Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Ph.D. Degree TimelineFoundation BuildingExamsResearchDefense and Dissertation

Foundation Building

Recipients of the degree, Doctor of Philosophy, have developed the capacity for individual research. With that perspective in mind, coursework is not central to obtaining a Ph.D. in EEMB. Consequently, at the onset of starting the Ph.D. program, students are expected to begin conducting research under the guidance of their adviser and to begin independent reading in areas broadly related to their area of study. This reading and research lay the foundation for knowledge in the student's field of study and will enable development of research questions to be addressed for the Ph.D. To ensure that students have the fundamentals of the disciplines of ecology and evolution, and to build an esprit de corps, students are required to take EEMB 508 and 509 in the fall and winter of their first year. UCSB is a highly interdisciplinary campus, and students are encouraged to take advantage of graduate level courses and seminars in EEMB and in other departments to further develop their knowledge of their own subject area and others of interest. Being a teaching assistant helps cement a doctoral student's knowledge and develops essential teaching and communication skills. Course credit is awarded for TAing and one course is required in teaching techniques.

Courses Requirements

Course ID Title Units Quarter Year
EEMB 508 Levels of Biological Organization I: Individuals & Populations 4 Fall First
EEMB 509 Levels of Biological Organization II: Communities & Ecosystems 4 Winter First

Note: Students who are admitted to graduate standing with deficiencies in preparation will be required to take appropriate undergraduate courses.

TA Requirements

All students must qualify for and hold a teaching assistantship for the equivalent of two quarters during some point in the graduate career in order to obtain teaching experience. Associated with this are two training courses that must be taken at least once from the list of courses below.

Course ID Title Units Quarter Year
EEMB 500 Campus Orientation: This is a one-day seminar offered once a year in the fall. 1 Fall First
EEMB 501 Additionally, a student may receive course credits for TAing. To get this credit a student must register for EEMB 501. This has a variable number of units (1-4), depending on the time commitment of the TAship. A 50% time TAship is worth 4 units. 1 - 4 n/a n/a
EEMB 502 Teaching Techniques: Offered by MCDB in fall, and EEMB in winter. This may be taken in the winter of the student’s first year, rather than fall, even if TAing for the first time in the fall of that year. 2 Fall, Winter First

Graduate Council Regulations Regarding Committees

  • Minimum of 3 UC ladder faculty, 2 (including Chair) must be in home department
  • Additional members may be at departmental discretion

Departmental Committees Requirement

  • Students must form a Ph.D. committee during their first year


Written Exams

Students are required to complete both written examinations within two years after enrolling in the Ph.D. program.

Doctoral students, in consultation with their adviser and doctoral committee, chose two fields of study for their written exams. One will be a sub-discipline within ecology and/or evolution and the other may be another sub-discipline or may be in another discipline entirely but related to the development of the student's Ph.D. research. The student's reading and research in the period of foundation building will prepare them for the upcoming exams.

What to Expect

Written exams will test a student's understanding and their ability to work with material and ideas in a field at a level above that expected in an upper division undergraduate class. Preparation is done throughout the period of foundation building via graduate coursework, participation in seminars, and reading in advanced textbooks and independent reading. Students should plan to spend at least a few weeks of intense directed preparation immediately before the exam. Exams differ in structure and format (open vs. closed book, time limits, etc.), but they are all designed to test for the same, high level of understanding and performance.


Students who fail a written exam must successfully complete the same or an alternative exam approved by their committee by the end of the following academic quarter. Students who fail two written exams will be dropped from the program. While failing an exam is unusual; conditional passes are fairly common. A conditional pass is given when the overall exam is satisfactory, but some aspect of it is weak. In such cases, the student will be expected do more reading, and then revise the weak section. Until this is done, the exam is considered incomplete.

Penalties for Falling Off Schedule

If written exams are not completed within 2 years, the student will receive a reminder from the Graduate Advisor that they are falling off schedule. After 3 years, the student will receive a warning that they are off schedule and may be at risk of being dropped from the program if they do not complete the exams within the next year.

Students failing to successfully complete their written examinations within 4 years after enrolling in the Ph.D. program may be dropped from the program.

Oral Exams

The oral examination is to be completed within three years after enrolling in the Ph.D. program.

What to Expect

The oral exam is usually a broad based exam testing a student's knowledge and ability to work with material in the basic science areas relevant to their research. The oral exam committee will generally be the student's dissertation committee. In most cases, the oral exam will begin with a student's presentation of their dissertation proposal and the questioning may spin off that. However, a student should be prepared for the questioning to get very far afield from their specific proposal. Students should expect to find themselves questioned about things that they don't know the answer to, possibly including issues where no one knows the answer. Evaluating how a student handles uncertainty is an important part of evaluating whether they are ready to be advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Advancing to Candidacy

After passing the oral exam, a student will be "Advanced to Candidacy". That has two possible effects on a student's life. First, a student becomes eligible for doctoral candidate borrowing privileges at the Davidson Library. It also means that non-resident supplemental tuition will be waived for three years for international students.. Since EEMB students generally don't pay their own fees, this may not seem important, but whatever source is supporting them (departmental funds, grants, etc.) may benefit, by allowing resources to be used to support other students. Note, to advance to candidacy officially, you must file the Doctoral Form II with the Graduate Division and pay a fee (currently $50).


Students who fail their oral examination are allowed to retake the exam once only. The second exam must be taken within one year

Penalties for Falling Off Schedule

If the oral exam is not completed within 3 years, the student will receive a warning that they are falling off schedule, and that the exam must be completed within the next year or they may be placed on academic probation by Graduate Division.

Students failing to successfully complete their oral examinations and advance to candidacy within 4 years will be placed on academic probation unless the Department petitions Graduate Division not to do so. This requires a solid justification.

Students who have not completed their oral exam and advanced to candidacy within 5 years after enrolling in the Ph.D. program may be dropped from the program.


During this period, the student is actively engaged in research including experiments, observations, analysis and writing. Students must manage their time wisely between demands for research, teaching, and public and professional service. It is important that students stay engaged with other graduate students for discussions and feedback, and with their adviser and the other members of their doctoral committee. The worst thing that a student can hear when they think they are finished with their research is "You need to have done…" The only way to ensure this doesn't happen is through regular interaction with the advisory committee.

Defense and Dissertation

The main thing a student needs to do after advancing to candidacy is to finish their dissertation. The official guidelines for format and filing requirements are available in the Guide to Filing of Theses and Dissertations. During the time a student is focusing on their research and writing, it is important that they stay in touch with their committee.

Normative Time

This is the length that the Department believes is a reasonable amount of time for a student to complete a Ph.D. In EEMB, normative time is 6 years following enrollment as an EEMB graduate student (in either a M.A. or Ph.D. track). If a student hasn't completed their Ph.D. within normative time, they lose the reduced fee benefit they may have received when they advanced to candidacy.

Maximum Time

In accordance with university policy, students who have not completed their degree within 7 years of enrolling in the program must petition the Graduate Committee and the Graduate Dean to remain in the program. The petition must outline reasons for not completing the degree and an acceptable alternate completion schedule.

Students failing to complete their degree in 8 years from the time of their enrollment must retake their written examinations or prove in some equivalent way that they are fully up to date in their major field of interest. Simply completing the dissertation is not considered such proof, as a dissertation may be narrowly focused.

Students failing to complete the degree in 10 years from the time of their enrollment will be dropped from the program.

Final Defense

A final examination defending the dissertation will be made after the written dissertation is completed. Students may petition to have the final oral examination waived, and to give a public seminar of their dissertation research, in lieu. Petition forms to waive the final defense are provided to the Department by the Graduate Division and are available from the departmental office.