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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Degree Program

top ⇑General Requirements

Faculty Advisor

The student will consult his/her advisor in order to develop a course of study and to gain the advisor's approval for course registration. The faculty advisor must be a regular (full time) member of the department.

The potential applicant should contact the professor who is desired as advisor prior to making application to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering. Admission to the EEB graduate program depends upon a faculty member committing to supervise the student's graduate program, including the thesis research and composition. Thus, each applicant must have contacted the potential advisor prior to the decision on her/his application for admission.

Entrance Interview

During the first semester of enrollment, each entering student interviews with the faculty advisor (Graduate Studies Committee Chair substitutes if an advisor has not been arranged) and two other regular faculty members. The purpose of the interview is to review prior courses taken by the student, discuss research interests and degree goals, and ensure that the student understands departmental graduate study procedures. Recommendations for coursework to address deficiencies or to enhance the student's program may be made during the interview. Download Entrance Interview Form.

Course Requirements

A total of 48 semester hours of approved graduate course work must be completed for the doctoral degree. A majority of graduate course credits earned at Tulane must be in the EEB Department. A maximum of 24 semester hours of transfer credit is generally allowed for doctoral students. These credits must be approved by the Chair of the Department and the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering and they must have been acquired within six years of the first date of graduate registration at Tulane. Students must be registered for nine semester hours in order to maintain full-time status. Further information is given in the Graduate Catalog of the School of Science and Engineering.

Comprehensive Examination

All Ph.D. students must take and pass the Comprehensive Examination focusing on Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Successful performance on the Comprehensive Examination is required for advancement to degree candidacy. Download Comprehensive Examination Form.

Students Who Entered the Program Spring 2011 or Later

The Comprehensive Examination is administered for each student by an examining committee composed of three tenure-track or tenured faculty members, not including the student’s thesis or dissertation advisor. The exam consists of two parts. The first part is written, and the second is oral. The written component is the GRE Biology Subject Test. Applicants for admission to the graduate program in EEB are encouraged to take the GRE Biology Subject Test before admission into the graduate program. All students must complete the GRE Biology Subject Test by the end of the first year of academic study. The student’s examining committee will review the results of the Biology Subject Test and advise the student on deficiencies prior to the oral examination. The examining committee may also recommend readings in preparation for the oral exam. The oral exam, which must be completed by the end of the second year of academic study, is administered by the examining committee and focuses on the student’s competency in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in depth, including any deficiencies revealed by the GRE Biology Subject Test. The examining committee will determine “acceptable performance” for each student, taking into consideration the research the student intends to pursue as well as the need for one to have a robust knowledge of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. If the performance on the oral exam is not acceptable, the examining committee will decide on the best course of action, including the possibility of having the student re-take either or both parts of the Comprehensive Examination.

Students who have not taken general courses in both Ecology and Evolution as undergraduates are encouraged to enroll in these courses as graduate students at Tulane during their first year of study, prior to taking the Comprehensive Examination. Alternatively, students may study these subjects on their own during the two semesters leading up to the GRE Biology Subject Test. Students are encouraged to meet with their advisor early to discuss methods of preparing for the Comprehensive Examination.

All continuing Ph.D. students who have passed the Comprehensive Examination and have met all other requirements for the Master's degree are eligible to receive the Master of Science degree. Each eligible student must apply to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering to receive the degree because it is not granted automatically.

Students Who Entered the Program Fall 2010 or Earlier

This exam should be taken by the end of the first year of study, and it must be completed no later than the end of the second year or one semester before completion of a degree, whichever comes first. The primary purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to test the student's basic knowledge of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. A committee of three EEB faculty members will oversee all aspects of the exam. It will be administered once each year, generally at the end of the spring semester. Sixty percent (60%) of the exam will consist of multiple-choice questions, and 40% will be essay questions. The multiple-choice and essay portions of the exam may be administered on different dates. Students who achieve scores equal to or greater than 80% will pass the exam; those students who achieve 59% or less will fail it. Students who score between 60 and 79% may, at the discretion of the examining committee, be asked to re-take the exam. In some cases, additional reading may be assigned to those students retaking the exam. The examining committee will decide whether or not students who receive failing grades will be asked to leave the program or allowed to retake the test. Students who fail the Comprehensive Examination a second time will be asked to leave the graduate program. Download Comprehensive Examination Form.

Students who have not taken general courses in both Ecology and Evolution as undergraduates will be encouraged to enroll in these courses as graduate students at Tulane prior to taking the Comprehensive Examination. Alternatively, students may study these subjects on their own during the semesters leading up to the exam. Students are encouraged to meet with their advisor early to discuss methods of preparing for the Comprehensive Examination.

All continuing Ph.D. students who have passed the Comprehensive Examination and have met all other requirements for the Master's degree are eligible to receive the Master of Science degree. Each eligible student must apply to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering to receive the degree because it is not granted automatically.

top ⇑Teaching Requirements

All Ph.D. degree candidates must demonstrate teaching competence. This requirement applies to all Ph.D. students, including graduate fellows, research assistants (R.A.s), teaching assistants (T.A.s), and those persons who are self-supported. The minimum requirement is one semester as a teaching assistant or an equivalent classroom experience as described below.

Several equivalent options are available to fulfill the teaching requirement:


  1. Teach two concurrent, semester-long lab sections of the introductory course (EBIO 1015 – Diversity of Life Lab), which includes lab preparation each week, introductory lectures and the writing and grading of quizzes. Some grading of lecture exams may also be assigned.
  2. Teach one, semester-long lab section of ecology (EBIO 3045), which includes lab preparation each week, introductory lectures, and the grading of lab reports. Grading of lecture exams is also part of the duties of a TA in the ecology lab.
  3. By special arrangement, take primary responsibility to teach one semester-long lab section in an upper division course, including lab organization and preparation, lab contact time with students (including lab orientation "lectures"), organization of data, and preparation and grading of lab material (quizzes, practical exams, lab reports). Courses that may allow one to fulfill the teaching requirement in this manner depend on enrollment and availability of T.A.s each semester.
  4. Prepare and deliver a total of at least eight regular course lectures, or the equivalent, spread over at least two different courses within the EEB Department, as well as write and grade exam questions covering the relevant material.
  5. Teach an entire course, subject to need for the course and approval by the Chair and the Dean of the School of Science and Engineering. This last option is an unusual situation, typically reserved for students nearing the completion of the Ph.D. degree, and not something that can be counted on by any student. This option clearly would require more work than the other options.

A teaching assistantship in any given semester may involve only grading of lecture section exams for one or more classes for an average of 10-15 hours per week, but this assignment does not satisfy the one-semester teaching requirement for any student (including T.A.s) because of the insufficiently rich pedagogical experience.

Download the Certification for Completion of Ph.D. Teaching Requirement Form.

top ⇑Dissertation Committee

The faculty advisor and the dissertation committee are selected to guide the student's dissertation research. The faculty advisor serves as Chair of the dissertation committee and ensures that the student develops a course of study that will give proper foundation to the dissertation research. The dissertation committee must consist of at least four faculty members, three of whom (including the student's advisor) must be regular (full time) members of the EEB Department. The fourth committee member must be from another department or from another institution. Faculty from outside departments may serve as co-advisor, but departmental faculty must administer exams and certify fulfillment of other departmental requirements. One Emeritus professor from EEB may serve as a committee member, but he/she may not chair the dissertation committee. Each student must request approval for the composition of the dissertation committee by letter addressed to the Chair of the Department. Membership in the dissertation committee may be dynamic, but the student, his/her advisor, and the Chair of the Department must approve each change in its composition.

The dissertation committee should meet for the first time by the end of the student's second year of study. The dissertation committee is responsible for monitoring the student's progress until the degree is awarded, including administering the qualifying examination, approving the prospectus, accepting the dissertation, and conducting the dissertation defense. Further information is given in the Graduate Catalog of the School of Science and Engineering. Download Thesis Committee Approval Form.

top ⇑Prospectus

Prior to and in preparation for the qualifying examination, the student should submit a draft of his or her dissertation prospectus to the dissertation committee. The prospectus must be given to each member of the qualifying exam committee at least four weeks prior to the exam.

The prospectus outlines the program of research that will result in an acceptable dissertation. The prospectus must describe proposed research aimed at answering specific questions and should demonstrate that all necessary equipment, literature, technical skills, and other resources necessary to execute the planned work are available. The research questions posed should be clear and specific. The answers to the questions should promise to be important conceptual generalizations in the field of study, or better to extend to other fields.

The prospectus is a research proposal that describes the work the student aims to complete to earn the Ph.D. degree. The prospectus is expected to be a concise summary of the proposed work, and it should be formatted as follows: Summary, Introduction and Background, Significance of Research, Hypotheses and Tests, Methods, Preliminary Data, and Literature Cited. The student is expected to work closely with her/his advisor to ensure that the prospectus is well written and appropriately describes research to be conducted. The dissertation committee must deem the prospectus acceptable prior to the qualifying exam. If the committee determines that the prospectus is not acceptable as submitted, it will be returned to the student who may be required to reschedule the exam.

Upon completion of the qualifying examination and in consultation with the faculty advisor and dissertation committee, the student must submit a synoptic version of his or her dissertation prospectus to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering for approval by the Associate Dean of the School of Science and Engineering. Guidelines for writing this summarized prospectus are found in the Graduate Catalog of the School of Science and Engineering. Copies of all approved dissertation prospectuses must be deposited with the Department for placement in the student's file. Download Prospectus Form.

top ⇑Qualifying Exam

By the end of the third year of study, all doctoral degree students are required to take a qualifying exam. The primary purpose of the qualifying exam is to test the student's knowledge about the proposed dissertation research and to approve the dissertation prospectus. Except in special circumstances (e.g., a desired faculty member is on sabbatical leave), the qualifying exam committee should consist of members of the student's dissertation committee. When forming the dissertation committee, students should choose committee members with expertise appropriate for the research to be conducted.

The qualifying exam will consist of oral questions submitted by each of the committee members and may take several hours to complete. The questions will focus on aspects of the research and ideas relating to the prospectus, but they may also revisit aspects of the preliminary exam. Students are expected to answer questions concisely and show a command of the subject matter. After completion of the qualifying exam, the committee will meet in private to decide whether the student has passed. If the student fails the exam, he/she may be asked to leave the program or retake the exam at a later date. The committee may require the student to do additional reading or study prior to retaking the exam. If the student fails the exam a second time, he/she will be terminated from the Ph.D. program. Students are encouraged to discuss methods for preparing for the qualifying exam with their advisor and to ask each committee member about requirements for preparation. Download Qualifying Examination Form.

top ⇑Admission to Candidacy

To be admitted officially to candidacy for the doctoral degree, a student must have completed all course requirements, satisfied all foreign language requirements (if any), passed the Comprehensive Examination with a satisfactory score (see above), passed the qualifying examination, and submitted an approved dissertation prospectus to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering. Consult the Graduate Catalog of the School of Science and Engineering for details and procedures.

top ⇑Dissertation

The written dissertation is the culmination of doctoral degree work and is the necessary demonstration of the candidate's ability as a scientist and scholar. The dissertation, therefore, must be a genuine and original contribution to knowledge or an original interpretation of existing knowledge. The dissertation must be worthy of publication in a scholarly journal. If the student has already published papers on his or her research, these may be included as chapters in the dissertation. The faculty advisor and the dissertation committee must pass on the acceptability of the dissertation before it is defended. Instructions on preparing the dissertation document are found in the Graduate Catalog of the School of Science and Engineering.

top ⇑Dissertation Defense (Final Examination) and Seminar

Candidates wishing to defend their dissertation in a particular semester must submit the completed dissertation to the dissertation committee at least four weeks prior to the planned defense date. The dissertation must be approved as ready for defense at least two weeks prior to the defense date. The dissertation advisor is ultimately responsible for the decision as to when the dissertation is ready to defend, but he/she may reach this decision in consultation with the dissertation committee. The final examination is an oral defense of the dissertation following a public presentation of the dissertation research. All doctoral candidates must present their dissertation research as a departmental seminar, which must be formally announced to all members of the department and open to the public. The subsequent dissertation defense is conducted in closed session with the student's faculty advisor and dissertation committee. In order for a student to participate in a graduation ceremony, the defense must be completed at least two weeks prior to the deadline for filing the dissertation, which is set by the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering. An Oral Defense Approval Form must be completed and submitted to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering signifying that the defense was completed. The Oral Defense Approval Form can be found on the Procedures page of the School of Science and Engineering website. Candidates who have successfully defended a dissertation and who have met all other departmental and university requirements are recommended to the faculty of the School of Science and Engineering for awarding of the doctoral degree. For more information click here to view SSE's Doctoral Dissertation and Master's Thesis Completion Guide.

Students are required to submit at least one chapter of the dissertation (or another manuscript resulting from work conducted while at Tulane) to a peer-reviewed publication prior to submission of the final dissertation to the Graduate Studies Program in the School of Science and Engineering. Thus, the dissertation advisor and the student are responsible for meeting this requirement prior to the dissertation defense. Students and advisors are therefore encouraged to publish preliminary or ancillary research results as these studies are completed. The purpose of the requirement is to ensure submission of manuscripts for publication prior to receiving the degree. This practice increases the opportunities for future employment of the candidate while research conducted while at Tulane is completed and disseminated.

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