Degree Requirements

Ph.D. Degree Requirements: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Botany, or Entomology

Required Course Work

Most course work requirements for EEB graduate students are identified during the student’s preliminary advisory committee meeting. Students are expected to take graduate-level courses (or have equivalent knowledge) in ecology, evolution, and systematics. A student’s advisory committee may add course requirements to a student’s degree program during annual meetings. Listed below are specific course requirements for all doctoral students in the EEB department:

  1. Students must complete BIOL 701 Topics in Responsible Scholarship & Teaching Effectiveness during the first year of graduate education in the fall semester. They are expected to attend departmental seminars in subsequent semesters.
  2. Students must complete the BIOL 801 Current Research in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology seminar course during the first year of graduate study in the spring semester.
  3. Students must complete a graduate-level course in statistics, typically fulfilled by completing BIOL 841 Biometry I. Alternatively, students may demonstrate equivalent background knowledge.
  4. Students pursuing the doctorate must complete at least 1 credit hour of BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation.

In addition, students seeking a Ph.D. in botany must take a specialty seminar focusing on a plant-related topic and must complete graduate-level course in each of the following 3 areas:

  1. Plant ecology
  2. Plant systematics or morphology
  3. Plant development or physiology

Students seeking a Ph.D. in entomology must take BIOL 500 Biology of Insects and BIOL 502 Laboratory in Insect Biology and Diversity unless they have taken equivalent courses. Students who have taken a course equivalent to BIOL 502 elsewhere still are encouraged to take BIOL 502 to familiarize themselves with the local insect fauna. In addition, students must take all 3 of the following courses: BIOL 708 External Morphology of Insects, BIOL 711 Insect Systematics, and BIOL 716 Insect Physiology and Internal Morphology.


Doctoral students must complete at least 2 semesters of half-time supervised teaching, curatorial, or research assistantships. Alternative experiences may be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship

Before proceeding to the Comprehensive Oral Examination, doctoral students must fulfill the Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship requirement. This requirement has 2 components: (1) training in responsible scholarship pertinent to the field of research; and (2) obtaining research skills pertinent to the field of research. Upon completion of any portion of the research skills and responsible scholarship requirement, students must contact the EEB graduate coordinator to complete documentation. Note that students are not allowed to schedule the comprehensive oral examination for the doctorate until the university has received documentation of the completion of this requirement.

Responsible Scholarship: Training in responsible scholarship is part of the curriculum for BIOL 701 Topics in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. Completion of this course fulfills the responsible scholarship portion.

Research Skills: Doctoral students can fulfill the research skills component in one of 4 ways:

  1. Exhibiting reading knowledge of 2 foreign languages
  2. Exhibiting fluency in a foreign language
  3. Exhibiting reading knowledge of 1 foreign language and fulfilling the requirements of 1 other research skill
  4. Fulfilling the requirements of 2 other research skills

1. Reading Knowledge of a Foreign Language

Students without prior experience must enroll in a 3-credit-hour reading course in a major modern language and achieve a final grade of A or B. Students with prior knowledge of a language may choose instead to translate, in a set amount of time, a pre-approved passage from the scientific literature in that language. Approval of the foreign language requirement must be obtained from the instructor of the reading course, from an appropriate representative of a language department, or from a qualified individual from EEB or another department. In EEB, Professor Town Peterson is qualified to test Spanish reading knowledge, and Professor Rudolf Jander is qualified to test German.

2. Fluency in a Foreign Language

Fluency in reading, writing, and speaking a language that is not native to the student is determined by a faculty member who is fluent in the chosen language. Whenever possible, a qualified faculty member from the department should make the determination; otherwise, the student should contact the appropriate language department to identify a qualified individual. The faculty member must submit a letter to the EEB graduate program committee indicating that the student is fluent.

If the student is not a native English speaker, the student’s committee may determine fluency in reading, writing, and speaking English. Following the committee’s determination, the student’s advisor must provide a letter to the EEB graduate program committee indicating that the student is fluent.

3. Other Research Skills

Other research skills may be attained either through course work or through completion of a project. In either case, the skill must be approved in advance of its completion by the EEB Graduate Program Committee. A list of previously approved skills appears in the EEB Graduate Student Handbook. Other courses or projects can be added to this list by petitioning the EEB graduate program committee for pre-approval.

Students with no prior experience using the chosen research skill should take a course recommended by the department; students with experience might choose to develop a project. A qualified faculty member must approve the choice of a project. Upon completion, a letter that describes the project and is signed by the supervising faculty member should be submitted to the departmental graduate coordinator for documentation purposes.

Note: Contact your department or program for more information about research skills and responsible scholarship, and the current requirements for doctoral students. Current policies on Doctoral Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship are listed in the KU Policy Library.

Residence Requirement

Graduate Studies requires all doctoral students to complete 2 terms, which may include 1 summer session, in full-time resident study at KU. See the EEB Graduate Student Handbook for details.

Comprehensive Oral Examination

The comprehensive oral examination tests the breadth of a student's knowledge and explores the student's ability to synthesize information and think critically. The examination should include, but is not limited to, questions relating to ecology, evolution, and systematics, as well as information about general biology. Examinations are conducted in English. Students are recommended to take the examination within four semesters of entering the program and are expected to complete the examination within six semesters. To be eligible to take the examination, both the research skills and responsible scholarship and doctoral residence requirements must be fulfilled and documented. All doctoral aspirants must prepare a dissertation proposal that follows the National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant model. The dissertation proposal must be submitted to all members of the examination committee for review and approval at least 2 weeks before the examination. Students must contact the EEB graduate coordinator 3 weeks before the anticipated examination to request departmental and College permission to schedule the event.

Doctoral committees must be composed of at least five members of KU’s Graduate Faculty. A majority of committee members must be tenured or tenure-track EEB faculty with regular or dissertation status on the KU Graduate Faculty. One committee member may hold any status on the Graduate Faculty and may be an EEB department member or may be outside EEB. One member, serving as a member of KU Graduate Studies, must be a KU faculty member from outside EEB with regular or dissertation status on the KU Graduate Faculty. Non-KU faculty may be appointed to serve as regular members on dissertation committees if appointed to the Graduate Faculty with ad hoc status, but such individuals may not serve as the KU Graduate Studies representative. The committee chair must have dissertation status. If a co-chair is assigned, the faculty member may have any status on the Graduate Faculty. Students are recommended to use the breath of diversity in the department in forming a committee. See the university’s policy on committee composition.

A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the examination. If the advisor or committee members wish, secret ballots may be used. To award Honors, at least 80 percent of the committee members must judge the student’s performance to be exceptional. An exceptional performance would be one that is judged to be in the top 10 percent of examinations in which the committee members have participated. If a student fails the comprehensive examination, another examination may be scheduled a minimum of 90 days after the first examination, but under no circumstances may a student take the examination more than twice. A successful pass of the comprehensive oral examination is considered valid by the university for 5 years. Doctoral candidates who do not complete the dissertation within 5 years may be required to take the examination again to demonstrate current knowledge in the field.

Research Progress, Final Oral Examination, and Dissertation Defense

After passing the comprehensive oral examination and advancing to degree candidacy, doctoral students are expected to focus on completing original research and writing for the dissertation. Although opportunities for taking valuable courses may arise, the majority of a doctoral candidate’s enrollment should be in dissertation credits (BIOL 999 Doctoral Dissertation).

It is generally expected that the dissertation should be completed two to three years after advancing to candidacy. During these years, the student should continue to meet with his or her advisory committee on an annual basis to receive guidance on research progress. Committee membership should follow university requirements.

When the student and the faculty advisor are able to reasonably predict when the dissertation research and writing will be done, the dissertation defense and final oral examination may be scheduled. At least five months must have elapsed between successful completion of the oral examination and the date of the defense. Students must contact the EEB graduate coordinator at least three weeks prior to the anticipated defense date to request departmental and university approval of the defense.

A complete dissertation must be provided to the EEB Graduate Program Committee and to the student’s entire dissertation committee no less than two weeks (or longer if requested by the student’s committee) in advance of the planned defense. All members of the dissertation committee are required to read and comment on the work. Three members are designated readers and provide a more detailed review. The dissertation must be written to meet general university regulations.

The dissertation defense and final oral examination include a presentation of the candidate’s dissertation as a formal, public lecture. Whenever possible, the presentation should be part of the regular departmental seminar series. The presentation is followed by a question period, after which the final oral examination committee meets with the student for further discussion of the dissertation. A majority vote of the committee is required for the student to pass the examination; 80 percent of the committee must agree to award a student Honors. Both the dissertation and the presentation are considered in the decision. In some cases it may be possible for committee members to attend the defense and examinations via mediated means such as tele/video-conferencing (for details view the exam attendance policy statement. After passing the final oral examination, the student will make any corrections to the dissertation that are required.

Time Constraints

A student beginning graduate study with only a bachelor’s degree should complete all work for the master’s degree in 2 or 3 years after initial enrollment at KU. A student beginning graduate study with a master’s degree in the biological sciences should complete all work for the doctoral degree within 4 or 5 years. A student beginning graduate study with only a bachelor’s degree in the biological sciences should complete all work for the doctoral degree within 5 or 6 years.

The maximum tenure for EEB graduate students varies according to degree program. Master’s students are allowed a maximum of 4 years to complete the degree program, and doctoral students are allowed 8 years. If a student earns both an M.A. and a Ph.D. from KU, he or she has a total of 10 years to complete both degrees. Petitions to extend the time limits must be approved by the student’s advisory committee and forwarded to the EEB Graduate Program Committee for consideration before being forwarded to the College for final approval.

As required by the university, doctoral students must complete the equivalent of at least 3 academic years of full-time graduate study. This may include the time spent earning a master’s degree.

Contact Info

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Haworth Hall
1200 Sunnyside Ave., Room 2041C
Lawrence, KS 66045-7566
Sharon Billings, Associate Chair for Graduate Studies
A. Townsend Peterson, Graduate Program Advisor
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