The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

MS Requirements

Requirements that Masters students in Penn State's Ecology program need to satisfy in order to obtain a degree



Graduate academic course plan

Each graduate student, in consultation with his or her research adviser and committee, must submit a graduate academic course plan to the Program Chair. This plan should be completed and turned into the Ecology Program Office within the first three months of residency for an MS student.


Minimum course requirements

A minimum of 30 graded credits are required for graduation with a Masters degree. For students doing a research thesis at least 18 of these credits must be from 500- or 600- level courses. These courses must include at least 6 credits of ECLGY 600. For MS students doing a non-thesis degree, at least 18 of these credits must be from 500 level courses.


Core courses

Each student must take 5 core courses. Special permission may be obtained to substitute core courses in consultation with the Program Chair.



Each student needs 2 credits (one credit per course) in ECLGY 590, the Ecology Colloquium.

Along with these minimum requirements, regular participation is expected regardless of official registration.



Each student needs to take 1 advanced statistics courses (400 or 500 level). Introductory statistics courses (e.g. STAT 451) are not appropriate. Some courses that previous students have found useful include:

  • Stat 502 Analysis of Variance and Design of Experiments
  • Stat 510 Timeseries Analysis
  • Stat 511 Linear Regression Models
  • Stat 512 Experimental Design
  • Stat 505 Applied Multivariate Analysis
  • ENT 597G Biostatistical Analysis
  • WFS 560 Estimation of Fish and Wildlfe Population Parameters


Other courses

Beyond these basic courses, course requirements are determined by the student, the adviser, and the Graduate Committee.


Declaring a committee

Unlike a PhD student, a Masters student is not required to report their committee to the Graduate School. Instead, the committee is reported to the Ecology Program on the academic course plan.

The committee is chosen by the student with guidance from an advisor. The graduate student's committee is responsible for approving a student's program and promoting communication among the graduate student, the committee chair (or adviser), and the members of the committee, and more generally, for helping to ensure successful completion of a student's program.

A Master's committee consists of a Chair (typically the adviser), and two other faculty members. A minimum of 2 faculty members must be members of the Ecology graduate program and as many as 3 may be members of the program.

The student should arrange to have the masters committee meet at least once per year, to receive guidance, finalize and approve the research proposal, assess the quality and progress of the research, discuss programmatic issues and course requirements.




Thesis requirements

Students are expected to assume responsibility for knowing the regulations and requirements of the Graduate School for turning in the thesis. The Thesis Guide and other relevant information can be found at:

Thesis advisers and graduate committees have a responsibility for judicious timing of events to avoid prolonging the degree program. For example, in the initial months of residence students may become preoccupied with course work. At this time, students also should be outlining their entire program and starting to think about a thesis topic. Delays may result in time added to the program or diminished performance on thesis research. The leadership efforts of thesis advisers and committee members are needed to avoid such delays.

One hard-bound copy of the thesis (or paper) must be delivered to the Ecology Program Office where it will be placed on file after the student has received the degree. An additional hard-bound copy of the thesis (or paper) must be delivered to the student's major adviser.


Thesis defense

Each student must pass a final oral (or paper) thesis defense before degree certification. The student schedules the defense with their committee and notifies the Ecology Program at least two weeks before the defense. The MS student's adviser must inform the Program Chair in writing about the outcome of the final oral thesis (or paper) defense.


Seminar requirements

Each student will be required to present a formal Ecology Defense Seminar on his/her research before degree certification. This presentation is typically 30-50 minutes in length, often given immediately prior to the student's thesis defense; it should be advertised to members of the Ecology Program.

An additional presentation is provided at either the Fall or Spring Ecology Mini-Symposium. It is the student's responsibility to notify the Program Coordinator one semester prior to the semester of the student's defense so that proper arrangements can be made.


The graduation process

A Masters candidate is not required to register for the final semester in order to graduate or in order to make minor revisions to the thesis and/or to take a final examination for the degree.

  • File intent to graduate by the deadline, which is the first two weeks of the semester .
  • Be sure that you have turned in an academic course plan and be sure the committee that signs it is your final committee. If it is not, send an update to the Ecology office.
  • Schedule a defense date with your committee. At least two weeks before the date, send an announcement to the Ecology office to circulate to the program. The student's adviser must inform the Program Chair in writing about the outcome of the final defense.
  • Plan to present your work at the Ecology Mini-Symposium (a 10- 15 minute talk). Send a short description of your work to the Ecology office to include in the semester's Mini Symposium flyer.
  • Submit an electronic copy of the thesis to the Ecology office.
  • Complete an exit survey and submit it to the Ecology office; schedule an exit interview with the Program Chair.