MEB is committed to being a scientific community where all individuals are respected, and where all individuals feel engaged, motivated, and valued. We believe that diversity promotes scientific innovation and to that end we encourage applications from all individuals regardless of age, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, racial & ethnic identity, religion, nationality, or socio-economic background.
- The Marine and Environmental Biology program focuses on the study of environmental organisms and their interactions with each other and the physical environment, as well as the nature, functions and properties of complex ecosystems. Key research areas include microbial ecology and oceanography, biogeochemistry, environmental genomics, and population genetics. Graduate study in marine and environmental biology is administered through the Department of Biological Sciences and leads to the Ph.D. in Biological Sciences. The program includes formal courses, a selection of topical seminars, opportunities to teach undergraduates, and practical experience working with faculty on their ongoing research projects — culminating in individual research topics leading toward a degree.
- Interdisciplinary work in Ocean Sciences is available through the Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences. “The Graduate Program in Ocean Sciences (GPOS) provides interdisciplinary education and training to prepare professional ocean scientists for careers in academia, industry, and state and federal government. Students develop the ability to identify and solve significant problems in ocean sciences by using their training in several disciplines. They develop the ability to formulate and test hypotheses and integrate information and concepts about how the earth-ocean system is structured and how it functions. Training also is provided to develop skills in oral and written communication of technical and scientific information. Both M.S. and Ph.D. degree programs are offered; both require preparation of a thesis (M.S.) or dissertation (Ph.D.)”
- We admit anywhere from 8 to 15 students per cohort, and we typically have 30-50 active students in the program at any given time.
- Entry into the Marine and Environmental Biology Graduate Program requires a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in a related subject from an accredited four-year college and three letters of recommendation. In order to be considered for all competitive USC fellowships, applications and supporting materials should be submitted by January 7th. Applications past this deadline will be considered for fellowship or assistantship support only if funds are available.
- The University of Southern California strongly values diversity and is committed to equal opportunity in academics and employment. Members of all racial and ethnic groups, gender identities/sexual orientations, people with disabilities, and veterans are encouraged to apply.
- Unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities attended
- Statement of purpose
- Three letters of recommendation
- No GREs are required
- Pre-interview (via Zoom, phone, or equivalent) with prospective advisors
- Application fees will be paid by MEB (see below)
Identify a potential faculty advisor
- Check out the Research Themes to see the scientific aims of MEB and the faculty that are investigating each.
- Explore the specific research interests of MEB faculty. Visit the lab websites of potential advisors to learn more about their research and lab groups.
- Review professors’ recent publications to see if your research interests align. If you cannot access a publication, feel free to reach out to the professor or lead author to ask for a PDF.
Contact potential advisors
- Applicants must conduct a pre-interview (via Zoom, phone, or equivalent) with all prospective advisors by December 20th.
- Send an email to introduce yourself and start a conversation about how your research interests might fit with those of your potential advisor.
- Ask if they are accepting new students for the current application cycle, and if they are, when you can have a meeting via phone or Zoom (or similar).
- Attach your CV.
- Be as specific as you can about why you are a good fit for their lab. If your research interests overlap with research done in two labs, you can be jointly advised by both professors.
- If you don’t get a response within a week, don’t hesitate to follow up!
- It may also be helpful to reach out to graduate students in a potential advisor’s lab. In your email, ask if the professor can put you in touch with their graduate students.
- Often, a professor will let you right away if they are not accepting students at that moment in time.
Contact MEB to request your application fee waiver letter
- After contacting potential advisor(s), email Doug Burleson to obtain your fee waiver letter.
Complete application here (Due January 7th)
- Be sure to select the correct program when applying. The Marine and Environmental Biology PhD program is listed under the USC College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences.
- You will need to request or download unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities you have attended.
- Your statement of purpose for the Graduate School application should explain both why you wish to pursue graduate study in Marine and Environmental Biology, and, more specifically, why you wish to do so at USC.
- You will need three letters of recommendation. We encourage you to have your letters sent to admissions electronically. Be sure to give your letter writers plenty of time (1-2 months prior to when the letters are due).
Come for an interview
- We will invite a number of applicants to visit the program, usually in February prior to admissions.
- We will make all arrangements (purchase plane tickets, provide accommodations, etc.) for any application invited by the program.
- We will reimburse travel expenses only for applicants who have been officially invited to visit by the Graduate Admissions Committee.
- Final decisions for all students will be made by the end of April.
- Submit Statement of Intent by the deadline.
- It is the policy of the Marine and Environmental Biology Graduate Program to provide support for all students throughout their graduate career. Admission offers include one year of fellowship and at least four years of graduate assistantship (TA/RA). The annual stipend is set at $38,000 for the first year, and increases to $40,000 after passing the qualifying exam.
- Fellowships and graduate assistantships (TA/RA) provide full tuition remission, payment of student health center fee and student health insurance, and a monthly stipend for living expenses for the academic year.
- Graduate students must serve as a teaching assistant for at least two semesters; ideally the student should serve in at least two different courses. Students must enroll in BISC 593 (Practicum in Teaching the Biological Sciences, 2 units) either before or concurrent with their first semester as a Teaching Assistant.
- All enrolled students are eligible for TA positions up to and including year five of enrollment in the MEB program, beyond year five students are eligible for TAs based upon availability.
- Pre-admissions fellowships:
- NSF GRFP
- Nancy Foster Scholarship Program
- Hertz Fellowship
- Courses MEB students commonly TA:
- BISC102: Humans and Their Environment
- BISC120: General Biology: Organismal Biology and Evolution
- BISC220: General Biology: Cell Biology and Physiology
How many students are enrolled? How many students are admitted each year?
We admit anywhere from 8 to 15 students per cohort, and we typically have 30-50 active students in the program at any given time.
When is the deadline for admission?
To be considered for all competitive USC fellowships, applications and supporting materials should be submitted by January 7th. Applications past this deadline will be considered for fellowship or assistantship support only if funds are available. Remember, you also need to conduct a pre-interview (via Zoom, phone, or equivalent) with all prospective advisors by December 20th, so schedule those meetings ASAP.
What does it cost to apply?
Nothing! MEB will cover your application fee as long as you have contacted potential advisor(s) in advance as required for the application process (see above).
Besides the annual stipend is there other forms of financial support?
Students may also apply for financial aid from appropriate federal agencies or other sources of aid for graduate study. U.S. citizens requesting additional need-based financial aid should complete that portion of the application.
Students generally obtain RAships support during the three summer months. TAships are limited during this period. Students should make arrangements with a faculty advisor during their first year to provide for this. This arrangement is usually not a problem.
The university offers several awards open to all departments. The department nominates exceptional candidates for these awards, which carry additional stipends and, in some cases, funding of research-oriented travel and supplies.
Do you admit international students?
Yes, but in addition to the requirements listed above, international students must submit TOEFL scores. Unofficial copies TOEFL scores are acceptable for evaluation purposes, but if offered admission, an applicant will be required to send official documentation.
May I transfer coursework from my Master’s degree to USC?
Are there rotations?
No. Upon admission, students are assigned an initial faculty advisor who, in collaboration with the faculty guidance committee, ensures that each student has an adequate background to study in his/her chosen area. Early in the program of study, students begin working with one or more faculty members to develop a topic of independent research.
I have submitted all my required materials and would like to update one of my transcripts. How may I do that?
Contact Adolfo Dela Rosa for more information.
How do I prepare for interviews?
The interviews are an opportunity for the graduate program to get to know you and for you to get to know the graduate program to see if this is an ideal fit for both parties. You can expect to chat with faculty, current graduate students, and fellow prospective graduate students who are all interested in getting to know YOU! Some tips for preparation include:
- Review the website to get a feel for the program and a general understanding of the research that is being conducted. It will help to review some recent papers from the lab(s) you are interested in joining to familiarize yourself with the science. However, don’t feel the need to “cram”.
- Get a good night’s rest! The interview schedule is usually packed and you will need energy and a clear head to get through it.
- Be prepared to talk about yourself. It’s a good idea to practice an “elevator pitch” of your background and general research interests (limit to 1-2 minutes) because you will likely be asked to introduce yourself often throughout the interviews!
- Be prepared with a few questions to ask the people you will be meeting with. These questions can be research related, graduate program related (e.g. courses, work-life balance, lab culture), etc.
- Lastly, try to relax and enjoy the experience!
What skills did you find most useful in graduate school?
Any level or experience with data analysis and programming skills (e.g. statistics, bioinformatics, etc.) are increasingly important tools for research and graduate work. An introduction in these courses could be really helpful, but is not necessary. There are opportunities for you to pick up these skills while you are a graduate student.
I don’t have any papers published, will I be able to get in?
Having previous research experience (which can include having papers published) is helpful for getting into a graduate program because it indicates prior relevant experience. However, this is not necessary to get accepted by the graduate program. We do recommend that you gain some experience related to conducting research if possible because this will help you figure out if a PhD (a research-intensive degree and a multi-year commitment) is the right path for you.
Did you have a project as you came in to USC? How do I pick my thesis topic?
Some students come to USC on an already funded research project, but that is not always the case. Many advisors have their students help out on many different projects during their first year to get a better idea of what project they would like to focus on. Communication with your advisor is important in deciding your thesis topic, but first year students also have a first year committee to aid in this. The purpose of the first year committee is to give some external guidance on your progress (research, coursework, etc.).
How do I know if I will be compatible with a lab / advisor?
The interview weekend is a great opportunity to evaluate this. During this time, you’ll have the opportunity to talk to members of the lab you are interested in and others in the department before the actual interview. At the interview, we recommend having a conversation with your potential advisor about expectations (what they would expect out of you, and you of them).
- Upon admission, students are assigned an initial faculty advisor who, in collaboration with the faculty guidance committee, ensures that each student has an adequate background to study in his/her chosen area. There are no rotations. Early in the program of study, students begin working with one or more faculty members to develop a topic of independent research. Ph.D. candidates take written and oral Qualifying Examinations, typically in their fourth or fifth semester. Following this examination, doctoral students devote most of their academic time to their research. The final defense of the dissertation is typically taken in the fifth or sixth year.