Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Ph.D. Assessment Plan

Mission Statement

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology is a graduate program in the biological sciences that promotes Ph.D. education in theoretical, experimental, and applied aspects of these sciences. The program prepares students with coursework, laboratory and field training, and research experience to contribute as professionals to assist society in meeting the many environmental challenges it faces.

Program Outcomes

1. Graduates will be prepared for positions in their field upon graduation.

Student Performance Indicators

  • Postdoctoral position: The proportion of each cohort obtaining postdoctoral positions within one year of graduation.
  • Tenure-track position for students interested in academia: The proportion of each cohort obtaining a tenure track or permanent position five years after graduation.

Assessment Method

  • Virtually all tenure-track academic jobs in this field require several years of postdoctoral experience.
  • Obtaining a permanent job for those interested in agencies, non-governmental organizations, consulting firms. This is the goal for which students have been in training, and its achievement is a major indicator of the student's and the program's merit.

Student Learning Outcomes

1. Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the theoretical and empirical basis of ecology, evolution, conservation biology, and related fields.

Student Performance Indicators
  • Relevant 700-level courses readily available to each cohort of students.
  • Average scores of a cohort in the comprehensive examination (some quality control may be necessary to ensure that uniform grading standards are applied within and among cohorts).
  • Proportion of different rating scores per cohort (again, some quality control may be necessary to ensure that uniform grading standards are applied within and among cohorts).
Assessment Method
  • Number of relevant graduate courses offered by EECB or in other programs or departments on a regular basis. Students have complained about a lack of EECB core courses and predictable course offerings, lack of 700-level courses in key areas (e.g., biostatistics, advanced ecology, plant ecology, ecosystem ecology), and too few hands-on, techniques-oriented courses. This clearly reflects on program quality.
  • Comprehensive examination: All students must pass a written comprehensive exam covering ecology, evolution, conservation biology, and research design. The examination is prepared and graded by the student's committee. Passing this examination is a major accomplishment and is an excellent way to judge a student's understanding of these disciplines.
  • Oral examination. This is the final step prior to advancement to candidacy and tests not only how well prepared the student is to undertake his or her dissertation research but also how well he or she understand its theoretical basis. Each student's major professor will be asked to write a brief summary of the oral examination with a rating score (e.g., outstanding, very good, etc.).

2. Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the application of computer tools, conceptual and analytical models, data analysis techniques, and field and laboratory procedures.

Student Performance Indicators
  • Performance in research design course (EECB 750)and average grade and evaluation score of cohort in EECB 750.
  • Research rotation: The percentage of research rotations resulting in a publication in a refereed journal per cohort
  • Dissertation: The average number and quality of publications resulting from each cohort's dissertations.
Assessment Method
  • This course, EECB 750, is taken by all our students within their first three semesters. The grade in this course is a good first-approximation of a student's ability to complete his or her degree. There should be enough consistency in grading standards across years to make comparisons meaningful, the instructor in the course. Dr. Stephen Jenkins, has agreed to write a brief evaluation of each EECB student taking the course.
  • The purpose of the research rotation (one is required for students entering with an masters degree, two for those coming in with a bachelor's degree) is to broaden the student's familiarity with research techniques that would not normally be used in his or her dissertation research. The supervising professor writes an evaluation of the project and assigns a grade to the student, one measure of success, but the real test of is whether the project results in a publication.
  • The successful completion of a dissertation in EECB requires substantial expertise in conceptual and analytical modeling, data analysis, field and laboratory procedures, and computer use. It also requires the ability to communicate research results, so it is an indicator of learning outcome 3 (below). The real measures of dissertation quality are the number of publications resulting from it and the quality of journals in which they appear.

3. Students will be able to articulate scientific concepts and results in written, graphical, and verbal formats.

Student Performance Indicators
  • The number of presentations at scientific meetings per cohort. Presentations at scientific meetings: As their research is progressing, students are encouraged to present their results at regional and local meetings. The number of presentations is one metric of student advancement.
  • Outside grants and fellowships: the number of outside fellowships, grants, and contracts per student in a cohort.
  • Scientific publications: The average number and quality of non-dissertation related publications from each cohort.
Assessment Method
  • As their research is progressing, students are encouraged to present their results at regional and local meetings. The number of presentations is one metric of student advancement.
  • The number of NSF pre-doctoral fellowships, other competitive fellowships, and grants that students in a cohort receive is an excellent indicator of student and program quality.
  • In addition to their dissertation research, students often do additional research (outside of formal research rotations) that can result in a publication. A steady stream of these publications is another metric of a program's worth.