Doctoral Requirements

Specific requirements for the Ph.D. degree in MEES are as follows (for a comprehensive format of requirements, please be sure to check the appropriate checklist, found here) :


A five member Research Advisory Committee is to be formed during the first semester and meets with the student to discuss the student's progress (mainly coursework, but also basic research interests). This committee will follow the student throughout their tenure in the program.  A report of this meeting must be filed with the MEES Program Office by the end of the student's second semester (Form can be found here). 


Every year that the student is in residence, committee meetings are to be held in order for the committee to review academic and research progress.  Reports of these meetings are due annually to the MEES Program by September 30th.  Annual Committee Report Forms can be found here. 

Course Work

  1. The student must complete a minimum of 36 credits, with at least 24 credits of course work and 12 credits of dissertation research (MEES 899 (after advancement to candidacy at UMCP). At least twelve credits of course work must be at the 600 level or above. Credits used to obtain a M.S. degree at U.M. or elsewhere cannot be transferred to the Ph.D. program. However, if a student has completed a M.S. degree, up to 16 credits of appropriate courses can be waived by petition to the MEES Office.
  2. One seminar course (MEES 608 or equivalent) is required for each year in residence (on average, up to a cap of 4). The seminar requirement is designed to BROADEN a student's exposure to the kinds of science being done within and outside of MEES through readings and discussions. Classes are typically part of a much more narrow program of study.
  3. One approved Statistics course (600 level or higher). 
  4. One graduate course representing significant interdisciplinary breadth, preferably outside the student's AOS.
  5. One course or seminar in Environmental Management (a course can satisfy #4).


A written statement detailing as specifically as possible the research to be conducted needs to be submitted to the MEES Program Office upon approval from the student's Advisory Committee.  This is usually done no more than 1 year after entrance into the program. If vertebrate animals are to be used in the research, the animal use protocol should be filed at this time, before the research is done! 


Formal application for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree requires successful completion of both a Comprehensive Examination and an oral Defense of the Dissertation Proposal. The Comprehensive Examination must be passed before the student can defend the Dissertation Proposal.

Comprehensive Examination

The Research Advisory Committee is responsible for administering the comprehensive examination. Since this examination must be successfully completed before the dissertation proposal can be defended, it is in the student's best interests to take the Comprehensive Examination as early as possible in the Program. However, the exam must be taken by the end of the student's sixth semester. This examination is intended to determine whether the student demonstrates sufficient evidence of scholastic and intellectual ability in major and related academic areas. The examination will not be a defense of the research proposal.

Areas of the examination will be chosen by the student, with approval by their Committee, from a general list formulated by the AOS Committee. One area of the examination must be chosen for interdisciplinary breadth (e.g. relating to the interdisciplinary course from the core curriculum). The examination will include a combination of written and oral sections. The Research Advisory Committee will determine whether the student passes (a minimum of four affirmative votes is required) or fails. If failed, the examination may be taken again, at the recommendation of the Research Advisory Committee. In this case, the examination should be repeated within 1 year, but no sooner than 6 months after the initial examination. If the examination is failed a second time, matriculation will be canceled. The MEES Director's Office must be notified at least 2 weeks in advance of the pending examination. A report of the examination will be filed with the Director's Office following the examination (Form can be found here)

Dissertation Proposal Defense

The Proposal Defense is an oral examination on the research proposal administered by the Research Advisory Committee. At least 2 weeks prior to the examination, the student must supply the committee members with a formal research proposal in which the following is detailed: background information, research progress to date (if any), specific objectives, and experimental design of the proposed research.

The committee is expected to examine the student on all aspects of the proposed research to determine whether the research plan is sound and whether the student has the proper motivation, intellectual capacity and curiosity, and has or can develop the technical skills necessary to successfully pursue the Ph.D. degree. The student passes if there are at least four affirmative votes. If failed, the student must re-defend the proposal within 1 year. A second failure will result in cancellation of matriculation.

The research proposal should be defended within 1 year of passing the Comprehensive Examination and at least 1 year before projected completion of the degree requirements. It is expected that all members of the Research Advisory Committee will attend the proposal defense. If a single member of the committee is unable to attend in person, they may attend the defense remotely pending prior approval from the Director of the MEES Program. The Director's Office must be notified of the pending examination several weeks prior to its administration and a report of the examination must be filed with the Director's Office following the examination. At the successful completion of this defense the student officially applies for Advancement to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree and should submit the necessary forms to the Director of the MEES Program for transmission to the Graduate School. Students must be admitted to candidacy at least six months prior to the Defense of the Dissertation (final defense). 

Note: Students using vertebrates in field or laboratory research must submit a protocol to the Animal Care and Use Committee of the appropriate campus prior to the initiation of research.

Advancement to Candidacy & Nomination of the Dissertation Defense Committee 

After the student has successfully completed both the Comprehensive Examinations and the Defense of the Dissertation Proposal, the student will formally apply for Advancement to Candidacy through the appropriate Graduate School.  A student must be admitted to candidacy for the doctorate within 5 years after admission to the doctoral program and at least 6 months before the date on which the degree will be conferred.  It is the student's responsibility to submit the Application for Advancement to Candidacy to the MEES Program with enough time to ensure that all appropriate signatures can be obtained before the 6 month deadline. Please be aware that paperwork must be received by the Graduate School prior to the 25th of the month in order for the advancement to become effective the first day of the following month.    Students should also submit the Ph.D. Approved Program Form to the MEES Office when submitting their application for candidacy.  

After the student has submitted their application for candidacy, they must submit a Nomination of Dissertation Committee Form to the appropriate graduate school.  The Committee must include a minimum of 5 members of the Graduate Faculty, at least three of whom must be Full Members.  The Chair of the Committee is usually the student's primary advisor.  The Dissertation Committee is usually formed by the members of the student's Research Advisory Committee.  Each committee will have appointed to it a representative of the Dean of the Graduate School.  The Dean's Representative may be one of the five voting members, or may also be a non-voting member of the committee (this is to be decided upon by the student, the primary advisor and the Dean's Representative prior to submission of the Nomination form).  If the Dean's Representative is a non-voting member, the Dissertation Defense Committee must be comprised of at least six members.  The Nomination of the Dissertation Defense Committee must be approved by the appropriate Graduate School and should be submitted at least six weeks before the date of the expected dissertation examination.  The MEES Office requires at least 12 weeks prior to the date of the expected examination to fully process Graduate Faculty Status and ensure timely submission of appropriate forms to the Graduate School.  The Examination cannot be held until the Graduate School approves the Dissertation Examining Committee.  

For more specific policies regarding the eligibility and membership of nominated members of the Dissertation Defense Committee, please visit the Graduate School's Grad Catalog. 

Dissertation Seminar and Defense of the Dissertation Research

A candidate for the Ph.D. degree will present a public seminar on the dissertation research during the academic year in which the degree will be awarded. Students expecting degrees at the end of the summer must be scheduled for presentation before the end of May. The student and Advisor will be responsible for initiating arrangements through the MEES Office for the date and advertisement of advertisement of the seminar. The seminar will be open to faculty, students, and other interested parties. The final oral defense of the dissertation is conducted by the Dissertation Examining Committee.  

The Defense must be held in University facilities that are readily accessible to all interested attendees. The time and place of the examination are established by the chair of the committee. An announcement of the final examination will be made through the MEES Office to all members of the MEES faculty at least two weeks prior to the examination. The student is responsible for distributing a complete, final copy of the dissertation to each member of the committee at least two weeks before the examination date in order for the committee to formally prepare for the Defense. 

Oral examinations are open to all members of the graduate faculty, with all members of the Dissertation Examining Committee physically present in the examining room for the duration of the entire dissertation defense.  Participation by telephone of any examining committee members is not permitted.  In the event that a committee member will be unable to physically attend the dissertation defense, one member may remotely video teleconference into the defense with prior approval from the MEES Program and the Graduate School under special circumstances (contact the MEES Office for more information). 

The Dissertation Examination consists of two parts. Part 1 will be a public presentation by the candidate on the main aspects of the research reported in the dissertation.  During Part 1 of the defense, questions from the audience to the candidate will be permitted.  For questions from individuals outside of the Examining Committee, the Chair of the committee will determine how much time will be allotted for answers. Part 2 of the Examination will be a formal examination of the candidate by the Dissertation Examining Committee. This potion of the examination is only open to the Dissertation Examining Committee, where they will have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidate.  After the examination, the committee deliberates and votes in private. Two or more negative votes constitute failure. The student may be examined no more than twice. Following successful completion of the final examination, a final copy of the dissertation must be supplied to the MEES Office, in addition to those required by the Graduate School.

Preparation of Dissertations

As outlined in the Program objectives, students in the MEES Program are expected to have research interests which involve interactions between biological systems and physiochemical systems in the marine, estuarine, freshwater, or terrestrial environment. As an aid in focusing a student's program in such interdisciplinary research, the student, in consultation with the advisory committee, will designate an area of research specialization and prepare a thesis or dissertation reporting the results of an original investigation in that area. The thesis or dissertation will be prepared according to the rules of the Graduate School, as set forth in the Thesis and Dissertation Manual on the appropriate campus. The final oral examination for the M.S or Ph.D. degrees will constitute a defense of the thesis or dissertation.

Graduate Program Time Limits

MEES full-time Ph.D. students will be limited to seven years in which to graduate. Students must be advanced to candidacy - pass both comprehensive examination (written and oral) and proposal defense - within six semesters after entering the Ph.D. program. Part-time students will not be held to the more rigorous MEES time limits, but to the former limits of nine years for a Ph.D. (five to candidacy)