Graduate Program

Are you interested in joining the graduate program? Check out our page for prospective graduate students, including a synopsis of relevant program details tailored for students applying to the program. The page below has a level of detail tailored for current graduate students in the EEB PhD program.

Yale Graduate Students Policies & Procedures

“Students are reminded that the policies of the Graduate School must be followed.  Any questions regarding these policies should be addressed to your assistant or associate dean.” Policies can be found at the GSAS Program Policies page and in the Graduate School handbook. You can find various GSAS forms here

Ph.D. Requirements

Each student develops a program of courses, seminars, and research tailored to the student’s interests, background and goals. Listed below are the basic requirements for students in EEB and a timetable of major events. You can find additional information beyond the requirements in the Grad Student Guide, which was written by EEB graduate students, for EEB graduate students.

Timeline

1st year

2nd year

3rd year

4th year

5th (6th) year

Other Resources

Entry Committee

Upon arrival in the fall, the entry committee will meet individually with and review the academic records of the new students, and make recommendations for course work, rotations and teaching. Course recommendations will include a) courses to be taken (and passed) to address gaps in your previous scientific education, and b) courses that will help student development in their chosen area of research.

Graduate Mentors

Upon admission, each incoming student will be assigned a faculty mentor. In most cases, the mentor will be a prospective advisor. If the student’s prospective advisor is on leave, then another faculty member will be assigned to be the graduate mentor for that student. The graduate mentor is responsible for providing space and support for the first year, and supervising the academic recommendations of the entry committee.

Research Rotations

All first-year students carry out two research rotations. Each rotation lasts one semester and students have the option of a third rotation over their first summer. The format of the rotation will be decided between each student and their rotation supervisor, but should involve a scientific project. Students should write a report on their rotation at the end of the semester or summer. While rotating in a lab, students typically meet regularly with their rotation advisor, participate in lab meetings, and have a desk in the lab office space. Students should contact faculty with whom they are interested in rotating as soon as they arrive in the fall.

The primary purpose of the rotations is to provide the student with opportunities to expand their conceptual and analytical toolkits, improving the student’s eventual dissertation research. One of the rotations should be in the lab(s) that you are thinking of joining for your dissertation research. Rotations serve to introduce students to new techniques, gain a broader background in EEB, and develop close connections with EEB faculty. If there is a good reason to do so, students may rotate outside the department following discussion with your main supervisor and/or the DGS.

When students begin a research rotation, they register for EEB 901 (fall) or EEB 902 (spring) and submit the Lab Rotation Evaluation [PDF] [DOC] to their rotation supervisor. At the end of each rotation, the rotation supervisor grades the course Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory and submits the Lab Rotation Evaluation of the student’s progress to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).  This assists the DGS in evaluating each student’s progress and in identifying any student who may require special guidance.

Join a lab

Most students come into the department with an advisor (or two) with whom they want to work. However, students do not commit to working with an advisor for their dissertation research until (at the earliest) the end of their first year. During their first year, students complete research rotations in the lab(s) they are considering joining. At the end of a student’s first year, they choose one of the labs they completed a rotation project in to join for their dissertation research. If students do not wish to join one of the labs they rotated in, it is possible to do a 3rd (or even 4th) rotation during the summer. Note that, unlike other programs in the biological sciences, it is extremely rare for an advisor to be unable to accept a graduate student to join the lab, because funding for our graduate students is provided at the department level.

In rare cases, students can be co-advised by 2 PIs, although they should consider whether co-advising is necessary or if it would be sufficient to simply have one of the PIs as a committee member or close collaborator.

Once students join a lab, they should pursue a program of exploratory research and reading aimed at eventually identifying topic(s) and project(s) for dissertation research.

Coursework

Course work requirements are kept to a minimum for graduate students in EEB so students can focus on research. The following are the minimum requirements for course work.

There are several EEB courses that all students take in their first year:

  • EEB 500 (fall) and EEB 501 (spring), Advanced Topics in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). This course introduces first-year students to the research programs of professors in the department, as well as other topics like science writing and proposal preparation.

  • EEB 545 (spring), Responsible Conduct of Research (graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). This course provides first-year students with training in research ethics and professionalism.

  • EEB 901 (fall) Research Rotation I and EEB 902 (spring) Research Rotation II (graded Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory). This is simply a course students register for while completing their research rotations. If rotations are conducted in a later year, these courses should also be enrolled in then.

EEB PhD students must take three additional graduate courses (level 500 and above) for a grade. Students must earn a grade of Honors (equivalent to an “A”) in at least two of those courses.

These requirements must be completed before students advance to candidacy. Students must maintain a High Pass (equivalent to a “B”) average.

Beyond those requirements, students may take as many courses as they would like to, both within and beyond the department. You can find all the courses on offer to graduate students (level 500 and above) on the Yale Courses Search. Students should check with their advisor, the DGS, or other students in the department to determine which classes are relevant to their research interests and useful to their training. Note that students can take thes non-required courses for a grade, or they may audit them. Auditors typically attend lectures and discussion sections, and have access to all course materials, but may not be able to have their assignments and exams graded.

Students must register for a class every term for the duration of their graduate studies. If a  student is not registered for another course (or are just auditing one or more courses) in a given semester,  they need to register for Preparing for Advance to Candidacy (CAND 999) (if they have not yet passed to candidacy), or Dissertation Research – in Residence (DISR 999) (if they have passed to candidacy). 

To drop or change a course after the deadline, contact the DGS and/or Registrar.

Teaching

Teaching is a fundamental part of our professional training. Teaching also provides a common intellectual experience for our graduate students. Generally, there are two levels of graduate student teaching commitments at Yale: TF10, which is ~10 hours/week of effort, and TF20, which is ~20 hours/week of effort. Teaching Fellow responsibilities differ from class to class, but can include: attending lectures, setting up labs, preparing and running discussion sections, grading papers and assignments, writing exams, and grading exams. The Center for Teaching and Learning also provides extensive support for graduate students who would like to learn how to teach.

Graduate students in EEB are expected to teach a minimum of three semesters while at Yale: all students teach BIOL 104, which is a TF10, and two other courses at a TF20 level.  Required teaching is typically done during their first two years of study, although this requirement can be spread out if needed (e.g. for fieldwork). If students are supported by a University Fellowship in their later years (fourth and fifth years) rather than on external grants, additional teaching will be required.

The DGS works with each student to provide a teaching experience that is both diverse and matches the academic goals of the student. Students are encouraged to teach a mixture of introductory and intermediate courses in ecology and evolution, organismal and biodiversity courses, and laboratory and lecture courses. 

In the late spring of each year, graduate students in EEB are sent a survey asking them a) if they expect to teach in the following year and, if they plan to teach, b) to rank by preference the courses they would like to teach. The DGS also talks to faculty teaching courses that require TFs with specialized background (e.g., Ornithology, Terrestrial Arthropods, and Field Ecology) about which students would be qualified to teach those courses. Then, the DGS matches student preferences and faculty needs across the entire department, also trying to balance opportunities for students to teach with their advisor and in high demand courses at least once. For example, there are typically more students requesting to teach General Ecology (EEB220) and Evolutionary Biology (EEB225) than there are TF slots available. Typically, 80-90% of students end up teaching their preferred course, and only very rarely have to teach anything beyond their 2nd choice.

Department Activities

In addition to formal academic requirements, students are expected to participate in the weekly department seminar and graduate student and postdoctoral colloquium (known as the Speakeasy), and annual department retreat.  

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department Seminar.  The Department Seminar is held weekly throughout the academic year.  These seminars cover a wide range of topics that reflect the breadth of research interests within the Department.  Invited speakers from other institutions give presentations suitable for a multi-disciplinary audience.  Graduate students must attend the Seminars throughout their years of graduate study to ensure that students maintain a broad perspective on contemporary biological sciences.

Invited Speaker Individual and Lunch Meetings. Invited speakers for the seminar series typically meet with members of the department on the day of or days surrounding the seminar. Graduate students often have the opportunity to meet individually or in small groups with visiting speakers. In addition, invited speakers typically have a large group lunch with all graduate students midday on the day of the seminar.

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Speakeasy. The EEB Postdoc and Grad Student Speakeasy is held throughout the academic year. This colloquium occurs in an informal setting, and allows postdocs and graduate students to provide each other with feedback on their ongoing research projects. Typically, every student in the program presents on their research at least once a year.

Department Retreat.  Each fall the faculty, graduate students, post-docs, and staff participate in a retreat. It occurs away from the main campus in an informal setting that encourages a dynamic exchange of diverse scientific perspectives during a program of informal research presentations. Graduate student retreat coordinators and the Department Chair organize the retreat, and 1st year students typically plan some entertaining activity for the whole department (talk to senior grad students for examples of past activities).

Department Symposium. Each spring the faculty, students, and post-docs participate in a day-long department symposium which showcases student research over the previous year. Typically, pre-candidacy graduate students present their work as posters, and can present on research they completed prior to joining the program, research done during rotation projects, or ideas for research going forward. Their poster is not expected to be a ‘finished story’. Post-candidacy graduate students typically present talks on their ongoing dissertation research.  Additionally, invited speakers from outside the department or Yale present on a range of scientific topics.

Applying for Fellowships

All students are strongly encouraged to apply for graduate fellowships they may be eligible for. Notably, many students apply for the NSF GRFP, Ford Foundation fellowships, and Hertz Foundation fellowship. Many of these fellowships have deadlines in early- to mid-fall, so students should begin working on them over the summer.  Receiving fellowships like these allow the department to expand the number of graduate students we can accept, and individually reduce your teaching obligations in the later years of your graduate training.

For the NSF GRFP, students are eligible if they are a US citizen with less than two full years of graduate school (i.e. do not have a Masters). Students can apply the fall when they are applying to graduate school, and either their first or second year during graduate school. Requirements for other fellowships may differ somewhat from these.

Grad Student Department Service

Graduate students contribute to the department by organizing and running a number of activities and events. At the end of each year, all current students meet to delegate these responsibilities among the 2nd and 3rd year students-to-be. Roles include (but are not limited to): organizing speaker lunches, organizing speakeasy, organizing the graduate student symposium, maintaining snacks and drinks for department seminars and speakeasy, organizing prospective students’ interviews, inviting graduate student-nominated speakers, acting as graduate student admissions liaisons, serving as the EEB representative on the Graduate Student Assembly. These positions are often shared between more than one person.

Assembling Your Dissertation Committee

By the end of their 3rd semester, each student is expected to form a Dissertation Advisory Committee. This committee will oversee your dissertation research, act as a valuable resource for your research, and evaluate your progression to candidacy and eventual dissertation defense. Students should consult with their advisor to determine who to ask to serve on their committee. For the pre-prospectus meeting and prospectus exam, the Dissertation Advisory Committee must contain the thesis advisor and two additional faculty members who hold appointments in EEB. Note, however, that for the eventual dissertation defense the Dissertation Advisory Committee must consist of the thesis advisor and three additional faculty members, two of whom must hold appointments in EEB, and one member who does NOT have a primary appointment in Yale EEB (referred to as the “outside member”). Because of this, we strongly encourage students to have a Dissertation Advisory Committee with all four members for their pre-prospectus meeting and prospectus exam. Although there is no limit to the number of members on your committee, we suggest keeping it as close to the minimum requirements, to make scheduling meetings easier.

Preprospectus Exam

The preprospectus is your first meeting with your dissertation committee, and should be completed by March of your second year. In preparation for this meeting, you should prepare a document (4-5 single spaced pages) and a presentation (15-20 slides) preliminarily outlining what you plan to do for your dissertation research. See Suggested Guidelines for Preprospectus and Prospectus. The document should be sent to your committee at least one week before the preprospectus meeting. At the preprospectus meeting, you should give a presentation summarizing any preliminary results you have and outlining your proposed research. Your committee will assess the feasibility of what you are considering and provide suggestions and feedback. Immediately after the preprospectus meeting, the committee informs the student and the DGS, in writing, of the committee’s specific requirements in preparation for the prospectus exam. This includes a list of required readings, and may also include data to gather. We suggest setting up a Google Docs directly after the pre-prospectus where committee members can list their reading assignments for the student. You will also need to bring a blank copy of the Student Committee Meeting Progress Report form [PDF] [DOC], which your committee will fill out at the end of the meeting and you should submit to the Registrar immediately afterwards.

The preprospectus is your opportunity to get helpful feedback from your committee members before the prospectus exam. In particular, you should seek their feedback on: 1) your level of background knowledge in both your specific area of interest and the broader fields of ecology and evolutionary biology, 2) the specific research questions that you are proposing to answer, 3) the research plan you propose to follow to answer those questions. Most students propose at least three sets of experiments (‘chapters’), which are typically thematically linked (although that is not required). An eventual successful dissertation consists of at least three ‘publishable units’, although very frequently many of the chapters in the dissertation are different from those proposed in the preprospectus and prospectus. You do not need preliminary data for your preprospectus, but are welcome to include any you have.

Prospectus Exam

The prospectus is the exam that will allow you to advance to candidacy, meaning that you transition from being a PhD student to becoming a PhD candidate, and should be completed before beginning your third year, typically in May or June of your second year. At the prospectus exam, the student is examined regarding: 1) their broad understanding of general principles of ecology and evolution, 2) their deeper understanding of their chosen sub-disciplines, and 3) the scientific validity and feasibility of their proposed research. Prior to the exam, the student prepares a research proposal (8-10 single spaced pages) and presentation that: 1) articulates a research question and places it within the greater context of their field of study, 2) outlines their approach for data collection and analysis, 3) presents any preliminary data thus far gathered, and 4) demonstrates the feasibility of their plan to be executed successfully in a 3-year timeframe. See Suggested Guidelines for Preprospectus and Prospectus. The written document should be sent to your committee at least one week before the prospectus exam.

The exam itself consists of a two- to three-hour oral examination by Committee members. Always schedule for three hours so there is plenty of time. The format is as follows: the student first gives a 20-25 minute presentation describing their thesis proposal (with minimal interruption by faculty). Afterward there are two rounds of questioning by the faculty. During each round, each faculty is given 15 minutes to ask whatever questions they feel are relevant, though the rounds are distinguished broadly by their focus. In the first round, faculty should focus on more general questions relating to knowledge of the discipline(s) relevant to the student’s proposed work. These questions should mostly derive from the reading assignments each faculty assigned to the student after the pre-prospectus meeting. The second round of questions should pertain more specifically to the student’s research proposal. Faculty do not need to use up their 15 minutes during each round, but they may not exceed it. Faculty who are not the questioner at the time are encouraged to be quiet. After the rounds of questioning, there of course can be some additional discussion, etc – but the exam should typically last around two hours, and never go beyond three. 

You will also need to bring a blank copy of the Student Committee Meeting Progress Report form [PDF] [DOC], which your committee will fill out at the end of the meeting. After the meeting, submit the Student Committee Meeting Progress Report form and email your Prospectus to the Registrar as soon as possible. If a student’s performance at the Prospectus Exam is considered unsatisfactory, remedial action is taken. Depending on the nature and magnitude of the problem, the student may be required to write a paper on a specific topic, take additional courses, retake the prospectus exam, or (in extremely rare cases) leave the graduate program. The student provides a report to the department registrar that records when the meeting took place, who was in attendance, and the outcome.

Best practices for the prospectus:

When preparing for your prospectus, take into account the feedback you received from your committee members during the preprospectus meeting. If your committee was happy with your ideas in the Preprospectus, they do not need to change substantially for the Prospectus. If your committee suggested or required that you collect preliminary data or better cover particular points, you should make sure to do so. If your committee is unhappy with aspects of your performance during the Prospectus exam, you may be given a conditional pass. This is relatively common.

Suggested Guidelines for the Preprospectus and Prospectus Written Documents

The following describes suggested guidelines for preparation of the preprospectus and prospectus written documents required for advancement to PhD candidacy in EEB. Prior to writing the preprospectus and prospectus documents, each student is responsible for obtaining approval from their advisor and committee that these suggested guidelines are in accordance with the goals set forth by the entire committee.  

Preprospectus

The preprospectus is a document that describes the student’s main research topic and questions to be studied for the thesis, their relevance within EEB, and the approaches (e.g., methods) used to address the topic/questions.  The preprospectus may contain similar elements as the prospectus, as described in detail below. However, the preprospectus is expected to be a less-detailed and shorter document, especially because no preliminary data may exist at the time a student writes the preprospectus. A suggested length for the preprospectus is 4 to 5 pages, single spaced.

Prospectus

PROJECT SUMMARY:  A brief (half to one page) summary should describe the objectives, methods and significance of the proposed research. This may include a brief description of the general research topic and its importance, a statement regarding the novelty and general relevance of the study (i.e. the intellectual merits), the general methods or approach to be used and a list of the key objectives of the proposed study. 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION: (suggested length: 8 to 10 pages, single spaced). The project description should address the following general issues:  What is the general topic and specific problem being addressed? Why is the problem important and interesting? How will you address the problem? If you complete the plan, how will that bring us closer to an answer to the problem? Is the proposed plan feasible and likely to be successful?  The following are suggestions for sections that may be included in your proposal, and possible issues you may want to address.  These are merely suggestions that should be adapted to the details of each individual project and the requirements of your dissertation advisor and thesis committee. Note: It is often useful to use headings and subheadings to create logical structure in your proposal. 

Introduction 

  • Introduce the general topic

  • Explain why the topic is generally important and interesting (within the context of EEB) 

  • Establish why the proposed research is novel and of general relevance within EEB 

  • Briefly describe how you will address your question and state your hypotheses if appropriate.  

Statement of key research objectives: Describe the key research objectives as outlined in your proposal 

Background on the study system and methods to be used: Describe the necessary background information on your study system that is relevant to your proposed research.  In particular, review the theory and background knowledge relevant to the study, describe what is known on this topic about your species/system (and why it is a good choice), and describe how the general question can be addressed by the proposed study. In this section, be certain to connect the general relevance and objectives back to the specifics. If appropriate also detail the methods to be used in your proposed research. You may find some of this fits better within the section on proposed research.  

Description of proposed research and progress to date: This section should give detail on each of the proposed components, their connection to the listed research objectives, the methods to be used, the data that will be obtained and the possible specific and general inferences that can be made from possible outcomes.  It is often useful to give examples of how the data could be graphed or analyzed. Review progress and preliminary results accomplished to date on the proposed research.  Ideally show that the proposed research is feasible and likely to yield results based on what you (and others) have done so far. Explain possible outcomes and how you would interpret them both specifically and generally.  The description of proposed research should not only identify the specific questions to be addressed and the methods to be used, but it must also connect the proposed research and the possible outcomes back to the key objectives and how these will inform the general study topic. 

Timeline for the proposed work: Give a realistic timeline for its completion.  It is often useful to list possible papers/chapters that will arise from the proposed research. 

FIGURES and TABLES: It is often useful to use figures or tables to aid in conveying experimental design, characteristics of the study organisms, or possible experimental outcomes. 

REFERENCES 

Advancement to Candidacy

Students advance to candidacy after successfully passing their Prospectus Exam. Students are expected to advance to candidacy before the beginning of their third year. Extensions are possible with the written recommendation of the advisor to the DGS and with the written permission of the DGS. Students that fail to advance to candidacy, but meet all other requirements for a MS degree en route to a PhD, may petition the Graduate School for a terminal MS degree.

MS degree requirements

En route to a Ph.D., students will receive a MS degree in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. To do so, students must satisfy the course requirements specified above for the PhD. No Master’s thesis is required, and students do not need to advance to candidacy to receive the Master’s degree. 

Dissertation Research & Committee Meetings

After advancing to candidacy, a student is free to devote nearly full-time effort to dissertation research. Many students continue to take some courses.  All continue to participate in seminars, journal clubs and lab meetings. 

Each student is required to meet at least annually with their Dissertation Committee (before 1 April). The student or committee can request to meet more frequently than that. The Dissertation Committee must have at least four members: their advisor, at least two members having primary EEB appointments and at least one outside member with a Ph.D. and no primary appointment to Yale EEB. There is no formal structure for dissertation committee meetings (e.g. no written document like the prospectus). Instead, students typically present the progress they have made on dissertation chapters and research projects. Components of the dissertation nearly always evolve from the form proposed during the prospectus, and so the members of the committee may change if your research has taken new directions. To each committee meeting you should bring a blank copy of the Student Committee Meeting Progress Report form [PDF] [DOC], which your committee will fill out at the end of the meeting and you should submit to the Registrar immediately afterwards.

Each spring, students fill out a formal summary of their progress: the Dissertation Progress Report. This summary is then signed by the student, thesis advisor, and DGS. The EEB faculty also meet annually to assess the progress of all graduate students in the program (during the April faculty meeting), where the Dissertation Progress Report is used.

Dissertation Defense & Submission

As a student approaches the end of their dissertation work and prepares to submit and defend their dissertation, there are a number of steps that must be taken

  1. The student emails the Department Registrar with their intent to submit and defend their dissertation. If they would like to have their degree awarded in the spring, this must be done by February 15th. If they would like to have their degree awarded in the fall, this must be done by September 1st.

  2. With approval of their advisor, the student chooses a date and time to hold their defense when their dissertation committee members are available. The student also reserves a location, if needed

    1. The student’s dissertation is made available to the faculty 1-2 weeks prior to the defense.

  3. The student supplies the Registrar with a poster for their dissertation defense, which the Registrar will distribute

  4. The student and the advisor, in consultation with the Dissertation Committee, select Readers

    1. Each dissertation must be formally read by at least three Readers, at least two of whom must be members of the Yale Graduate School Faculty (this includes all tenured or tenure track positions in the Faculty of Arts and Science and most, but not all, faculty in the professional schools). At least one of the readers must be from outside the EEB department. Each reader must hold the Ph.D. degree as well as a faculty position or be considered otherwise qualified to evaluate the dissertation. Readers are typically members of the Dissertation Committee but may not include the dissertation advisor. The readers will submit a formal Report judging the quality of the dissertation

  5. Via the Dissertation Progress Report portal, the student fills out the Notification of Readers (NOR)

  6. The DGS approves the Notification of Readers (NOR)

  7. The student defends their dissertation, giving a public seminar on their research, which is immediately followed by a private period of questioning by members of the defense committee.

    1. A dissertation generally consists of at least 3 publishable units, and must be formatted following University guidelines

    2. Note: there is no limit on the amount of time between the dissertation defense and submission, and students do not need to be actively registered students to submit

    3. Note: graduate student funding end-date is determined by their PI, not by their dissertation submission date

  8. If any minor changes are needed, the student submits them to the DGS, who approves them and submits them to the dissertation clerk

  9. Once student is approved by their defense committee, including their outside Reader, the student submits their dissertation and required forms via the Dissertation Progress Report portal’s Degree Petition and Dissertation Submission. If they would like to have their degree awarded in the spring, this must be done by ~March 15th. If they would like to have their degree awarded in the fall, this must be done by ~October 1st. For specific deadlines, which vary by year, see the Yale Academic Calendar

  10. The dissertation is sent to the Readers and DGS. Reader Reports are due within 30 days

  11. Once all Reader Reports are in, students can request a degree verification letter from the University Registrar’s Office. This letter is typically what is needed for students to begin work at a new position (e.g. post doc)

  12. If submission and Reader Reports are completed by April 15th, students will be awarded their degree in May. If submission and Reader Reports are completed by November 1st, students will be awarded their degree in December. For specific deadlines, which vary by year, see the Yale Academic Calendar

Resources

In addition to the faculty with primary appointments in EEB, graduate students have access to a vast array of facilities and laboratories. Special resources include:

Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies (YIBS)

Especially relevant for students are the research grants YIBS awards for graduate student research through the YIBS Small grants program

YIBS Center for Earth Observation 

YIBS Earth System Center for Stable Isotope Studies

YIBS Center for Genetic Analyses of Biodiversity

Peabody Museum of Natural History 

Yale Natural Lands

Marsh Botanical Gardens and Greenhouses 

Yale’s McDougal Graduate Student Center