Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Apply to Grad School

First Year Grad Students Orientation Hike


(updated 11/05/2015) Applications for admission to the M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) are accepted once a year. The deadline for receipt of all application materials is 1 January for those applicants wishing to enroll in the fall or spring semester of the following academic year. Please note that EEB’s departmental deadline is earlier than the deadlines published on the Graduate Admissions website.

We place a premium on substantial prior research experience, along with an academic background consistent with a bachelor’s degree in one of the life sciences. Some applicants may be deficient in some areas of ecology and evolutionary biology. However, ecology and evolutionary biology are diverse fields, so there is no explicit set of courses required, and particular potential advisers may be willing to advise highly qualified applicants from a variety of educational backgrounds.

In general, applicants are expected to have an overall undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 point scale, and 3.0 or above for all science and mathematics courses. Successful applicants will usually have GPAs well above these minima. In addition, applicants are required to submit scores from the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Successful applicants typically have research experience as an undergraduate, or have completed a Masters thesis in an appropriate field. Please note that these EEB requirements are more restrictive than those published on the College-wide Graduate Admissions page.

Applicants whose native language is not English must submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Please see the Graduate Admissions Requirements for minimum required scores.

Applicants are expected to make direct contact with potential research advisers prior to submitting an application. In general, only those applicants for whom at least one potential research adviser (thesis or dissertation) has been identified will be accepted.

You may download a PDF of the information below, which includes the list of exemplar research questions. Please feel encouraged to distribute this to colleagues. We also have videos to describe our program in more detail.

If you need help with the online application, please contact the Graduate Admissions Staff assigned to EEB. For other questions, please contact Dr. Brian O’Meara, Chair of the Graduate Admissions Committee, Other Committee members are Dr. Beth Schussler, Dr. Dan Simberloff, and Dr. Randy Small (diversity advocate: a position modeled on the University’s diversity advocate position on faculty searches).

Program Highlights

  • Growing department: 2-6 new tenure track faculty starting Aug. 2016.
  • Over the past academic year, our students have published over 80 papers: Science, Ecology, Systematic Biology, Proceedings of the Royal Society B, American Naturalist, Biological Invasions, Journal of College Science Teaching, and many more.
  • PhD graduate placement, for all graduates from 2000-2015: 43% tenure track faculty, 22% postdoc, 15% government, with the others in NGOs, private business, or non-tenture track jobs. For those at least five years after graduation, 57% tenure track faculty, 3% postdoc, 17% government.


  • Resources to support student research, in addition to external funding (i.e., internal funds, DNA sequencing facility, computer clusters, field station, boats).
  • Available training in teaching best practices, including a certificate in college teaching and training consistent with AAAS national recommendations.
  • Active initiatives to improve diversity in science (i.e., Program for Excellence & Equity in Research, EEB Women in Science).
  • Grad students receive health insurance and a tuition waiver.
  • Guaranteed support for students meeting program expectations (for 5 yrs PhD, 2 yrs Masters).
  • 64% of students supported by TAing, 36% by fellowships, research, or training grants.
  • One in twelve students has received NSF Graduate Research Fellowship funding.
  • Last year students received over $421K in external funds (in addition to internal research funds).
  • Extensive outreach and service opportunities: students serve on the boards of the Nature Conservancy and American Cichlid Society, do invasive species removal, run taxonomic forays with the broader public, help organize Darwin Day Tennessee, mentor undergraduate and high school researchers, and much more.
  • Nearby locations for research: Great Smoky Mountains N.P. (home to 17,000 documented species, including 1500 angiosperm, 200 bird, 66 mammal, and 67 fish species); numerous cave systems; campus greenhouses; experimental plots; and much more.
  • Affordable cost of living. Living wage (for one adult) in Knoxville, TN = $21,216, Cambridge, MA = $27,664, San Francisco area = $28,496 (source: Stipends for PhD students start at $22,000 ($19,700 for Masters students), but are often higher.
  • Vibrant community: 86 miles of greenways and trails in Knoxville, many festivals and parades, museums, live music, and more.
  • Active departmental graduate student organization (GREBE) to represent and help graduate students.


Application ProceduresFieldwork in Hawaii

All application materials should be submitted through the Graduate School. Please visit the Graduate Admissions Application website for more information. International students should also view the information on the Graduate International Students page.

EEB has more application requirements than the Graduate School, but all departmental forms are available in the Graduate School’s online application system. The additional departmental requirements include:

  • Letters of Recommendation
    EEB requires letters of recommendation from each of three individuals qualified to assess the applicant’s potential as a graduate student. These individuals will usually have known the applicant in an academic capacity, such as a previous academic adviser, or as the undergraduate or graduate research adviser.
  • GRE scores
    Self-reported test scores are acceptable during the evaluation process, but official test scores will be required before an offer of admission can be made.
  • Departmental Application, which includes
    • Mentor Selection
    • Scholarships, Fellowships, Honors and/or Awards Received
    • Fellowships Applied For
    • Professional Goals
    • Independent Research Experience(s)
    • Publication(s)

The online application is long and has several parts. Once you start your application, you can save your work and log in later to finish. Please click here to view the full application (subject to change without notice).

While EEB’s application deadline is January 1, we highly recommend that applicants submit materials substantially earlier. We must consider an application to be incomplete until ALL application materials have been received, including letters of recommendation. It is the responsibility of applicants to see to it that their application is complete.


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