University of Michigan
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Skip to main content


Frontiers Master's Program, requirements, and funding

Buck Castillo measuring rootsProgram description:

The Frontiers Master's Program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan is a National Science Foundation (NSF) - funded program designed to bring students to the study of ecology and evolution who might not otherwise have considered it. The program provides these students with opportunities to learn about the full range of subjects in ecology and evolution. Students complete a focused research project (that includes a written thesis) with a supportive research mentor, develop teaching skills and experience, and receive mentoring and advice from the faculty program director and staff committed to enhancing the diversity of the discipline.

A Frontiers M.S. degree is not a prerequisite for admission to the EEB doctoral program, nor is it intended as probationary admission to the doctoral program.  It is anticipated that students will complete the program in approximately 4 academic terms, plus a first summer term at the UM Biological Station, as described below.

Program requirements:

First term: summer at U-M Biostation: Incoming students begin their course of study with an eight-week program at the UM Biological Station in Pellston, Michigan, during the summer term. Students register for one class (generally Ecology or Evolution), and participate in a weekly Frontiers Career Development Seminar, where students read Karban & Huntzinger's How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook.

During this term, Frontiers students work to complete a short-term project with a faculty research mentor assigned by the program director. It is up to the student to meet with their summer research mentor, discuss project options, and arrange a schedule of work and progress meetings during the course of the term.

Students participate in career and team-building discussions and attend other UMBS activities as possible, including all-camp lectures, selected REU and BART workshops, symposia, field trips, and so on.  All students give an oral presentation at the end of the summer term regarding their summer project.

In summary, during their first term Frontiers students:

  • Enroll in one UMBS course (e.g., Introduction to Ecology or Evolution).
  • Develop a summer research project with UMBS research mentor. (UMBS research experience may or may not be directly related to future Master’s research.)
  • Participate in Career Development Seminar with Frontiers director.
  • Participation in camp-wide lectures and events, as possible.
  • Give a final oral presentation regarding their summer research.

Second term: fall at Ann Arbor campus: Starting fall term in Ann Arbor, students take EEB 477: Field Ecology during the 1st half of the semester, and then EEB 401, Section 001 Molecular Approaches to Ecology & Evolution, after field course is finished in mid-October.  In addition, Frontiers students must register for EEB 801, the Biology GSI training course as part of their on-going training for teaching.

Third term: winter:  During their first winter term, Frontiers M.S. students form a thesis committee in consultation with their advisor.  As the Rackham Graduate School has no governance over the development, oversight or completion of M.S theses, all thesis-related requirements are at the discretion of the EEB department, the Frontiers Program and its director.  In turn, the department relies upon the student’s advisor and thesis committee for setting appropriate research goals, timelines and formatting, and the decision that the written thesis is completed.

A Frontiers master’s thesis committee consists of the student’s primary advisor plus two additional members, one of whom must be from EEB. The thesis committee must be formed by the end of the second term, and students must hold a first meeting with their entire committee prior to their first field season, to discuss their proposed research and thesis work. The student must submit a signed Frontiers M.S. Thesis Committee Form and a Frontiers M.S. Committee Meeting Form to the Graduate Office to finalize their committee formation.  The initial meeting form allows committee members to sign off on having reviewed/approved a student’s thesis proposal.

The thesis committee is charged with the oversight of a student’s thesis activities. The entire committee is intended to be a resource upon which the student may draw throughout their course of study. It should guide and encourage the student in the design and execution of all aspects of the research program and written thesis work. The thesis committee is responsible for (1) providing advice concerning the conduct of the thesis research, (2) monitoring progress in research, (3) providing advice on other aspects of professional development, (4) administering the final oral thesis defense, and (5) certifying that the completed thesis meets the requirements for the M.S. degree.  See also: Things to consider when selecting thesis committee members, pg. 27.

Finally, early in their first winter term, students should discuss with their advisor plans for applying for summer research funding, whether this be participation in the EEB block grant funding competition, and/or application for other sources of research funds.  Discussion should include review and feedback from the advisor regarding the written text of funding proposals prior to their submission.

Second year: fall:  Students should select and enroll in courses as agreed upon with the program director and/or faculty advisor.  A Course Authorization form, signed by the Program Director, must be turned in to the grad office prior to registration at the beginning of each term.  Students should continue to participate in advisor’s lab meetings and journal club during their second year of study.

Early in the fall term, following their first field season, students and their advisor should meet to discuss how the student is progressing toward meeting research and thesis goals. If necessary, modifications should be made regarding research/thesis goals.  Analysis of field data and plans for writing the thesis should begin upon the advice and consent of their committee/advisor.

At this time, students should discuss with their advisor any plans to apply to Ph.D. programs, (UM EEB and/or elsewhere.) These discussions should include recommendation letters and review of the student’s academic statement of purpose, and students should be encouraged to make contact with potential advisors within relevant Ph.D. programs.

Second year: winter:  Early in winter term, students should hold a second meeting with their full thesis committee to provide a comprehensive update of research and thesis writing progress and timeline for completion. The student should submit a second Frontiers M.S. Committee Meeting Form, signed by all committee members, to the graduate program staff.

Students should discuss with their advisor/committee plans for finalizing the thesis, and set a timeline for their thesis defense – including a tentative defense date.  See more on Thesis Defense, below.


The Frontiers director will review each student's academic background and decide whether a student requires additional background courses or alternative courses.Students are required to obtain advisor/director approval for all initial course elections, including courses elected at the Biological Station. It is assumed that the student's thesis advisor will take on this role once the thesis committee is formed. It is essential that students seek advice from their advisor during all phases of their graduate program. Students should feel free to gain more guidance by meeting with the program director, the graduate chair, and/or their faculty advisor. A student may change advisors, but any such change must be approved by the Frontiers program director and/or the Graduate Affairs Committee.

The Graduate Affairs Committee, composed of three faculty members, and the Frontiers program director are together responsible for counseling and for the development and administration of the Frontiers program. Petitions and problems that students might encounter should be directed to the Frontiers director and/or the GAC. A student representative attends all committee meetings and contributes to all decisions made by the committee.

Iman Sylvain and Sahar Haghighat in the labThesis defense:

The student should work with their committee and the graduate program staff to plan for the thesis defense prior to the end of their second winter term.  Please note that the Rackham Graduate School does not oversee the M.S. thesis defense process, (as it does for Ph.D. students defending their dissertation.) Successful completion of the process outlined below fulfills all requirements necessary for a student to receive a thesis-based M.S. from the University of Michigan, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

With the approval of their committee, the student should select a date and time for the thesis defense.  Upon finalizing the date/time, the student should contact the graduate staff, who will reserve a room for the presentation and provide the student with the required form(s) for the defense.  According to a timeline developed by the student and their committee, the student should submit to their committee a final version of their written thesis.  It is recommended that this be undertaken at least two weeks prior to the student’s planned defense date to allow for appropriate faculty review prior to the defense. In addition, as soon as possible prior to the defense, the student should contact John Megahan (, the department graphic designer, to develop a flier for advertising the thesis presentation.  This should be undertaken at least two weeks prior to the defense date.  EEB graduate program staff will announce the defense presentation via email to members of the department.

Following the public portion of the defense presentation, the student defends his/her thesis before their thesis committee, usually in the same room, directly after the thesis presentation. Afterward, the thesis committee decides upon the acceptability of the thesis. The committee may accept the thesis as is, or recommend further work and/or revision, which must then be undertaken by the student in a timely manner.

Once all suggested changes have been made to the committee’s satisfaction and the committee agrees that the written thesis is final and approved, the student has their committee complete the appropriate portions of the Frontiers Master of Science Program Graduation Form.  The form must then be submitted to EEB graduate program staff for completion and final approval.

With final approvals in place, when the student “applies for graduation” it will be recommended to Rackham that the student receive a “M.S. Thesis” notation on their final official transcript – thus completing their Traditional M.S. degree.  (See more on Applying for graduation, below.) Course requirements:

The Frontiers M.S. degree requires completion of 25 graduate credit-hours in EEB and other science-related courses; at least 16 hours must be selected from courses in the Department of EEB. No more than six hours of research courses may be included in the minimum of 25 hours required. Only graduate-level courses (numbered 400 and above) can be included in the required credit toward program. 

Election of courses is determined in consultation with the program director or a faculty advisor, and is based on the professional goals of the individual student. The program must include one seminar course which requires an oral presentation, or a written report. Students must also complete four hours of graduate-level cognate course work. The cognate course must be offered by a department other than EEB, and should be a science-related course or one that is relevant to the program (e.g., Stat 402; Biochem 515; Geol 418). For a list of suggested cognate courses, check the EEB website.

In summary, Frontiers M.S. coursework must include the following:

Year 1





1 UMBS class (generally either EEB 381/581 or EEB 390/590)
Summer research project
Frontiers Career Seminar
Other UMBS lectures and events as possible

Orientation (1st week)
Register for EEB 477 (5hrs), EEB 401, sect. 001 (2hrs), & EEB 801 (1hr)
Choose primary advisor. Discuss winter classes with advisor and Frontiers director

Register for 6hrs of classes (4hrs for a cognate)
Form thesis committee (turn in form to graduate office)

Work on research either on campus, at the BioStation, or at another appropriate location

Year 2






EEB 790 Thesis hours (5hrs)
EEB 800 seminar (1hr)
Participate in advisor’s lab meetings and journal club

EEB 790 Thesis hours (6hrs)
Meet with thesis committee
Participate in advisor’s lab meetings and journal club
Defend thesis


*Must be registered for a minimum of 6 hours during each semester that you are a GSI

Applying for graduation:

Lizette Ramirez and Naim EdwardsTo be recommended by the EEB department for graduation with a thesis-based M.S. degree, students must have their committee complete the Frontiers M.S.  Program Graduation Form which they then submit to the graduate coordinator for additional signature and approvals. Upon submission of the form to the graduate office, students should “apply for graduation” through the “Student Business” section of Wolverine Access. Application deadlines for each term are published by Rackham and deadline reminders will be sent to students by EEB graduate staff.

If a student fails to complete all requirements during the term in which they apply for graduation, the student must reapply for consideration during the term in which the requirements have been met. Please note that (unlike Ph.D. students) M.S. students do not have to be registered for classes during the term in which they graduate.

Master's diplomas are not distributed at commencement, but are mailed seven to eight weeks later.

Rackham requirements for M.S. students:

The Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies specifies the general requirements for admission and degree programs as well as other general standards. Therefore, in addition to the specific requirements of the EEB program, applicants and students should also be familiar with, at minimum, the following Rackham requirements.   

Time limit: A student in a terminal master's program is expected to complete all work within five years from the date of first enrollment in the program. Students exceeding this time limit must file a petition for modification or waiver of regulation with Rackham OARD. Petitions must describe explicitly the amount of work remaining and a timeline for completion. A student who fails to complete degree requirements within five years may be withdrawn and required to apply for readmission (section1.3.8).

Residence requirement: The graduate school requirement involves credit hours and should not be confused with state residency requirements.  

Minimum average grade of “B”:  An overall grade point average of “B” (5.00) is required for all graduate courses taken for credit and applied toward the Master’s degree.

Transfer of credit:  A maximum of six semester hours (inter-University), or half of the program (intra-University and inter-University combined) may be transferred.  

Cognate requirement: Rackham recognizes the value of intellectual breadth in graduate education, and the importance of formal graduate study in areas beyond the student's field of specialization. Cognate courses are those that are in a discipline or area different from a student's field of study, but may be related to some aspect of this field. Cognate coursework must be approved by the department or program, and may be satisfied by:

  1. Completing 4 credit hours of cognate coursework in approved graduate-level courses with a grade of B- or better.
  2. Using coursework within the same department or program but in a subfield different from the student's own. A course in a student's program that is cross-listed as a course in another program may satisfy the cognate requirement. In this case, the department or program should notify Rackham OARD.
  3. Using credit officially transferred from another institution in another field of study.
  4. Completing graduate coursework at another institution that meets the expectation of the cognate requirement without officially transferring the credit to the transcript. The student must provide Rackham OARD with an official transcript, including the courses and credit hours, and the department or program should notify Rackham OARD. These courses do not apply toward the minimum requirement for the degree, and do not appear on the University transcript
Financial support:
The Frontiers M.S. is a fully-funded master’s program, including an annual stipend of at least $23,000, a tuition waiver, and health care for each student, as well as his or her spouse and dependents.  Students are guaranteed six total terms of funding; including two summers, and are expected to defend their thesis at the end of this time.

Frontiers students are funded during the academic year as Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs). GSIs facilitate discussions in small sections connected to large lecture courses, run laboratory sections or teach small introductory classes. GSIs facilitate discussions in small sections connected to large lecture courses, run laboratory sections or teach small introductory classes. The typical GSI has a 50% appointment, working between 16.5 and 20 hours per week during the eight-month academic year. During the 2012 – 2013 academic year, the GSI salary for a .50 appointment is $18,233.00, approximately $9,116.50 per term. A full tuition waver is included, and as University employees, health and dental benefits are provided for GSIs and their dependents. A 10-term limit is imposed by the university on GSI and GSRA positions. Resources for university GSIs can be found at the Center for Research and Teaching’s website.

Summer support includes two summers of department fellowship funding, during the first summer term at the UM Biostation and during the second summer between the students first and second years within the program.  Summer fellowship funding includes continued benefits eligibility. Summer department funding for Frontiers students is currently $6,000 during the first summer at the UM Biostation and $6,000 during the second summer in the program.

Graduate Student Research Associate (GSRA) appointments may be available for academic term funding, and provide students with funding support while conducting their own research relevant to their academic goals.  GSRA appointments are generally provided through an advisor’s externally funded grant or contract.  GSRA stipend amounts are consistent with those announced annually by the Office of Academic Human Resources.  Tuition waivers generally accompany GSRA appointments, as does health and dental insurance coverage through the GradCare Program.  For additional information on GSRA appointments, see the Academic Human Resources website.  GSRA funding is provided in an amount commensurate with GSI rates.

Other external funding sources such as loans and work-study programs are available through the University’s Office of Financial Aid, 2011 Student Activities Building. Students are eligible to apply for external fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) or NASA. These fellowships provide substantial stipends plus full tuition and students are urged to apply. The UM Student Employment Office website contains information regarding additional employment opportunities.  

GradCare is the medical insurance plan available to Frontiers M.S. students and their eligible dependents in association with their GSI appointment, or summer fellowship status. GradCare is administered by Blue Care Network and the provider network in Ann Arbor includes University Health Service, the University of Michigan Health System, and participating community pediatricians. There are no deductibles to meet before the plan begins and outpatient services are covered with a co-pay. In-patient hospital services are covered in full for medically-necessary conditions. Prescription drug coverage is also provided. For more information, visit the UM Benefits Office website.

In addition to these components of the Frontiers M.S.  funding package, research and supplemental funding are available to students through a variety of departmental sources, including Block Grant programs and awards, department-administered scholarships and the Rackham Graduate School.