Students who are interested in the fields of ecology and biology may be considering pursuing a graduate degree in these areas. Graduate programs in ecology and conservation biology are offered at a number of universities throughout the United States, often as a master's degree. This article will explore some details about these degrees to provide information to prospective students regarding the program curriculum and general admission standards.
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Information about Graduate Programs in Ecology and Conservation Biology
At the graduate level, students are able to study ecology and conservation biology by enrolling in specific master's degree programs in these fields or by enrolling in a more generalized master's degree in biology and then pursuing a concentration or specialization in ecology and conservation biology. These programs typically require that students conduct their own independent research, often culminating in a master's level thesis. In addition, students must complete several courses, five of which are discussed in greater detail below.
Foundations of Ecology
One of the courses that students will likely be required to take during the first semester of a graduate program in ecology and conservation biology is a course covering the fundamentals of ecology. In this course, students will learn about the foundational concepts of ecology, from both a theoretical and practical application perspective. Students will gain insight into how the field has developed over time and will study topics that are relevant in modern ecology.
A course in community ecology is another common component of these programs. In this course, students will study population and diversity patterns of different species in various communities. The course will focus on interaction between species in communities, the consequences of diversity, and exotic species. The course may also involve using different theoretical and mathematical models.
These programs also commonly require that students take a course in conservation biology. This course will cover foundational concepts in the conservation and management of natural and biological systems. Other topics that will likely be covered in such a course include population dynamics, evolution, ecosystem management, and empirical field studies.
Another common course in these programs is a course in population biology and/or ecology. This course will cover topics related to the structure and organization of populations of different plant and animal species, as well as how these populations evolve over time. The topic will be analyzed from different scientific perspectives, as students will study population genetics, evolutionary trends in populations, and various biological and ecological theoretical approaches to population studies.
Statistics and Modeling for Biological and Ecological Research
Because these programs often require students to conduct their own independent research, it is common that students must take a course that instructs them how to properly conduct a biological and ecological research. In a course focused on statistics and modeling, students will learn about various statistical methods of conducting and compiling research, as well as how to properly prepare and present the resulting data. Students will also study the various philosophical approaches to statistical methods in addition to practical application.
Admission Standards for Graduate Programs in Ecology and Conservation Biology
In order to gain admission into a graduate program in ecology and conservation biology, there are a number of factors students will likely want to keep in mind before applying. In general, these programs are designed for students who have completed undergraduate courses in biology, ecology, and related topics. While a bachelor's degree in one of these fields is not necessary, admissions committees will analyze an applicant's undergraduate transcripts in order to ensure that they are ready for graduate level study in this field. When applying for one of these programs, students will need to compile an application file. This typically includes a completed application form, a personal statement, letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts, and results from the GRE exam.
Graduate degree programs in ecology and conservation biology provide students with a high level of instruction in both of these fields through various coursework as well as requiring that students conduct their own research. Though specific admission requirements may vary depending on the school, prospective students typically have a background in the field of ecology and/or biology.