Aug 21, 2018  
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog 
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog

Biology, PhD (Environmental Biology track)

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The environmental biology track is designed to accommodate students of various science backgrounds with rigorous training in environmental sciences/environmental biology. With the help of a faculty advisor, a cohesive course of study is designed from a variety of research interests. Faculty in the department conduct research in these related areas:

  • Biodiversity
  • Community Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Deep Sea Biology
  • Ecology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Global Environmental Change
  • Marine Ecology
  • Population Biology
  • Population Genetics
  • Terrestrial Ecosystem Ecology

Degree Requirements

Soon after entering the program, the student will be assigned an academic advisor, who must be a full-time member of the Biology Department faculty. Within six months, the student and academic advisor will choose an academic advisory committee (AAC) and will submit this proposed committee for approval to the graduate program director (GPD) and the Biology Graduate Committee, which oversees all aspects of graduate study in environmental biology. The AAC will comprise the academic advisor and two additional members in the student’s area of interest. The student, in consultation with the AAC, will plan an appropriate course of study. During the first year of graduate study and until a dissertation committee has been established, the AAC will monitor the student’s progress. The academic advisor and the student will provide a yearly progress report to the GPD and the graduate committee. The student can change his or her academic advisor or rearrange his or her AAC with the approval of the GPD.

Electives (12 credits)

Selection of electives is subject to the approval of the student’s AAC or dissertation committee.

Student may take

  for up to 3 credits of the electives.

Up to six credits may be transferred from another program in accordance with the policy of the Office of Graduate Studies.

Journal Readings (4 credits)

These courses are designed to help students stay abreast of recent developments through reading current literature and to provide opportunities for public speaking.

Research Credit (32 credits)

Up to 5 of these credits can be replaced by elective course credits, subject to the approval of the student’s AAC.

In general, formal course work should be completed within the first four semesters.


Students are required to participate in the teaching program as teaching assistants for at least two semesters. The teaching responsibility is intended to enhance the experience and skills of the PhD candidate.

Other Requirements


To continue in the PhD program, the student must maintain a GPA of 3.0, and may not receive a grade of “C” in more than one course.

Written Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Examinations

Students must pass two examinations before they undertake research at the doctoral level:
a written comprehensive examination to test the student’s command and knowledge of four specific areas of biology**
a subsequent oral qualifying examination based on:

  • the oral description and defense of the student’s dissertation proposal, and
  • comprehensive questioning focused on the four areas covered in the written exam.

The written comprehensive examination may be taken at the end of the student’s first year, or after the completion of at least 18 credits of course work; and it should generally be taken by the end of four semesters or 36 credits of course work. The student will defend four areas, drawn from the array of graduate courses offered in the department or from other areas acceptable to the AAC and approved by the Graduate Committee.

A student who fails the written examination may, at the discretion of the academic advisory committee, be permitted a second and final written examination after six months.

A student failing the examination a second time may either:

  1. withdraw from the program, or
  2. formally petition the AAC to work toward a master’s degree in biology, in biotechnology and biomedical science, or in environmental sciences.

A student cannot continue in the PhD program after a second failure of the comprehensive examination.

**Generally, within one month following the written exam, the student should submit a brief description of his or her dissertation proposal to the AAC and the GPD. Before taking the oral examination, the student should also confer with members of the AAC on the soundness of the proposal. The student should also discuss, with the individual members of the AAC, the possible deficiencies in the written exam. The oral qualifying exam should be scheduled, generally within one month following the submission of the dissertation proposal.

On successfully completing the qualifying examination, the student becomes a candidate for the PhD degree in Environmental Biology. The student is allowed up to five more years to complete and successfully defend a scholarly dissertation.

Departmental Presentation

Approximately nine to twelve months after the student’s advance to candidacy, the student will present a seminar, based on his or her work in progress, to the entire department.

Dissertation Committee

After becoming a candidate for the PhD, the student must choose a dissertation advisor and committee. The dissertation committee will generally, but not necessarily, comprise the three members of the AAC and one member from outside the department. With the approval of the GPD and the Graduate Committee, faculty from outside the Biology Department or non-UMass Boston faculty will be permitted to co-sponsor a student’s dissertation work.

Dissertation Defense

A final public dissertation defense will be administered by a dissertation panel comprising at least five members including

  • The Dissertation Committee,
  • The Biology GPD or (if the GPD is already on the dissertation committee) a member of the Graduate Committee, and
  • A member designated by the dean of Graduate Studies as the dean’s representative.

The defense will be chaired by the student’s dissertation advisor, and will be scheduled after the student has submitted an advanced draft of the manuscript to the dissertation panel and after the panel has agreed that the student is ready to defend it.

Admission Requirements

  • Submission of the graduate admissions application form.
  • A distinguished undergraduate transcript; competitive students generally have at least a 3.0 overall GPA although lower grades can be acceptable.
  • A bachelor’s degree or its equivalent, from a 4-year college or university of recognized standing.
  • Official transcripts of all graduate and undergraduate work. (Two copies of each transcript must be sent directly to the university’s Office of Graduate Admissions. A final transcript showing that the bachelor’s degree has been awarded must be received before the student can enter the program.)
  • Three letters of recommendation.
  • Submissions of scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) Combined Aptitude Test.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL official test score) is required for international applicants. For more information regarding minimal TOEFL scores go to Graduate Admissions.

The stated interests of a prospective student must coincide to an acceptable degree with the faculty specialties represented in the program. The Biology Graduate Committee in conjunction with the director of Graduate Programs in Biology is responsible for reviewing applications and for recommending candidates to the dean of graduate studies.

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