Program handbook

Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (EECB) is a graduate program in the biological sciences at the University of Nevada, Reno that promotes Ph.D. education in theoretical, experimental, and applied aspects of ecology, evolution and conservation biology. EECB is composed of a graduate faculty, a program director and one or more assistant/associate program directors and an Advisory Board.

Graduate faculty

EECB Graduate Faculty members direct doctoral students, teach graduate courses, or conduct scholarly research in the areas of ecology, evolution and conservation biology.

Any University graduate faculty member conducting research in ecology, evolution, or conservation biology, as evidenced by recent publication in major journals, (e.g. Ecology, Evolution, Conservation Biology), or teaching graduate level courses in ecology, evolution, or conservation biology may apply for graduate faculty status in EECB.

Applications are evaluated by the EECB Program Director and membership determined by a vote of the EECB faculty.

EECB Graduate Faculty members are admitted for five-year terms, based upon research productivity and teaching/advising effectiveness. The EECB Program Director reviews and determines continued membership with faculty vote. Continued membership is based on continued scholarly activity.

Program director

The EECB Program Director oversees the operations of EECB including the following:

  • the selection and admission of EECB Graduate Faculty members,
  • curriculum development and implementation,
  • admissions and recruiting of students,
  • budget and funding development,
  • committee membership, and any other administrative activities, including the minimization of conflicts of interest in the decision-making process.

The Program Director may recommend one or more Assistant/Associate Program Directors to the EECB faculty. Election of an Assistant/Associate Program Director requires a majority vote at an EECB faculty meeting.

The EECB Program Director is elected from the EECB Graduate Faculty with the approval of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Dean. The Program Director serves a three-year term, renewable, upon election, for a second or third term upon successful evaluation by the EECB Graduate Faculty. Acceptable and unacceptable evaluations are submitted to the Vice President for Research and Graduate Dean through the EECB Advisory Board (minus the Program Director).

Assistant/associate program director

The EECB faculty upon recommendation of the Program Director may elect one or more Assistant/Associate Program Directors. Assistant/Associate Program Directors shall represent the Program Director and the EECB Program as agreed upon by the Program Director and the Assistant/Associate Program Director.

Program Advisory Board

The EECB Program Advisory Board (PAB) consists of the following voting members: EECB Program Director and chairs of departments with two or more active EECB Graduate Faculty. Also sitting on the Program Advisory Board, in a nonvoting capacity are the Assistant/Associate Program Directors. The EECB Program Advisory Board shall consider financial matters of EECB and proposed by-law changes. In addition, the Advisory Board shall provide the Program Director with advice regarding program planning, and decisions involving dismissal of students, and shall act as the appeals board for any decisions made by the director or any EECB standing committee. Any appeal from a student must be accompanied by a written evaluation of the appeal from the student's advisory committee. Membership of this board and all standing committees is posted on the EECB website.

EECB standing committees

Applications to the EECB Program are completed through the UNR Graduate School Application Portal. Application materials include complete transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate coursework that include a statement of interest, a diversity statement, three letters of recommendation, and TOEFL scores for international students. 

Admissions Committee

The EECB Admissions Committee evaluates all student applications to the EECB Program and recommends to the EECB Faculty those students found acceptable and sources of financial support they should receive from the EECB Graduate Program. The EECB Admissions Committee evaluates and advises the Program Director on all Graduate Faculty applications. When considering general admission policies, this committee shall consult with representatives of the EECB student association.

Curriculum Committee

The EECB Curriculum Committee evaluates and approves the graduate courses that are included in the EECB course listing and recommends to the faculty the structure of the EECB core curriculum.

Grant Writing Committee

The EECB Grant Writing Committee is charged with the writing and submission of proposals to increase funding for EECB in general and the support of students in particular. Examples of target awards include federal funding for graduate programs and fellowships that might be sponsored by state and federal agencies.

Admissions standards

Complete transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate coursework, and general GRE scores (advanced biology scores are recommended but not required), plus TOEFL scores for international students to the Director of Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557. Applicants should also arrange to have three letters of recommendation sent to this address by individuals able to evaluate the applicant's academic record and research potential.

We anticipate that in order to compete successfully for admission, an applicant should meet the following requirements:

  • a cumulative grade point average of 3.00;
  • a TOEFL score of 600 for international students; and
  • coursework in physical sciences (6 credits), university mathematics including calculus (6 credits), organic chemistry or biochemistry (6 credits), and biology (24 credits, including genetics, evolution, and ecology), or equivalent evidence of ability to succeed in a Ph.D. program in ecology, evolution and conservation biology.

Each student must have a temporary advisor among the EECB faculty before they are accepted into the EECB Program. Within the first academic year, an advisory committee and major professor must be chosen, and the first committee meeting held.

Students admitted to the EECB Program may be offered financial support from one of the following sources: scholarships, teaching fellowships, and research assistantships. If a student's job performance (i.e., as a teaching or research fellow) and progress towards the degree is satisfactory, support from one or more of these sources ordinarily may be provided for up to five years total. Information regarding research assistantships, current numbers for student support (e.g. minimum stipends and tuition fees) will be linked on the EECB website to facilitate the inclusion of student support in grants written by individual faculty.

Program of study and coursework

Each student will complete an entrance interview with a provisional advisory committee of at least 3 EECB faculty (the student's advisor and two other faculty chosen by the advisor). This committee is chaired and selected by the student's advisor and none of the recommendations of the committee are binding. The entrance interview should occur within the first month of the first semester and will allow the committee to assess the student's needs for coursework during the first year. The graduate guidelines will be discussed as well as an overall plan of action for the student.

A student will select an Advisory Committee no later than the end of his or her second semester. This committee will consist of the major professor; at least two members of the EECB Graduate Faculty, selected by the student and major professor; one additional faculty member, selected by the student and major professor in consultation with the program director (to bring programmatic breadth to the committee); and one member having UNR Graduate Faculty status from outside of the EECB Faculty and major advisor's home department. One or more additional qualified members (from on or off campus) also may be appointed. No committee shall have fewer than five members.

Each student, with the advice of his or her Advisory/Examining Committee, will take specialized courses that are appropriate for the student's area of research emphasis. In addition, the EECB Program has a set of core requirements that are intended to ensure that all students enrolled in the program receive a broad education in ecology, evolution, and conservation biology, and a solid foundation in research methods and experimental design.

These core requirements are:

  • EECB 701, Research Rotation I (3 credits, or equivalent content). One research rotation is required of students without an M.S. or equivalent graduate degree. None is required of students holding an M.S. or equivalent graduate degree. Rotations are intended to provide students with extensive graduate-level experiences in laboratory, field, or classroom settings, and in areas other than the students' field of specialization. Equivalency will be determined by the student's advisory committee.
  • 6 credits in statistics, three of which may be undergraduate credits. Courses that satisfy this requirement are determined by the student's advisory committee.
  • EECB 703 Principles of Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (3 credits)
  • EECB 750 Research Design (3 credits)
  • 4 credits from: EECB 794 Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Colloquium (must be taken four times for one (1) credit each time)
  • Language Requirement: There will be no foreign or computer language requirement in EECB. However, a student's Advisory/Examining Committee may require language study.
  • Teaching Requirement: All EECB graduate students are expected to participate for two (2) semesters in the teaching of undergraduate laboratories or courses. Teaching experience gained prior to admission to EECB may be used to meet this requirement.

Each student must complete at least 72 graduate credits, including the EECB core curriculum, of which at least 30 credits must be in coursework. A minimum of 30 credits of 700-level courses beyond the baccalaureate, exclusive of dissertation credits, is required for the doctoral degree. A maximum of 24 credits in coursework with grades of B or better from a master's degree program or previous post-baccalaureate graduate studies program may be allowed toward the Ph.D. degree, with the approval of the EECB Director, the Graduate Dean, and the Office of Admissions and Records. A maximum of 18 of these credits may be used from a master's degree towards the 30 credits of 700-level courses.

Enrollment requirement is a minimum of six semesters of graduate study beyond the bachelor's degree. At least two successive semesters, excluding summer sessions, must be spent in full-time residence on campus at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Dissertation proposal

Each EECB Ph.D. student must submit a formal dissertation proposal to his/her Advisory Committee. The proposal may be modified and resubmitted, with the guidance of the Advisory Committee, until this committee finds the proposal acceptable. Acceptability is based, in part, on the Advisory Committee's judgment that the proposal reflects a sufficient knowledge and understanding of relevant biology on the part of the student. The committee may require any features of the dissertation proposal as it sees fit. A copy of the final version of the dissertation proposal must be sent by the student to the EECB Program Director, along with a signature sheet including the signatures of all members of the Advisory Committee indicating their acceptance of the proposal, to be included in the Comprehensive Examination, which must be taken within six months of successful completion (passing) of the Written Comprehensive Examination.

Comprehensive examination

EECB students are required to take a written and oral comprehensive examination. The written comprehensive exams will be offered over the course of two days every spring semester at a time determined at the beginning of each academic year. The schedule will be as follows: Day 1, 8-11 AM, Ecology; Day 1, 1-4 PM, Evolution; Day 2, 8-11 AM, Conservation Biology; Day 2,1-4 PM, Quantitative Methods. If the scheduled time of the exam (spring semester of the student's second year) conflicts with field work or travel, advisors may choose to reschedule the exam for a particular student during the fall semester of the same calendar year. The advisor in this case would have to work with the exam committee to have the exam created and processed in a fair way.

Exams will draw from a test bank as described below and will be closed book without notes or internet access. For each of the 4 topics, students will choose 3 out of 5 questions, with an optional modification based on specialized research interests, as described below. The written answers will be graded anonymously by a rotating exam committee of 5 EECB faculty to be appointed bi-annually by the director. This committee is also responsible for assembling and administering the exam each year. A student must retake any section that is failed and will have an option to do that in a test session every fall semester. Dates of make-up exams will be determined at the beginning of each fall semester. Students must pass every section of the written exam to advance to candidacy.

Optional modification

For advisors and committees wishing to have students tested on more specialized content in the written exam, they may opt for students to have 2 tailored questions in each of the 4 subject areas. The students will answer the specialized questions in addition to the general test bank questions. For example, for each subject area, the students would answer 3 out of 5 test bank questions and 1 out of 2 specialized questions. Given the extra question for each section that the students must answer, they will be allowed 1 hour of extra time per additional question (i.e. the exam period will be 8 AM - Noon or 1 - 5 PM). Advisors choosing this path must supply the specialized questions to the exam committee at the beginning of the academic year; if questions are not supplied, then students default to the full test bank plan with no specialized questions.

Test bank details

The bank of questions for written comprehensive exams will be a public resource. Any EECB faculty can contribute to the bank, and students will be able to see the bank throughout their first two years as they prepare for the written exam. They will be first exposed to the bank of questions during Principles of EECB, a course that they will have taken during their first year. A subset of test bank questions will form the final exam for Principles of EECB, while the full test bank will be used to formulate the written exam.

The expectation for depth and quality of answers is higher for the comprehensive written exam as compared to the Principles of EECB final exam. View the sample comp exam test questions

Grading appeals

After review of the graded exams, students who have failed one or more sections of the exam and wish to appeal the results must do so in writing to the EECB director within two weeks after notification of the results of the exam. Appeals will be decided by the EECB director and the EECB curriculum committee. If the student's appeal is rejected, the student may then appeal the results to the Dean of the Graduate School.

Oral comprehensive examination

The oral comprehensive examination will be taken no later than six months after successful completion (passing) of the written exam and after submission of dissertation proposal to the advisory committee. It is then the responsibility of the student to submit a request to his/her advisor to organize the oral examination, which will be conducted and evaluated by the student's advisory committee. If more than one negative vote is cast by members of the advisory committee, the oral examination is failed. In case of failure, the examination may be retaken once, provided the advisory committee determines that additional study is justified and the student continues such studies for an additional period, not to exceed one year. Appeals proceed as above, with written appeal to the EECB director within two weeks of notification of the results of the exam. Appeals will be decided by the EECB director and curriculum committee, who will consult with the student and the examination committee before issuing a decision. If the student's appeal is rejected, the student may then appeal the results to the Dean of the Graduate School.


Application for admission to candidacy must be filed not later than eight calendar months before awarding of the degree, and not before completion of residence requirements, and the comprehensive examination.


Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must register for at least 24 credits of dissertation research and must submit a dissertation satisfactory to the Advisory/Examining Committee. An exception to the minimum 24 dissertation credits requires the advance written approval of the EECB Curriculum Committee. The dissertation must represent an original and independent investigation. It should reflect a mastery of research techniques, as well as the student's ability to select an important problem for the investigation, study it competently, express findings in an acceptable manner, and provide the foundation for further research. At least one chapter of the dissertation must be submitted to a peer reviewed journal, following timely review by the student's committee, before the dissertation is approved. This requirement can also be met by a paper submission, from work conducted while an EECB student, that is not part of the dissertation. Final approval of the dissertation is by the graduate dean.

The student is required to present a formal seminar to members of the EECB program. Normally, the seminar will precede the final oral exam. The Advisory/Examining Committee will conduct the final oral examination of the student's dissertation and general knowledge of ecology, evolution, and conservation biology. If more than one negative committee vote is cast, the examination is failed. In case of failure, the Advisory/Examining Committee, with approval of the Program Director, may permit the examination to be retaken once following additional work by the student.

If a student has first-author publication(s) approved by the Advisory/Examining Committee submitted to or accepted in refereed journals by the time he or she has completed the dissertation work, he or she may submit the publication(s) to his or her dissertation committee. The student may then petition to write a "General Discussion" at the end as well as an "Introduction" to the work and have the dissertation consist of this introduction and discussion, plus the paper(s).

Students in the program who have completed one or more years and who have a UNR graduate grade point average below 3.0, and students failing to adhere to the bylaws with regard to program of study, coursework, comprehensive examination, candidacy, and dissertation may be dismissed from the program. Students under consideration for dismissal will receive written notice that they are under consideration for dismissal. This notice shall be sent by the EECB Program Director to the student and/or his/her advisor 30 days prior to the issue being discussed by the Program Advisory Board. The student and/or advisor can, during this 30-day period, provide additional information for the consideration of the Program Advisory Board. Upon receiving the recommendation of the Program Advisory Board, the Program Director is authorized to act on behalf of the program.


The EECB Faculty shall meet a minimum of once per semester. Additional meetings may be called by the Program Director. Meeting notices will be sent at least one week prior to the meeting date. All EECB Graduate Faculty and two representatives of the EECB student association may vote at the meetings. A quorum shall be ten voting members.

EECB colloquium series

The EECB colloquium series (EECB 794) will be coordinated by EECB graduate students with the guidance of one member of the EECB faculty.


Core courses

  • EECB 703 Principles of Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology (3 credits)
  • EECB 750 Research Design (3 credits)
  • 4 credits from: EECB 794 Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Colloquium (must be taken four times for one (1) credit each time)

Additional requirements

A written thesis, a thesis defense, and a public thesis talk are required. There is no comprehensive exam.

Graduate school MS with thesis requirements

  • Minimum of 20 units of acceptable graduate courses in addition to 6-10 thesis units for total of approximately 30 units. Minor exceptions to 30-unit requirement will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require best practices justification.
  • At least 18 units earned in courses offered by the University of Nevada, Reno.
  • At least 9 units, exclusive of thesis, at 700 level. With program director approval, internship/externship experiences can count for thesis units.

EECB-affiliation for MS students

EECB offers an opportunity for affiliation for MS students at the University who are interested in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology. This status is available for MS students who have an advisor or co-advisor in EECB. New applications for affiliate status will cease at the point that an EECB MS is created; at that point, EECB affiliates would have the option to remain affiliates or transfer to the EECB MS program.

Requirements include:

  • Taking EECB 703, Principles of Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology
  • Taking 2 semesters of EECB 794, Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology Colloquium
  • Recommended: EECB 750, Research Design in Ecology
  • At least one advisor or co-advisor must be EECB faculty

Benefits include:

  • Listing on the EECB "people" page as MS affiliates
  • Participation in Ecolunch and EECB Peer Review Group
  • Participation as members of EECB committees
  • Inclusion on EECB list-serve
  • Participation in EECB outreach and social events

Apply for affiliation

Interested students become affiliates by contacting the EECB director with a brief letter (signed by them and their faculty sponsor) explaining their interest in the program and their commitment to taking the required coursework. 

Bylaw changes

Proposed changes to the bylaws should be submitted to the Program Advisory Board for its advice. All proposed changes, together with PAB advice should be distributed one week prior to the faculty meeting at which they will be considered. Bylaws may be changed by a 2/3 vote of the EECB Faculty.