Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Student Handbook

The handbook details the information related to graduate degrees obtained within the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Connecticut. Table 1 provides a summary of the requirements for the degree, which are further detailed in the remainder of the document. Other information that may be useful is also included in Table 2.

Handbook created March 2016. Last reviewed/updated January 2017.  One-page overviews for: M.S. and Ph.D.

Table 1: Summary of Requirements for M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs (see text for details)

Activity M.S. Degree Ph.D. Degree Forms
Advisory Committee formed by: End of 2nd semester End of 2nd semester No form, the advisory committee is formalized on the Plan of Study
Plan of Study form to Graduate School by: End of 2nd semester End of 3rd semester Plans of Study



Minimum content course credits 15 (Plan A, with thesis)

24 (Plan B, no thesis)

30 (excluding related area/ foreign language credits) M.S.


Minimum research credits 9 credits of GRAD 5950

(Plan A only)

15 credits of GRAD 6950 M.S.


Course requirements No specific requirements Core courses MARN 5010, 5030, 5050, & 5065; one Friday seminar class (MARN 5501);

6 credits of related area/ foreign language classes

Transfer credits (specific restrictions apply and committee consent needed) Up to 25% of total coursework Up to 30 credits
Thesis (Plan A)/non-thesis (Plan B) Both possible Thesis only
Annual Student report due: January every year January every year File will be emailed annually
Professional Development Program IDP discussed with advisor by end of 1st year IDP discussed with advisor by end of 1st year Guide to Creating Your IDP
Vertebrate use in research Approval required Approval required
Written comprehensive exams (General Exam Part A): NA End of 4th semester – General Exam

– Sample questions and information

Oral comprehensive exams (General Exam Part B): NA As decided by the student’s committee General Exam
Written dissertation proposal done by: NA Within 3 years – Dissertation Proposal form

Dissertation proposal steps

Dissertation proposal form for reviewers

Dissertation proposal defense completed by: NA With dissertation proposal submission Dissertation Proposal
Oral presentation of dissertation (public defense) Encouraged Yes
Dissertation defense examination (with advisory committee) Not mandatory Yes
Time limit: 6 years 8 years – M.S. checklist

– Ph.D. information and checklist


Table 2: In addition to the information above concerning the degree and its requirements, information that could be useful is detailed below, including:

Research Tracks within the Department Information for International Students
Department Personnel Conflict Resolution and Misconduct
Salary and Benefits for Graduate Students Teaching Opportunities
The Graduate Student Union Graduate School and Registrar information
Student Responsibilities and Requirements/Training Marine & Research Operations
Professional Development Program Student Officers
Helpful links



2016-2017 Student Officers

President – Chris Murray
Vice President – Tristan Kading
Secretary – Allie Staniec
Treasurer – Sue Smith



Helpful links

Google apps


PeopleSoft/Student Administration System – course registration

Graduate Student Senate – includes short-term loan information

Graduate Catalog

Graduate Payroll

HR Information (benefits)

Center for Career Development

Marine Sciences Student Activity Fund request form

Semi-Annual Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship Program

Doctoral Student Travel Award



Advisor, Advisory Committee

i) The most important details are outlined here. For details concerning the Advisory Committee, see: The student should plan to meet with the advisor by the end of the first semester to discuss which faculty members to include on their Advisory Committee. The regulations state that the committee should consist of at least three members, the Major Advisor and two Associate Advisors, but the size of the committee is often expanded, especially if the research is multidisciplinary, to include faculty with all the required expertise. The major advisor and at least one associate advisor shall be members of the Graduate Faculty appointed to advise doctoral students in Marine Sciences. There is no need for the committee to include members outside of the department or the university but this is often advantageous to increase the expertise in a specific area. For M.S. students, 3 members should be sufficient. For Ph.D. students, it is sometimes difficult to decide on the overall committee makeup until the research proposal is being formulated in detail. In such instances, it could be sufficient to have a committee of 3 for the initial years until the Comprehensive Exam is completed. At the stage of writing the dissertation proposal, it may become apparent that another committee member outside of the department or university would be advantageous to the student by bringing further expertise. Adding committee members throughout the course of the dissertation is therefore possible.

ii) Co-advising (i.e. joint responsibility as Major Advisors) is possible but there should be no more than two co-advisors.

iii) Additional information: 1) If a change of major advisor becomes necessary for any reason, the student must file a special form, bearing the signatures of the former advisor and the new advisor, with The Graduate School; 2) there is a specific process if a major advisor decides that it is not possible to continue as a student’s major advisor and wishes to resign. See link above for details.

iv) Committee decisions: If the advisory committee consists of three members, decisions must be unanimous. If the advisory committee consists of four or more members, decisions are considered adopted if there are no more than one negative vote, although the major advisor must always vote in the affirmative. However, advisory committee decisions involving the outcome of the General Examination, approval of the Dissertation Proposal, oral defense of the dissertation, or approval of the dissertation itself, must be a unanimous vote.


Course Requirements and Details Pertaining to the Plan of Study

The requirements for a Plan A or Plan B M.S. degree or for a Ph.D. are outlined in Table 1. M.S. students rarely do a Plan B degree. Details of the Marine Sciences (MARN) courses offered and their rotation are given here, and details can be found in the graduate catalog (  Ph.D. students are required to take the four core courses unless they have taken a comparable course at another institution. Such a waiver can be approved on the student’s behalf by the Advisory Committee. It should be noted that the Comprehensive Exam Part A will include questions related to all the core courses and a student is not exempt from taking a part of the exam if they opt out of taking one or more of the core courses. The core courses are Biological (MARN 5010), Chemical (MARN 5030), Geological (MARN 5050) and Physical Oceanography (MARN 5065). It is also expected that each Ph.D. student will take at least one Friday seminar class (MARN 5501). In addition to coursework, students are required to complete research credits as outlined in Table 1 (9 for a Plan A M.S. (GRAD 5950) and 15 for a Ph.D. (GRAD 6950)).

Additionally, 2 language classes or “related area” classes are required as part of the Plan of Study. The choice of classes is made by the student in discussions with the Advisory Committee. Within the department, common options for satisfying this criteria by taking related area classes (>4000 level) are: 1) courses in Statistics; 2) courses in other departments at the university (e.g. Molecular and Cell Biology, Chemistry, Natural Resources etc); or 3) education classes or other classes that fit with the student’s development plan. The following requirement pertain to the related area classes “A related area must comprise a coherent unit of at least six credit hours of advanced work outside the field of study (or area of concentration, if appropriate) and usually outside the department in which the major work of the degree is offered. Ordinarily, the work must be taken at the University of Connecticut. No credits will be accepted in transfer for a related area unless approved in advance by the advisory committee and The Graduate School. Note that related areas are not part of course content.”

The stipulation for a specific language to be considered appropriate is “that there must exist a significant body of literature written in that language in the student’s field. Students should plan to meet any language requirement early in their graduate careers and usually well before they begin preparation for the General Examination. One of five (5) methods below may be used to establish evidence of reading competence in an approved language. The advisory committee may designate which method shall be used or may leave the choice of method up to the student. For methods (1) through (3), courses and examinations will not be accepted if passed more than five (5) years prior to submission of the plan of study for approval.”

  1. The student may pass both semesters of an approved one (1) year reading or intermediate course in the language with grades equivalent to C (not C-) or higher. Details on this option are given at:
  2. The student may pass an examination set by a member of the University faculty (or, if approved by the advisory committee and The Graduate School, a faculty member at another college or university) designated by the student’s advisory committee and approved by the head of the department in which the major advisor holds an appointment. The examiner may be a member of the same department but may not be a member of the student’s advisory committee. Details of the exam structure are given on the graduate School website.
  3. A doctoral reading examination passed at another graduate school of approved standing may be accepted in transfer (subject to the above five [5] year limitation) provided the examination was taken prior to the student’s enrollment in The Graduate School.
  4. The student may establish evidence of competence in the language through an official transcript stating that the baccalaureate or a higher degree was earned with that language as the major.
  5. The student may establish evidence of competence in the language through documentation that it is the student’s native language, learned in childhood and used primarily through at least secondary school.

The Graduate School stipulates that after completing 18 academic credits, each student–upon consultation with his/her major advisor and committee –must submit a committee approved Plan of Study. The form is obtainable at: It is advisable to meet with the Advisory Committee early to discuss the Plan of Study and the proposed courses to be taken. Ph.D. students must submit their Plan of Study prior to completing Part A of the Comprehensive Exam.


The General Exam, Written and Oral

The comprehensive general exam consists of a written exam (Part A) and an oral exam (Part B). Each student must pass the General Exam (Part A) prior to proceeding to submitting and defending their dissertation proposal. The part A exam should be taken during the student’s first two years. The exam will be composed of questions selected by an ad hoc DMS committee composed of 3 or 5 instructors reflecting the disciplinary and interdisciplinary focus, and fundamental the principals of oceanography, who will request questions from all faculty. Students who fail all or part of the comprehensive exam may need to retake one or more core course, or other course work, or subject to termination, as recommended by the ad hoc committee. However, the final decision regarding what each student must do as a result of the exam failure is made by the student’s committee.

Part B of the Comprehensive exam is an oral evaluation and this is normally completed after the student successfully passes Part A. The form of the oral exam is decided by the student’s advisory committee and is usually more focused on questions related to the research topic of the student, although the breath of the questioning is again decided by the committee. It is also possible that the Part B section of the exam is completed at the same time as the student’s presentation and defense of their dissertation proposal. If the student passes the exam, the required examination sheet with signatures is forwarded to the Graduate School.


Student annual report and timelines of progress

Students are expected to submit an annual progress report in January each year.  The student’s advisor will review and add an evaluation of the progress against the student’s degree. The report is required in order for the student to be eligible to apply for the PreDoc student award.  A sample of the report can be found here.  A template is emailed to students and faculty in January each year.


Thesis Writing and the Defense

  • Thesis/dissertation writing and submission: The format of the thesis (MS) or dissertation (Ph.D.) is decided by the student in consultation with the Advisory Committee. It is recommended that the student meet with the committee prior to substantial writing has been completed so that the general outline and format is approved by the committee. The form of the dissertation can vary, and is often written as a series of papers suitable for publication with an Introduction chapter and a Conclusion chapter. The format of the document is prescribed by the Graduate School. The abstract and dissertation must be dated as of the calendar year in which all requirements for the degree are completed, including submission of the dissertation.
  • Final Exam: The final examination or dissertation defense deals mainly with the subject matter of the dissertation. For a Plan A M.S. degree, there is no university requirement of an oral exam but this is traditionally done in the Marine Sciences department, followed by a defense of the thesis in front of the Advisory Committee. For a Ph.D., the examination is oral, it is under the jurisdiction of the advisory committee, and it is held at Avery Point or the appropriate campus of the University.  The examination may not be held sooner than seven days after a working copy of the complete dissertation and tentative advisory committee approval have been submitted to the Graduate School. For graduation this must also be before the conferral period deadline in August, December, or May, as listed on the Academic Calendar ( It is required that notification of the time, date, and place of the examination be posted at least two weeks prior to the examination on the University’s Web-based events calendar.

No fewer than five members of the faculty, including all members of the candidate’s advisory committee, must participate in the oral presentation portion of the final examination, unless written approval for a lesser number has been secured in advance from the Dean of the Graduate School. After the oral presentation and questions from those present, the Advisory Committee and the candidate will meet for further examination and discussion of the dissertation. Invitation for faculty outside the Advisory Committee to participate in this portion of the examination is typically issued by the advisory committee, although any member of the faculty may attend.  The decision regarding whether a candidate has passed, conditionally passed, or failed the examination rests solely with the advisory committee, taking into account the opinions of other participating faculty members and other experts. The vote of the advisory committee must be unanimous. Following the examination, the major advisor communicates the results to the student and verifies that the official report has been completed and signed for submission to The Graduate School.

Completion and submission of the thesis/dissertation to the graduate school: Prior to the submission to the Graduate School, the Advisory Committee must sign the Committee Approval page that is part of the thesis document. In most cases, modifications are suggested by the Advisory Committee for the thesis or dissertation and the candidate will revise the document to incorporate these comments. The committee can sign the approval page on the day of the defense or at a later date. The following scenarios cover the ways in which this process can be handled: 1) the revision process is overseen by the Major Advisor on behalf of the committee – in this case, all committee members except the Major Advisor sign the approval (signature) page of the thesis or dissertation and the major Advisor only signs once all the changes have been satisfactorily made; 2) one or more of the committee members wishes to read and approve the revised document before signing the page, and in this case, the Major Advisor will also not sign until the committee member is satisfied and signs.

The Graduate School requires the electronic submission of the dissertation through Digital Commons, a University repository for public access. The final copy must meet all specifications outlined on The Graduate School website. The Dissertation Submission Checklist must be submitted to The Graduate School once it has been signed by a Homer Babbidge Library designated staff member together with an approval page bearing original signatures of all members of the advisory committee. Once a dissertation is bound, it becomes the property of the Homer D. Babbidge Library. No restrictions that limit or delay the accessibility, use, or distribution of the results of a doctoral student’s research are acceptable if such delays are inconsistent with an embargo period requested by the student or if they interfere with the timely completion of a student’s academic program.

Although this is a rare occurrence, if the candidate fails the examination, then there is the possibility of a re-examination??


Individual Research Tracks in the Department

The information on the various focus areas in Marine Sciences and the associated faculty within each sub-discipline (Biological, Chemical, Geological, and Physical) are detailed on the webpage: Many students are involved in multi-disciplinary research and the members of their advisory committee come from more than one sub-discipline. Details on the individual faculty research directions and the individual webpages can be found at:


Information for International Students

International students need to comply with policies and regulations that apply specifically to them, including visa, travel, and employment. For general information, check the website of the International Students and Scholars Service (ISSS) at, or contact the office by telephone (860-486-3855) or email ( Another source of information is the Graduate School website,

International students working on campus as Teaching Assistants need to have passed English proficiency test. For the requirements and ways to obtain waivers, check the website of the International Teaching Assistance Service, To ask questions, call its office at 860-486-2127 or email


Department Personnel

The various department personnel and their major responsibilities can be found at: Questions concerning the graduate program are best directed to Deb Schuler. Information about salaries and benefits are best directed to Elise Hayes. Travel and purchasing are handled by Janet Laflamme. Todd Fake handles IT and related issues, while Dennis Arbige is the building and research operations manager. Boat operations and machine shop work and related issues should be discussed with your advisor before contacting anyone. Claudia Koerting can help with any issues related to analytical equipment, especially instruments in the shared facilities within the building. Evan Ward is the graduate student liaison.


Conflict Resolution and Misconduct

Details concerning conflict resolution are given in the graduate catalog and will not be detailed ( Details on scholarly misconduct and other issues of this nature are also detailed in the catalog: The graduate catalog is available at: The department Graduate Student Liaison Officer, Evan Ward, can help with conflict resolution and related concerns.


Salary and Benefits

The offer letter will have outlined the salary and benefits for the position. Currently, the salary associated with the Teaching Assistantship (TA) or Research Assistantship (RA) offered is for 9 months (the academic year). Summer salary is currently considered separately and is from your advisor’s grants or other sources and is negotiated separately. Summer salary may be at a comparable or different rate to that of the academic year. The conditions of summer salary are being negotiated currently between the Graduate Student Union and the University and so this may change in the future. For details on salary and benefits, see:


Teaching opportunities

There are opportunities for teaching assistantships (TAs) to help with teaching, grading and laboratory instruction for undergraduate courses within Marine Sciences as well as undergraduate introductory courses in Chemistry, Physics, Math, and Biology. These courses are all taught at the Avery Point campus. Additional teaching experiences can be organized in conjunction with your advisory committee and include guest lecturing in courses taught within the department. Opportunities are also available for outreach teaching activities at local high schools.


Graduate Student Union Contract

The details of the Graduate Union Contract and the associated rights and responsibilities are detailed on the website at: The letter of appointment received from the department would have been compliant with the rules and regulations of the contract as this stipulates pay levels, contract times and relevant factors. Currently, summer salary is not part of the contract but this is being negotiated and will potentially impact summer salary negotiations and procedures in the future. Questions for the union can be directed to


Graduate School and Registrar information

Most of the forms needed during graduate study can be found at:


Student Responsibilities and Requirements/Training

Training may include, but is not limited to the following:

Compliance training (annual, offered through HuskyCT, in-person at Storrs)

Diversity Awareness Training (one-time, in-person)

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training (one-time, in-person)

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) (online and in-person components)

Teaching Assistant Orientation (in-person at Storrs)

International Teaching Assistant Orientation (in-person at Storrs)

Interpersonal Violence Prevention Training (online)

Minor Protection – as needed if working with minors

IACUC Training

Disease Prevention




Marine and Research Operations


Vessel Operations

Machine Shop

Electronics Shop

IT Resources

Rankin Seawater Facility

Analytical Instrument Labs



Graduate Student Professional Development

A professional development program is a tool set for students to achieve academic excellence and to enhance their chances of securing a post-graduate position that meets their professional aspirations. The professional development program should, minimally, seek to provide skills in these areas:

     Research and scholarship: Scientific ethics, research skills, thesis, publications

     Teaching: T.A., lecturing, creating and managing courses, teaching portfolio

     Professional: Presentations, grant writing, research management, leadership, conflict management

     Securing employment: CV and résumé, job application and interview, networking

1. Establishing an individualized development plan (IDP)

Several institutions have adopted the practice of individualized development plans (IDPs) for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The purposes of an IDP are to help students:

– Assess current skills, strengths and weaknesses, interests, and explore career fits

– Make a plan for developing skills to meet academic and professional goals

– Communicate with supervisors, advisors, and mentors about evolving goals and related skills

Benefits of IDP: An IDP has tangible advantages for both students and their mentors. Mentees who have an IDP are reported to be more likely to submit papers, be first authors in papers, and submit proposals than those who do not have an IDP. Conversely, mentees with IDPs are less likely to report that their advisors did not meet their expectations (Davis, G. 2005. Doctors without orders. American Scientist 93(3, supplement)).

Students are encouraged to start implementing their IDP in their first year.

Implementing an IDP consists of three phases, which are carried out by the student and the advisor together (Fig. 1):

1) Questionnaire help students asses their skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses

2) The student writes a plan for developing the required skills necessary to attain their own goals

3) Execute plan into action, being mindful that the plan should be flexible and that it should be periodically reviewed and revised in conjunction with the advisor or other mentors

Basic Steps …For Graduate Students …For Mentors
Step 1 Conduct self-assessment
Step 2 Write an IDP. Share IDP with mentor and revise Review IDP and help revise
Step 3 Implement the plan. Revise IDP as needed Establish regular progress review
Step 4 Survey potential career paths with mentor Discuss opportunities with student

Figure 1. Template for Achieving an Individualized Professional Development Plan


A step-by-step example of an IDP following the format outlined here is found at: (, which is also located in the Forms section of the Graduate Student Professional Development Program section of Table 1.

Other useful resources regarding implementation of IDPs at:

 2. Elements and resources for DMS students to implement their IDP

Below is a list, not exhaustive, of existing steps and resources useful to implement the IDP.

Research and Scholarship:

  • Maintenance of GPA of 3.0 or above: Ensures minimum standard of scholarly competence.
  • Plan of study: Provides road map for necessary course work and composition of thesis committee.
  • Annual student report: Ensures periodic review and revision of the IDP.
  • Course MARN 5500 – Professional Development in Marine Sciences: Provides training in proposal writing and manuscript preparation and publication. 
  • Advancement to Ph.D. candidacy: This requires passing the comprehensive examination, which consists of the general written examination and the proposal defense. Both elements develop scholarly and research skills.All M.S. students are also strongly encouraged to write a thesis proposal and have it evaluated by their thesis committee.
  • Thesis completion: Ensures minimum competency in research and scholarship.


DMS currently has no teaching requirements for students. However, students who have identified teaching as an interest in their IDP, are encouraged to complete a teaching practicum. The purpose of a teaching practicum is to train students to develop a teaching portfolio (statement of teaching philosophy, prepare a course syllabus, preparing effective lectures, and learn basic assessment methods).

UConn’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning provides many tools that would help students to satisfy a teaching practicum (see, for example,

Students who want to do a teaching practicum and serve as teaching assistants (T.A.), the practicum could be a component of T.A. duties. This should be arranged with the course instructor in such a way that T.A.’s responsibilities are neither neglected nor abused.


  • MARN 5500: Training in scientific and public presentations, proposal writing and peer-review activities (grants, manuscripts).
  • Attendance to DMS seminar series and participation in brown bag seminars: training in presentations and engagement in scientific discussion. 
  • Annual presentation in brown bag series: Training in oral presentations and scientific discussion.
  • Feng Graduate Student Research Colloquium: Training in writing abstracts, presentations and organizing scientific meetings. 
  • DMS and others competitive research fellowships: Training in grant proposal writing and budget preparation and management.
  • DMS and other travel award programs: Facilitate attendance of students to conferences, workshops, courses.

 Securing Employment:

  • MARN 5500 Professional Development in Marine Sciences: Training in résumé building and interviewing for jobs.