Ph.D. Degree Requirements

The requirements below apply to students in both the UC Davis GGE and to those in the Joint-Doctoral Program in Ecology (JDPE) with San Diego State University (SDSU), except as otherwise noted. All faculty members of the JDPE are also members of the GGE.

Ph.D. Plan B

All GGE students complete the Ph.D. Plan B, which specifies a three member (minimum) dissertation committee, an optional final oral examination (made on an individual student basis by the dissertation committee), and an exit seminar.

Course Requirements – Ph.D. (minimum 32 units)

a) Core Course Requirements (minimum 24 units)

All students are required to complete these courses, substitutions are not allowed except for equivalent courses taken elsewhere that are approved by the Guidance Committee.

  • Principles of Ecology, ECL 200 A and B: 5 units each. BIO 645/745 at SDSU for the JDPE
  • Evolution, EVE 100 (or equivalent if taken elsewhere): 4 units. Bio 352 or 509 at SDSU for the JDPE
  • Ecology 290, 3 seminars are required: variable units. One SDSU seminar is allowed with pre-approval
  • Field Course Requirement: One of the following courses: ESP 123, ESP 124, ECL 225 (4, 10 and 4 units, respectively) or equivalent if taken elsewhere.
  • Ecology and Evolution Seminar Series, ECL 296, taken each quarter of the first year in residence: 1 unit each, 3 total. One SDSU seminar is allowed with preapproval

b) Area of Emphasis Core Course Requirement (3-8 units)

Students complete the core course requirement according to the Area of Emphasis that they have chosen at the time of admission.  Please Areas of Emphasis for additional information.

c) Qualifying Examination Topic Preparation (no minimum units, but additional coursework may be needed)

1. Two topics are set for all Ecology students: Principles of Ecology and Research Methodology/Quantitative Skills.

  • Principles of Ecology primary coursework preparation: ECL 200A and ECL200B (or BIO 645/745 for JDPE students).
  • Research Methodology/Quantitative Skills primary coursework preparation: students must choose 2 courses to support the examination topic. These courses must be quantitative and involve statistics and/or modeling, but need not be statistics classes. Typical selections include PLS 205, 206, STA 205, ESP 121, ABT 180.
  • Ph.D. students choose three additional optional examination topics. Students must choose 2 courses to support each examination topic, however upper division undergraduate courses may be used, as may upper division or graduate courses from other institutions. Examination topics should be broad areas, and are chosen in consultation with the Guidance Committee. 
  • Examples of Exam TopicsBehavioral Ecology, Community Ecology, Physiological Ecology, Agroecology, Aquatic Ecology, Human Population Ecology, Geology, Epidemiology, Population Ecology, Ecosystem Analysis, Entomology, Conservation Ecology. 

Guide to Matriculation

Preliminary Examination 

The Preliminary Examination consists of a written exam on general principles of ecology. The written exam consists of the written final examinations of ECL 200A and 200B, and BIO 645/745 for JDPE students. These exams are graded by the course instructors. A letter grade of A+ on a question constitutes a high pass; A or A- a Pass; B+ or B a Low Pass; a B- grade or lower constitutes a No Pass for a question.  The scores on individual questions are then averaged for an overall grade. Students will Pass the exam if their overall average is a Low Pass or higher and that they have a No Pass on no more than two exam questions. A grade of No Pass requires the student to retake the Preliminary Examination exam. Students will be allowed two subsequent tries at passing the exam. Failure to successfully complete the exam on the third try will initiate a progress review of the student to consider disqualification from the program.

Qualifying Examination

A five person qualifying examination committee (cannot include major professor) will be selected by the student.  No more than one non-GGE faculty member may serve on the QE Committee.  No more than two committee members can be non-Academic Sentate members.  Non-GGE faculty members may not be examiners in either the Principles of Ecology or Research Methods/Quantitative Skills exam areas.

JDPE students are not allowed to invite their UCD host to serve on their QE committee. The QE for JDPE students must also be approved by the Dean of the Graduate Division on the SDSU campus. JDPE QE committees must include 2 members from each campus.

Every Ph.D. student will be required to submit a written “Research Proposal” to the members of the QE committee no later than 14 days prior to the Examination date. The proposal will be 10 - 20 pages (double spaced) in length not to exceed 5,000 words, written with one inch margins and 12 point font. It must include a literature review on the proposed research topic and a research design that will allow the testing of hypotheses of importance raised in the literature review. 

It is the student's responsibility to find an examination date and time suitable for everyone, reserve a room, and send a notice of the exam's location, date, and time to all participants. The Qualifying Examination is three hours in length.

Qualifying Exam Guidelines

Research Proposal

Satisfactory progress towards the dissertation and completing the dissertation itself are the only requirements of the candidate after successful completion of the Qualifying Examination. Satisfactory progress includes producing a dissertation proposal and having it approved by the Dissertation Committee within 6 months of passing the qualifying examination. The format of dissertation proposal should follow the general format of the body of a National Science Foundation grant proposal, and consist of the following sections: (1) Specific aims, (2) Background and significance, (3) Preliminary studies, (4) Research design and methods, (5) References. Sections 1-4 should not exceed 15 single-spaced pages. All members of the dissertation committee will sign the cover page of the proposal once they have approved its content, and the student shall give a copy to the Ecology Student Coordinator. Failure to submit the dissertation proposal in a timely fashion may result in an ‘unsatisfactory’ progress report from the GGE Chair.

Guidelines for Dissertation Proposal (pdf)

The Dissertation 

Chapters of the dissertation take the form of individual publishable papers. Typical expectations are a minimum of three manuscript papers. The dissertation committee has authority to approve the inclusion of co-authored papers. The four opening parts of the dissertation are: title page, acknowledgements, abstract, and an overall introduction (presents and justifies the importance of the dissertation topic, includes an optional literature review, and shows how the themes of chapters relate). The chapters follow and should be organized as manuscripts that could be (or have been) submitted to the scientific literature. The dissertation closes with and overall summary, which is an over-arching discussion of the chapters. A Bibliography may follow or each chapter may include a section for ‘Literature Cited’ in that chapter. The dissertation committee is authorized to approve the appropriate content of the dissertation.

Dissertation and Thesis Guidelines (pdf) (Currently under review, update to follow before Spring 17)

Exit Seminar

Ph.D. students are required to present an exit seminar to the GGE faculty and students prior to submitting the dissertation to the Office of Graduate Studies.  Students must submit a copy of their Exit Seminar flyer to the GGE office in order to meet this degree requirement.

Normative Time 

Normative time to degree is 5-6 years. However, note that the Graduate Council has set a maximum of four years after completion of the qualifying examination to complete all degree requirements, failing which a student will go on academic probation for one year. At the end of the probationary period if all the degree requirements are not satisfied, the student will be recommended for disqualification for unsatisfactory progress.

Degree Plan for PhD