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Master of Science

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 resources 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 Digital Commons.

Communication Skills

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. Credits 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 graduate education. All graduate students at ESF are required to participate in graduate seminars, as follows:

  1. 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 the SUNY Upstate Medical University.
  2. Students completing the Master's degree are required to present a "capstone seminar" on their thesis. 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 defense and should be attended by the student's steering committee. Each seminar is open to the College community and will be announced College-wide to encourage attendance by students and faculty.

MS Thesis or PhD Dissertation Proposal

All students participating in a Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy degree program must complete a thesis or dissertation proposal for approval by the members of the student's steering committee. The major professor and each of the graduate steering committee members must approve the proposal using the Graduate School's on-line dissertation proposal approval form. MS thesis proposals should generally be completed two semesters prior to defense of the thesis; PhD dissertation proposals must be completed to achieve candidacy (in concert or in parallel with the candidacy examination process). A department may, at their discretion, incorporate an oral defense of the dissertation proposal as a component of, or substitute for other forms of the oral component of the Graduate School's required candidacy examination.

Each Department/Program may have requirements that exceed those specified broadly in this policy; however, they must be consistent with the Graduate School's requirements. Departmental requirements beyond the minimum stated here must be specified in writing and submitted to the Graduate School as well as listed in departmental web pages. It is the responsibility of the student to be aware of, and comply with, all Graduate School and Departmental dissertation proposal requirements.

Academic Performance

All graduate students are required to maintain at least a 3.000 cumulative grade point average (4.000 =A) for graduate level courses. Students who do not maintain this average, or who receive two or more grades of Unsatisfactory (U) for work on the thesis or project, will be placed on probation or suspended from ESF by the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the College Subcommittee on Academic Standards.

Credit Hour Load

To meet academic requirements, graduate students must be registered for at least one credit each semester, excluding summers, from the first semester of matriculation until all degree requirements have been completed. Students are required to register for at least one credit in the summer if they will complete all requirements during that time. There is no full-time credit hour load to meet academic requirements.

To qualify for various forms of financial support, the following credit hour loads are defined: Graduate students who hold an assistantship must be registered for at least nine credits each semester while holding such an award. Graduate students not holding an assistantship are considered full-time if they are registered for at least 12 credits each semester.

Graduate students, holding an assistantship or not, in their last semester of study who have met all academic requirements except for the completion of their thesis or an examination may be considered full-time if registered for at least one credit and have their major professor verify they are working full-time on the completion of degree requirements.

Transfer Credit

Credit hours appropriate to the graduate degree in which a minimum grade of B was earned from an accredited institution can be transferred to the college, but grades and grade points cannot be transferred.

  1. Up to six credits of graduate course work not used to complete another degree may be accepted toward completion of a master's degree as approved by the steering committee.
  2. Students may transfer no more than nine credits of credit-bearing non-degree ESF course work to graduate degree programs.

All transfer credit will remain tentative until official, final transcripts are received. It is the student's responsibility to ensure that official, final transcripts are sent to and received by the college.

Time Limits

Graduate students must complete all requirements for the Master's degree within three years of the first date of matriculation.

Graduate Program of Study (3B)

The Graduate Program of Study is, in its simplest sense, a list of courses and competencies comprising the required elements of the particular degree program.  It is unique to each graduate student, and serves as both a “plan” which lays out the intended array of courses and research needed to achieve their educational goals, as well as a “contract” with the college specifying each of the required courses, credit hours, experiences (such as seminars or internships), examinations, thesis or dissertation documents, and skill or knowledge requirements necessary to complete the degree.

Your program of study will include the sequence of courses you must complete and a plan for research.  The program of study, developed by you with the advice and approval of your major professor and other members of your steering committee, must be submitted to your Department Chair for approval, and then forwarded to the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School.  It is recommended that the Program of Study should be developed during the first semester of study in the graduate program, and should be filed with the Office of Instruction and Graduate Studies no later than the end of the second semester of matriculation. The program of study is not inflexible; it can and often is revised during the course of graduate studies.  Changes to the program of study must be approved by your major professor, Department Chair, and the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School, and may be formalized either by use of a “Petition to the Faculty” form, or by resubmitting a new or revised Form 3B.

Major Professor

The student’s major professor is appointed by the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School, upon the recommendation of the Department Chairperson. 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 Chairperson. However, every effort should be made to expedite appointment of a major professor as soon as possible.

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  program of study, 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 drafts, including a complete review of the thesis before the final copy is presented for defense.

Steering Committee

The steering committee for Master of Science is composed of the major professor and at least two faculty members or other qualified persons. Other qualified people include faculty at other institutions or other recognized professionals. The student’s steering committee is appointed by the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School upon the recommendation of the Department Chairperson. 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 program of study (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 students's program. The steering committee guides the development of the thesis, including a review of the thesis before the final copy is presented for defense.

Thesis Defense

At the conclusion of the study and research program, each master's candidate completing a thesis must successfully defend the thesis. The objectives of the defense examination are (1) to probe the validity and significance of the data and information presented in the thesis or dissertation, (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.

Students should follow the academic guidelines for timely completion of their degree.

Upon the recommendation of the appropriate Department Chairperson, the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School appoints the thesis defense examination committee. It consists of members of the steering committee and at least one additional faculty member for the master's degree examination. Additionally, the Associate Provost for Instruction and Dean of the Graduate School appoints a committee chair who is not from the student's degree program.

This oral examination covers principally the material in the thesis as well as literature and information relating to the thesis. 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 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. Unanimous agreement is required to pass the student. If less than unanimous agreement is reached, the student is considered to have failed the first thesis defense examination. A student who fails the first defense may request a second defense. At the second defense, the student has passed the defense if there is no more than one negative vote. A student who has failed the second defense is terminated from the graduate program.