Old Dominion University
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College of Sciences

Department of Biological Sciences

Ecological Sciences Ph.D.

An Interdisciplinary Degree Program of the Departments of Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences

Dr. Ian Bartol, Graduate Program Director

Ecological Sciences Ph.D. Handbook 2015

Program Description

The primary goal of the doctoral program in ecological sciences is to provide advanced training in ecological, evolutionary and integrative biology. The program has notable strengths in a broad range of biological subdisciplines, including ecosystem studies, experimental ecology, population biology, conservation biology, systematics, evolutionary biology, biomechanics, and comparative and functional morphology.

Program faculty conduct studies in a variety of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments on several continents, and their research focuses on a broad spectrum of taxa, including, but not limited to, vascular plants, polychaetes, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, fishes, amphibians, and reptiles. Many faculty combine active field research with parallel laboratory studies. Quantitative approaches are encouraged and the opportunity exists to obtain a master's degree in statistics while pursuing a doctorate in Ecological Sciences.

The program is enhanced by excellent on-campus resources that include a scanning electron microscopy lab, sequencing lab, herbarium, aquatics laboratory, water tunnel facility, GIS facilities, greenhouse, and digital imaging facilities. Field research sites have been established in the Virginia Coastal Reserve, Blackwater Ecologic Preserve, Great Dismal Swamp, Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, and other areas.


Application forms for admission to the Ph.D. program in ecological sciences are available from the Office of Admissions. The following should be sent to the Admissions Office:

  • The completed application form
  • Official transcripts from all universities attended
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score (from students whose native language is not English)
  • Three letters of recommendation, including one from the applicant's major advisor
  • A statement of professional goals that includes specific research interests

The financial aid form (if applicant is requesting financial aid) should be sent to the Director, Ecological Sciences Ph.D. Program, Department of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529-0266. The deadline for application to the program is February 1 for the subsequent fall semester. Students may be admitted during the spring and summer semesters as well, provided they obtain permission from the Graduate Program Director.

To qualify for admission, a student needs a satisfactory academic average (overall GPA score of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, and overall GPA in the sciences of at least 3.0), GRE scores near the 70th percentile on each of the examination sections (verbal, quantitative, and analytical), a TOEFL score of at least 550 (for students whose native language is not English), and satisfactory letters of recommendation and statement of professional goals as stated above. A master's degree is desirable but not required. The applicant is expected to have a background in the sciences, with an appropriate undergraduate degree and substantial course work in biology, chemistry or geology. While personal interviews are desirable, contact with a faculty member in the specific research area is required.This member must agree to be the major advisor, at least provisionally.

Applicants are strongly advised to contact the ODU faculty member closest to their area of interest prior to submitting an application, to determine whether that faculty member is accepting new graduate students. No student, regardless of qualifications, is admitted to the Ecological Sciences Program without the approval of a specific faculty advisor. Potential applicants therefore should initiate a dialogue, preferably by e-mail, with an appropriate member of the program faculty. Applicants should consult the list of faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, which includes a brief description of their research interests. Applicants may also find it desirable to visit the campus for an interview with a potential advisor and the Graduate Program Director.

It is important for potential applicants to realize that many considerations enter into the decision to accept a student into the program. In addition to the strength of an applicant's credentials (GRE scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation), the availability of space in the appropriate faculty advisor's lab and the availability of adequate financial aid may influence the decision. Of these, space in an appropriate advisor's lab is the most important consideration after an applicant's academic qualifications. For this reason, applicants are strongly encouraged to contact a potential advisor directly.

Program Requirements

Program requirements are designed to provide a firm foundation in conceptual elements of ecological, evolutionary, and integrative biology, while moving students expeditiously toward their own research. Details of the requirements for the doctoral degree at Old Dominion University can be found in an appropriate University Catalog.

In general, students must complete 48 hours beyond the master's degree or, in the absence of a master's, 70 hours beyond the bachelor's degree. The student's program of study should be broad and balanced. Course work varies with each student, depending on background and goals. Enrollment in a weekly ecology seminar is required, on average, one semester each year. Professional experience (environmental management or teaching) is encouraged.

A five-member advisory committee of faculty is selected to guide the student through his or her course of study and to provide initial approval of the dissertation research. This committee also administers the comprehensive written and oral candidacy examinations, which are taken after all required course work is completed and the research skill requirement (proficiency in one foreign language or computer programming) is satisfied. The written candidacy exam must be passed before the oral exam may be taken. Once the candidacy exams are completed and the advisory committee approves a written dissertation prospectus, the student advances to candidacy.

At this time a new committee, the dissertation committee, is formed to supervise the research, and the student's attention turns almost exclusively to his or her own research. However, students continue to participate in seminar courses on a variety of topics, and an average of one seminar course per year of residency on campus is required. At the conclusion of their research, the student submits a dissertation to the committee and presents a public defense of this work.