Environmental Conservation (M.S., Ph.D.)
Welcome to the graduate program in the Department of Environmental Conservation (ECo) within the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at the University of Massachusetts.
Our Program Niche
Unrelenting increase in demand for commodities and services from ecosystems raises questions of limits and sustainability. The rapid human modification of Earth’s ecosystems is signaled by the unprecedented decline of thousands of plant and animal species, many of which have become extinct. Coupled with growing concerns about the consequences of global climate change on ecosystems, this biodiversity crisis has stimulated a great deal of interest in environmental conservation. The result has been increasing public involvement in the conservation planning and management process, increasing scrutiny of management decisions affecting natural resources and the environment on both private and public lands, and aggressive court challenges on the interpretation of existing legislative regulations affecting natural resources. At the same time, recent advances in technology have created an explosion in new quantitative approaches to the study and management of natural resources and the environment. Altogether, the study and management of natural resources and the environment has entered a period of unprecedented change. The Graduate Program in Environmental Conservation intends to play a significant role in this transformation.Recognizing the growing complexity of environmental conservation, the Program has evolved into a broad, multi-faceted degree program, with diverse opportunities for emphasizing the following concentrations with options for a thesis (research) or professional (non-thesis) degree in any of these areas.
- Wildlife, fish and conservation biology
- Forest resources and arboriculture
- Water, wetlands and watersheds
- Human dimensions and environmental policy
- Sustainable building systems
To support these degree programs, there are currently more than 50 courses offered within the Program taught by ECo faculty.
Our Program is especially distinctive in a number of ways:
- First, faculty affiliated with our federal cooperators form an integral and essential part of our graduate program. Specifically, faculty associated with the USGS Cooperative Fisheries and Wildlife Research Unit at UMass-Amherst teach regular courses and support many graduate students; they are a vital component of our program adding both depth and breadth to the program. Faculty affiliated with USGS Conte Anadromous Fish Laboratory in Turner’s Falls and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station (Fish and Wildlife Habitat Research Unit) in Amherst also play a vital role as they support graduate students, serve on student advisory committees, and occasionally participate in teaching.
- Second, our graduate program maintains strong ties to UMass Extension and the Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation (NREC) Program. Specifically, the NREC Program works collaboratively with faculty to secure research and outreach grants that provide support to graduate students and research associates affiliated with our graduate program. They also facilitate the outreach aspects of a number of projects, helping to accomplish the outreach mission of the Department and our graduate program.
- Third, due in part to the research interests of individual faculty, our graduate program is recognized as a leader in the field of international wildlife conservation. As a result, the graduate student body is comprised of a substantial number of international students. Their presence and involvement in our graduate program helps to foster student diversity and promote global perspectives on natural resource conservation issues, and the diverse world views and experiences they bring to our program, both inside and outside of the classroom, adds substantial breadth to our graduate program.
- Lastly, our graduate program attracts a significant number of students interested solely in training for a professional career in environmental conservation; that is, they have no interest in pursuing a PhD or a career in science. Many of these students are working professionals seeking graduate-level training in a particular field of study. More often than not, however, these are simply students with a recently acquired undergraduate degree who recognize that an MS degree opens the door to excellent employment opportunities as a professional conservationist. Our graduate program offers several opportunities for students seeking a professional degree.
Our Program Vision
The University of Massachusetts Environmental Conservation (ECo) Graduate Program is recognized nationally and internationally among scientists and professionals as a high-quality program and as a result is able to attract the highest caliber students. The ECo Graduate Program has a strong sense of community, both socially and scholarly, such that students cherish their participation in the program and become strong advocates of the program after finishing their degree. The ECo Graduate Program offers a comprehensive quality curriculum in the core topic areas of: 1) core science (biology, ecology, conservation and environmental building design), 2) quantitative science (statistics, GIS, modeling, physical science), and 3) human dimensions (resource values, policies, programs and economics), and effectively engages adjunct faculty in the process. The ECo Graduate Program offers extramurally-funded research assistantships on a broad range of environmental conservation topics and provides effective training for students seeking either a thesis (research) degree or a professional (non-thesis) degree. MS thesis degree students completing the ECo Graduate Program are highly competitive for conservation science positions in government or the private sector, and some are well prepared to meet the challenges of any PhD program. Similarly, doctoral degree students completing the ECo Graduate Program are highly competitive for conservation science positions in academia, government or the private sector. Faculty and students jointly publish their research findings in leading scientific journals.
Organization of the Program
The ECo Graduate Program offers training in five areas of concentration (click on the links below for a detailed description of each concentration, including the degree options and associated academic requirements):
- Wildlife, fish and conservation biology,
- Forest resources and arboriculture,
- Water, wetlands and watersheds,
- Environmental policy and human dimensions, and
- Sustainable building systems.
We offer options for a thesis/dissertation (research) degree or professional (non-thesis) degree in any of these concentrations. The thesis/dissertation degree leads to the MS or PhD degree and centers around the completion of a major independent research project in addition to a modest coursework requirement. The professional degree leads to the MS degree and centers around a professional paper based on an internship/practicum in addition to a more substantial coursework requirement. Both degree options provide students a strong foundation in three core topic areas: core science (biology, ecology, conservation and environmental building design), 2) quantitative science (statistics, GIS and modeling), and 3) human dimensions (environmental policies, economics, politics, administration, management and values). The MS thesis degree is intended to prepare students for the option of pursuing a PhD and an eventual career in science. The MS professional degree is meant to be a terminal degree for students seeking graduate-level training in a particular field of study and a career as a professional conservation scientist.
Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs
Many ECo faculty are involved in one or more Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs, including Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, Plant Biology, and Public Policy and Administration, so it is possible for graduate students to work with an ECo professor as their major advisor while studying in these interdisciplinary programs. Visit their web sites for more information.
Organizational details: Graduate Program Policies, Procedures and Requirements (aka Program Handbook)
How to Apply
Thanks for your interest in the Graduate Program in Environmental Conservation (ECo). Before applying to the ECo Graduate Program, it is important for you to understand our admission policy:
- First, admission to the ECo Graduate Program is contingent upon acceptance by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Graduate School. Thus, you must meet the UMass Graduate School admissions requirements to be considered for admission to the ECo Graduate Program. See the UMass Graduate School for more information regarding admission.
- Second, and importantly, admission to the ECo Graduate Program, contingent on meeting the requirement above, is driven entirely by individual faculty. In other words, individual faculty members (not an admissions committee) have the sole authority to accept students into the program. No student is admitted without a designated faculty major advisor.
Given these two considerations, there are basically three options for applying to the ECo Graduate Program:
- Proactively secure a major advisor (i.e., a faculty member willing to commit to supervise your graduate program of study) and then formally apply to the UMass Graduate School. This is your best chance to get admitted to the Program because once a faculty member agrees to be your major advisor, you will be accepted into the ECo Graduate Program as soon as your Graduate School application is complete. In this approach, you avoid the formal application (and expense) until you are guaranteed acceptance into the Program.
- Apply to the Graduate School, indicating the desired ECo Graduate Program, and then initiate communication with one or more ECo faculty in hopes of finding a major advisor. This approach can be successful, but requires that you incur the difficulty (e.g., getting letters of recommendation) and expense of the application prior to any assurance of acceptance into the ECo Graduate Program. Given the large ratio of applicants to positions, this approach has a necessarily low success rate.
- Apply to the Graduate School, as above, and wait to be contacted by a faculty member in ECo who is interested in your application. In this approach, you are essentially putting your application into a “pool” of applications that remains untapped until a faculty member seeking a new student has no one suitable already in his/her queue. Given the large number of applicants, this approach has the lowest success rate – but on occasion does work.
Given the above, here is the strongly recommended procedure for applying to our Program:
- FIND A FACULTY MEMBER — Find a faculty member who is interested in taking you on as his/her student. To learn more about individual faculty, view the faculty research profiles on the departmental website or visit individual websites if they exist. The more you know about the prospective faculty member the better off you are going to be in convincing them of your sincere interest in working with them. Remember, you will not be accepted into the ECo Graduate Program unless you have a faculty advisor. Importantly, it is your responsibility to seek out a major advisor. We strongly suggest initiating contact with prospective faculty advisors via email to see if they are accepting new students and interested in someone with your background and aspirations. It is advisable to attach your current CV or resume to the message. Follow-up with a phone call as necessary. Also, note that faculty are extremely busy and sometimes get behind in responding to emails. It is your responsibility to follow-up with a phone call or whatever it takes to establish a line of communication.
Contingent upon successfully securing a faculty advisor, continue with the formal application process. Note, you may apply to the ECo Graduate Program prior to securing a major advisor, as discussed above, but the chances of acceptance are much lower.
- CONTACT THE ADMISSIONS OFFICE AT THE GRADUATE SCHOOL — Apply online (http://www.umass.edu/gradschool/admissions) or call for an application (413-545-0721 or -0722). Deadlines are February 1 for Fall admission and October 1 for Spring admission (although late applications are accepted on a case by case basis).
- TAKE THE GRE — Arrange to take the Graduate Record Exam, including the subject test in Biology if possible (although it is not required). If English is a second language, also arrange to take the TOEFL (exceptions exist, refer to the application packet from the Graduate School). Ask to have the scores sent to UMass (our code is 3917).
- SEND LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION — Arrange to have at least two (three is better) letters of recommendation sent to the Graduate School (there are forms in the Graduate Application that can be used).
- SEND TRANSCRIPT — Have one official transcripts sent to the Graduate School from any undergraduate and graduate institutions that you have attended.
We hope this helps eliminate any confusion about the application process and the best procedure to follow to increase your chance of success. If you have other questions about applying to the ECo Graduate Program, you can contact the Graduate Program Director or appropriate Graduate Concentration Coordinator:
- Graduate Program Director:
Dr. Timothy Randhir
- Graduate Concentration Coordinators:
Wildlife, fish and conservation biology
Dr. Chris Sunderland
- Forest resources and arboriculture
Dr. Kristina Stinson
- Water, wetlands and watersheds
Dr. Timothy Randhir
- Environmental policy and human dimensions
Dr. Ezra Markowitz
- Building systems
Dr. Peggi Clouston
Graduate Program Policies, Procedures and Requirements (aka Program Handbook)
The ECo Graduate Program Handbook (pdf) provides a detailed description of our graduate program, inclusive of the Master of Science (MS) Thesis Degree, the MS Professional Degree, and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Environmental Conservation. This document is organized into four sections:
- The first section provides an overview of the ECo Graduate Program and its administration
- The second section details a variety of practical needs that will help students “survive” the program and navigate many of its obstacles.
- The third section describes the academic program in detail, including general policies, procedures and administrative requirements and the specific requirements of each degree concentration. For specific information regarding official Graduate School policies and regulations, please review the “Graduate School Bulletin” and the “Graduate School Handbook”(http://www.umass.edu/gradschool/handbook/). Together, these documents contain nearly all of the technical information needed to successfully complete our graduate program.
- The fourth section provides a series of helpful reference materials, including a suggested timetable for completing all degree requirements, a checklist for each degree option, and templates for forms to track the degree progress.
Graduate Program Forms (aka Graduate School Memos) can be found here.