Life as a graduate student


What does it mean to be a graduate student in our department? Find out below!


Application process

In EEB, students work in a specific lab under the supervision of the lab director (also known as the principal investigator [PI]). Every PI has a different research program and research in the lab is driven by questions that are related to the PI’s expertise (e.g. coevolution of insect-plant interactions, community assemblage and coexistence, plant physiology, fish systematics, etc). Applicants to the program should contact their prospective PI three to six months before the application deadline. It is important that prospective mentors are well researched, as students in our department do not rotate, but stay with the same lab throughout their program. Top candidates will be invited to an interview weekend where input from the potential advisor, a committee of other department PIs, and graduate students from the lab and the department as a whole will inform the final admissions decision.


First year

Successful applicants will start in the fall term (August). First semester students take a course intended to prepare them for grant writing and developing their thesis; this is the only required class in the program. First year students are encouraged to apply for research grants and start preliminary research projects. Most students also read about their field in depth, meet with professors and possible collaborators, form a thesis committee, and develop a research question during this time. Since only one class is required, there is a lot of unstructured time—time management and clear goals for the year can make an important difference on your first year experience.  For many international students this is a challenging time due to cultural and language differences. However, our department is known for the helpfulness of faculty and camaraderie among students. Many on-campus programs also seek to ease the stress of a first-year transition.


Beyond the first year

Most students have a combination of research and teaching responsibilities after their first year.



Research can involve grant writing, fieldwork, lab work, data analyses, and manuscript writing for several projects simultaneously. It is important that both the student and the PI have clear expectations for progress, and check in often to ensure the student can handle all the projects that they are committing to. A exams are typically scheduled toward the end of the second or start of the third year. This can take many forms depending on the student’s committee, but overall it is meant to evaluate broad knowledge in ecology and evolution. Once the student passes this exam they are considered a PhD candidate. Students are expected to concentrate on their research after the A exam, unless they have teaching responsibilities.



Teaching is an important part of the EEB program. Students are required to teach a minimum of two terms and most of the funding provided by the department comes in the form of teaching assistantships. Most teaching assistants work 15-20 hours per week as lab demonstrators or discussion leaders. International students will need to pass a language test and /or take a class at the University before they can teach.  The university also provides several teaching workshops that are designed to help teaching assistants to improve their teaching skills.

In general, students are expected to be independent, proactive, and collaborative. To make this possible, the department is committed to science excellence by improving the opportunity of social interaction and collaboration through seminars, workshops, and mixed office spaces where students interact with other labs. Exciting research programs in our department are enriched by these interactions.