Graduate Study: Degrees and Options
Web Catalog Information Subject to Change
The web version of the ESF Catalog is updated as needed throughout the year. To view the version officially associated with a particular date of entry to the College, please refer to the appropriate catalog of record.
Graduate Study: Degrees and Options
- Degree Programs and Areas of Study (list of all programs)
Graduate academic programs at ESF share a foundation of rigorous science and dedication to wise use of natural resources. ESF offers advanced degrees in six program areas. Each program provides a unique opportunity for you to further your education with professors who are dedicated to both their teaching and research endeavors.
Ecosystems all over the world benefit from the professionalism and expertise of ESF graduates and the faculty members at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry. You will study with professors whose work improves and sustains the environment from the Yucatan Peninsula to Alaska and whose expertise is sought by government and corporations. That same faculty will be personally concerned with your progress. The professors' cutting-edge research will become part of your classes, and your classes will merge with the world beyond the College.
ESF is authorized by the New York State Department of Education to offer undergraduate and graduate degree programs as described in this catalog. The Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) code is the number assigned to programs registered by the commissioner of the New York State Department of Education. The Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) Code allows the U.S. Department of Education to track educational programs for financial aid eligibility. Enrollment in programs that are not registered or otherwise approved may jeopardize a student’s eligibility for certain financial aid programs.
Areas of Study
The general area of study for each master’s or doctoral student is implied by the title of the program in which the degree is awarded. Areas of study may be established within degree programs by individual departments that further define the student’s area of specialization. The student’s area of study is listed on the student’s transcript if identified on the study plan.
Additionally, each department may offer minors identifying ancillary areas of study that may be appropriate for the degree program. A minor is equivalent to 12 or more graduate credits earned in the minor area. Courses in a minor area must be taken outside of the student’s area of study. A minor is identified on the student’s transcript. A minor professor must be appointed to the student’s steering committee for each minor elected, in addition to the minimum complement of steering committee members. Each minor professor can replace an additional examiner.
Four master’s degrees are offered at ESFmaster of science, master of forestry, master of landscape architecture, and master of professional studiesas well as the doctor of philosophy degree. The following section describes the requirements for graduate degree programs offered by the College.
The Master of Forestry (M.F.) graduate degree program enables students to integrate knowledge and expertise drawn from both the natural and social sciences, and to apply their knowledge to solve practical forest management problems. The degree requires 37 graduate credits of coursework. At least 24 of the coursework credits must be taken in residence at ESF. The degree meets the accreditation standards of the Society of American Foresters.
The primary focus of the program is to provide an opportunity for graduates coming from diverse academic backgrounds with non-forestry baccalaureates to gain a professional education in forestry. As such, the program is designed to be the first professional degree in forestry attained by a student. Graduates will successfully function as professional foresters on multi-disciplinary forest management teams and respond to the challenges related to the sustainable management of local, regional and global forest resources.
The program is open to both students with some prior background in forestry and natural resources and for those without such background. Students with a degree in a related discipline (e.g., ecology, biology, wildlife, chemistry, etc.) can complete the M.F. degree in twelve (12) to eighteen (18) months. Students with a general science background, but little or no forestry experience, will require eighteen (18) to twenty-four (24) months to complete the program. The curriculum is designed for fall admission, but spring semester admission is possible. More than four (4) semesters may be required for students from non-science backgrounds who need additional basic undergraduate coursework as part of their program of study.
Graduate studies in landscape architecture attract a broad range of people. Those with undergraduate degrees in landscape architecture may seek specialization within the profession, advanced exploration or an academic career. Others, with degrees in related fields such as architecture, city and regional planning, and environmental design, enter the program to broaden or redirect their design and planning skills. Some students with degrees in fields less closely related (such as humanities or arts and sciences) seek new career options or to focus prior interests through a licensed design and planning profession.
The degree is accredited by the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB).
A three-year program for applicants who have no design or planning background leads to the fully accredited professional degree of master of landscape architecture (M.L.A.). This program is for students who intend to complete coursework full time. Applicants with a related design or planning degree may enter the three-year program with advanced standing.
The M.L.A. program, for the student seeking a first professional degree in landscape architecture, is a more tightly structured curriculum because it leads to the prerequisite work experience that qualifies the graduate for the Landscape Architecture Registration Examination (L.A.R.E.).
The Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) degree is intended to be a terminal degree. The M.P.S. is offered in the following degree programs: environmental and forest biology, forest resources management, environmental and resource engineering, environmental science, and environmental studies.
This degree requires the successful completion of a minimum of 30 credits at the graduate level, of which at least 24 must be in course work. The student’s program of study must be approved by the major professor, steering committee and Department Chairperson.
In addition, individual programs may require an integrative experience such as an internship, team project and/or comprehensive examination. If an examination is required, it is developed and managed by the department responsible for the program.
The master of science (M.S.) degree is an academic degree offered in the following programs: environmental and forest chemistry, environmental and forest biology, environmental studies, forest resources management, environmental and resource engineering, environmental science, and landscape architecture.
To complete this degree, in addition to completion of necessary coursework, students must investigate a problem that initiates, expands, or clarifies knowledge in the field and prepare a thesis based on this study. Students are required to define an appropriate problem for investigation; review relevant information; develop a study plan incorporating investigative techniques appropriate to the problem; implement the plan; and relate the results to theory or a body of knowledge in the field.
The minimum credit-hour requirement is the successful completion of 30 graduate credits distributed between coursework and thesis. The applicable distributions will be determined by individual departments to suit program objectives, with the understanding that a minimum of 18 credits is awarded for graduate-level coursework and a minimum of six credits is awarded for the thesis. All steering committee members should sign the student’s study plan (Form 3B) before the end of the last year of the student’s program. The student must successfully defend the thesis for degree completion. The thesis is prepared and bound according to college standards and submitted to ProQuest.
The doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is an academic degree offered in the following degree programs: environmental and forest chemistry, environmental and forest biology, forest resources management, environmental resources engineering, and environmental science. The doctor of philosophy degree requires a minimum of 60 graduate credits, of which 30 to 48 credits are for coursework and 12 to 30 credits are awarded for dissertation. Individual departments will determine the applicable credit hour requirements within these ranges to reflect individual program requirements and emphases. The graduate credits earned for a master’s degree that are applicable to a student’s doctoral study plan (Form 3B) are determined on an individual basis by the steering committee. All steering committee members should sign the 3B form before the end of the last year of the student’s program. Students may not use master’s thesis credits to fulfill doctoral program coursework requirements.
Students must pass the doctoral candidacy examination covering selected fields of study at least one year prior to dissertation defense and successfully defend the dissertation. The dissertation must be prepared according to college standards and submitted to ProQuest.
Doctoral students must demonstrate competence in at least one research tool as a requirement for graduation. Such tools include statistics, computer science, or the ability to translate technical articles in a language, other than English, commonly used in science. Tool requirements and standards for each doctorate program will be determined by the corresponding program department.
Student Advising and Study Plan (Form 3B)
The student’s study plan (Form 3B) includes an individualized sequence of courses and a plan for research or professional experience. The student and all steering committee members should sign the 3B form, submit it to the department chair for approval and then forward it to the dean of Instruction and Graduate Studies by the end of the third semester for the M.S., M.L.A., or Ph.D. degree; it must be submitted by the end of the first semester for the M.F. or M.P.S. degree. For all graduate degrees, the program of study must be submitted by no later than the end of the last year of the student’s program. The study plan can be changed during the course of a student’s program. Changes must be approved by the major professor and department chair with notification to the Dean of the Graduate School.
Major Professor: Appointment and Responsibilities
The student’s major professor is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the department chair. A major professor should be appointed upon the student’s matriculation into a graduate program. For the graduate student accepted into a graduate program but lacking a major professor, a temporary advisor will be appointed by the department chair. However, every effort should be made to expedite appointment of a major professor.
The major professor shall be a member of the ESF faculty, except those with visiting appointments. The major professor, or at least one of the co-major professors, must hold a degree equal to or higher than the degree sought by the student. The major professor, or at least one of the co-major professors, must be a full-time member of the department granting the degree sought by the student. An adjunct faculty member may also serve as a co-major professor. It is the duty of the major professor to fulfill a primary role as the student’s mentor. Aided by other members of the steering committee, the major professor guides the student in the development and implementation of the student’s study plan (Form 3B), including course selection, research planning, choice of the professional experience, and facilitation of the examination schedule. The major professor also guides the student in reviews of thesis or dissertation drafts, including a complete review of the thesis or dissertation before the final copy is presented for defense. It is the responsibility of the major professor to ensure that the document presented at defense is the final version, subject only to minor grammatical changes.
Steering Committee: Appointment and Responsibilities
The steering committee for master of science and doctoral students is composed of the major professor and at least two faculty members or other qualified persons. The steering committee for master of forestry, master of professional studies and master of landscape architecture students is composed of the major professor and at least one other faculty member or other qualified person. Other qualified people include faculty at other institutions or other recognized professionals.
The student’s steering committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the department chair. The steering committee should be appointed within the first semester. For all students, the steering committee must be established and must have met by the end of the third semester of graduate study.
The steering committee assists the student in the development of the student’s study plan (Form 3B), including the development of the student’s research or professional experience. All steering committee members should sign the 3B form before the end of the last year of the student’s program. The steering committee guides the development of the thesis or dissertation, including a review of the thesis or dissertation before the final copy is presented for defense.
Upon completion of 12 credit hours as a matriculated student, the part-time student will request assignment of a steering committee that consists of the major professor and one other person. The steering committee will meet and agree upon a program of study (Form 3B) and specify the delimitation date according to the needs of the part-time student.
All students entering graduate programs at ESF are expected to be proficient in communication skills, including technical writing and library skills. Students are required to have completed at least one course in technical writing and one course in library usage, either as an undergraduate or as a graduate student. Credit for such courses taken during the graduate program are not counted towards degree requirements. Alternatively, graduate students can meet the requirement by demonstrating the equivalent in experience in writing and library skills, as determined by the steering committee.
Participation in seminars, including the preparation and presentation of technical material, is vital to the student’s graduate education. All graduate students at ESF are required to participate in graduate seminars as follows:
Topic Seminar: Each graduate student is expected to participate in topic seminars, including presentations, as determined by the individual department. This requirement can be fulfilled, with appropriate approval, by seminars offered at Syracuse University or SUNY Upstate Medical University.
Capstone Seminar: Students completing the master of science degree or the Ph.D. degree are required to present a capstone seminar on their thesis or dissertation research. Other master's students may be required to present a capstone seminar on a topic chosen in consultation with the major professor and steering committee. The purpose of the capstone seminar is to provide an opportunity for the graduate student to present technical information to a critical body of professionals and peers. This seminar will be presented prior to the thesis or dissertation defense and should be attended by the student’s steering committee. Each seminar is open to the college community and will be announced collegewide to encourage attendance by students and faculty.
Students who wish to complete the doctoral candidacy examination, defense of thesis or dissertation should request formation of their examining committee guided by the schedule provided by the Office of Instruction and Graduate Studies.
To ensure the integrity of the examination process, all members of the examination committee appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School will be present at the oral examination. Students must complete the oral examination within six months from the appointment of the examination committee or the student will be required to request the assignment of a new examination committee. Exceptions may be granted by the Dean of the Graduate School.
Doctoral Preliminary Examination
The requirement for this examination is determined by individual departments. The purpose of this examination is to assess the entering student’s basic knowledge in the chosen field of study. The results of this examination may be used to determine the student’s suitability for the doctoral program and as a guide in selecting coursework and developing a program of study.
Doctoral Candidacy Examination
The objectives of this examination are to determine the breadth and depth of knowledge in the chosen field of study and assess the student’s understanding of the scientific process. The doctoral candidacy examination is taken when the majority of coursework is completed and no more than three years from the first date of matriculation has elapsed or the student may be dismissed from the doctoral program. This examination must be taken at least one year prior to the dissertation defense.
Upon the recommendation of the appropriate department chair, the Dean of the Graduate School appoints the doctoral candidacy examination committee consisting of the student’s major professor, the student’s steering committee and an additional faculty member from an appropriate area. Additionally, the Dean of the Graduate School appoints a committee chair who is not from the department of the student’s degree program. The examination must have both written and oral components.
The role of the examination committee chair is to manage the examination, ensure its integrity, and represent the interests of the faculty and student. Any member of the faculty may be an observer. The student examinee may invite a silent student observer to attend the oral examination with notification of the chair of the student’s exam committee.
The composition of a candidacy examination committee, once formally appointed and constituted by the Dean of the Graduate School, may not change following the commencement of the candidacy examination. In the event of a suspension of proceedings, or a failure of the examination, the composition of the committee may only be changed in the presence of a legitimate extenuating circumstance (illness, departure from the institution, sabbatical leave, etc.) which prevents the participation of one or more of its members.
Written Examination: The examining committee shall convene at a planning meeting with the student. During the first part of the planning meeting, the committee determines the schedule for the process and establishes the date for the oral component. The student is then excused from the meeting and the committee develops and discusses the exam content.
There are three alternative forms for the written component, as follows:
Form 1: The members of the committee submit questions or problems addressing the objectives of the exam. The questions are discussed and agreed upon at the planning meeting.
The major professor administers the written examination. Usually, one-half day is allocated to questions submitted by each examiner. Upon completion by the student, the examination questions are reviewed and graded by the committee members who prepared them. The committee then reviews the entire examination.
Form 2: The student prepares a written report on a topic or problem assigned by the examining committee. The topic or problem must meet the objectives of this examination and its content cannot be directly related to the student’s thesis research. The student has approximately one month to develop a thorough understanding of the assigned topic and prepare a written report. The report is reviewed by the committee members and committee chair.
Form 3: The student prepares and defends a written proposal of future research likely to be carried out during his or her Ph.D. project. This research prospectus must be presented to the examining committee two weeks prior to the candidacy exam and should include preliminary studies supporting the feasibility of the proposed research. The exam will test the candidate’s understanding of concepts directly related to his or her immediate area of research, knowledge of prior related research that has been conducted by others, his or her ability to design and interpret experiments in this area, and capacity to think and write independently and to present work plans orally in a clear and rational manner. The report is reviewed by the committee members and committee chair. This option is available only to doctoral students in the Department of Chemistry.
Oral Examination: Following the written examination under Form 1, completion of the report under Form 2, or completion of proposal under Form 3, the committee meets with the student for an oral examination usually lasting two hours. However, the duration can be longer if required. The questions may address the report or other areas appropriate to the objectives of the examination, including subject matter in allied fields. At the conclusion of the examination period, the student examinee and observers are excused from the room and the examination committee determines whether the student has passed the examination. Unanimous agreement is required to pass the student. If less than unanimous agreement is reached, the student is considered to have failed the first doctoral candidacy examination. The student can request a second examination which must take place no more than one year from the date of the first examination. A student is considered to have passed the second examination if there is not more than one negative vote. A student who has failed the second examination is terminated from the graduate program.
Thesis or Dissertation Defense Examination
At the conclusion of the study and research program, each master of science and doctoral candidate must successfully defend the thesis or dissertation. The objectives of the defense examination are (1) to probe the validity and significance of the data and information presented; (2) to assess the student as a critical thinker and data analyst; (3) to evaluate the student’s scientific creativity, including the student’s ability to relate research results to scientific theory within the chosen field; and (4) to present the results effectively in writing.
Upon the recommendation of the appropriate department chair, the Dean of the Graduate School appoints the defense examination committee. It consists of members of the steering committee and at least one additional faculty member for the master’s degree examination and two additional faculty members or other qualified persons for the doctoral degree examination. Additionally, the Dean of the Graduate School appoints a committee chair who is not from the student’s degree program.
This oral examination principally covers the material in the thesis or dissertation, as well as literature and information relating to it. At least 14 days prior to the date of the oral examination, the student is required to submit a final document to all members of the examination committee. Within five days of the oral exam, the major professor confirms with the chair of the examining committee that the oral examination should proceed as scheduled. If the major professor determines that the written document does not meet the standards established for the thesis or dissertation exam, the exam may be postponed by the Dean of the Graduate School at the recommendation of the chair of the student’s exam committee.
The role of the examination committee chair is to manage the defense, ensure its integrity, and represent the interests of the faculty and student. Any member of the faculty may be an observer. The student examinee may invite a silent student observer to attend the examination. The composition of a defense examination committee, once formally appointed and constituted by the Dean of the Graduate School, may not change following the commencement of the defense examination. In the event of a suspension of proceedings, or a failure on the first attempt of the defense examination, the composition of the committee may only be changed in the presence of a legitimate extenuating circumstance (illness, departure from the institution, sabbatical leave, etc.) which prevents the participation of one or more of its members.
The defense examination usually lasts two hours, although this time period may be extended as required. At the completion of the examination, the candidate and observers are excused from the room and the examination committee determines whether the candidate has successfully defended the thesis or dissertation. The committee chair has the option to vote. Unanimous agreement is required to pass the student. If less than unanimous agreement is reached, the student is considered to have failed the first defense examination. A student who fails the first defense may request a second defense which must take place no more than one year from the date of the first examination. At the second defense, the student has passed the defense if there is not more than one negative vote. A student who has failed the second defense is terminated from the graduate program.
Standards for Theses, Dissertations and Professional Experience Reports
Collegewide standards for theses and dissertations are developed and specified by the Moon Library faculty in consultation with the various departments and are available online:
In addition to degree programs for matriculated students, ESF offers study towards the earning of advanced certificates for professionals in:
ESF has formal agreements for the following concurrent degrees in conjunction with Syracuse University:
- the master of public administration (M.P.A.) in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs,
- the master of arts (M.A.) or master of science (M.A.) in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications,
- the master of science (M.S.) in the School of Education, and
- the master of business administration (M.B.A.) in the School of Management.
Other concurrent degree programs may be developed with approval by the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School. To be eligible for admission, matriculated students must complete at least twelve credits of graduate-level coursework and earn a 3.75 grade point average or better at ESF and complete the application materials required by the particular program.
The joint Juris Doctor (J.D.) and Forest and Natural Resources Management (FNRM) Master of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) degree is designed for Syracuse University students who are interested in legal careers involved with forest, natural, and environmental resources. As human demands on the environment increase, society needs attorneys who understand the economic, demographic, social, and political issues that drive resource use allocation. Students learn the complexities of managing both resources and people recognizing that resource and environmental decisions involve value-driven conflicts. The degree provides a comprehensive foundation in forest, natural, and environmental resources issues and an understanding of both biophysical and social science.
Students enrolled in the joint J.D./FNRM degree program must earn a minimum of ninety-six (96) credits at both the College of Law and ESF. The J.D. normally requires eighty-seven (87) credits, but joint-degree students must take at least seventy-two (72) Law School credits. Students can transfer fifteen (15) credits from ESF to the College of Law. The M.P.S. degree requires thirty (30) credits, a minimum of twenty-four (24) of which must be ESF courses and six (6) of which may be applied by transfer from coursework at the College of Law.
Students can apply to the joint J.D./FNRM degree program at two points: 1) simultaneously, before entering the College of Law, or 2) after completing the fall semester of study at the College of Law. Applicants applying simultaneously must complete a College of Law application and an ESF graduate application. Applicants applying after enrolling at the College of Law must complete an “internal” College of Law application and ESF graduate application.
Graduate students at Syracuse University may also consider the certificate of graduate studies in environmental decision-making offered through the Department of Environmental Studies.
ESF and the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University provide exchange opportunities so that graduate students can take advantage of special courses, faculty, and research facilities found at the two institutions. Cornell University is in Ithaca, N.Y., about 50 miles southwest of Syracuse.
ESF and the SUNY Upstate Medical University provide opportunities for graduate students at each institution to enroll in graduate coursework or pursue coordinated M.D./Ph.D. degrees in environmental medicine. SUNY Upstate Medical University is located within walking distance of ESF.
Graduate students interested in these opportunities should contact the ESF Office of Instruction and Graduate Studies.
ESF graduate students have engaged in concurrent degree programs with Syracuse University for three decades. As of 2009, ESF graduate students may now undertake formal concurrent graduate degrees in two different departments or academic units within the College.
Concurrent degrees magnify the strengths of academic program offerings within ESF. Pairing an academic degree (Ph.D. or M.S.) with a professional degree (M.L.A., M.P.S., M.F.), or pairing two professional degrees (M.L.A., M.P.S., M.F.) are attractive choices for ESF students. Please consult with individual departments for details regarding specific degree or program combinations. Concurrent degrees require a minimum of 80 percent of the credit hour requirements of each of the paired degrees. Students may apply for admission to both degrees at matriculation, or they may apply to add the second degree following completion of at least 12 credit hours of coursework with a minimum GPA of 3.5. Graduate students interested in these opportunities should contact the ESF Office of Instruction and Graduate Studies.