Doctor of Philosophy in Wildlife Ecology

Scope of the PhD Program

Candidates for the  Doctor of Philosophy (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 has funding for graduate assistantships, tuition, and research expenses. Acceptance to the University of Maine graduate programs in wildlife ecology (WLE) is highly competitive. Most successful applicants have an excellent academic record (3.4-4.0 GPA), 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).
  • An undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology or biology or a closely related discipline is generally required.
  • Applicants are encouraged to take the GRE exams.

Financial Assistance

Stipends for graduate assistantships range from a minimum of $21,000 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. There are also several university-wide scholarships available on a competitive basis and the faculty nominates 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 their 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.

Requirements for degrees include:

  1. A demonstrated breadth of learning will include topics of Biology and Ecology, Natural Resource Management, and Analytical Tools.  This may be satisfied by a) the completion of coursework prior to initiating graduate degree work at the University of Maine (at or above level 300, or approved by the graduate coordinator) or b) by coursework taken at the University of Maine as part of the degree program (level 400 or above, or as approved by the graduate coordinator).  A total of 30 credit hours of the following topics are required from a combination of undergraduate and graduate work, however, only the graduate-level coursework conducted during the graduate program will count towards the required graduate degree credits (see graduate-level course requirement sections, below).
    Ecology and Organismal Biology – 9 credits* which may include:  Botany, Ecology, Zoology (Vertebrate or Invertebrate), Anatomy, Physiology, Evolution
    Natural Resource Management – 9 credits* which may include:  Habitat Conservation, Resource Economics, Policy, Conservation, Social Science, Human Ecology
    Analytical Tools – 9 credits* to include:  Statistics (3 credit minimum) and additional statistics coursework or courses in Population Dynamics, Geographic Information Systems, or Modeling*Note that the listed requirements sum up to 27 credits, thus one topical area will require 12 rather than 9 credits).
  2. At least three courses must be taken within the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology (either taught by our faculty or with a WLE designator).  One of these three courses must be at a 500 level or greater.
  3. Meeting the minimum course credit requirements for the graduate degree program (specific to M.S., M.W.C., and Ph.D.) as described below.

Course Work Requirements for Ph.D.

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 coursework, 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.  If the student no longer is supported by an assistantship and is not a Maine resident, the charge for the credits to the student will be assessed at the out-of-state rate. The student should not assume that their advisor will continue to pay for credits when they are not supported by an assistantship.

Advisors and Graduate Committee

Students are accepted into the program by individual faculty, and the same faculty serves as advisor (or co-advisor).  The faculty advisor is the primary supervisor of a graduate student during their program.  Students will work with their advisor(s) to select a graduate committee to oversee and guide them through their graduate program.  The candidate will select their graduate committee before the end of the second semester of study.  The committee will consist of at least five members of the graduate faculty, including at least one from outside the Department. Cooperating faculty who hold a joint appointment in the Department serve as an external member on graduate committees.  The initial meeting of the academic committee is intended to establish the student’s course of study and should occur early enough to be able to effectively provide useful guidance.  The student will produce a written proposal for research that meets the approval of the graduate committee both in terms of content and delivery date.  Consequently, the graduate committee will usually discuss the student’s proposed research during the initial committee meeting.

Before the initiation of research beyond pilot work (typically by the student’s second semester), both M.S. and Ph.D. students are expected to present a research prospectus to the Department in an informal seminar format (a 15-20-minute presentation followed by an equal measure of discussion is suggested).  The objectives of the seminar requirement are to i) provide an opportunity to solicit faculty input on study design and logistics and ii) encourage communication within the Department.  Ph.D. students will make a second presentation the following year, with a similar format and informed with preliminary results of their pilot research.  These presentations should focus on fostering discussion and may be coordinated with the departmental seminar series.

At a minimum, the graduate advisor(s), in consultation with the committee, shall annually evaluate the progress and level of achievement of the student.  Students should meet with the graduate committee for this review.  Students will receive feedback (oral, written, or both) from the committee.  Copies of written evaluations may 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.  (Note that for any project involving the use of vertebrates, an approved Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) must be approved before any work begins).  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 20-30 minutes long for Ph.D. students (followed by 20-30 minutes of discussion).

A written proposal approved by the student’s advisory committee 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 regularly attend departmental and university seminars, to participate in professional development workshops, as available, and 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, leadership in a professional student group (e.g., to the Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society, American Fisheries Society), and other contributions.

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 coursework to obtain 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.  It is intended that the student will 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 coursework and before much 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 student has passed the comprehensive exam, or (2) the student will be allowed to retake the exam after addressing deficiencies, 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, however, the committee may recommend that the student withdraw from the program without retaking the exam.  Reexamination may take place no earlier than two months following the initial examination.  A student who fails the second examination attempt will be dismissed from the program.

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 coursework.  Ancillary disciplines may include foreign languages, chemistry, mathematics, advanced statistics, computer science, cartography, Geographic Information Systems, 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.  Demonstration of prior teaching experience may be considered, at the discretion of the student’s committee, to meet this requirement.


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 likely be expected 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 coursework, 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 three weeks prior to the date the thesis is due to the Graduate School.  (Note: If any chapters are to be submitted for journal publication prior to thesis completion and defense, it is recommended that committee members be given three weeks for review so that feedback on the chapter may be incorporated prior to journal submission).  Additional lead time prior to the defense may be necessary if significant revision of the dissertation is required by the graduate committee.  As part of the examination, a seminar on the research for the dissertation must be presented to the Department, usually before the oral defense.  Notification of the defense seminar and examination must be circulated through the Department (including Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology faculty) at least one week before the examination.  A copy of the dissertation also must be available to the Department for review.  As part of the examination, a seminar on the research must be presented to the Department preceding the oral defense.