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M.A. in Conservation Biology

The M.A. application deadline is January 15 each year.

The Master of Arts in Conservation Biology focuses on biological sciences and integrates environmental policy and economics concepts. This interdisciplinary approach provides students with a range of options for building their careers. Graduates may continue their education in a Ph.D. program or enter the job market directly as scientific researchers, teachers or administrators in a NGO or government agency dedicated to the conservation of natural resources. The M.A. program at E3B is project-based, meaning that all students must complete a capstone project as a major requirement for the degree. Students have the option of tailoring their course work to develop their interests, and to craft a capstone project that allows them to gain additional skills and experience.

For additional information about the program please contact the M.A. program advisor, Dr. Josh Drew.

For additional information on the M.A. program, refer to pages 18 to 25 in the E3B Grad Student Handbook

News! There is a new Con Bio Scholarship that may be available to cover M.A. studentsí tuition expenses up to $6000. Please contact Josh Drew, the M.A. Program Advisor


All students need to find a project advisor, and to set up a committee as follows:
Advisors must be selected in the first semester of study. Advisors need to be E3B/EICES faculty members. If you are uncertain of a faculty memberís status, check with the Director of Administration & Finance (DAAF), DGS, or the MAPA. All students should have identified an advisor by the last day of class in the Fall term of their first year. If you are having problems finding an advisor please contact the MAPA.
A committee with 3 members (including advisor) must be formed before seriously planning for your capstone project.
2 members must be affiliated with EICES. You must have one core CU/E3B faculty member on your committee, unless otherwise approved by the E3B chair and MAPA.
Ideally, the 3 members will be identified in the Fall term of the first year, but if that is not possible all students should have identified at least 2 members of their committees by the last day of the Add/Drop period in the Spring term of their first year. You should inform the MAPA about the composition of your committee as soon as any changes occur.

To earn their M.A. degree students must complete:
2 Resident Units (A Resident Unit (RU) is equal to one semester at full-time tuition.)
43 credits
A balance of elective courses (see below).
All students must complete the following Core Courses:
1) Fundamentals of Ecology G6112 and Fundamentals of Evolution G6110 (with option to place out*)
2) Two semesters of Conservation Biology (EEEB G6905 and EEEB G6990), 3 credits each.
3) Environmental Politics, Policy and Management, (SIPA U6241 or SIPA U4727), 3 credits.
4) Four Semesters of Research Seminar (EEEB G6300), 1 credit per semester. Students are exonerated for one of the four semesters if they spend a semester in the field (Research Semester). Consult with the MAPA if you need to be exonerated from registering.
5) Project development seminar (EEEB G4850) for 3 credits.
*A student can petition to place out of this requirement. The petition is evaluated by the studentís advisor, the MAPA, and the Chair and if significantly advanced training in ecology and evolution can be demonstrated, this requirement will be waived. Students that are granted the waiver will still need to make up for the 4 credits by taking additional elective courses.
Core courses account for 20 credits. Core course credits are reduced to 19 when taking a Research Semester, 16 when opting out of one of the Fundamentals courses, and 15 when taking a Research Semester while at the same time opting out of one of the Fundamentals courses.
To fulfill the program requirements, students must complete the required credits with a combination of elective courses, directed readings and directed research.
Please note that elective courses, directed readings and directed research fall within one of the following categories:
1. Conservation science
2. Environmental policy
3. Education and communication
The M.A. in Conservation Biology provides for flexibility in tailoring the lineup of courses that is most appropriate for the studentís interests, but it should include both Conservation science and Environmental policy courses. Make sure that you plan accordingly to fulfill this requirement, and check with the MAPA to make sure that you are registering for classes that are considered acceptable in each category. Work with your advisor and the MAPA to decide on a set of electives that best suits your interests and career goals.

Students can choose to substitute one of the electives in Conservation science with a directed reading or a directed research. Students cannot substitute any of the required electives in Environmental Policy with either a directed research or a directed reading.

Considering an average of 3 credits per course, 5 electives will account for about 15 credits.

To make up for the total credits required for graduation, the student is free to select any additional course, directed reading and/or directed research, after discussing the matter with the MAPA.

The list on the following page provides examples of courses that have been offered in the past and that may be used to fulfill the elective requirements. Other courses may also be available and eligible as a requirement for the M.A. program; please consult with the Director of Administration & Finance (DAAF) about the future availability of specific courses at E3B, and check with the Universityís Academic Calendar for schedules in all other Schools and Departments. Consult with the MAPA about the eligibility of specific courses as Conservation science or Environmental policy electives; when consulting with the MAPA it is useful that you obtain the syllabus of the class in which you are interested beforehand. Please note also that not all courses are offered every year, so please plan accordingly.

If you would like more information about elective courses please contact the MAPA.


Conservation Science:
Forest Ecology
Disease Ecology and Conservation
Restoration and Urban Ecology
Race: Tangled Historical-Biological Concept
Evolution I
Introduction to Conservation Genetics
Teaching Conservation Biology
Fundamentals of GIS in Ecology and Conservation
Managing and adapting climate
Global Assessment and Monitoring Using Remote Sensing
Environmental data analysis and modeling
Marine and Coastal Ecology
Marine Conservation Biology

Environmental Policy:
Economics of the Environment
Environmental Science for Sustainable Development
The Geopolitics of Energy
Alternative Energy Resources
The Economics of Energy
History of American Ecology & Environmentalism
Quantitative Methods-Energy/Policy Analysis
Urban Energy Systems & Policy
Law, Economics and Development
Environmental Science for Sustainable Development
Human Ecology and Sustainable Development
Community Development Policy
Environment, Conflict and Resolution Strategies

Education and Communication:
Science in Secondary school
Science in Childhood education
Science in the Environment
Structure of Science Knowledge and Curriculum Design
Middle School Living Environment Methods Laboratory
Introduction to Science Education Practice
Neurobiology of Consciousness, Constructivism, and Information Processing
Science Curriculum Improvement in the Elementary School
The Nature and Practice of science
Science, Technology & Society
Selected Topics and Issues in Science Education
Science Teacher Education
Curriculum and Pedagogy in Science Education


The Capstone Project (CP) gives students the opportunity to design, participate, and carry out a research, outreach, or education activity as the culmination of their training at E3B. The CP is designed to be flexible, allowing students to explore a variety of activities and potential outputs. Students must work with their advisors, committees, and the MAPA in identifying a suitable project. A project proposal must be approved by the committee and the MAPA by the end of the first year. Generally, the MAPA will make the final decision about the proposed work and approve proposals that (a) are considered suitable for a M.A. degree project, (b) are in line with the study program of the student and (c) there is a suitable Advisor willing to mentor the student.
Due to the flexible nature of the CP, the final outcome of your work can take many forms (see below). However, all projects must include: 1) a final written summary and 2) a presentation in a special research seminar.
Examples of non-thesis CP include but are not limited to:
- Design of and/or significant work in courses, curricula or other educational activities
- Design of and/or significant work in museum, botanical garden, or zoo exhibits
- Design of and/or significant work in outreach programs, including innovative media products
- Development of software, web-based, or other forms of innovative analytical, research, or educational tools
For these students the CP should be a formal research thesis (see below for more details on the M.A. thesis); the final manuscript of a research thesis will fulfill the requirement for the written project summary.
A research-based CP can be based on research in the field, the laboratory, and/or reviews of the literature. Work with your advisor and the MAPA in laying out a course of work that will help you package your projects for publication. Students doing other kinds of work for their CP should submit to the MAPA a written summary of their work and its outcomes by the Wednesday before commencement. A seminar will be scheduled for the last week of the spring term for all graduating students to present their projects to the broader E3B community. We strongly encourage products that are publishable in the peer-reviewed literature, especially for students wishing to pursue a Ph.D. or a career focused on research. We also highly recommend depositing the final version in the Columbia Academic Commons, an open access repository for scholarly works.
As above, ideally all projects will have a publishable or otherwise public outcome. Students should agree with their committee to a timeline and to milestones for the completion of the CP work and the submission of the final summary. All students must submit a final copy of their summary to their committee at least two weeks prior to its May due date. This will give committee members the two weeks that they are entitled to have for review of the final version, which must incorporate their suggestions from previous drafts.
Completing a project and finishing a summary requires considerable time and effort. We urge students to plan accordingly. Students make several revisions and have several committee meetings or meetings with individual committee members before producing the polished final version submitted to the committee 2 weeks before Commencement. Considering each of these revision cycles may take 2-3 weeks, work a schedule backward from the pre-Commencement deadline for deposit of the final version in the department. As a general rule plan to submit a working final draft to your committee by mid-March.
Students cannot assume committee members will be able to review a final draft in less than two weeks; as readers, they must have 14 days. However, if all the committee members are willing to take less time than 14 days, the students may be entitled to a little extra time. Please note that agreeing to take less time for reading is an extreme sign of courtesy. Faculty members are very busy at the end of the term, and they may not be able to be so flexible (nor are they in any way expected to be).
Students who do not complete their CP work and submit their final summaries in a timely manner will not be cleared for graduation, and their graduation will be postponed to October. Students whose graduation is postponed may need to pay additional tuition.


Students aiming for a thesis-based capstone project must develop a research proposal during the first semester of their first year. At the end of the semester, the research proposal will be submitted to the potential advisor and the MAPA for approval.

Students pursuing a thesis-based CP will spend a considerable portion of their registered time working on research that leads to a final thesis. Research work for the thesis is generally carried out within the context of ongoing research activities of the E3B Department or the CERC partner institutions. Students are also welcome to discuss with the MAPA research options outside the Department and the CERC consortium. Students should be able to conduct their research work within an external project as long as (a) the research is considered suitable for a Master degree thesis, (b) it is in line with the study program of the student and (c) there is a suitable Advisor willing to mentor the student.

Field work and data collection for the thesis is generally carried out and completed during the summer between the first and the second year of the M.A. program. Students can apply to the MAPA to request that the field work and data collection period be extended into one of the two semesters of the second year (research semester). Requests for a research semester must be submitted to the MAPA by the end of the summer semester between the first and the second year and need to be clearly motivated and in line with the research plan. Students will receive up to 12 credits for their field work, data collection and research activity; actual number of credits will depend on the overall work load.

To complete their course requirements, students in the thesis-based program submit a thesis to their committee members. The committee will evaluate the thesis and will clear the student for graduation upon satisfactory result.

The M.A. thesis is traditionally shorter than the Ph.D. dissertation, but should still be of publishable quality. The general requirements for formatting are the same as those of the Ph.D. dissertation, which are posted online at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gsas/sub/dissertation/guidelines/formatting/index.html

Most theses follow a journal manuscript format; that is, they include an introduction, materials and methods, results, discussion and conclusion sections. Students should work with their committee to develop the formatting expectations for their thesis well in advance of its submission for final reading.

The thesis is due for deposit in the department on the Wednesday before Commencement.

In April students in the Thesis-based program receive a form which needs to be signed by their advisor and committee members to approve the thesis and recommend the student for degree conferral. This form is due the Wednesday before Commencement. It is the studentís responsibility to obtain the signatures from all the committee members. If a member will be out of the country, please make appropriate arrangements in advance, and note that in such a case, a faxed signature will likely be acceptable (confirm with the DAAF in advance however).

Students should agree with their committee to a timeline and to milestones for the submission of thesis revisions. All students must submit a final copy of their thesis to their committee at least two weeks prior to its May due date. This will give committee members the two weeks that they are entitled to have for review of the final version of the thesis, which must incorporate their suggestions from previous drafts.

As with capstone projects, theses require substantial amounts of time to compile. As a general rule plan to submit a working final draft to your committee by mid-March in order to allow the committee members sufficient time to suggest revision.. Students cannot assume committee members will be able to review a final draft in less than two weeks; as readers, they must have 14 days. Please note that agreeing to take less time for reading is an extreme sign of courtesy. Faculty members are very busy at the end of the term, and they may not be able to be so flexible (nor are they in any way expected to be).
Students who do not submit their thesis in a timely manner will not be cleared for graduation, and their graduation will be postponed to October. Students whose graduation is postponed may need to pay additional tuition.
Students will need to submit a bound hard copy and an electronic version of their thesis to the E3B ADA by the Wednesday before Commencement. Black thesis/dissertation springback binders are available from the Columbia bookstore. Electronic submission is preferably done on a CD as theses may eventually be put on the E3B website for public access. Students must turn in the signed approval form along with the final bound and e-versions of the thesis, all at one time, on the Wednesday before Commencement to the DAAF. (The DAAF will provide the specific date for submission of the thesis to the department by the beginning of April.)

Fieldwork is generally carried out during the summer semester between year 1 and year 2. Students will get up to 12 credits for their fieldwork by registering for directed research in the following Fall semester. The faculty recognizes that it is sometimes difficult for students to complete all of their field research for the M.A. thesis in just one summer. Therefore, thesis-based M.A. students may request a Research semester, which allows them to spend one of their four semesters in the field conducting research, in addition to the summer period.
Whether it is wise for a student to extend fieldwork in this manner is a decision to be taken carefully in consultation with the studentís entire committee and the MAPA. A careful review of any outstanding core requirement will be performed before authorizing a student to take a Research semester. Students who spend one semester in the field will not be expected to register for the Research Seminar during that semester.

M.A. students have the option of registering with the Department for paid Reading Assistantship in undergraduate courses. Reading Assistants support a course instructor throughout a semester. The Reading Assistantship will allow students to develop additional skills for a variety of professional directions that they may choose to follow. Reading Assistantships are voluntary and limited in number based on the needs of the department and allocations from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The DAAF will send out a request during the spring semester for interested students to indicate their availability during the following academic year.

Pending consultation with and approval of the MAPA, students may use internships as substitutions for elective coursework. Registration for Directed Research ensures that credit will be given for the work.

There are a limited number of required courses in the biology and policy categories that can be satisfied through Directed Readings: that limit is 1 course in each category, unless otherwise stated in the track-specific requirements. Students must secure approval of such a substitution in advance, using the Directed Readings form. Such substitutions will be approved only if it can be demonstrated that Directed Readings provides a learning experience that is not available in course format.

Directed Readings used for thesis work are not acceptable as a substitute for an elective course.

At least once a semester it is good practice to schedule a meeting with the MAPA to evaluate progress and discuss future options. The meetings are informal, but will help students keep on track with their studies.
During the meeting the MAPA will update the studentís records on his/her coursework, committee members, research planning and progress, etc. This information allows the faculty to assess a studentís progress at regular intervals, and to intervene for both the studentsí and the graduate programsí benefit when conflicts or problems arise.

Pending the availability of funds (see Appendix 2 for an update), M.A. students can receive up to $450 from the department in support of travel to a scientific meeting (approved by the MAPA) any time during their 2-year studentship. In most cases, students are likely to attend meetings in their second year, when they have the greatest chance of presenting their own research (which is strongly encouraged!). The student must be enrolled in the M.A. program in order to be eligible for reimbursement.
Reimbursements for travel and business expenses will be made AFTER the trip has occurred. Lodging, travel expenses and registration fees can be reimbursed. To receive reimbursement, you must:
i. provide documentation that you actually attended the conference (e.g. a registration receipt).
ii. submit your Travel Business Expense reports within 2 weeks of arriving back to the USA.
iii. fill out your forms online from the Controllerís website at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/controller/ under Ďforms and tablesí.
iv. submit original receipts. If you pay with a credit card, you will also need to submit a credit card statement showing the expense(s) in question.
v. if you make purchases in a foreign country, you must get the currency conversion for the exact dollar amount. Use http://www.oanda.com/, this is the only site Accounts Payable will honor.

Some general words of advice regarding reimbursement procedures:

Advance planning is critical: inform yourself in advance of the expenses that can be covered, and how to process the paperwork to get a reimbursement. The DAAF or the Administrative Assistant can help you here. If established procedures are not followed, your account with the University may be jeopardized (you may not get reimbursed), especially since these transactions may be audited by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). It takes about two weeks for the University to process payments after submission of documentation. During the summer, be aware that June 30 is the end of the fiscal year. If you attended a conference before June 10, be sure to present your paperwork for reimbursement by June 10 at the latest. When you travel, always keep all your original receipts. They are essential.

Admission Information

A background in ecology and evolutionary biology, including undergraduate courses in introductory biology and upper-division ecology, evolution, and genetics (or equivalents).

GRE general test. Biology Subject test strongly recommended.

Applicants are encouraged to contact potential faculty mentors before applying. See a complete list of faculty members here.

Application Form

For further information on how to apply, please follow the link below, which will lead you to the 'Prospective Students' page of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) of Columbia University. GSAS manages all of the administrative aspect of our graduate programs.

On the GSAS web site, you will be able to fill out an online application by following the link to the M.A. programs.

Prospective Students

If you are ready to apply and want to go straight to the application web site, follow this link instead:



There are no fellowships available for the Masters program. All applicants are strongly encouraged to apply for outside sources of funding (i.e. EPA Science to Achieve Results Fellowship Program, NSF Graduate Fellowship Program).

Frequently Asked Questions

Can't find your answer? Check the FAQ page of the Graduate School of Art and Sciences (GSAS) website for additional information on administrative matters and on the registration process.

Alternatively send us an Email.

1. What is the application deadline?

The M.A. application deadline is January 15th.

2. Can I apply for Spring admission?

There is no Spring admission for the M.A. program.

3. Is there a part-time option for the M.A. program?

Yes. Further information can be found on the GSAS web site.

4. How competitive is the admissions process?

Admission is competitive. In recent years, about 30% of applicants were accepted into the program - but the applicants are a self-selected and talented pool of potential students.

5. Should I visit?

Visiting Columbia is an excellent idea. A visit will allow you to get a first-hand and direct impression of our program, department, faculty and students. It will also help you to decide if New York City is for you. Before coming to visit, arrange appointments with faculty whose interests match yours.

6. Does  Columbia provide housing for MA students? 

Housing is not guaranteed for Master's students, but students who do not get campus housing are generally able to find a place nearby.

7. What is an RU?

RU, or Residence Unit, and ER, or Extended Residence, are registration categories tied into tuition fees. A Residence Unit is equivalent to full-time registration for a semester. 2 RU's are a mandatory requirement for the MA degree (in Year 1). In the second year M.A. students register for Extended Residence, which allows them to register for classes at a reduced cost relative to the RU tuition.

8. What type of employment would I qualify for after the M.A. degree?

Although our program is relatively young, we can report that nearly 100 per cent of our graduates are either employed or have been accepted into a Ph.D. program. Our students are pursuing careers in government, NGOs, education, and research.

9. How many students are in the program?

There are currently 23 students in the program.

10. Can MA students fund their education through teaching assistantships?

No, this is not possible at Columbia . Nevertheless M.A. students are offered the possiblity of registering with the Department for paid Reading Assistantship in undergraduate courses.

11. How long does it take to finish the MA degree? Two years. Part time registration is possible, which would extend this period, but the degree must be finished within 4 years.

12. Can adjunct faculty be an MA student's thesis advisor?

Yes, any faculty member listed in the GSAS handbook is an approved E3B advisor.

13. You encourage perspective students to seek faculty mentors for their future thesis research. How do I go about this?

A good starting point is the faculty page of the E3B website. You'll find short bios which include research interests. Send an Email the the faculty members that share your same intersts and inquire about projects and opportunities.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get replies, all of our faculty have pretty busy schedules and may need a reminder to follow up. To ensure better response rates, make sure your emails are stimulating and clearly state your interests.



© Steffen Foerster