Plan of Study

Graduate students must complete core courses and have the opportunity to take advanced level courses throughout their studies at Princeton. Generally, first- and second-year students take six core courses, these include a sequence of fundamental papers, the journal club, a course on professional issues and the field Tropical Ecology course. 

First Year Timeline

At the onset of your first year of graduate study, you will meet with an advisory committee consisting of three pre-assigned faculty members to discuss your aims and academic background. This committee might recommend specific courses to remedy any possible academic deficiencies you may have. In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, you will choose a temporary adviser with whom you will plan your academic and research programs.

In the spring semester, you will meet with your committee members to discuss your progress, and any new insights or interests that you have developed and wish to pursue. You will solidify any summer research plans. Upon completing your first year, you will assemble a dissertation committee that replaces the advisory committee. This committee should include advisers closely aligned with your research interests who can guide you throughout the next four years.

First year students are expected to teach at least one semester.


EEB 522, a mandatory four-semester course, is a colloquium that showcases invited speakers and is organized by Princeton faculty.

Following a visitor's talk all first- and second-year students meet with the speaker over lunch, giving students a wonderful opportunity to discuss in depth the speaker's research and future directions. These informal discussions encourage students to think broadly and in an interdisciplinary way.

In addition to these weekly talks, other departments and institutes (e.g., Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics (LSI), Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI), Woodrow Wilson School (WWS), Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI) and the department of Molecular Biology) offer their own seminars and lectures, many of which students and faculty from across departments attend. 

Second Year Timeline

Second-year students will attend the required courses and colloquia and prepare for the General Examination, held in April of the second year. This exam consists of an oral examination conducted by your dissertation committee, 2-3 hours in length. Your dissertation committee is normally composed of Princeton faculty and often includes members of other departments at Princeton. Should your areas of study warrant it, members of other institutions with special competence are invited to sit on the dissertation committee. You will submit a written review of background information relevant to your thesis topic as well as a thesis proposal detailing research objectives, preliminary progress and future plans. Questions during the oral examination focus on the thesis topic but also cover all relevant areas.

Also during your second year, you will give a half-hour talk about your research. This gives you a chance to present your ideas to colleagues and faculty.

If your research warrants it, you will begin writing papers for publication. 

Required Courses for First 2 Years

  • First Year Fall: EEB 504, EEB 507, and EEB 522
  • First Year January: EEB 521
  • First Year Spring: EEB 522 and EEB 506
  • Second Year Fall: EEB 502 and EEB 522
  • Second Year Spring: EEB 522 and EEB 506 (offered every other year)

There is no required coursework after the second year.

Levin Lab

"Teach! It's a phenomenal experience during which time you have the invaluable opportunity to be mentored by the faculty you are assisting."

Third, Fourth and Fifth Year Timeline

You will continue your research and writing up your results as you proceed through the final three years of your program. During the fourth year, you will give a 45-minute talk about your dissertation research and receive feedback from other members of the department.  At the end of the fifth year, you will submit your dissertation to your committee and with their approval hold your Final Public Oral examination. Congratulations!


Each fall you will meet with your committee to discuss the previous summer's research and your next steps. In a meeting in the spring, you and your adviser will evaluate your work to date and plan for the upcoming months. In most cases, your adviser will recommend reenrollment. In cases where insufficient progress has been made, the adviser and student should work together on a plan that allows the student to make satisfactory progress.

Reenrollment is a university requirement and all graduate students must be officially reenrolled to continue. The Graduate School opens the re-enrollment online system in March/April of each year. 


The EEB department requires students to serve as an Assistant in Instruction (AI) for four semesters in an undergraduate course. If you receive an external fellowship this requirement is dropped to two courses. All students participate in a two-day teaching training workshop at the beginning of the first year. 

In general, teaching gives a very helpful foretaste of an important aspect of an academic career. AIs should meet with the faculty before the course begins to discuss the teaching requirements in precepts as well as assignments, office hours, and grading. AIs are expected to remain local and available during the teaching semester.