Graduate Program: Ph.D. Requirements

Requirements for a Ph.D. in E&EB

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 E&EB and a timetable of major events. You can find additional information on the EEB Graduate Students Wiki

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 academic deficiencies, 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 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. The graduate mentor will make a written progress report to the DGS by the end of the spring semester of the first academic year which documents the student progress.


Teaching is a fundamental part of our professional training. Teaching also provides a common intellectual experience for our graduate students. Students are required to teach three courses:  all students teach BIOL 104, which is a TF10 level asignment, and two other courses at a TF20 level.  Required teaching is typically done during their first two years of study. Please see this link for more information on how TF positions are assigned in EEB

If students are supported by an University Fellowship in their later years (fourth and fifth years) rather than on external grants, additional teaching will be required.

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 primary purpose of the rotations is to identify a laboratory in which to carry out dissertation research.  Rotations also serve to introduce students to new techniques, gain a broader background in E&EB, and develop close connections with E&EB faculty.  At the end of each rotation, the rotation advisor submits a report 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.

Course Work: Course work is kept to a minimum for graduate students in E&EB so students can focus on research. Course requirements are designed to introduce students to the research programs of professors in the department, provide training in research ethics and professionalism, encourage early research experiences through the research rotations, address gaps in training, and provide training and background in new areas of scholarship. The following are the minimum requirements for course work.

E&EB 500 (fall) and E&EB 501 (spring), Advanced Topics in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (Sat/Unsat)

E&EB 545, Responsible Conduct of Research (Sat/Unsat)

E&EB 901 (fall) Research Rotation I and E&EB 902 (spring) Research Rotation II (Sat/Unsat)

Three graduate courses (level 500 and above) for a grade. The graduate school requires students earn two grades of Honors (H, equivalentto an “A”) in two courses by the end of the fourth term of full-time study. 

All first-year students enroll in Advanced Topics (E&EB 500 and E&EB 501), Responsible Conduct of Research (E&EB 545) and Research Rotations (E&EB 901 and E&EB 902). Students are encouraged to fulfill most of the course requirements in their first two years in residence at Yale.  

Students must register for a course or in absentia in each semester. Students whi have completed the course requirements must register for Preparing for Advance to Candidacy (CAND 999).  Students who have passed to candidacy should register for Dissertation Research – in Residence (DISR 999).

Pre & Prospectus Exam: 

Each student is expected to form a Dissertation Advisory Committee by the end of the 3rd Semester in consultation with her/his advisor. The Dissertation Advisory Committee consists of the thesis advisor and three additional faculty members, at least two of these must hold appointments in E&EB.  The student initiates a program of exploratory research and reading aimed at defining a project appropriate for dissertation research and summarized in writing in the Preprospectus, which is distributed to the Dissertation Advisory Committee prior to the Preprospectus meeting. At that meeting, the student summarizes preliminary results and outlines the proposed research.  Approval of the Preprospectus is expected by the middle of the 4th semester (before 1 April). Immediately after the Preprospectus meeting, the committee must inform the student and the DGS, in writing, about the committee’s specific requirements for the general knowledge component of the prospectus defense. You can find here suggested guidelines for preparing the preprospectus and prospectus.

Prospectus Exam:

At the Prospectus Exam, which must occur before the beginning of the fifth semester, the student is examined regarding the scientific validity and feasibility of the proposed research and is required to demonstrate competence in the general areas outlined in the written document from the Preprospectus meeting.  The exam consists of a two- to three-hour oral examination by Committee members and the DGS.  Prior to the exam, the student prepares and submits a research proposal such as in the format of an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG).  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 rare cases) to leave the graduate program.  The Advisor provides a report to the academic office that records when the meeting took place, who attended and the outcome. Guidelines (pdf)

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 (en route to a PhD) requirements:

Students must pass a total of eight  graduate-level courses.  Required courses are:  E&EB 500 and E&EB 501, Advanced Topics in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology;  E&EB 545,  Responsible Conduct of Research; E&EB 901, Research Rotation I; and E&EB 902, Research Rotation II. These courses are taken Sat/Unsat.  A minimum of three additional graduate-level, elective courses are required and must be taken for a grade.  Students must earn Honors in at least two courses and maintain an overall average of High Pass.

Dissertation Research:

After advancing to candidacy, a student is free to devote nearly full-time effort to dissertation research. Many students continue to take courses.  All continue to participate in seminars, journal clubs and lab meetings. Each student is required to meet annually with their Dissertation Committee (before 1 April). The Dissertation Committee must have at least four member with at least two members having primary E&EB appointments and at least one outside member with a Ph.D. and no formal E&EB relationship. There is no formal structure for dissertation committee meetings, save a required report from the Advisor to the DGS stating when the meeting took place, who attended and what the outcome was. Each spring, the Graduate School receives a formal summary of the student’s progress (Dissertation Progress Report) signed by the student, thesis advisor and DGS.  The Dissertation Progress Report is also used to evaluate student progress by the E&EB faculty in their annual Graduate Student Progress meeting (April faculty meeting).

Dissertation Defense:

The student’s dissertation is made available to the faculty 1-2 weeks prior to the defense.  The student gives a public seminar on her/his research immediately followed by a private period of questioning by members of the Thesis Advisory Committee.

Dissertation Submission:

The Graduate School requires that each dissertation be read by at least three persons, at least two of whom must be members of the Yale Graduate School Faculty (this includes all tenure or tenure track positions in the Faculty of Arts and Science and most, but not all, faculty in the professional schools). 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 judge the quality of the dissertation. The student and the advisor in consultation with the Dissertation Committee to select readers.

Departmental Activities:

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

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Department Seminar.  The Department Seminar is held on Wednesdays at 3:30 PM 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 Wednesday Seminars throughout their years of graduate study to ensure that students maintain a broad perspective on contemporary biological sciences and do not become narrowly specialized.

Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Speak Easy. The EEB Postdoc and Grad Student Speak Easy is held on Fridays at 3:30 PM 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. Ideally, each student in the program will be given the opportunity to present on her/his research at least once a year, following the advancement to PhD candidacy.

Department Retreat.  Each fall the faculty, students and post-docs 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