Welcome to the Natural Resources & Environmental Science Master of Science Program! This handbook was prepared to help you to navigate through the program and its requirements and procedures. Please refer to the handbook often as you plan your graduate career.

It contains the following content:

  1. Program Description
  2. Degree Requirements
  3. Timeline for Degree Completion
  4. Graduate Assistantships
  5. Health Insurance
  6. Leave of Absence
  7. Graduate Student Association
  8. Graduate School Forms

1. Program Description

The Natural Resources & Environmental Science (NRES) M.S. degree offers graduate study of the ecology, management, and restoration of ecosystems. Areas of specialization include (but are not limited to):

  • Biogeochemistry and Soil Processes
  • Climate Change Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Ecosystem Ecology
  • Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology
  • Environmental Science
  • Fire Ecology
  • Forest Ecology
  • Freshwater Science
  • Landscape Ecology
  • Natural Resource Ecology
  • Quantitative Ecology
  • Remote Sensing of Natural Resources
  • Restoration Ecology
  • Wildlife Ecology

The NRES Master’s degree program is inherently multidisciplinary and capitalizes upon the broad spectrum of expertise offered by NRES departmental faculty. Student learning outcomes include:

  1. Students will be able to demonstrate critical thinking, writing, and communication skills that will enable them to succeed after graduation.
  2. Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of the theoretical basis and experimental methods used for study of natural resources & environmental science.
  3. Students will be able to demonstrate knowledge of experimental design; field/laboratory instrumentation and procedures; computer models; and data analyses used in natural resources & environmental science research.

For more information about the NRES Master or Ph.D. program, contact:
Kevin Shoemaker
Associate Professor and NRES Graduate Program Director

Students are encouraged to contact NRES faculty directly to inquire about graduate opportunities and research interests.


2. Degree Requirements

NRES M.S. students must pass the following milestones to earn an M.S., each of which are described in detail below:

  1. Complete required courses as well as earn a UNR-mandated number of credits.
  2. Declare one or more advisors, establish a graduate advisory committee of at least three (3) members of the UNR graduate faculty, and submit a program of study.
  3. Perform thesis research.
  4. Write and defend thesis (Plan A) or professional paper (Plan B).

In addition to these milestones, all NRES M.S. students are required to work with their advisor to draft an annual statement of goals and expectations and provide annual evaluation reports showing satisfactory progress through the program.

For both Thesis and Non-Thesis degrees, the Graduate School requires continuous enrollment of at least 3 graduate credits each fall and spring semester.

Plan A vs. Plan B

The vast majority of incoming NRES Master’s students are admitted to the Plan A degree program. In this option, the student is expected to write a thesis making an original contribution to the research field of a quality acceptable to a major, peer-reviewed scientific journal. A small number of students, primarily those without research funding and/or who have a full-time job commitment, are admitted to the Plan B degree program. This program requires the writing of a professional paper of a quality demonstrating a high level of scholarship. Occasionally, Plan B students transfer to Plan A if research funding becomes available. Only under very special circumstances is a Plan A student allowed to transfer to Plan B.

A. Coursework

A1. Required Courses

All NRES M.S. students must take :

  • Six (6) credits of approved quantitative coursework at the 600 or higher level.
  • Two (2) credits of a committee approved seminar series.

Beyond these courses, the NRES M.S. degree is intended to be “committee-driven” where the student has flexibility to select most courses and develop a program of study under the guidance of an advisory committee, making sure the minimum credit requirements of the grad school are achieved.

A2. Credit Requirements

UNR has a set of minimum requirements of graduate credits, which are as follows:

  • Maximum of 12 graduate units completed prior to admission to graduate standing may be applied to a master’s degree program of study.
  • Maximum of 18 graduate credits completed from a relevant University of Nevada, Reno graduate certificate may be applied to a master’s degree program of study.
  • Maximum of 6 graduate S/U units may apply towards a master’s degree, excluding S/U units allowed for comprehensive examination, professional paper and thesis units, but including transfer units.
  • 6 to 10 thesis units may be applied to master’s degree.
  • All requirements (credits) for degree (including transfer credits) must be completed within the period of six years (6) immediately preceding the granting of the degree.
  • Continuous enrollment.
  • Minimum enrollment of 3 graduate credits each fall and spring semester.

Thesis (Plan A)

  • 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.

Non-Thesis (Plan B)

  • Approximately 30 units of acceptable graduate courses including a culminating experience such as a professional paper or project. Minor exceptions to the 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 12 of the 30 units at 700 level.
  • With program director approval, internship/externship experiences can count for thesis units.

A3. Transfer Credits

These are credits transferred from another institution. Credits completed at UNR in another program or as a graduate special do not need to be transferred. Transfer credit can be requested on the Graduate Credit Transfer Evaluation Request form available on Graduate School website, and must be signed by the student, major advisor, and graduate director. Transfer credits applied to a master’s program must comply with the time limitation on master’s work (6 years). Thus, if a student took a course five years prior to admission, they would have to complete the degree within one year for the course to apply to the degree. Credits from a completed master’s degree will be exempt from the 8-year time limitation for those students pursuing a doctoral degree.

A4. Academic Standing

Each graduate course must be completed with a grade of "C" or better for the credit to be acceptable toward an advanced degree. Some departments, at their discretion, do not accept any grade lower than "B" for the fulfillment of graduate program requirements.  In addition, students must maintain good standing with an overall cumulative graduate credit GPA of at least 3.0 on a scale of 4.0. Students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to meet graduation eligibility. If the students cumulative grade-point total is between 2.99 and 2.31, the student is placed on probation. The student must then raise his/her cumulative graduate GPA to 3.0 by the end of the following semester or the student will be dismissed from graduate standing.

B. Advisor, Graduate Advisory Committee and Program of Study

B1. Advisor

NRES requires any incoming students to have an agreed-upon faculty advisor for acceptance to the program.  The advisor must be an active (i.e. has not retired, resigned or transferred to another department) tenure-track, tenured, or adjunct member of NRES. A student may have any member of the NRES/UNR graduate faculty as a co-advisor.

B2. Graduate Advisory Committee

The graduate advisory committee plays an important role in the NRES M.S. program. The committee is responsible for assisting the student in designing a program of study that is tailored to the career goals of the student, fills in any academic gaps that may exist in the student’s prior academic background, and provides the needed knowledge for successful completion of the thesis research. The committee is also responsible for guiding the thesis research and ensuring that it meets the standards of the graduate program. Therefore, the committee should be carefully selected by the student in close coordination with the advisor.

Consistent with rules of the Graduate School, each NRES M.S. committee requires at least three advisory committee members, including the advisor. The committee must contain at least one active tenured/tenure-track members of NRES, one of which can be the advisor, at the time of graduation. These requirements become important to keep in mind if the student's advisor or committee member retires, resigns, or transfers to another department before the end of the student's degree. If, through retirement, resignation or transferring, a student's committee no longer has one active tenured/tenure-track NRES members, they must find additional or replacement members to serve on their committee. At least one (the graduate school representative or “outside” member) must be from a department or program different from the department or program from which the student is graduating. As stated on the Graduate School website, “The Graduate School Representative protects the interests of the student, the advisory committee, and the Graduate School. The Graduate School Representative should also act as an "unbiased person" to whom the Dean may turn for judgment and counsel. The primary responsibility of the Graduate School Representative is that of an observer.” However, the Graduate School Representative may also play an important role in guiding the student, particularly if he/she has expertise in the student’s area of specialization.

B3. Program of Study

The membership of the committee must  be finalized by the end of the first semester, and is indicated to the Graduate School through the signing of the student’s Program of Study form. Formal approval of all student advisory committees is made by the Graduate Dean. The Program of Study form details both the list of proposed coursework as well as the list of graduate advisory committee members.

B4. Termination of Advisor-Student Relationship

At any point, the advisor/student relationship may be terminated for any reason. Both the advisor and student are responsible for first seeking to resolve any conflicts potentially by involving a third-party to serve as a mediator. If the student initiates terminating an advisor relationship for any reason, or if an advisor terminates their relationship with cause, any agreements for future funding via research or teaching assistantships are nullified starting no later than the semester following this termination. A student who no longer has an advisor has one (1) semester to find a new advisor or is considered as having made "unsatisfactory progress" through the M.S. program and will be prevented from re-enrolling in the program. It is the responsibility of the student to arrange for a new advisor in this case. Establishing a new advisor invalidates the Program of Study. The new advisor may require the student to potentially take new courses, change their advisory committee, retake comprehensive exams or redraft a dissertation proposal, and the student will need to submit a new Declaration of Advisor and Program of Study.

C. Thesis Research

In collaboration with the graduate advisor and committee, the M.S. student will likely be working on their research at the same time as they are taking courses, with the ultimate goal of preparing their thesis for its ultimate public and private defense.

D. Thesis and Defense

The objective of writing a thesis (Plan A) or professional paper (Plan B) is to demonstrate the ability of a student to complete the kinds of tasks he or she will be expected to perform in their professional career. While these typically include novel research, they can also include synthesis or re-evaluation of existing material. In sum, the thesis must demonstrate the ability to independently utilize the scientific method to address questions and hypotheses.

In general, the thesis must be of a quality that is publishable in a peer-reviewed journal of a scientific field relevant to the student’s area of expertise, as judged by the advisory committee or demonstrated by acceptance for publication in such a journal. While there is no length requirement to the Master’s thesis, the thesis must consist of at least one chapter suitable for publication, plus Introductory and Concluding chapters. The professional paper produced by the Plan B (non-thesis) student will be of sufficient quality to demonstrate a high degree of scholarship as judged by the student’s advisory committee.

Successfully completing a thesis will typically include meeting the following guidelines:

  1. The first draft of the thesis should be provided to the Committee Chair or Major Advisor at least eight weeks prior to the date the thesis is due to the Graduate College. The Advisor will work with the student directly to revise the thesis, which may take several revisions.
  2. Submit the revised thesis to the Committee at least 6 weeks prior to the date the thesis is due to the graduate college. The Committee should review the thesis and return any comments, criticisms, or suggestions to the student within two weeks.
  3. The student should carefully and thoroughly address comments made by the Committee and return the revised thesis to the Committee two weeks prior to the date the thesis is due.
  4. The student will perform an oral presentation of their research, followed by a private committee-led defense.

This timeline represents the minimum acceptable time for each step, and can be modified given consent of student, committee, and advisor.

D1. Thesis Requirements (Plan A)

The objective of writing a thesis is to demonstrate the ability of a student to communicate their science, hypotheses, methods, and findings in written form. In general, the chapter(s) of the thesis must be of a quality that is publishable in a peer-reviewed journal of a scientific field relevant to the student’s area of expertise, as judged by the advisory committee or demonstrated by acceptance for publication in such a journal. 

The recommended format for most M.S. students in STEM disciplines is organized such that the core chapter(s) are effectively draft manuscripts that can be submitted to appropriate peer-reviewed journals in the field of study. These chapters can include literature synthesis, meta-analysis, and review. The specific requirements of this format are:

  • An introduction preceding the manuscript chapter(s). This section should establish the general scientific foundation for the body of work that will be presented in the manuscript chapter(s).
  • At least one (1) manuscript-style chapter.
  • A preface that describes what journals each chapter is submitted to or will be submitted to. This will aid the committee and future readers in understanding formatting differences among journals. The preface should also include the status of each manuscript chapter (i.e., published, in press, in review, in preparation for submission).
  • A conclusion or summary. This section can also be used to describe implications for management. This section should summarize the body of research in the preceding chapters and can be used to describe implications for management.
  • The sections of the thesis that are not manuscript chapters should be formatted in a consistent style. References to literature cited should follow each section.

D2. Professional Paper Requirements (Plan B)

There are no formal requirements for the format of the professional paper produced by the Plan B (non-thesis) student, beyond that the format must be discussed and approved by the student's graduate advisory committee well before the student's defense date.

D3. Thesis/Professional Paper Defense

The defense consists of a public presentation (announced at least one week prior to the defense date) followed by a minimum 1-hour long private discussion among the committee members. The defense is not an oral comprehensive exam; the discussion should focus on the research, its implications, and the student’s capacity to converse about their science. Ultimately, the committee must unanimously agree to sign the "Notice of Completion - Master's Degree" for the student to graduate. At the conclusion of the defense, the committee should consider three potential outcomes to the defense:

  • Unconditional pass: the committee has no further formal requirements of the student. The committee should sign the Notice of Completion at this point.
  • Conditional pass: the committee imposes some additional requirements on the student (usually additional thesis edits, but possibly additional analysis) before they are willing to sign off on the Notice of Completion. Once the student has completed these additional requirements to the satisfaction of the committee, the Notice of Completion should be sent to the graduate advisory committee for signatures.
  • Unconditional fail: the committee deems the work and defense to be unsatisfactory. At this point, the student must petition the advisor(s) for a second attempt to revise the thesis and perform a second defense. The student has one (1) year from the previous defense to accomplish this task. If either 1) the advisor(s) do not agree to a second attempt to defend the thesis, or 2) the student does not defend satisfactorily the second time, the student will be deemed as having made "unsatisfactory progress" through the M.S. program and will be prevented from re-enrolling in the program. While the student may reapply to the M.S. program at a future date, they will be required to meet all of the original program requirements.

Once all requirements have been met, students must submit a Final Review Approval and Notice of Completion form in order to graduate.

  • Notice of completion – this completed form should be submitted after all requirements have been met. If the student has an unconditional pass during their defense, the student should have this form signed by the committee at the conclusion of the defense.
  • Final Review Approval – Obtain sign-off from advisory committee chair.

E. Annual Statement of Goals and Expectations and Evaluations

Clear communication of advisor-student expectations and timely evaluations of students' progress meeting these milestones is a critical step towards keeping students on-track for completing their degrees and having a positive and rewarding experience during the process.  As such, all students are required to prepare, in collaboration with their advisor, an annual statement of goals and expectations at the beginning of the school year, and an evaluation of the student's progress meeting these expectations at the end of each school year. After each annual evaluation, a new statement of goals and expectations is established for the next year.

Statement of Goals and Expectations

Evaluation of Goals and Expectations

F. Graduate School Academic Requirements

All graduate students must maintain a cumulative graduate GPA of 3.0. If their GPA drops below 3.0, they are either placed on probation or dismissed. Undergraduate courses will not count towards graduate GPA.

Probation: students whose cumulative graduate GPA falls between 2.31 and 2.99 are automatically placed on academic probation for one semester. If they fail to raise their cumulative GPA to 3.0 by the end of one semester, they are dismissed from their graduate program. Thesis, dissertation, S/U graded credits, and transfer credits have no impact on a student’s GPA.

Dismissal: students whose cumulative graduate GPA is 2.30 or lower are dismissed. Dismissed students are no longer enrolled in their graduate program but may take graduate-level courses as a Grad Special. Dismissed students wishing to complete their degree must obtain approval to take graduate-level courses, raise their graduate GPA to at least 3.0, and then re-apply to their graduate program. Any courses taken in an effort to raise their GPA will be included in the graduate special/ transfer credit limitation (9 credits for master’s degrees).

Please refer to Nevada System of Higher Education CODE on Student Program Dismissal Procedures (SPDP) and review conference policies: (NSHE CODE, Chapter 11, Sections 1-3). If program dismissal is based upon failure to maintain required grades or a required GPA as described above, SPDP does not apply and the student may be summarily dismissed from the graduate program.

G. Exceptions to Degree Requirements

The requirements detailed above constitute the expectations of all M.S. students entering the program, but we recognize that there may need to be exceptions to these policies under certain circumstances. As such, it is the right and responsibility of the Graduate Program Committee to consider any requests for exceptions to these policies. Policy exception requests should be made, via email, to the Graduate Program Director. The exception request should include a description of the specific policy under question, and why the student cannot meet this expectation. The policy will be voted on in a timely fashion by the Graduate Program Committee, with ties being broken by the Graduate Program Director. If the exception illuminates a more general issue that future graduate students may need to deal with, the Graduate Program Committee may elect to modify this handbook to reflect these changes.  Please note that some requirements are set by UNR and are cannot be overridden by the Graduate Program Committee. Exceptions to these UNR-level policies may need to be escalated to the Graduate School in collaboration with the Graduate Program Director.


3. Timeline for Degree Completion

The following timeline is based on expectations of the Graduate School and the NRES M.S. Program. While every student does not progress through their graduate program at the same rate and often more than 4 semesters are required to complete the M.S. degree, students should seek to minimize substantial delays. Please note the Graduate School requirement that all course work must be completed within six years preceding the awarding of the degree (i.e. course work from more than six years ago cannot be applied towards the M.S. degree). Any milestones in bold are not optional, and failure to complete these by their deadline may result in the student being considered as making "unsatisfactory progress" which may result in the student being prevented from re-enrolling and/or being ineligible for graduate assistantships until the milestone is completed. You can look through our updated list of Graduate School forms and requirements.

Recommended Timeline

Timeline and deadlines
Timeline Activities
First 30 days of first semester
  1. Completion of thesis advisor form.
  2. Schedule entrance interview with the NRES graduate program director.
During the first semester Formation of advisory committee and first committee meeting.
End of first semester
  1. Statement of Goals and Expectations.
  2. Formation of advisory committee and first committee meeting.
  3. Completion of program of study.
End of second semester
  1. Completion of Annual Evaluation.
  2. Update Statement of Goals and Expectations for the upcoming academic year.
End of third semester Second committee meeting: update committee on thesis research progress.
End of fourth semester (and every 2nd semester following, e.g. 6th semester, 8th semester)
  1. Completion of Annual Evaluation.
  2. Update Statement of Goals and Expectations for the upcoming academic year OR Graduation (see final semester below).
End of final semester
  1. Schedule a date for a thesis defense. The date of the defense should be at least three weeks prior to graduate school deadline for graduation.
  2. Submit graduation application form, at least several weeks in advance of the deadline for graduation.
  3. Submit draft of complete thesis to committee members at least six weeks before scheduled thesis defense date.
  4. Defend thesis (public presentation and third committee meeting); revise thesis as needed.
  5. Submit Notice of Completion form after all requirements have been met.
  6. Schedule Exit Interview with the NRES Graduate Program Director.
  7. Upon graduation, take the Graduate School’s Exit Survey.

4. Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships for Plan A students may take several forms including both research and teaching assistantships.  Furthermore, all graduate assistantships are contingent on satisfactory progress through the program, and unsatisfactory progress may result in the assistantships being withdrawn. As a general rule, Plan B students are ineligible for graduate teaching or research assistantships, and are expected to fund their own degrees.

Research Assistantships

NRES M.S. students who are supported by research assistantships (RAs) should be aware that their assistantships are typically funded by research grants administered by individual faculty members. In this case, stipends and fee waivers follow the same rules as teaching assistantships, but there are some situations when terms of an RA may deviate from these standards. It is incumbent upon the student to understand any complexities in their funding in conjunction with the advisor.

Teaching Assistantships

Opportunities for NRES M.S. students to be supported by teaching assistantships are fairly limited outside of those offered as part of a student's funding package.  Students should be aware that teaching assistantships during a semester may be split between more than one class (e.g. 10 hours on one class and 10 hours on another), but will never exceed 20 hours. 

Graduate students are also encouraged to apply for outside funding to help support their graduate research. UNR’s Graduate School Association also provides scholarships, small grants and other funding opportunities (including for travel to conferences).

All graduate students holding an assistantship (teaching GTA or GRA) are considered Nevada residents for tuition purposes. Non-resident tuition is only waived for the duration of the assistantship. To be eligible for an assistantship, students must be admitted to a degree-granting program and be in good academic standing. The student must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 and must be continuously enrolled in at least 6 graduate level credits (600-700) throughout the duration of the assistantship.

State-funded assistantships (GTA/GRA) may be held for a maximum of five (5) years for doctoral degree students.

For more information, please refer to the Graduate Assistantship website and the Graduate Assistantship Handbook.


5. Health Insurance

All domestic degree seeking graduate students, who are enrolled in six or more credits (regardless of the course level) in a semester, will be automatically enrolled and billed for the University sponsored health insurance for each term they are eligible (fall & spring/summer). If a student has other comparable coverage and would like to waive out of the student health insurance, it is the student’s responsibility to complete the University online waiver form. If approved, a health insurance waiver is good for the current academic year only. A new waiver must be submitted each academic year. All international graduate students are required to carry student health insurance, and the cost will be automatically added to your student account. Any international graduate students with insurance questions must contact the Office of International Students and Scholars directly.

You can find more information on Graduate health insurance online.


6. Leave of Absence

Continuous Enrollment

To maintain “good standing” all graduate students are required to enroll in a minimum of three (3) graduate credits each fall and spring semester until they graduate. International students may be required to enroll in nine graduate credits each fall and spring semester depending on the requirements of their visa. All students holding assistantships (whether teaching or research assistantships) are required to enroll in a minimum of six (6) graduate credits each semester they hold the assistantship.

Leave of Absence

Students in good standing may request a leave of absence by completing a Leave of Absence form during which time they are not required to maintain continuous registration. Usually, a leave of absence is approved for one or two semesters. The leave of absence request may be extended by the student filing an additional leave of absence form. Students applying for a leave of absence should not have any “incomplete” grades which could be changed to “F” and have a detrimental impact on their cumulative GPA. Requests for leave of absences must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the leave is to begin.


When a student has been absent for one semester or more without an approved leave of absence, he or she may request reinstatement via the Reinstatement form. This form allows the program the option to recommend the student be readmitted to their graduate program based on their previous admission OR require the student to re-apply for admission which would require students to submit a new application for admission and pay the application fee. The Notice of Reinstatement to Graduate Standing must be received by the Graduate School no later than the last day of enrollment for the semester the reinstatement is to begin.


7. Graduate Student Association

The Graduate Student Association (GSA) represents all graduate students and promotes the welfare and interests of the graduate students at the University of Nevada, Reno. The GSA works closely with appropriate university administrative offices, including the Graduate School and Student Services and reports to the President of the University. The GSA government functions through the Council of Representatives, Executive Council and established committees.


8. Graduate School Forms

Please refer to Forms Website for all forms available at The Graduate School.

9. Changes to the M.S. Handbook

This handbook should be considered a "living document" and may change over time. Current students will use the handbook version at the time of their entry into the program to determine what policies they must follow. Any substantial changes to this document should be approved by an up-or-down vote of all active tenure track/tenured and adjunct faculty who also have NRES graduate faculty status.

Last Updated March, 2022

Who do I contact for more information?

Kevin Shoemaker, Program Director

Kevin Shoemaker