Doctor of Philosophy in Wildlife Ecology

Candidates for the Ph.D. degree must possess a detailed knowledge of their area of research, a breadth of knowledge of basic biology and ecology, and a comprehensive knowledge of the fields of wildlife biology and management.  Furthermore, each candidate must have completed a program of study in a discipline ancillary to wildlife.  Evaluation of the Ph.D. candidate with respect to the above objectives will include (1) a comprehensive examination testing the candidate’s breadth of general knowledge as well as his/her comprehensive knowledge in the fields of wildlife biology and management, and (2) a final oral defense of the research and research specialty.  The ancillary studies requirement may be met through the Course work, or via other opportunities for personal development agreed upon by the student’s graduate committee.

Admission Requirements

Ph.D. students are only accepted if the department or faculty have funding for graduate assistantships, tuition and research expenses. Acceptance to the University of Maine graduate programs in wildlife ecology is highly competitive. Most successful applicants have an excellent academic record (3.4-4.0 gpa), high scores on the Graduate Record Examination, substantial practical experience through summer or post-graduate employment, and strong letters of recommendation.

The minimum standards for the thesis-based degrees are:

  • A cumulative GPA of 3.0 (on a 4.0 basis).
  • A cumulative GRE score of 50th percentile (quantitative and verbal), although exceptions are sometimes made for students whose overall record is very strong.
  • An undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology or biology or a closely-related discipline is generally required.
  • And applicants are encouraged to take the GRE advanced biology exam.

Financial Assistance

Stipends for graduate assistantships range from a minimum of $17,000 upward per year. Most graduate students are supported by graduate research assistantships, but some students have teaching assistantships and participate in teaching at the undergraduate level partial. There are also several University-wide scholarships available on a competitive basis and the faculty nominate top ranking applicants for these awards.

Inquiries and Applications

We post all available graduate assistantships on the Department’s website. We strongly encourage potential applicants to apply to specific openings and to discuss your qualifications and interests with faculty. Note that posted assistantships often have unique deadlines and starting dates.

Course Requirements for All Graduate Degrees

As with undergraduate degrees, course requirements are intended to balance the specific informational requirements of graduate research projects with a wider perspective to be shared by successful students in the Department. The breadth of learning will include topics of Biology, Conservation, and Analysis. All students must have finished course work in the following subject areas, either in a previous program or prior to completion of the graduate degree. At least three courses must be taken within the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology (either taught by our faculty or with WLE designator). One of these three courses must be at a 500 level or greater.

Biology—15 credits to include:
Ecology 3cr.
and two of the following:
Vertebrate Zoology 3cr.
Invertebrate Zoology 3cr.
Botany 3 cr.
Conservation — 9 credits to include:
Habitat Conservation 3cr.
Population Conservation 3cr.
Resource Economics and Policy 3cr.
Analytical Tools—6 credits to include:
Statistics 3cr. minimum
and up to 3 credits may be satisfied by:
GIS 3cr.
Modeling 3cr.

Course requirements

The credit hour requirement for doctoral students in Wildlife Ecology shall include a minimum of 50 credit hours, which may include a maximum of 30 credit hours from the Master’s program. A minimum of 35 credit hours will be in course work, of which 20 hours must be in graduate level (500/600) courses. Thesis credits do not count toward course credit requirements. At least six credits of thesis are required. Ph.D. students are expected to be engaged in full-time work on their Ph.D. program for a minimum of two full years; most programs last three to five years.

Credit hour considerations for Graduate Assistants

Students getting paid by the university as a graduate assistant or fellow need to be registered for at least six credits for fall and spring, and if they are paid in the summer they need to be registered for at least one credit. However, after Ph.D. students pass their Comprehensive Exams, they can register for one credit per semester until they graduate, assuming they meet the total credit hour requirements listed above.

Advisors and Graduate Committee

Students are accepted into the program by individual faculty, and the same faculty serve as advisors. The faculty advisor is the primary supervisor of a graduate student during their program. Students will select a graduate committee to oversee and guide them through their graduate program. Students will select their graduate committee before the end of the first semester of study. The committee will consist of at least five members of the graduate faculty, including at least one from outside the Department, and a minimum of two from the Department. Cooperating faculty who hold a joint appointment in the department may serve as the external member on graduate committees.

The initial academic meeting will establish the student’s course of study and should occur before the end of the student’s first semester. Before the initiation of research, the candidate is expected to have written a proposal for research that must meet the approval of the graduate committee. Consequently, the graduate committee may require a review of the student’s proposed research during the initial committee meeting or a subsequent meeting. Students will present their thesis proposal to the Department in a seminar format prior to the completion of the second semester of study.

At a minimum, the graduate advisor(s) shall evaluate annually the progress and level of achievement of the student. Students should meet with the graduate committee for an annual review of progress. Copies of the evaluation will be submitted to the student and to the Department Chair.

Research Proposal and Proposal Seminar

A presentation to the Department of the student’s preliminary research plan is required before the first major field season. This presentation is intended to be informal and serve as a point of discussion for the goals, objectives, and literature of the research topic. The presentation should be about 15-25 minutes long followed by 15-25 minutes of discussion.

A completed written proposal is required before research is undertaken (preliminary research excluded) and by the end of the second semester. A final copy must be submitted to the Department Chair for filing with the student’s program of study. A timeline for the student’s entire program is required as part of the proposal.

Professional and Departmental Activities

All candidates are expected to participate in professional and departmental activities. Candidates are expected to present at least one seminar on their thesis research during their tenure in the Department, to regularly attend departmental and university seminars, to participate in professional development workshops, as available, and to participate in departmental operations and activities. Graduate students are encouraged to present talks to the public (secondary schools, conservation organizations, etc.) or professional organizations on their thesis research and other topics concerning wildlife ecology or management. Departmental duties assigned to graduate students will include: helping in the maintenance of laboratories, coordination of the Department’s seminar program, mentor to the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society, etc.

Comprehensive Examination

The purpose of the comprehensive exam is to ensure that the candidate is knowledgeable of basic concepts of biology, ecology, and statistics, and has a comprehensive knowledge of wildlife ecology, and can synthesize information and concepts in the disciplines in a coherent and scholarly fashion.  In preparation for the comprehensive exam, the candidate can develop (if not previously accomplished) a core of Course work to obtain a comprehensive knowledge in areas of concentrated study.  In addition, the candidate should develop, in consultation with the graduate committee and other members of the Department, a program of independent study that ensures a breadth of basic knowledge.  Whenever possible, the student is expected to complete the comprehensive exam by the end of the second year of study.  The comprehensive examination will consist both of written and oral sections and usually will be administered following the completion of the Course work and before the majority of the research has been completed.  The comprehensive examination will consist of five written parts, each of which will be administered by a committee member or a designated faculty member assigned to the examining committee.  The five parts will cover at least five areas of concentrated study in the disciplines of biology (e.g., vertebrate physiology, animal systematics, environmental biophysics, evolution), ecology (e.g., limnology, population dynamics, biogeography, population genetics), and wildlife ecology (e.g., population biology and dynamics, habitat ecology, social/economic issues, wildlife law and policy).  The subject areas will be selected jointly by the candidate and the graduate committee.  The written examination will be completed within a five-day period, and will be followed within two weeks by an oral examination.  Upon completion of the oral examination, the committee may rule that either (1) the candidate has passed the comprehensive exam, or (2) the performance was marginal, and the candidate will be allowed to retake the exam, or (3) the candidate has failed the exam, and will be dropped from the graduate program.  The candidate may retake the comprehensive exam only once.  Reexamination may take place no earlier than 2 months following the initial examination.

Ancillary Academic Program

Candidates are required to develop a program to broaden or expand their knowledge in a discipline ancillary to wildlife.  However, the Department has expanded this concept to allow study or accomplishment in other disciplines as well.  A suitable discipline will be selected by the candidate and approved by the graduate committee.  Commitment to this endeavor should equal at least six credit hours, and may be fulfilled by means other than structured Course work.  Suitable disciplines include foreign languages, chemistry, mathematics, advanced statistics, computer science, cartography, GIS, etc.

Teaching Requirement

Each Ph.D. candidate is required to teach for one semester in an undergraduate course.  The requirement may be fulfilled through the acceptance of a teaching assistantship (1/2 time) for one semester, the instruction of a three-hour laboratory section for one semester, or an equivalent teaching assignment as agreed upon by the graduate committee.


The preparation of an original thesis is required for all candidates. The candidate is encouraged to prepare the thesis in the form of one or more papers suitable for publication in a major refereed journal, as opposed to the traditional thesis format. If the traditional format is followed, the candidate will additionally be required to prepare a manuscript for publication that will be reviewed and approved by the advisor. Format requirements (title page, abstract, margins, etc.) for the thesis have been established by the Graduate School.

Final Oral Examination

Upon completion of the Course work, comprehensive examination, and dissertation, the Ph.D. candidate will be required to pass an oral defense of the dissertation.  The final oral examination may not be scheduled until all committee members have read a draft of the thesis and signed the Tentative Thesis Acceptance form.  A draft of the dissertation must be approved by the advisor before it is distributed to the committee.  To facilitate meaningful reading of the thesis, an approved draft of the thesis must be to the committee at least six weeks prior to the date the thesis is due to the Graduate School.  Additional lead time prior to the defense may be necessary if significant revision of the dissertation is required by the graduate committee.  The wildlife faculty must be individually notified on the examination one week beforehand.  A copy of the dissertation also must be available in the Department office for review.  As part of the examination, a seminar on the research for the dissertation must be presented to the Department, usually before the oral defense.