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Degree Requirements

I. OVERVIEW OF DEGREE REQUIREMENTS

Below are degree requirements for students who enter the Department of Biology as part of the program in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology (EEOB). Additional requirements are in the Graduate School Handbook (http://handbook.unc.edu/) and the Guide to Theses and Dissertations (http://gradschool.unc.edu/etdguide/). If requirements change after you arrive, you may choose to follow the rules in effect when you arrived, or any subsequent set of rules in effect during your tenure at UNC.

It is your responsibility to stay in touch with your major adviser and graduate advisory committee. Likewise, you are ultimately responsible for seeing that you comply with the regulations of the Department of Biology and the UNC Graduate School. Failure to comply may result in losing your financial support or in being dismissed from the program.

II. Graduate Degrees Offered

The Department of Biology offers a Ph.D. degree. It also offers two masters degrees: a Master of Science degree requiring independent research and a thesis, and a Master of Arts degree requiring a written library report. However, the Master’s degree programs only admit students on an individual basis in the following cases: 1. A request is initiated by a prospective student’s graduate adviser. 2. A current student in the Ph.D. degree program requests to move to a Master’s degree program.

III. SPECIFIC DEGREE REQUIREMENTS

Contents

A. Course Requirements
B. Graduate Adviser
C. Orientation Meeting
D. Graduate Advisory Committee
E. Oral Comprehensive Examination (Ph.D. only)
F. Written Examination
G. Feasibility Meeting
H. Admission to Candidacy
I. Annual Committee Meetings and Progress Reports
J. Pre-Defense Committee Meeting
K. Defensive of Thesis and Dissertation
L. Other Requirements
M. Timeline for Doctoral Students


A. Course Requirements

Every graduate student must gain an understanding of the breadth and depth of the field of Biology as it is treated among various traditional disciplines. This is accomplished in two ways. First, each student is required to register for the Biology 891 seminar course  in each semester of the first two years in the program. The second way is through a course of study prescribed by each student’s graduate advisory committee.

For a Master’s degree a minimum of 30 hours of graduate credit is required, of which no fewer than 24 hours must be earned in regular courses and at least three hours of which must take the form of research and completion of the thesis (MS) or library report (MA).

Each Ph.D. student, in addition to taking Biology 891, must register for Biology 994 for a minimum of 6 credit hours (2 semesters) and must continue to register for 994 in subsequent academic semesters (fall/spring) until degree is completed.  There are no other course requirements for the Ph.D. except those designated by (1) the student’s preliminary evaluation committee at the Orientation Meeting (see D below), and (2) the student’s graduate advisory committee at the Oral Comprehensive Exam (see E below).

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B. Graduate Adviser

Most EEOB students select a graduate adviser before beginning graduate school. For students doing rotations in several labs, however, the advisor may not be selected until after rotations are complete. Generally, you must choose an adviser by the end of your first year in graduate school. If you wish to change advisers or add a co-adviser, you must submit your request in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval (these requests must include the reasons for the proposed change). In all cases, at least one adviser must be a faculty member in Biology.

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C. Orientation Meeting

Before or shortly after the start of your first semester in graduate school, you must assemble a preliminary evaluation committee and hold an orientation meeting. The committee should include your adviser, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Student Services Manager. The committee will (1) familiarize you with the requirements of the graduate program, (2) suggest coursework, teaching, and other training, and (3) answer any questions you may have about the program.

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D. Graduate Advisory Committee

 

You must form a graduate advisory committee to oversee and guide your research by the end of your third semester, and preferably by the beginning of that semester.  This process is normally done in consultation with your adviser.  Once each individual has agreed to serve on your committee, you should submit this list of the proposed members to the Director of Graduate Studies (via the Graduate Student Services Manager) for approval.

For Ph.D. students, the committee must have at least five members (three for Masters students).  A majority must be regular members of the UNC Biology graduate faculty (i.e. the Professors, Associate Professors, and Assistant Professors of Biology, as well as a few additional UNC faculty who have been specially appointed by the Department; if you are unsure of the status of a prospective committee member, then consult the Graduate Student Services Manager). After satisfying this majority requirement, additional committee members can include anyone who is qualified to conduct the doctoral examinations and advise the student on their dissertation research. People who are active UNC faculty require no special approval. People who are not active UNC faculty may serve as committee members, subject to approval first by the Director of Graduate Studies, then by the Dean of the Graduate School, who is responsible for the final appointment of the committee. To request approval, submit the proposed committee member’s curriculum vitae to the Director of Graduate Studies.

At the start of the first meeting of the committee, one member is designated as chair. Selection of the chair shall be a collaborative choice between the student, the advisor, and the other members of the committee.  The chair must be a regular member of the UNC Biology graduate faculty. The chair must not be the student’s research advisor, co-advisor, or spouse of the (co)advisor.  The chair will lead the meetings of the advisory committee.  At the conclusion of each committee meeting, the chair will synthesize all committee members’ views on the student’s performance and progress into a summary statement and verbally communicate the summary to the student.  As required by the UNC Graduate School, the chair will be responsible for completion of the Doctoral Exam Report Form.  These are the sole and entire responsibilities of the chair.  Of the countless responsibilities that do not fall on the chair, only three will be listed here.  First, serving as chair does not convey greater responsibility for scientific oversight of the student’s dissertation research; this is the responsibility of the research advisor.  Second, aside from conducting committee meetings in a professional manner, serving as chair does not convey greater responsibility for mediating any interpersonal conflict.  Third, the chair is not responsible for establishing the time and place of committee meetings, or ensuring that committee meetings are held at required intervals; these are the responsibility of the student.

It is recognized that research projects may go in unanticipated directions as they develop.  Therefore, it is permissible to make changes to the committee, including adding additional members or making substitutions.  If you wish to change the membership of your committee, then submit a written request to the Director of Graduate Studies (this request must include the reasons for the proposed change). Changes must be approved in advance by the Director of Graduate Studies, and then reported to the UNC Graduate School (via a revised Report of Doctoral Committee Composition form, to be obtained from the Graduate Student Services Manager), the chair of the committee, and affected committee members.

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E. Oral Comprehensive Examination (Ph.D. only)

Ph.D. students must take a comprehensive oral examination by no later than the end of their second year. The oral exam is the primary examination of general knowledge and should be separated in time from the dissertation feasibility meeting (see G below).

To encourage breadth, you are required, in consultation with your adviser, to identify four areas of proficiency from at least two major categories (Table 2). The selected areas will serve as a focus for preparation and questioning. Ideally, these areas should first be discussed at the time of the Orientation meeting (see C above), so that deficiencies can be addressed through coursework, directed reading, or other forms of preparation. The four areas should each represent a topic that is broad enough to be the subject of an undergraduate course; during the exam, you are expected to demonstrate a level of proficiency in each area that would indicate that you could teach such a course.

In order to pass the exam, a majority of your committee must pass you (your committee may also pass you, but require courses to take or other actions to make up any deficiencies). If you fail the exam once, you will be allowed to retake the exam. However, you may also wish to consider petitioning to switch to the Master’s Degree program. Students who fail a second time will be dismissed from the program and the UNC Graduate School.

Table 2. Recommended Areas of Proficiency for the Oral Exam
Category 1. Organismal Biology

Possible Areas of Proficiency*:
Behavior
Biomechanics
Development
Morphology
Neurobiology
Physiology
Taxonomic specialty

Category 2. Super-organismal Biology

Possible Areas of Proficiency*:
Behavioral ecology
Community ecology
Conservation biology
Ecosystem function
Evolutionary mechanisms
Evolution and development
Macroevolution
Phylogenetics
Population ecology

Category 3. SUB-organismal Biology

Possible Areas of Proficiency*:
Cell biology
Developmental biology
Genetics
Molecular biology

Category 4. special topics‡
(at the discretion of your committee; see note below)

Possible Areas of Proficiency*:
Biometry/Statistics
Computational/Quantitative biology
Oceanography
Paleobiology

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*Each area selected should represent a topic that is broad enough to be the subject of an undergraduate course.
‡Students who select an area in category 4 are required to select areas of proficiency from at least two of the remaining three categories.

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F. Written Examination

Each graduate student must pass a written examination.   For Master’s students, each member of the graduate advisory committee will submit to the committee chair one or more questions to be answered within a two-hour period.  The full examination must be undertaken and completed within a two-day period.  Each question will be graded by at least two members of the committee.  Passing of the exam is contingent upon approval of two-thirds of the entire committee.

Ph.D. students are required to prepare a research proposal to satisfy their written exam requirement by the end of their third year.  (Note: While not required, in most cases, students should use the same proposal to satisfy the requirements of both the written exam and the feasibility meeting, which is described below.)   The proposal must include a project summary (limited to one single-spaced page), and a detailed project description (which must be no less than eight and no more than twelve single spaced pages, including figures and tables, but excluding the list of references cited).  A majority of your committee must approve the proposal in order for you to pass the exam.  If you fail, you will be allowed to retake the exam by revising your proposal or submitting a different one.  You may also petition to switch to the Master’s Degree program.  Students who fail a second time will be dismissed from the program and the UNC Graduate School.

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G. Feasibility Meeting

By the end of their third year, Ph.D. students must schedule a feasibility meeting to defend their dissertation research plan (Note: in most cases, students should hold their feasibility meeting immediately upon completion of the research proposal that satisfies their written exam requirement; see F above). The research plan must describe all the research that the student envisions for his/her dissertation. If the research plan also describes any non-dissertation research (e.g. “side projects”), then that must be clearly distinguished from the dissertation work. The feasibility meeting should consist of an in-depth discussion and correction of the research plan. You should provide your committee with a copy of your research plan at least one week in advance of the feasibility meeting. At the meeting, you should present a formal presentation of your research plan, followed by a lengthy discussion with your committee of the research plan. You are strongly encouraged to schedule your feasibility meeting such that the formal presentation portion of the meeting can take place during the regularly scheduled “Lunch Bunch” seminar series. At the conclusion of the feasibility meeting, your committee will decide (by majority vote) whether or not to pass you and thereby recommend that you be admitted to candidacy.

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H. Admission to Candidacy

To be admitted to candidacy, you must pass the oral comprehensive examination (see E above), written examination (see F above), AND feasibility meeting (see G above). Admission to candidacy is a requirement for certain awards and fellowships, so it is a good idea to achieve candidacy as soon is feasible.

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I. Annual Committee Meetings and Progress Reports

You must meet annually with your graduate advisory committee. The purpose of these meetings will be for you to inform the committee of progress toward the completion of your degree since the last committee meeting. A majority of the committee must be present for each meeting. Before the meeting, you must provide each committee member with a 2-3 page written progress report (these progress reports may include data collected since the last meeting, papers submitted, meetings attended, grants received, etc.). Following the meeting, the Annual Committee Report Form (please see the “Forms” section) must be signed by all committee members who approve of your progress and turned in to the Manager of Graduate Student Services. If the majority of your committee does not sign the form you will be deemed to have not made adequate progress, and the situation will be brought to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies. Exceptions to these requirements can only be granted by the Director of Graduate Studies.

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J. Pre-Defense Committee Meeting

Before scheduling your final thesis defense, you must provide your graduate advisory committee with a synopsis or outline of your thesis and meet with your committee. You will not be allowed to schedule a final thesis defense until the majority of your committee agrees that you are ready to defend. Once your committee agrees to this, please have your committee sign the Pre-Defense Committee Meeting form (please see the “Forms” section) and return to the Manager of Graduate Student Services.

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K. Defense of Thesis and Dissertation

In the semester of graduation, a student who has prepared an M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation will present a final defense, which is an oral exam consisting of a public seminar on the research, followed by a discussion of the work with the student’s graduate advisory committee. A student who has prepared a library report for an M.A. degree will take a final oral examination that is a combined examination of the student’s comprehension of their area of specialization and a defense of the report. In either case, passing of the final exam is by an absolute majority vote of all members of the Advisory Committee.

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L. Other Requirements

In both their 3rd and 5th year, each student is required to present their research in Biology 891. The Department believes strongly in the value of teaching, and therefore requires each student to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) in a course in the Biology Department for at lease one Fall or Spring semester. Residence credit of two semesters is required for a masters degree and four semesters is required for a Ph.D. degree. To maintain eligibility to continue in The Graduate School, a student must not receive a grade of F or F*, or receive a grade of L in nine or more credit hours. The degree time limit for Master’s students is 5 years from the date of registration, and for a Ph.D. student 8 years.

Refer to the Graduate School Handbook for additional information regarding required registration, masters and doctoral degree requirements, and other relevant information.

Please inform the Manager of Graduate Student Services of when any of the above exams and meetings are to take place as forms may need to be prepared.

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M. Timeline for Doctoral Students

The guidelines below provide two possible timelines: a recommended timeline, and a required timeline. Faculty and students are encouraged to follow the recommended timeline. If a student is in danger of falling behind the required deadlines, then the student must petition the Director of Graduate Studies for a deferral (which may or may not be granted). Any such petition must be submitted in writing (including email) in the first two weeks of the semester indicated in the required timeline. Students who are behind the deadline (including annual committee meetings) will be lower in priority for TA-ships (relative to students in the Biology graduate program who have met the required timeline, but not relative to other students, e.g. those from outside Biology).

 

ACTIVITY

RECOMMENDED

TIMELINE

DEADLINE
Orientation meeting Start of 1st semester Start of 1st semester
Register for BIOL 891 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th semesters 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th semesters
Form graduate committee Beginning of 3rd semester End of 3rd semester
Oral comprehensive exam End of 3rd semester End of 4th semester
Written exam Early in 5th semester End of 6th semester
Feasibility meeting Early in 5th semester End of 6th semester
Annual committee meeting 7th or 8th semester End of 8th semester
Pre-Defense Committee Meeting Start of 10th semester Before scheduling defense
Defense of Dissertation End of 10th semester End of 16th semester
Register for BIOL 994 (3cr) The same semester as the defense The same semester as the defense

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