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Biology M.S./Ph.D. Requirements - Ecology and Evolution Track

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  1. Major Professor
    During the first year, each student is required to select, by mutual agreement, a tenured or tenure-track member of the faculty of the Division of Ecology and Evolution as a major professor who, with the thesis (M.S. Plan I), study (M.S. Plan II), or dissertation (Ph.D.) committee, will supervise the student’s graduate studies.

    The student’s choice of faculty advisor must be approved by the graduate committee chair. If a student wishes to work jointly with more than one professor, an understanding as to who is primarily responsible for supervision of the student’s graduate studies should be reached.
  2. Thesis or Dissertation Committee
    In consultation with the major professor, the student shall select, by mutual agreement, faculty members to serve on their committee. The committee shall be chosen before the end of the second semester of residence. The membership is subject to approval by the chairman of the department and dean of the college. The major functions of this committee are to approve a program of studies for the student, to administer qualifying examinations and final examinations, and to evaluate the student’s progress. In the event that a member of the committee leaves the University or is not available for qualifying or final examinations, the committee and student can recommend a suitable substitute. The appointment to committees of faculty members from other institutions is encouraged.

    A Doctoral Dissertation or Master’s Thesis (Plan I) Committee shall consist of at least four members. These shall include the student’s major professor(s) and three other members. At least three of the committee members (advising or non-advising) must be tenured or tenure-track faculty members with a primary appointment in the Department of Biology & Biochemistry. The three non-advising members must include one member with a primary appointment in the Ecology and Evolution Division and one member from outside the department. At least two of the committee members (advising or non-advising) must have their primary appointment in the Ecology and Evolution Division. Committee decisions can only involve one dissenting vote from a committee member, except for decision on the thesis or dissertation defense, which requires a unanimous vote, per College policies.

    Non-tenure-track faculty members may be part of Dissertation or Master’s Thesis Committees, but they do not count toward the totals specified in the previous paragraph.

    Faculty with primary appointments in the Ecology and Evolution Division: R. Azevedo, B. Cole, K. Crawford, T. Frankino, D. Graur, R. Meisel, M.A. Ottinger, S. Pennings, D. Wiernasz, and R. Zufall.
  1. The minimum semester hour requirements, based on University regulations, are:
    • M.S. (Plan I and Plan II) - 30 semester hours
    • Ph.D. - 24 semester hours beyond the M.S. requirement.
  2. M.S. students are advised to take or have taken a course in Biostatistics or equivalent. Students must take at least one formal graduate level course during their first year, and a total of at least 3 formal graduate level courses for at least 8 hours of credit. All students are required to take at least one seminar course per year in addition to the departmental seminar (typically, BIOL 7367 Population Biology Seminar). Additional courses may be required by the committee.
    Ph.D. students are required to take or have taken a course in Biostatistics or equivalent. Students must take at least one formal graduate level course during their first year, and a total of at least 4 formal graduate level courses, for at least 12 hours of credit. All students are required to take at least one seminar course per year in addition to the departmental seminar (typically, BIOL 7367 Population Biology Seminar). Additional courses may be required by the committee.
  3. Transfer credits for electives are limited to 4 approved credit hours toward an M.S. degree (Plan I or II) and 6 approved credit hours toward a Ph.D. If a Ph.D. student is accompanying a new faculty hire from another institution and the student has passed his/her qualifying exam, up to 9 credit hours of courses may be transferred. A grade of B or better is required for transfer of course credit. Students may initiate the transfer process by submitting course information and a written statement justifying the transfer of specific course credits to the E&E Division Policy Leader and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs. Course information must include a syllabus that covers course material. A successful transfer will require unanimous support by the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs, the E&E Division Policy Leader, the E&E members of the Graduate Committee and the student’s Thesis/Dissertation Committee if it has been formed. Course transfers may be formal in that they appear on a student’s UH record, or they may be informal in that the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs recognizes, by an appropriately signed memo placed in the student’s folder, that the student has completed the equivalent of the indicated courses. In no case can the credit transfer exceed the limits set forth by the College of Natural Science and Mathematics and the University of Houston.
  4. The minimum cumulative grade point average in course work, exclusive of thesis, dissertation, research, and special problems, must be 3.00. No grades lower than a B will count towards course requirements.
  5. Courses that do not promote the student’s academic development in Biology and Biochemistry, or do not contribute directly to the current research program of the student, will not be allowed. Students who wish to take courses outside the Department need the approval of their thesis or dissertation committee. Students may not pursue another degree program concurrently with a M.S. or Ph.D. in Biology and Biochemistry. Students taking approved courses at other institutions need to notify the Graduate coordinator prior to the start of the semester in order for the appropriate paperwork to be processed in time by the Registrar’s office and the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies.

During the second long semester all students will undergo a first year evaluation administered by faculty in the division (typically, division members of the Graduate Committee). A positive evaluation must be received for the student to remain in good standing. The evaluation will consider the student’s progress and take into account the following:

  • Courses taken and grades.
  • Seminar class performance.
  • Attendance at departmental seminars.
  • Research progress.
  • Report from research advisor(s).
  • A student advances to candidacy for a Ph.D. degree after completion of a qualifying exam. The qualifying exam will be administered by the student’s dissertation committee, and will consist of three parts: (1) a written exam, (2) a dissertation proposal, and (3) an oral exam:
  1. The written exam will be administered by at least 3 members of the committee, not including the advisor. The content and format of the written exam will be determined by the committee. It may range from a series of questions to be answered over a period of hours or days, to small research projects to be conducted over several weeks. The committee members conducting the written exam are expected to provide guidance to the student on how to prepare for the exam. The student must pass the written exam before undertaking the oral exam (i.e., a failed written exam cannot be retaken as part of the oral exam).
  2. The dissertation proposal will be due to the student’s dissertation committee at least two weeks before the date of the oral exam. The dissertation proposal should describe the research plans for the student’s dissertation in the style of a grant proposal. It should state the objectives of the proposed research, explain why the research is significant in the context of the broader research field, describe the research methods and procedures, present any preliminary data, and discuss how the results will be interpreted. The main text of the proposal (excluding tables, figures and references) must not exceed 5 pages of text and must follow the formatting instructions in sections II.B.2 of the NSF Grant Proposal Guide. The proposal must be deemed defensible by at least 4 members of the dissertation committee 1 week before the oral exam.
  3. The oral exam will be administered by at least 4 committee members. The student will present the dissertation proposal to the committee. The exam will cover the research plan, as well as general knowledge in the area of research.
  • The qualifying exam must be completed by the end of the fourth semester following admission (not counting summer sessions). In exceptional circumstances, a student may petition to take the proposal and/or oral parts of the qualifying exam in the fifth semester. A successful petition will require unanimous support by the student’s dissertation committee and the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs.
  • If the student fails any part of the qualifying exam, the dissertation committee will prescribe a course of action. This may include (a) remedial courses; (b) repetition of the exam; or (c) termination of the student from the Ph.D. program. In the case of the oral exam, such a prescription shall be given verbally immediately after the examination and followed by a written notification within one week. Any retakes must be completed by the end of the subsequent long semester. Each exam may be taken no more than twice. Failure after the second try will result in either award of a terminal M.S. degree or dismissal from the graduate program.
  • A student who fails to attempt the qualifying exam within the fourth semester will receive a grade of "U" (unsatisfactory) in 2 credit hours or research. A student who is allowed to take the proposal and/or oral parts of the qualifying exam in the fifth semester, but fails to complete the qualifying exam within the fifth semester, will receive a grade of "U" in 2 credit hours or research. Any further delay will result in additional "U" grades in 6 research credit hours per long semester (or 3 hours in the summer). Once a student who has not yet taken his/her qualifying exam has accumulated 12 hours of "U" grades, he/she will be automatically dismissed from the University.
  • Students who fail to pass part of the qualifying exam in one semester and were given the recommendation to retake the exam but were unable to reschedule within the same semester will receive a grade of "I" (incomplete) for 2 credit hours or research. The grade will be changed to an "S" or "U" depending on whether the student retakes or does not retake the exam in the following semester (not counting summer sessions). Note that the "S" or "U" grades reflect only whether or not the student has taken the exam in the given semester. Failure to pass the qualifying exam will not result in a "U" in these research hours.

All students must form and meet with their thesis/dissertation committee no later than the third semester following admission (not counting summer sessions). The first meeting will focus on the student’s initial research progress and plans for future research. For Ph.D. students, the first meeting will also include some discussion of which committee members will conduct the written part of the qualifying exam, and the topics that will be covered. For Ph.D. students, the second committee meeting will typically be the oral exam (see section D for more details).

After the first meeting, all students will meet with their committees (from which no more than one committee member may be absent), at least once per calendar year to discuss their progress towards completion of the degree. At any time the committee may decide that additional meetings should take place.

At least one week before every committee meeting, the student will distribute a 2-3 page progress report to each committee member (see exception for qualifying oral exam in section D). After the first meeting, the student will bring a copy of the Committee Status Report from the previous meeting.

At the end of each meeting, the chair of the committee will summarize the meeting and make recommendations to the student using a Committee Status Report form. If a committee member is absent from a meeting, the student will meet him/her within two weeks of the meeting.

  • Permission to write and defend the dissertation
    Ph.D. students will need to obtain formal permission to write and defend their dissertation from their Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee Permission Form will need to be signed by all committee members and turned in to the Graduate Coordinator no later than the end of the semester prior to the anticipated semester of the defense. It is recommended, but not mandatory, that the student have a committee meeting at that time in order for the committee to be aware of the student progress and make final recommendations before the defense. It is expected that the student make progress toward graduation within a year of filing the form.
  • Each student must submit and defend the thesis/dissertation when it is in final form. Although any member of the University community may attend the final examination, the committee has sole responsibility in deciding whether or not the examination is passed. Per College policies, any decision regarding the outcome of the defense (either pass or fail) requires full committee approval. If the committee cannot reach a consensus, then the committee chair should request an independent review of the thesis or dissertation by both the Department Chair and the Graduate Chair, or their designees.
  • M.S. Plan I candidates must defend a thesis. The examination will emphasize research achievements. In addition, competence in the candidate’s field of research will be expected.
  • M.S. Plan II candidates shall present and defend a formal report to the study committee. The candidate will critically evaluate and summarize a problem of interest and will be expected to be knowledgeable of general concepts in the fields of ecology and evolution.
  • Ph.D. candidates must defend a dissertation. The examination will emphasize research achievements. In addition, competence in the candidate’s field of research and in the field of ecology and evolution in general will be expected. If the candidate fails to successfully defend his/her dissertation, the committee may 1) outline additional work to be completed and reassessed by the committee or 2) recommend award of a terminal M.S. degree. Ph.D. candidates shall have at least one manuscript based on their dissertation submitted for publication before their defense.
  • Special academic situations occasionally arise. These will be considered on an individual basis by the division at the request of the student or any faculty member in the division.
  • One special situation arises when a student wishes to change from a M.S. Plan I to a Ph.D. plan before the completion of the M.S. In this case, the student must reapply for admission into the Ph.D. program.
  • If the change is approved in the student’s first year, the student shall follow the regular timeline for all Ph.D. objectives. If the change is approved in the second year, the student shall have one extra year to complete Ph.D. objectives (but will still be subject to University regulations limiting total time spent in a degree program). Changes will not normally be approved after the second year.
  • A former student who has left the graduate program prior to the completion of all degree requirements may resume studies with approval of the department and the division. Such student will need to re-apply to the program and be subject to any other restrictions imposed by the College or University on students who have ceased to be enrolled.
  • First Semester
    Biostatistics or equivalent, Population Biology Seminar, graduate electives.
  • Second Semester
    Scientific Communication. Graduate electives and seminars. Deadline to choose major professor and committee.
  • Third Semester
    Graduate electives and seminars.
  • Fourth Semester
    Graduate electives and seminars. Qualifying examinations.

Students entering in the Spring semester should complete their requirements as soon as possible, but will have a one semester extension on formal deadlines.

  • Advanced Animal Behavior
  • Advanced Evolution and Ecology
  • Bioinformatics for Biologists
  • Biostatstics
  • Community Ecology
  • Ecology
  • Evolution of Development
  • Microbial Evolution
  • Molecular Evolution
  • Population Biology Seminar (may be taken repeatedly for credit)
  • Responsible Conduct of Research
  • Scientific Communication
  • Sexual Selection
  • Theory for Experimentalists

The University of Houston has reciprocal arrangements with Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University that enable graduate students to take a limited amount of graduate-level course work at these institutions for credit. There is no payment of fees and tuition at the host institution, and a simplified enrollment procedure is used. Courses may also be taken at other institutions in the Houston area, but additional paperwork and fees may apply. The student must notify the Graduate Coordinator prior to the beginning of the semester to fill out the appropriate forms. For more information, see the Associate Chair for Graduate Affairs.