam administered by his/her graduate committee. Oral exams center around three goals from which questions will be derived:
- To verify that the student is prepared, conceptually and methodologically, to carry out successful dissertation research.
- To evaluate the student’s ability to conceptualize specific questions in a broad, integrative context.
- To evaluate the student’s ability to think spontaneously and creatively and to articulate responses about unexpected or novel questions.
The advisory committee will discuss and organize specific questions based on these goals in a short session at the beginning of the exam period before admitting the student to the examination room and starting the exam. Following the exam each committee member will provide non-binding paper votes of pass/ fail for each of the three goals of the oral exam. Following discussion of the student’s performance, committee members will each assign a grade of pass/fail for the overall exam. Four of five committee members must vote for passing the overall oral exam.
Students whose performance is unsatisfactory will be given one opportunity for retaking the oral examination. This retake will occur no later than the academic-year semester following the first examination.
Students are required to give two oral presentations on their research. The purposes of these presentations are to provide the student with practice in oral presentations and to keep the PiE community informed of the student’s progress. The first will describe the student’s dissertation research proposal. This presentation will be given before the student submits his/her thesis proposal. The second presentation will summarize the student’s completed dissertation research, and will normally be given the same semester as the student’s dissertation defense. Under extraordinary circumstances (subject to approval by the Graduate Affairs Committee), this presentation may be given at an earlier time. These presentations must be open to the public, and may comprise part of a departmental or Program in Ecology seminar or brown-bag series.