Graduate degree programs specifically in microbial ecology are not generally available. However, there are several master's and doctoral degree programs in ecology or microbiology that offer research opportunities and program emphasis in the field. Learn more about microbial ecology degree program options and details here.
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Information for Graduate Degree Programs in Microbial Ecology
Degrees are typically offered as a Master of Science or PhD. Students studying microbial ecology through an ecology or microbiology program usually complete a thesis or dissertation in addition to their coursework. PhD programs also require candidates to complete written and oral comprehensive exams.
Students who pursue microbial ecology will generally focus on how the life processes of microbes influence chemical environments, ecosystems, and evolution. Coursework for these programs can vary greatly depending on a student's specific research interest and faculty research areas, but here we discuss some common courses across relevant degree programs.
Courses in microbial genetics focus on the genetic phenomena and genetic changes in various microbes, such as bacteria or bacterial viruses. This often involves studying the molecular mechanisms for these changes, such as gene transfer and other physiological activities. Courses may involve using data analysis. Other possible topics include gene conversion, gene fusion and transposons.
Students in these courses examine various microorganisms to study their physiology and biochemical processes; possible topics include metabolism and energetics. Cell structure is also often examined. Some courses in microbial physiology may require a lab component for students to apply the concepts discussed in lectures.
Students examine the regulatory mechanisms of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, such as the replication and expression of their genomes. Molecular biology courses may also have a lab component to teach the laboratory techniques associated with the subject, including cloning, amplifying DNA with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and sequencing. Some of these courses may be given at an advanced level with prerequisites in biochemistry, cell biology or molecular genetics.
Courses in microbial ecology typically cover topics in microbial diversity and evolution. They may discuss the abundance and distribution of various kinds of microorganisms, examine their role in different biogeochemical cycles and learn how this knowledge has been applied to issues like water quality management. Some microbial ecology courses have a lab component that may involve using enzyme assays and other techniques to research specific ecosystems.
These courses discuss a wide range of topics in population ecology, including population dynamics, species diversity, food webs, species interactions, growth models and demographics. Some courses may include field work and data collection to test theoretical approaches and give students a chance to practice various analysis methods.
Common Entrance Requirements
Applicants to master's and doctoral degree programs in either ecology or microbiology usually face similar admission requirements. These degree programs typically require students to fill out the appropriate applications and submit their official transcripts, GRE scores and letters of recommendation. It is also common for programs to ask applicants for a resume/CV and/or a statement of purpose that may describe the student's motivations, career goals and research interests. Most graduate programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, usually in biology, microbiology or a related field. Some programs may have a minimum GPA requirement, generally in the 2.75 to 3.0 range.
Students may study microbial ecology via master's or doctoral degree programs in microbiology or ecology. These degree programs are typically interdisciplinary in nature, covering topics in microbiology, ecology and biology; they culminate in a thesis or dissertation.