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Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences

Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences

FAQ - Prospective Graduate Students

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(1) How will the MS Environmental Science or the MA Environmental Studies prepare me as an environmental science professional?

Our graduate programs are designed to train the next generation of environmental scientists, managers, policy makers, and educators. Our faculty members have diverse and complementary expertise and have focused their scholarship on matters of regional significance. We are working on most of the critical environmental issues affecting Southwest Florida, problems concerning water management, Greater Everglades’ restoration, coastal zone management, the effects of climate change and sea-level rise, harmful algal blooms, and the implications of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to name a few, and we are approaching these from a multidisciplinary perspective. As a consequence, our graduate students are acquiring necessary skills and experiences needed to address these societal problems. And because much of our work is done cooperatively with local, state, and national environmental agencies and organizations, students network with potential employers. Despite our regional focus, the faculty and students are engaged in research and professional service beyond our immediate vicinity, making our students desirable for employment and further graduate education across the country. We have a very strong track record of getting our master’s recipients professional positions in Florida and elsewhere; and our graduates are being admitted into very competitive Ph.D. programs at other universities.

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(2) How does the admission process work?

Our admission process has 3 steps. Applications are first reviewed by our Office of Graduate Studies. On receipt of your application materials there, that office determines the completeness of the application and, once complete, whether you meet the minimum criteria for admission to the university. (The university has an institution-wide prescribed minimum standard and then individual graduate programs may choose to be more stringent on their admission standards.) If your application is incomplete, Graduate Studies communicates this (though we recommend you verify completeness yourself by contacting that office). Once the application is complete and assuming you meet the university-wide admission standards, your application is forwarded to the department for our consideration.

Our graduate programs then approach admission decisions in two steps. First, a committee of graduate faculty members supporting the program reviews the qualifications of each applicant to determine who meets the program’s criteria for admission (these criteria are available at: or This committee also identifies potential mentors based on the content of your Research Interest Statement. The applications of those students who meet the minimum qualifications for admission are then distributed to these potential mentors. (We handle the applications of those candidates that just miss the admission standards similarly. We do have the ability to admit a small number of less-than-qualified students under special circumstances.) Faculty members are asked to provide their advocacy for certain candidates – we ask for a firm commitment from faculty members to serve as that student’s mentor. If that commitment is there and the admission criteria are met, that student is “admitted” to the program. Because a qualified student without a faculty intellectual-sponsor would struggle in the program, we believe a dis-service would occur if that student were admitted. Unfortunately there is a finite limit to how many graduate students a faculty member can sponsor. They may have too many students or have too many other commitments; they may lack funding to support a student, though this is not a critical concern for many faculty members; or a faculty member may worry about redirecting their scholarly efforts into an area where they feel uncomfortable mentoring a student.

Once the pool of admitted candidates with faculty mentors is generated, those applications are reconsidered by the Graduate Admissions Committee for financial support. We have a number of possible resources to help students. We receive some funds from the University to support tuition waivers and graduate assistantships. Additionally, faculty members may have their own support through extramural grants and can support graduate students through these funds. A faculty member with his/her own grant monies is free to provide tuition waiver and graduate assistantship support to anyone they wish as long as that student is admissible by the program (i.e., they meet the program admission criteria and have a committed faculty mentor). The remaining admissible students then compete for the waiver and assistantship dollars we receive from the university. Awards are made to those students that are most qualified, where qualification is assessed holistically from the student’s complete application package (i.e., from their undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, content of their letters of reference, and their research statement).

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(3) What purpose does the Research Interest Statement serve?

The Research Interest Statement is perhaps the most important piece of your application portfolio. It provides our faculty with a sense of your interests and skills and ultimately determines which graduate faculty members make a commitment to serve as your interim research mentors. Our admission process is designed to ensure that every entering student has at least one person that has both the interest and the background to ensure your success as a graduate student.

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(4) Whom should I choose as a reference to support my application?

Our graduate faculty and the members of our Graduate Admissions Committee are trying to assess the likelihood of your success as a new scientist. Do you have the predisposition to think and work scientifically? Do you have the drive and dedication to work a project to completion? Do you interact well with others while having the abilities to work independently? Are you an effective communicator? And are you comfortable writing? The person or persons best able to address these questions are the most helpful. This person could be a former professor, preferably a professor that knows you beyond your performance on exams in a course. The person might be a former or current employer that can speak to your work skills and responsibilities. Because “it takes one to know one” having at least one former professor is ideal. Who better to judge your capacity as a graduate student than someone that was formerly a graduate student or someone who interacts with graduate students? Remember you need at least two letters, but there is nothing to prevent you from having more.

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(5) How long does the application review process last?

Applications for the MS Environmental Science program are due by February 15, for the MA Environmental Studies by March 15 (note these deadlines do change from year to year; visit for current deadlines). We as a department work to ensure that you know the status of your application by early April. Most competing graduate programs ask that you make your decision by April 15th and should not, assuming you’re not applying somewhere for early admission, force you to decide before that date. This provides students with multiple offers of admission from various universities to make a decision with all data in hand. By providing you with our decision concerning admission and funding by early April, you should have at least two weeks to carefully consider our offer.