The Ph.D. program in Marine Biology and Ecology (MBE) have the following subject emphases, from which each student chooses a relevant curriculum:

  • Coral Reef and Coastal Ecology employs ecological, physiological and molecular approaches to understand, conserve, manage, and restore coral reefs, seagrasses, mangroves and their associated biota.
  • Marine Organismal and Biomedical Science focuses on how marine organisms respond to their environment on physiological and evolutionary time scales. This research integrates whole animal and cellular studies of physiology, biochemistry, neurobiology, genomics, molecular biology, aging, pathology and toxicology to understand factors controlling these responses and to develop these systems as models for human health.
  • Biological Oceanography focuses on adaptations, ecological interactions, food webs, and biogeochemical cycles of the ocean.
  • Fisheries Science studies the direct and indirect impacts of living marine resource exploitation on marine populations, communities and habitats and investigates solutions to the problems of unsustainable, habitat-damaging and/or inefficient fishing, including the minimization of bycatch and food web disruption.

Curriculum Requirements

The MBE Ph.D. degree requires 60 total credits. 1
Core Courses 9
Choose 3 courses from the following:
Biometrics in Marine Science
Tropical Marine Ecology
Biological Oceanography
The Physical Environment of Marine Organisms
Electives 221
Dissertation Research30
Doctoral Dissertation
Required Examinations
Comprehensive Examination 3
Qualifying Examination 4
Additional Requirements
Research Ethics
MBE Seminar 5
Educational Training Program (TA) 6
Educational Training 1
Educational Training 2
Educational Training 3
Total Credit Hours60

Minimum of 24 course credits and 12 dissertation credits.


MBE students are not required to take a course outside the program.

  • The Comprehensive Exam is a written test at the end of the first year designed to evaluate knowledge in the required subjects.
  • The exam consists of 1 question from each of the 3 required classes. The comprehensive questions will each be administered immediately following the final test or other graded classroom component of the course, with one hour allotted for each question. Each comprehensives question will be written and graded by that class professor.  
  • Passing the exam requires 100% Pass (Pass/Fail) on the comprehensive questions.
  • A single retake is possible at the discretion of the student’s committee and the program faculty. A failed Comprehensive Exam with no endorsement to retake the exam will result in immediate dismissal from the MBE graduate program. A failed retake of the Comprehensive Exam will also result in immediate dismissal from the MBE graduate program.
  • At the end of the second year, a written qualifying examination is required of all Ph.D. students that focuses on the subject matter needed to complete the research proposed for the dissertation.
  • The purpose of the qualifying examination is to demonstrate that the MBE doctoral student has the necessary understanding and expertise in research and related fields to complete the dissertation research. The topic areas should be agreed upon by the student, chair, and the dissertation committee soon after the proposal defense. The student is strongly encouraged to discuss the specific topics with each member of the dissertation committee, well in advance of the examination, to clarify the expected questions. The committee is encouraged to provide specific reading or areas of knowledge they will test the student on.
  • The qualifying exam is 4 - 5 partial days (4 hours per day) on questions written by their committee. It is the advisor’s responsibility to provide the test and to have the student’s committee grade it in a timely manner. The scheduling of the exam sessions is the responsibility of the student's advisor, but in all cases the written portion of the examination shall be completed within one week.
  • An additional oral qualifying examination may be required by the student's committee, but may not serve as a substitute for the written examination, which is a Graduate School requirement.
  • The decision of passing or failing the qualifying examination rests with the dissertation committee. The qualifying examination (written and, if required, oral) must be successfully completed, as documented by the dissertation committee, before the student can be admitted to candidacy.
  • In the event of a failure, a student may be re-examined once upon the recommendation of the student's committee in consultation with the academic committee. If permitted, the reexamination must be given before the end of the following semester.
  • Attendance to the MBE seminars is required every semester. 
  • All MBE students must give a talk in the series annually after the first year. 
    • Students entering the MBE Ph.D. program with a Master's degree begin to give seminars in their first year.
  • Ph.D. students are expected to be a Teaching Assistant (TA) for two courses while pursuing their degree.
  • The mandatory TA program will include training of new TAs, evaluation of their performance, and recognition of excellence. The goal is to make the experience as valuable as possible for the TA, the faculty, and the students taking our courses.
  • A training session and two teaching opportunities are offered as courses in educational training (RSM 771, RSM 772, RSM 773). Students will be registered accordingly.
  • Specific requirements for TAs are outlined in the RSMAS Student Handbook.