Accessible Navigation. Go to: Navigation Main Content Footer

Contact Us

The University of Montana
Division of Biological Sciences
32 Campus Drive, HS104
Missoula, MT 59812
Phone: 406.243.5122
Fax: 406.243.4184
Email Us

Visit the Osprey Camera

OBE Program Description

The graduate program in Organismal Biology and Ecology (OBE) provides students training in scientific research that allow them to gain a better understanding of the ecology and evolution of organisms. Graduates of the program are well prepared to undertake further graduate research as university faculty members or applied scientists in the broad field of biology, including conservation biology and wildlife biology. The program has special strengths in population genetics, physiological ecology, aquatic ecology, animal behavior, avian ecology, and plant ecology.

These Policies and Procedures provide guidance to faculty members and graduate students on the operation of the OBE graduate program. In addition, the program follows the formal policies of the University of Montana (UM) Graduate School.

OBE Admission Policy

Students must apply by the 10 January deadline to be considered for admission during the following fall semester. Admission at other times is possible but strongly discouraged because (a) TA support is generally unavailable and unlikely to be subsequently awarded to students who enter without support; (b) such admission puts the student out of step with frequently required coursework (e.g., statistics, BIOB 501); and (c) it is unfair to the "normal" applicant, who gets evaluated against 100+ other applicants. Thus, it is only under truly exceptional circumstances involving students who are clearly top-notch candidates that the admissions committee will offer other than fall admission to the OBE program. Admission at times other than the beginning of fall semester requires a majority vote of approval by the OBE faculty.

Admission Criteria

Admission to the graduate program is competitive and based on Graduate Record Exam scores (general exam only), GPA (overall and in biology courses), courses taken, letters of recommendation, other evidence of scholarly achievement, and area of research interest. Students admitted into the OBE grad program usually far exceed the minimum requirements specified by the Graduate School. OBE requires a minimal GPA of 3.0 in undergraduate coursework in biology and a minimal score of the 60th percentile in each of the four sections of the GRE (verbal, quantitative, analytical, and biology subject test). However, most admitted students achieve scores that are well above these minimal standards. Also, a prospective student must have a faculty member agree to serve as his/her advisor before they are granted admission. Thus, it is recommended that students contact faculty directly either before or as part of the application procedure; many well qualified students are not offered admission because they have not secured the support of a faculty member. Those whose first language is not English must exceed a score of 580 on the paper-based or 237 on the computer-based TOEFL exam.

Admissions Procedure

As applications are received, the graduate secretary organizes each student's materials into a folder, and enters pertinent information (GPA, GRE or TOEFL scores, area of specialization, school from which they graduated, degree program they wish to enter, and faculty member(s) with whom they have been in contact) into a spreadsheet.

Between the application deadline and 15 February, the Graduate Admissions Committee reviews all folders (generally splitting the lot into an equal number of students for each committee member). A review sheet is used to evaluate each applicant with respect to several categories of performance--academic criteria (GPA and GRE scores), publications and presentation of papers at meetings, pertinent experience, and letters of reference. With numerical sums as a guide, applicants are then grouped into one of four categories: (1) outstanding, nationally competitive candidates who should be offered TA support; (2) very good candidates who qualify for TA support, but only after the top candidate pool has been exhausted; (3) meet minimum standards, but Divisional support not recommended; and (4) unacceptable.

The committee then combines this information with the other spreadsheet information and asks the faculty to review the spreadsheet, to peruse the folders of potential advisees, and begin discussions with the student candidates. Faculty members then respond by informing the Admissions Committee of any student(s) they agree to advise. As soon after 15 February as possible, letters are sent to students who will not be accepted, and admission with TA support (see below) is offered to the top candidates, with special attention given students sponsored by younger faculty who are building graduate programs, and to faculty who do not already have several students funded through DBS. Acceptable students are kept on hold until all of the TA support has been offered and accepted; after that time, they are sent rejection letters.

OBE does not allow probationary admission. Once rejected, a student may re-apply for admission during the subsequent year with a $15 reapplication fee. In such instances, however, chances of admission are not any better than before unless the student's admission materials have changed significantly.

TA Support

All TA awards are competitive and are based on the admission criteria outlined above. By February 1, the chairperson will have determined how many TA positions will be available for the following fall. This is accomplished by requesting information about the need for TA positions from the currently enrolled graduate students and their advisors. Master's students who have used their allotted support (2 years), and Ph. D. students who enter the program with a M.S. degree who have used their allotted support (4 years) may be awarded positions provided they are making satisfactory progress, as judged through consultation with the chair of the Graduate Student Evaluations Committee.

In addition, Ph.D. students who do not have a Master's degree will receive up to a 5th year of support if it is needed, and they are making satisfactory progress. All decisions are based upon availability of TA positions, and awards are competitive.

We encourage students with TA's to move on to RA support if it is available. Nevertheless, students will not be guaranteed TA support beyond the end date of the TA award period at admission (in other words, the normal allotted support period described in the previous paragraph regardless of their source of support during that period). However, students that are supported on a RA for part of their "guaranteed" support period will receive high priority for additional TA support. Students admitted with a TA may move on to a RA as early as their first semester in the program. Students who are admitted on RA support will not be guaranteed TA support unless they were judged to be outstanding, nationally competitive candidates who should be offered TA support by the admissions committee at the time of admission.

Students considering moving from a TA assignment to RA support should notify the OBE Program Director at least one semester prior to such a change: 1 January for changes anticipated the following Fall, 1 September for anticipated changes the following Spring.

Response to An Offer of TA Support

Though offers of a teaching assistantship may be made as early as 1 February, students are under no obligation to respond to this offer prior to April 15. Nonetheless, if there is no response to an offer after a 2-week period of time, the OBE faculty may withdraw the offer so that it can be made to another student. If a student accepts an offer before April 15, and subsequently desires to withdraw that acceptance, the student may do so by submitting a written resignation of the offer at any time through April 15. After April 15, the student should not accept another offer without first obtaining a written release from the institution to which a commitment has been made.

OBE Deadlines for Graduate Degree

Selection of Major Professor and Advisory Committee

M.S. Students: 1 November
Ph.D. Students: 1 February

Approved Coursework Form

M.S. Students: 1 November
Ph.D. Students: 1 April

Approved Thesis Proposal, Research Budget, and Research Schedule

M.S. Students: By 1 April of the first year
Ph.D. Students: (a) Preliminary research proposal approved by April 1st of the first academic year;
(b) Research proposal approved by April 1st of the second academic year

Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

End of fall semester during 3rd year.

Admission to Candidacy

M.S. Students: Application must be filed at least 6 months prior to awarding of degree
Ph.D. Students: Application must be filed after completion of the Ph.D. comprehensive exam and 6 months before degree award

Thesis or dissertation draft, approved by major professor, made available to student's Advisory Committee

A month prior to defense

Committee-approved thesis or dissertation made available to OBE faculty

7 days prior to defense

Committee-approved thesis or dissertation made available to the Graduate Dean

M.S. Students: 3 days prior to defense and 18 days prior to the end of the semester
Ph.D. Students: 7 days prior to defense and 4 weeks prior to the end of the semester

Graduate Advisor and Advisory Committee

Formal Appointment

A student's temporary faculty advisor (major professor) is the faculty member who agreed to serve as the student's advisor during the admissions process. Through discussion and mutual agreement, the student and temporary advisor will select an advisory committee. The student is responsible for approaching these persons and requesting that they serve on the committee. The major professor then submits the names of potential committee members to the Associate Dean of DBS for approval (using the DBS Graduate Committee Appointment form). The Associate Dean then forwards the names to the Graduate Dean for formal approval. All formal committee appointments are made by the Graduate Dean. This appointment is subject to change, but should represent the firmest commitment possible. The appointment of a permanent advisor and committee should occur by 1 November during the student's first semester for M.S. students and by 1 February for Ph.D. students.

Role of Advisory Committee

The role of a student’s advisory committee is to provide the intellectual expertise necessary to enable a student to devise and implement high caliber research within their area of interest. As a member of a student’s advisory committee, faculty have the following obligations. (1) Committee members must meet with the student as a committee at least once each academic year. The results of each committee meeting will be placed into the student’s file using the OBE Committee Meeting Report form. The function of this annual committee meeting will be to review student progress, to provide substantive input into the intellectual development of a research proposal, to provide guidance regarding the implementation of research, and to ensure that student research meets a high standard of scholarship. It is the responsibility of the advisor and the graduate student to schedule and coordinate these annual meetings (see below). (2) Committee members must read and comment on research proposals and dissertation chapters in a timely manner. (3) Committee members must communicate to students what their expectations are regarding performance standards on the comprehensive exam, and clearly outline the general areas/topics in which they expect students to have competency (see K.4). (4) Committee members are expected to attend and participate in the student’s dissertation defense. OBE committee members are expected to attend other seminars or presentations by the student scheduled as part of the program requirements.

Student-Advisor Interaction

It is the responsibility of the student, in consultation with the advisor, to constitute an advisory committee according to program timelines, and to arrange annual advisory committee meetings. Significant interaction between students and advisor/committee members involves student submission and faculty review of written material (research proposals, thesis chapters, or other material on which they seek faculty input). Faculty recognize that their timely feedback is essential for students to progress through critical stages (proposals, thesis drafts, etc.) in the development of their research/graduate program, and that providing such input in a timely way is an important responsibility of the faculty advisor and committee members. At the same time, students must recognize that faculty face multiple competing demands and deadlines, and must schedule review of graduate student materials into the rest of their workload. Students should submit materials so that faculty have adequate time for review, and students have sufficient time to incorporate faculty feedback, before deadlines and target dates. Students should scale the time available for review with the size of documents to be reviewed (an entire thesis requires more time than a thesis chapter). Students and faculty should develop clear understanding of expectations for such turnaround.

Open, frequent, and honest communication is the basis for positive working relationships between students and faculty advisors. Disagreement often can be traced to a failure to raise concerns or speak frankly about points of dissatisfaction as they arise; communicating about such issues in a productive and respectful way is an important part of professional life. Students should expect respectful, frank, and critical feedback on their academic performance and professional effectiveness, based on the academic judgments of the advisor and committee members. At the same time, faculty expect to hear from students about aspects of the faculty-student relationship that are counterproductive to student success.

Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their faculty advisor about concerns or problems at the earliest opportunity; indeed, discussion with the faculty advisor should be the first step in addressing any academic, research, or professional concern. Subsequently, unresolved issues should be discussed with a member of the student’s advisory committee; students also may seek informal guidance from another faculty member. Students wishing to pursue an issue further should consult with the OBE Program Director. Student-faculty interactions that grow to the stage of conflict, or unresolved student concerns about the caliber of faculty advisement, should be brought formally in writing to the attention of the OBE Program Director. If he or she cannot resolve the issue, it should be taken to the DBS Associate Dean.

Committee Composition

For purposes of committee membership, an OBE faculty member is a UM tenure-line faculty member or UM Research faculty member who has his or her primary appointment in OBE. UM faculty members who have an Adjunct appointment in OBE are also considered to be OBE faculty members.

M.S. committees--must consist of at least three members; two must be OBE faculty members (including the major professor) and one must be an Outside committee member. The Outside faculty member must be a UM faculty member with a primary appointment outside of OBE. According to UM Graduate School regulations, the responsibility of this committee member is to ensure that the student is held to reasonable academic standards, that the student is treated fairly by all committee members, and that the student's progress is not unduly delayed by failure of committee members to act in a timely manner.

Ph.D. committees--must consist of at least five faculty members. At least three members must be from within OBE, and one must be an Outside committee member. The Outside faculty member must be a UM faculty member with a primary appointment outside of OBE. According to Graduate School regulations, the responsibility of this committee member is to ensure that the student is held to reasonable academic standards, that the student is treated fairly by all committee members, and that the student's progress is not unduly delayed by failure of committee members to act in a timely manner. The fifth member of the committee may be either a UM faculty member or someone from outside of UM who has been approved by the Graduate Dean as qualified by training, experience, and/or degree held to guide and evaluate the dissertation.

OBE Coursework and Academic Standards

Necessary Coursework

All incoming OBE graduate students are required to take the OBE “core” courses in: 1) Advanced Population and Community Ecology (BIOB 513), 2) Physiology and Development and 3) Genetics and Evolution.  Exceptions may be made in two cases.  First, for students entering the graduate program with a Master’s Degree and substantial coursework in a particular subject area, these students could petition to opt out of any one “core” class within the first 10 days of the semester.  Decisions about waiving one of these course requirements will be made by a committee consisting of the head of the OBE graduate admissions committee, the student’s major advisor, and the OBE program chair. Alternatively, the student can take a short oral exam from the lead instructors of the course he/she wants to petition out of, and based on performance, the instructors will make a recommendation to the committee mentioned above.  Second, for students entering the graduate program with the intention of obtaining a M.S. degree, only 1-2 of the three core courses are required.  The decision about whether an MS student should take one or two core courses would be made by the student’s major advisor and the head of the OBE graduate admissions committee.  All three “core” courses must be completed by the end of the student’s second year in the graduate program.  By 1 November of the first semester in residence, each student must arrange a meeting to examine student's coursework. For M.S. students, this meeting will be with the students advisory committee. For Ph.D. students, this meeting will be with the student’s faculty advisor and two additional OBE faculty members who are likely to be appointed to the student’s thesis committee. These faculty will consider the student's undergraduate background to identify any deficiencies based on coursework, GRE scores and committee interviews, and to formalize a coursework plan of study. These faculty will also guide the student in selecting courses to meet career or other educational goals and provide the necessary background for thesis research and desired area of expertise. This meeting will serve as a preliminary evaluation of recommended coursework for Ph.D. students.  A summary of the recommendations from this meeting must be placed in the student’s file ( OBE Committee Required Coursework form for M.S. students, OBE Committee Meeting Report form for Ph.D. students). The final approval of the Committee Required Coursework form for Ph.D. students will occur in the spring semester of the student’s first year in conjunction with the advisory’s committee consideration of the student’s preliminary research proposal.

Credit Requirements

Master's students must complete a committee-approved program of 30 at least semester credits of graduate-level coursework. As many as 10 credits may be thesis (BIOB 599), and at least 10 credits of the non-thesis coursework must be at the 500 level or above. Ph.D. students must complete 60 semester credits of graduate-level coursework (as many as 20 may be dissertation, BIOB 699). The other 40 credits may include coursework, graduate seminars, or independent study (BIOB 596). There are no restrictions on the distribution of these 40 credits; however, the proposed coursework must be approved by the advisory committee. A tangible outcome (e.g. paper) that is independent from the thesis or dissertation research is required from students taking BIOB 596. Students may petition the Graduate School for the transfer of graduate credits into their graduate program at UM. After a semester of satisfactory work at UM in a graduate program, the student can ask their advisory committee to make a written request to the Graduate School to accept transfer credits. An official copy of the student's transcript of the courses for transfer and catalog course description should accompany the recommendation. Students are advised to petition for credit transfer as soon as feasible to avoid complications at graduation.

Academic Standards

Graduate students must maintain a B average in courses taken for graduate credit, and no grade less than a C will be accepted toward any degree requirement. Letter grades must be obtained in all courses used to meet credit requirements except seminars, research, thesis, and dissertation, which are graded on either an N (continuation) or Pass/Not Pass basis. Pass grades are not included in grade point calculations but may apply toward degree requirements when earned in courses offered only on a Pass/Not Pass basis. Full-time graduate students without teaching assistantships must carry at least nine credits and no more than 16 credits per semester during the academic year. Teaching and research assistants must be enrolled in at least 9, and no more than 15 (TA) or 12 (RA) credits.

OBE Continuous Registration and Leaves of Absence

The Graduate School requires that graduate students register for credits every fall and spring semester. The number of credits should be that deemed commensurate with use of facilities and faculty time. Students must register for a leave-of-absence if they do not plan to be continuously registered. Students who step out of the program for two or more semesters without such approval will be dropped from the program by the Graduate School. Re-admission is allowed through petition or reapplication only.

OBE Seminars Seminars

OBE Seminar Series

The purpose of this seminar series is:
1. to encourage the exchange of scientific ideas among OBE members
2. to acquaint OBE members with current research interests of others in the program; and
3. to provide a mechanism for learning about and improving one's oral communication skills
Participation in the weekly OBE seminar series is an extremely important part of graduate education. In each spring semester, the OBE graduate students will elect two students to organize and host the weekly seminar series for the following academic year. These students will coordinate seminars with the help of OBE seminar committee chair. Speakers will be drawn from the graduate student body and faculty as required by the guidelines below. At the discretion of the graduate students some seminar dates may be filled by post-doctoral researchers, visiting scientists, individuals from other academic units on campus, government or non-government scientists, or others.

M.S. students are required to present a 30-minute talk about their thesis research during their second year in the program. Ph.D. students are required to present a 30-min talk about their proposed dissertation research during their second year in the program. Adequate time (20-min) should be left following these talks for discussion and thoughtful feedback from students and faculty. Ph.D. students will then present a 30 - 40-min talk about their dissertation research or other research activities every year thereafter for the duration of their tenure as a graduate student. Oral presentation made at the OBE graduate student symposium (below) substitutes for presentation in the weekly seminar series. Faculty members are expected to give a 40-min talk every other year; it is the responsibility of individual faculty members to make sure that they are scheduled for a seminar during the appropriate year.

All faculty members and graduate students are expected to attend these seminars (i.e., seminar attendance is mandatory).

Focus Group Seminars

All graduate students and faculty members are expected to participate regularly in a programmatically approved seminar course in which formal seminar presentations are required. These seminars may be organized by laboratory groups or by topics of research of faculty members (e.g., Trends in Plant Ecology, BIOB 526; Population Genetics Seminar, BIOB 561; Behavioral Ecology, BIOB 511; Seminar in Biology, BIOB 594; Readings in Morphology, Physiology, and Ecology, BIOB 522; Field Biology of East Africa, BIOB 595; and Evolutionary Ecology, BIOB 595). All new graduate students (M.S. and Ph.D.) are required to present a short 20 – 30 minute research proposal to this seminar group during their first year in the program. Proposal presentations will be advertised to all OBE faculty and graduate students, who may attend at their discretion.

OBE Graduate Student Symposium

The OBE graduate students will organize a graduate student symposium to be held on a Saturday on campus or at an off campus site, e.g. the Flathead Lake Biological Station, during the fall semester. The objectives of the symposium are to:
1. give students experience presenting their research and exchanging ideas in a conference-like venue
2. provide incoming students with immediate understanding of the various research groups in OBE and an opportunity to meet faculty and students
3. showcase the activities of OBE to administration and other academic units
4. reduce scheduling pressure from the OBE weekly seminar series, and
5. give graduate students experience organizing and hosting a scientific meeting
The OBE graduate students will elect symposium organizers who will coordinate with the OBE seminar and social events committee as needed. The organizers will decide the date, location, format (talks, posters) and theme (if necessary) of the symposium, which may change each year. A special award will be given for the best presentation decided by a committee of two faculty and two graduate students.

OBE Research Planning and Proposals

Formal Research Proposal

Each student is required to complete a formal research proposal that presents the theoretical and empirical framework within which the study has been designed and will be carried out. Specifically, the proposal should consist of a title, an introduction to the research problem, how the problem fits into a broader conceptual framework defined by existing literature, a justification of its importance, the specific objectives, methods (including details about design and proposed methods of analysis), a timetable, and a budget.

M.S. candidates must obtain committee approval of a research proposal no later than 1 April of their first academic year. Students must also present an oral defense of their thesis proposal to their committee. A student must pass this defense and have his/her research proposal approved before being allowed to begin his/her formal research.

Ph.D. students must obtain committee approval of a preliminary research proposal no later than 1 April of their first academic year. The committee approval of the Committee Required Coursework form will be completed in association with approval of this pre-proposal. The final dissertation proposal must be approved by the student’s committee by 1 April of their second academic year. This proposal must be structured in the format of an NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant.

After approval by the committee, for both MS and Ph.D. students, a copy of the proposal signed by all committee members must be placed in the student's file. Ph.D. students must also submit an advisor-signed copy of the proposal to the Graduate Dean.

In approving the proposal, the advisory committee agrees that successful completion of the project will be sufficient research for a satisfactory thesis or dissertation. Any substantive changes made after committee approval must be brought back to the committee for discussion.

Teaching Requirement and Teaching Assistantships

All Ph. D. students must engage in supervised teaching activities and must teach the equivalent of a regular TA assignment for at least one semester, regardless of whether they are salaried. Ph.D. students are encouraged to obtain more teaching experience either through additional TA assignments or by giving guest lectures in classes. There is no teaching requirement for M.S. students.

Teaching assistantships are awarded annually on a competitive basis. Initial support is contingent upon the nature and quality of completed coursework, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and other evidence of scholarship filed with the student's application for admission. Renewed support is contingent upon satisfactory progress toward degree requirements and quality of teaching performance. Students in the program who lose research support will be considered in spring for teaching assistantships, effective the following academic year, along with the new applicant pool under consideration.

Support for continuing students is contingent upon the criteria outlined in section B.2 as well as upon the academic performance while in residence in the division. The annual review of each graduate student deals with these criteria. TA support will ordinarily be limited to 4 and 8 consecutive academic year semesters for M.S. and Ph.D. students, respectively. When students are accepted into the program they shall be informed that this amount of support is available as long as they meet the requirements outlined above.

Periodically, supplemental assistantships become available at the beginning of a semester, either from the Dean in response to enrollment fluctuations, or due to unexpected vacancies inassistantships already awarded. It is the role of the Graduate Admissions Committee to provide a prioritized listing of all qualified graduate students to whom such support can be offered.

Any deviation from consecutive semester appointments requires the prior approval of the OBE faculty and the Associate Dean of DBS. Summer appointments are sometimes available at the Biological Station.

OBE Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for the Master's or Ph.D. degree. Nevertheless, the Advisory Committee may require a student to show competence in a foreign language when appropriate for the student's area of research interest.

OBE Annual Review of Student Progress

The OBE Student Evaluation Committee evaluates student progress every Spring. The OBE Grad Students Progress Summary Form and the OBE Graduate Student Annual Review Form are used in this review. This committee also conducts a follow-up evaluation every fall to judge whether students are making satisfactory progress or not. In the event that a student has not met a stated deadline, (s)he will be warned that (s)he is on probation, and will be making satisfactory progress only after completion of the task by a newly stated deadline. If (s)he fails to complete the task by the newly stated deadline, (s)he will be judged to be making unsatisfactory progress, and is deemed to be ineligible for continued TA support. If the task is still incomplete by the end of the next semester, the student will be dropped from the program.

OBE Comprehensive Exam (Ph.D. only)


Each Ph.D. student must pass a written and oral comprehensive examination that deals with his/her research specialization and cognate areas. Although the examination is designed to test the candidate's readiness to continue with the research phase of his/her graduate studies, it is not to be concerned solely with the dissertation topic. Testing the student's general mastery of the field is regarded as an essential part of the examination. This exam should represent a breadth of knowledge including knowledge of minor or cognate fields of study.


This exam must be completed by the end of fall semester of the student’s third year in the program after the student has taken all of the coursework required by the dissertation committee. The conceptual emphasis of the exam must be identified by the student's committee by the end of the student’s second year in the program on the basis of the student’s major and minor fields of interest.

Committee Composition

The comprehensive exam is conducted by a committee appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School on recommendation of the Associate Dean of DBS. This committee usually comprises the same faculty members as the student's advisory committee, except that the student's major professor cannot serve as chairman of the comprehensive committee. The student and his/her major advisor are responsible to make arrangements to assign a chairman. The committee chairman will construct the written exam based on questions submitted by the committee members and ensure timely progress towards the oral portion of the exam. The written exam will be provided to all committee members for their comments before it is given to the student.

Exam Format

The format includes a week-long, written portion, where the student is expected to synthesize information from the literature concerning the questions offered. The written exams will cover detailed Ph.D.-level questions related to the student's general area of research interest. The committee will, in advance, provide the student with a list of topics, journal articles, books etc., to assist the student in preparing for the exam. These materials may serve to focus the exam but neither student answers nor faculty questions are rigidly bounded by the provided materials. The exam evaluates the student's mastery of his/her research field. Faculty will specify whether his/her question is to be open- or closed-book. Commonly each formal committee member provides questions which the student will have one day each to complete. Prior to the exam, each committee member will submit questions to the exam chair. The chair will compile the questions and attempt to minimize overlap and make sure that the exam has sufficient breadth. The exam will be distributed to all committee members who must approve the entire exam before it is administered to the student by the chair on the arranged dates. After the exam committee has read the written portion, they meet to decide whether to proceed with the oral portion, where clarification or additional material may be pursued. Upon successful completion of the written exams the student will take an oral exam (generally within 1 week). Students can expect questions on the oral exam which are derived from the specialized material they have been asked to master. A 2-hour time block must be made available for this exam. All faculty members are invited to participate without vote. Once the exam is completed, a vote is taken in the absence of the student. A student can pass with one negative vote. If the student fails the examination, one repeat examination is permitted. A suitable interval between exams shall be determined by the comprehensive exam committee. Failure to pass the exam after the second attempt will necessitate dropping the student from the program.

OBE Admission to Candidacy

At least 6 months before the Master's or Ph.D. degree is to be awarded, and after successful completion of the comprehensive exam (for Ph.D. students), the student must submit to the Graduate School three copies of the Application for Graduation Form and a check for $25.00.

OBE Completion and Defense of M.S. Thesis or Ph.D. Dissertation

Thesis / Dissertation Content

The thesis or dissertation must embody the results of independent research by the candidate. It must be an original contribution to knowledge appropriate for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The difference between a thesis and dissertation is not clear cut, but, generally speaking, lies with the extent to which the effort is a first stab (vs. a polished product), the use of experiments (vs. correlation) to reveal mechanisms, and the degree to which a student is contributing new understanding to an area of research. Many students write their thesis or dissertation as a series of papers, and some submit such papers to journals before graduating. A paper that is accepted by a journal does not, however, ensure that it will be automatically accepted by the committee without further modification.

Deadlines and Approvals

Copies of the complete thesis draft, edited, signed, and approved by the major professor, shall be made available to the rest of the student's advisory committee at least 30 days prior to the anticipated defense date so that they can approve it for defense. The advisory committee must meet for this decision at least one week before the scheduled defense. This important step should not be circumvented by having the student visit faculty to collect signatures one at a time. After the committee unanimously approves and signs the thesis or dissertation for defense, it is submitted to the OBE faculty for their approval at least 7 days prior to the defense, and to the Graduate School for its approval at least 7 days prior to the defense. The signature of the committee chair and all committee members should be on the title page indicating that they have agreed that it is ready for defense. Unless the OBE program director receives a written objection by one or more OBE faculty, the thesis or dissertation defense can take place on the scheduled day. In the event there is an objection, OBE faculty shall meet and vote. A 2/3 majority of all OBE faculty in current residence must approve to proceed with the defense. Public notice of the defense should be posted one week prior to the defense. At least two weeks before the end of the semester, the student must submit to the Graduate School, 3 final unbound copies of the thesis or dissertation, one additional copy of the dissertation title page and abstract, and the applicable fees and forms. For guidance in preparing a thesis or dissertation, as well as current binding fees and forms required, consult the Graduate School's on-line instructions ( The student is encouraged to have an additional copy of the thesis bound by a commercial binding service for his/her thesis director.


M.S. and Ph. D. students will be required to conduct a public (40 minute) presentation of his/her research findings. The public presentation is immediately followed by a public question-answer period. Following the public presentation, the student's advisory committee conducts an oral examination, which is open to all faculty members of the University. Students will be required to "defend" the approach, methods, analysis, and conclusions related to their research. The student should bring the thesis copies that were marked by committee members so the committee members can use those copies for reference during the defense. A 1-hour block of time should be reserved for this defense.

No summer (i.e., after the end of spring semester and before the beginning of fall semester) defenses are allowed; many OBE faculty members and graduate students are not available on campus for the public seminar presentation and defense during this period.

In case of failure, one repeat examination at least one month after the initial defense is permitted. A unanimous vote of a satisfactory performance is required by a Master's examination committee for a pass. A Ph.D. student is required to have no more than one negative vote from the Dissertation Committee to pass this exam.

OBE Guidelines Governing Use of DBS Facilities and Services

Office Space

Office and research space is arranged through consultation between the Associate Dean for the Biological Sciences and the student's advisor. Generally, advisors are expected to use their assigned space to provide office and research space for their own students.


Keys to the building, your office space, and any laboratories you need access to can be obtained by having your advisor initial a key card, which may be obtained from the Administrative officer (Nancy Bernius). The card must go back to the Administrative Officer and then on to the Department of Campus Security at the physical plant. The physical plant will charge you a fee for each key, refunded upon return of the key. Due to security and theft risks and the enormous costs of re-keying locks if keys are lost, students are asked to guard keys carefully.

Office Supplies

The Division cannot provide you with paper, pens, legal pads, computer paper, disks, or other supplies. Division letterhead may be made available to you through your faculty advisor. Letterhead may be used for official university business, including graduate student thesis or dissertation research, but not for personal business or for conveying personal positions or views (e.g., letters to the editor).

Mail Service

The outgoing mailboxes in the DBS office are for business-related mail only. Personal items, even those that are already stamped, are not allowed by the mail service. Be sure that your name and the DBS mail account number MBii01 appear on any business-related mail authorized by your advisor.


Graduate students are not permitted to place long-distance business calls from Division phones unless specifically authorized to do so by their advisor.

Copy Machine

Students are permitted to copy materials for courses in which they are a teaching assistant, and all copying is to be done by the office staff. Submit your requests to the copy basket in HS 105. Be sure to indicate the appropriate course number on the copy request slip. Please give the secretarial staff plenty of lead time for your copying needs; it is unreasonable to walk in just before a class and expect to have items copied. Copies for research purposes must be charged to a grant number.

Office Computer / Laser Printer

The office computers are not available for student use. Copies of final versions of papers to be submitted to journals, or of correspondence on DBS letterhead that you have already typed on another computer can be given to the secretaries on 3.5" floppies for printing on the laser printer. These are printed when the laser printer is not otherwise being used for Division business. Do not expect to have items printed on demand. The office cannot print theses or dissertations.

Secretarial Help

Secretaries will type materials for classes in which you are assisting (e.g., quizzes, syllabi, etc.) if you present legible copies for them to work from. The secretaries cannot type term papers or other coursework-related items, or theses, or draft manuscripts for students.


The Division is not able to purchase reprints of articles published by graduate students.


Students attending professional meetings should inquire whether Graduate School funding (with Division matching funds) are available to support travel; generally this funding will be modest if it is available.

Research Supplies

You may not charge research supplies to the Division at IMS, Chem Stores, office stores, library, or any other place on- or off-campus.

Greenhouse, GIS laboratory, Biological Station, Lubrecht Experimental Forest, and other Facilities

You must work with your advisor and the director of a given facility to gain access for research purposes.