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Biology & Wildlife Graduate Program

Graduate degrees in Biology and Wildlife prepare students for careers as professional biologists, whether in academia, state and federal agencies, non-profit agencies, or industry. In addition to gaining knowledge in a particular sub-discipline, graduate students receive training in research design and analysis, critical thinking, and professional skills such as scientific writing, oral communication, and grantsmanship.

Graduate students Katrina Knott (left) and Adelia Falk (right) work with reindeer at the UAF Large Animal Research Station (LARS). Photo Credit: Todd Paris

The structure and requirements for degrees in Biological Sciences and in Wildlife Biology and Conservation are similar, but projects in Wildlife Biology generally place more emphasis on applied topics of relevance for management and conservation of free-ranging vertebrates. This difference generally results in more field studies for students in Wildlife Biology, and with more Wildlife Biology students targeting employment at management agencies, particularly at the MS level. Wildlife Biology projects are often supported by funding through the Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. Wildlife Biology faculty, which includes Cooperative Unit faculty, must serve on graduate committees for Wildlife Biology students.

Graduate students in Biology and Wildlife have access to many modern facilities, including the DNA core lab, a state-of-the-art greenhouse, and the extensive resources of the UA Museum of the North. Click here to learn more about these and other facilities.

Which degree should you choose?

The MS degree is aimed at students with an undergraduate education in Biology or a related science who want to develop their research skills as well as their knowledge base. The MS degree often provides the best preparation for students who want to work as research technicians, teach biology at the high school or community college level, or those students interested in refining their research interests before progressing to a PhD. Graduates of our MS program work as research technicians for local, state and federal agencies (e.g., the North Slope Borough, Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey), for environmental consulting and non-profit organizations (e.g. The Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Alaska Sea Life Center, Ducks Unlimited, Defenders of Wildlife), in private industry (e.g., Zymogenetics), and as teachers in high schools and educational outreach programs (e.g., the Alaska Coastal Institute).

The MS degree combines coursework with independent research. Students work with a small graduate advisory committee to develop a research program and generate a course plan that supports their research interests. An MS thesis is expected to include at least one manuscript suitable for publication in a scientific journal. The MS degree can be completed in about 2 years, although students with field-based research who start in the fall may take longer. Click here for a more detailed description of the MS program and timelines.

The PhD degree is aimed at students who intend to develop professional careers that include the development and oversight of research programs, or who intend to teach at the university level. Many students who enter the PhD program already have an MS degree, though this is not required. PhD graduates from our department have gone on to careers as faculty members at universities in the US and around the world, as staff scientists at state and federal organizations (e.g. Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, the National Parks Service) and environmental consultancy and non-profit organizations (e.g., A B R, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian Institution).

PhD students work with a graduate advisory committee to develop a research program that includes a strong, original, and intellectual contribution that advances their field of interest. Although there is no minimum course requirement, most PhD students do take some courses. PhD dissertations are expected to include three to four manuscripts for publication in scientific journals. Expected time to completion for a PhD degree is 4 to 6 years. Click here for a more detailed description of the PhD programs and timelines.

Is it possible to change from an MS after admission to a Ph.D.?

Biology & Wildlife Department MS to a PhD Change Guidelines

Students pursuing an MS Degree in the Biology & Wildlife Department and who wish to apply for the PhD program should submit electronic copies of the following items to the Graduate Coordinator, Carol Piser:
  • Statement of interest
  • Copy of the MS proposal and any other evidence of progress as an MS student that the student wishes to submit, including publications, conference abstracts, successful grant proposals, etc.
  • Current curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Letter of support from the advisor
These items, as well as the current UAF GPA and information from the original MS application, will be made available to faculty reviewers on the Biology & Wildlife restricted graduate admissions website.  Faculty reviews of the completed application will be requested from members of the student's graduate advisory committee and from two faculty members not serving on the committee.

If the student is accepted to the PhD program, the student should submit a degree change form from the Graduate School website, signed by the major advisor and committee, to the Biology and Wildlife office.  The form ("Change of Graduate Major or Degree Program") is available at

Student statement of interest
The statement of interest should include:
  • The student's career goals
  • The rationale for the change from the MS to the PhD program
  • A summary of research progress to date
  • A brief characterization of the research to be pursued as a PhD student
  • An account of the differences between the proposed PhD research project and the current MS research
Advisor letter of support
In the letter of support, the advisor should address:
  • The suitability of the student for the PhD program
  • The suitability of the proposed research project
  • The expected PhD graduation date
  • The expected means of financial support for both the student's living expenses and the research
Faculty reviews
Reviewers are encouraged to consider the application for change to the PhD in the context of new graduate applications to the program.  Reviews need not be lengthy.

Biology & Wildlife Degrees

Master of Science (MS) in
     • Biological Sciences
     • Wildlife Biology and Conservation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in
     • Biological Sciences

The application deadline for fall admission is January 15. The deadline for spring admission is September 15. All application materials (including letters of recommendation) must be received before a file can be evaluated. The General GRE is required. We strongly encourage inclusion of Biology GREs as well.

Admissions decisions will be made approximately 6 weeks following these dates. Files received after the deadline will only be considered in the rare event that a faculty member has an urgent need to add a student to his or her lab.

Requirements for acceptance into the B&W graduate program:

  • You must have an appropriate academic background and evidence of ability to complete a graduate degree
  • A faculty member must agree to accept you as his or her student
  • Funding sources for you and your research must be identified

Selecting an Advisor: Before submitting application materials to the Admissions, you should contact one or more faculty members in the department and tell them about your interests and background. We urge you to contact faculty members early; it can take some time to sort out potential research projects and funding opportunities.

Obtaining Funding: Graduate students are funded through a variety of mechanisms. Often, faculty members have funding available for Research Assistantships (RAs) through their research programs. Sometimes graduate students bring fellowships or scholarships that support them and/or their research. The Department also supports a limited number of students on Teaching Assistantships (TAs).

University of Alaska Fairbanks Department of Biology and Wildlife ©2010-15

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All images courtesy of UAF Biology & Wildlife unless otherwise noted.