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Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences

Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences

FAQ - Entering the Program: The Beginning

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(1) When I was admitted my admission letter listed one or more faculty members as interim mentors. What is an interim mentor?

Because our MS and MA programs are thesis-based, it’s essential that an appropriate person or persons be available to serve as a student’s research mentor.  The research statement you provided with your application described your research interests so that the most appropriate faculty mentors could be identified.  Having an interim mentor ensures there is at least one faculty member that is willing and able to support your research intellectually.  Once here as a member of the graduate program, you are free to recruit any graduate faculty member to serve as your mentor, assuming that person is interested. 

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(2) What type of help should a student expect from their mentors?

Mentors come in all shapes and sizes and should serve a number of roles in your professional development.  Perhaps most important is having one or more mentors that intellectually and, in many instances, financially support your research.  As a soon-to-be-functioning independent environmental scientist, manager, policy developer, or educator, your mentors should provide the professional training you need to be independent.  Those mentors should also assist you in the conceptual development of your thesis topic and your research design.  If your thesis topic is closely aligned with a mentor, that person might have grant monies to help support your research-related expenses.  That person, assuming current funding does not exist, should be willing to help co-develop research proposals to acquire the necessary funding.  Your research mentors might complement each other and serve different functions.  One faculty member might have the conceptual background, another the analytical and statistical skills, while a third might represent a local environmental agency that will ultimately benefit from your work.

Mentors should also serve as the gate-keepers to your profession.  They should introduce you to potential employers, take you to scientific conferences, and provide you with the exposure needed for later gainful employment or for a subsequent doctoral-level degree.

Faculty members may also serve as academic advisors, people to help you select the most appropriate collection of courses to both prepare you for the research and for your future career.

Rarely does one person possess all the professional and personal skills to support these many needs.  It’s in part for these reasons that your graduate thesis committee must be composed of at least 3 graduate faculty members.  And it’s also for these reasons that engaging many mentors as possible does you the most good.  A faculty member with a low “empathy quotient” might not be real helpful when it comes to dealing interpersonal problems, but she or he might be the world’s foremost authority on mathematically modeling trophic transfer in complex ecosystems.  The keeper of the research purse-strings might have poor diplomacy skills.

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(3) How are decisions concerning graduate student financial support made?

See question concerning the admission process above.

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(4) What is the difference between a Graduate Assistantship, a Teaching Assistantship, and a Research Assistantship?

Graduate students can be financially supported with stipends a number of ways. Occasionally faculty members have grant monies to support a Research Assistant (RA). These dollars are awarded directly by the grant-holder, and because these assistantships come with contractual obligations defined by the funded proposal, students receiving an RAship typically work toward accomplishing the objectives prescribed by the proposal. With forethought, however, graduate students often relate their thesis research to the funded research. Such a situation provides a student with a modest salary and results contributing to their thesis.

Teaching Assistantships (TAs) are sometimes awarded to second year (or beyond) graduate students to teach an undergraduate course. To qualify, a graduate student must have completed a minimum of 18 graduate credit hours in their discipline. Our TAs occasionally teach general education science courses or laboratory companion sections for courses in Biology.

Finally graduate students can be hired as Graduate Assistants (GAs). GAs are funded to assist faculty teach courses (teaching Graduate Assistantships). These are $3,000 for a 20-hour per week commitment or less during a 15-week semester. Teaching GAs assist the faculty member in charge and help facilitate discussions, laboratory exercises, field trips, and grading. Teaching GAs are funded through monies that come from Academic Affairs. We do have “research GAs” that are either funded through faculty grants or from special awards that come from the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP). Research GAs are typically $3,000 awards and, like RAships, are awarded by the faculty member holding the award, and hire graduate students to work on an established research project.

Teaching GAships and tuition waivers are competitive and awarded through a prescribed process. (See above.)

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(5) How does one establish Florida State residency and what advantage does being a resident provide?

If you are an out-of-state resident (someone that does not declare Florida as its State of permanent residency or someone that is financial dependent upon someone else that is not a permanent resident of Florida), it is critical that you take the appropriate steps to establish residency as soon as possible. Establishing residency requires that you reside in Florida for a complete 12 months; demonstrating that you live here requires that a number of documents be presented (e.g., vehicle registration, voter’s registration, driver’s license, lease or mortgage, etc.). These items must be predated one complete year before you can become a resident. This means if you’re a first fall semester graduate student and don’t take these measures before the first day of the fall semester, you won’t be declared a Florida resident for the subsequent fall semester; this means another semester of high out-of-state tuition. Please visit the following web site for details:

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(6) How long does it usually take a student to finish the program?

The MS Environmental Science and MA Environmental Studies Programs are designed to be completed in 2 years by a fully committed, full-time student. The completion of the 36 credit hours required to graduate, taken 9 credit hours per semester for 4 consecutive semesters (two Fall and two Spring Semesters), will get you through the program. Unfortunately, completion of the degree typically takes somewhat longer simply because the time needed to complete the research for and the writing of the thesis is difficult to constrain. Some students “hit the ground running” and begin the data gathering in their first spring semester or, more commonly, the first summer after the first two semesters. Delays can be caused by unforeseen factors: snags or problems associated with field or laboratory work, field work requiring longer intervals of time, or changes in research direction or focus. Delays can also be caused by human short-comings: student procrastination, indecision related to which project to pursue, and irresponsible mentors. Perhaps the most frequently encountered stumbling block is trouble with the writing of the thesis. Writing is often a painful process for students and professionals alike, and this can cause significant delays. The program has defined a set of “milestones to graduation” – a series of deadlines and products that, if followed well, will get you to completion in a timely fashion. We do have students finishing at the end of their second summer (two full years); many others finish the following fall, one semester beyond the 2-year term; and we do have students that hang on for years. In these latter situations, students are either very part-time or they leave full-time status behind for a job and have trouble managing the demands of employment and their thesis.

The best advice I can provide is to seek out good mentors and work with your graduate faculty to keep you on track. It’s easy for a faculty member to lose track of a student and their progress if that student isn’t regularly checking in, meeting with, or working with their mentors.