Two students on a boat conducting field research

Graduate Program

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Overview

The Graduate Field of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology encompasses the study of organic diversity, including its origins, dynamics, maintenance and consequences. Our faculty and graduate students pursue topics across a broad span of interconnected fields, including ecosystem biology, community and population biology, organismal biology, molecular ecology, population genetics, genomics, speciation and macroevolution.
 
grad student holding a florida scrub jay, student on a boat searching for sturgeons and grad students working on bird box collecting data
 

Prospective graduate students apply to Graduate Fields of Study at Cornell rather than departments. Most Graduate Fields are more inclusive than any one Department. Graduate Fields are, in a sense, virtual, and bring together faculty and students with shared intellectual interests, irrespective of their departmental homes. In March of 2018, EEB along with the Department of Entomology and the School of Integrative Plant Science hosted the annual Diversity Preview Weekend. For more information contact inclusivecornell@gmail.com.

Program and Faculty

The Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology provides its students with rich opportunities to study organic diversity, including its origins, maintenance and consequences. Our graduate students pursue topics across a broad set of interlinked fields, including ecosystem biology and biogeochemistry, community ecology and population biology, organismal biology, chemical and molecular ecology, population genetics and genomics, speciation and macroevolution. Immersive field study is an integral component of our graduate program; in 2018, the department is celebrating 50 years of field ecology. Learn more about our Florida field course, and committment to field teaching!

Corrie Moreu

The program emphasizes broad thinking and encourages students to be both interdisciplinary and independent. We seek students who will pursue their own innovative, question-driven research while contributing to our intellectual and social community. Many of our students develop research themes that are not derived directly from those of their advisor. Our program may be particularly well suited for students who are skilled at bridging disciplines, and who can therefore take full advantage of Cornell's expansive intellectual and technological resources in the life sciences and related fields.

Our students' research questions address fundamental issues in basic and applied sciences, span large and small spatial and temporal scales, and apply experimental, observational, theoretical, statistical, molecular and chemical approaches. Many graduates of our program go on to become leaders within their academic discipline or to have large impacts in government, conservation and public policy. Our students regularly publish in the highest profile journals and move on to prestigious postdoctoral and faculty positions.

Nearly all students in our program work directly towards a PhD degree. EEB is home to approximately 60 students at any time. Our students come from the US and several countries around the world.

Follow the link for a complete list of EEB graduate field faculty.

What is a Graduate Field?

Prospective graduate students apply to Graduate Fields of Study at Cornell rather than departments. Most Graduate Fields are more inclusive than any one Cornell Department. Graduate Fields are, in a sense, virtual, and bring together faculty and students with shared intellectual interests, irrespective of their departmental homes.

Students in the Graduate Field of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) are all advised by faculty who are members of that graduate field. Faculty in the Field of EEB include faculty based in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, as well as additional faculty who reside in the Departments of Entomology, Natural Resources, Neurobiology and Behavior, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Plant Biology, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Horticulture, and Civil Engineering. Any member of Cornell's Graduate Faculty, from any Department, can serve on students' dissertation committees.

Every graduate student will also have a departmental home, which is generally the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, at least the first year. After the first or second year, graduate students will have the same departmental home as their primary graduate advisor.

Application Process

Students are admitted on an annual cycle that begins when they submit an application by the yearly December 1st deadline. Final offers of admission and funding decisions are made in February and March. Most students then enter the program in the following Fall semester, though rarely they may arrange a deferred admission for January or to the subsequent Fall.

While we have a Masters program, we very rarely admit Masters students through external applications. The Masters degree is typically used for employee lab technicians who wish to obtain a degree alongside their employment.

Students are initially admitted to work with one or two faculty advisors, though some later switch advisors as their interests or research themes change. Admission decisions are made by a faculty admissions committee, but it is important for prospective students to identify and establish a connection with potential advisors prior to applying. It is wise to contact faculty whose work interests you, explaining your interests and background and inquiring whether they are actively seeking new students and might have an interest in supervising you. Admission to our program is highly competitive, as we typically admit fewer than 10% of applicants.

Students are accepted from a range of undergraduate majors from the natural sciences, physical sciences, mathematics and humanities. Our students' backgrounds are correspondingly varied: some enter the program directly following their undergraduate degree, others with a Masters degree or other post-undergraduate experience in research, consulting, the Peace Corps, Teach for America, etc.

Follow this link for more information on the application process. If you have questions about the application process, contact the Graduate Field Assistant, Patty Jordan. If you have questions about the graduate program as a whole, contact the faculty Director of Graduate Studies, Monica Geber.

Graduate Student Life

Current EEB graduate students have wide-ranging interests and backgrounds, and our program's culture values friendly interaction, collaboration, respectful debate, and scientific excellence. Faculty and lab group web pages are also a great source of information about our community. Get to know the EEB graduate student community online; find out about events, connect with current grads, and more!

Ithaca is a small city, over half the residents of which are related in some way to Cornell. The city cultivates a remarkably rich cultural diversity, with regular cultural infusions from NYC and other coastal cities without big-city urban problems. Nearby Trumansburg hosts the annual GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance every July. About half of our grad students live in the surrounding country-side of farms, woodlots and gorges, which is nowhere more than fifteen minutes away by bike. Spring, summer and fall are made for the famous Ithaca farmer's market and hikes in the many natural areas near campus, and winter brings rich opportunities for snow sports. Check out our EEB graduate student Hitchhiker's Guide to Ithaca; a great resource for incoming graduate students.

Requirements and Funding

We guarantee our incoming Ph.D. students five years of support, including four years of summer support.

Our program has a few standard requirements and milestones on the path to the awarding of the Ph.D. Follow this link for full details regarding graduate program requirements, funding and teaching opportunities.

Student Diversity

Graduate School Diversity Preview Weekend is March 12-15, 2020. This preview weekend is intended to introduce attendees to our research programs the year before they apply to graduate school. If you identify as an underrepresented minority student (Black/African American, Latina/o or Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander, or first generation college student), or you inhabit another axis of minority status (e.g. LGBTQIA, disabled persons, low income), this event is for you. Learn more and apply at cornellDPW.org.

Fostering diversity among students, researchers, and faculty is a priority for our department. We work to create an inclusive environment and are committed to improving the representation of minority groups within the field of ecology and evolution. Such a diversity brings together a wide range of experiences and worldviews enriching the overall graduate school experience. We encourage students from a diverse range of backgrounds to apply to our PhD program. Below are resources to improve inclusion and representation of minority groups in our department. Please contact Charlotte Levy (CRL222@cornell.edu) if you have any questions.

Cornell Based Outreach Programs

Cornell Diversity Resources

Diversity Fellowships

2019 EEB diversity fellowship grad students shown with three EEB faculty

Grad Student Awards

EEB graduate students past and present have been recognized and rewarded for their excellence in teaching at both the departmental and University level; Follow this link to our list of Graduate Student Awards to learn more.

Grad Student Alumni Spotlight

Suzanne Pierre's (she/her; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2018) Ph.D. research focused on the biotic and abiotic drivers of soil nitrogen (N) cycling and availability to plants and microbes. She was advised by Professor Tim Fahey (Natural Resources) and co-advised by Professor Peter Groffman (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies). She was initially motivated by the fact global forest productivity is highest in warm, moist parts of the globe, but that within those forests, the nutrients that support forest growth are recycled by temperature-sensitive microbes. Knowing that global climate change promises temperature increases around the world, Suzanne sought to identify the mechanisms that control the response of soil N-cycling microbes to rising temperature using an environmental functional gene approach. She looked at the in situ differences in soil ammonia oxidation gene abundance and expression across a tropical wet forest elevation gradient (equivalent to a 5C temperature gradient) on the Mauna Kea volcano on the island of Hawaii. She showed that the abundance of ammonia oxidizer genes in soils increased as temperature and plant aboveground productivity increased. This explained why more mineral N was available in the warmer, more productive forest sites (Pierre et al. 2017, Ecology).

Suzanne Pierre

Suzanne then worked on understanding how the changing temperature and availability of soil nitrogen may influence how plants prioritize root acquisition of nitrogen or phosphorus (P) in wet tropical forests. Using a localized fertilization experiment at the Hawaii tropical wet forest temperature gradient to test root elongation for N or P uptake, Suzanne found that a complex interaction between temperature and background soil nitrogen influenced significantly higher root elongation towards areas fertilized with a combination of N and P (in review).

Finally, Suzanne studied how present gross rates of soil nitrogen cycling respond to long-term N and P fertilization in a temperate northern hardwood forest in Bartlett and Hubbard Brook Experimental Forests in New Hampshire This experiment looked at how multiple nutrients can co-limit plant growth and influence foliar nutrient chemistry over time, potentially leading consequences for soil microbial N cycling rates. Suzanne found that forest soils that had been amended with P for over a decade  had the lowest rates of gross N cycling and also had the lowest concentrations of N in leaf litter. This result appears to show that trees compensate for imbalanced soil nutrient availability by re-absorbing the less-available nutrient (in this case N), leading litter N limitation of gross microbial N cycling in the soil (in review).

In addition to this research, Suzanne initiated the first student and facultSuzanne Pierrey dialogue on diversity and racial equity within Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and co-created the Diversity Preview Weekend program alongside fellow PhD student Cait McDonald. Suzanne was a funded Trainee in the NSF Cross-Scale Biogeochemistry and Climate IGERT program, a Sloan Fellow, a member of the Bouchet Honors Society, and was awarded the Cornell Diversity Change Agent award in 2017. She is currently a UC President's Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Berkeley. She will begin as Environmental scientist/ Senior environmental educator at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco in 2020, while continuing as a research associate at UC Berkeley.