Graduate Advisors

What your Graduate School Advisor IS and IS NOT

I’m hesitant to give you the take-home message too soon…but the sooner you hear it the sooner you will have the secret to a positive graduate advisor/student experience. You’ve heard the horror stories of the advisor that is to blame for the delayed graduation, sloppy thesis, 7 – year Master’s degree, and still an unpublishable paper. You’ve also heard the hero stories of the student crediting their advisor for helping them land that dream job, publishing a significant paper, and leading them to the most significant and joyful experiences of their careers. The thing that determines if your graduate school advisor story is either “horror” or “hero” is often just one thing. You. 

I did many things wrong. But I have done enough things right to get me to where I am today. I was a graduate student for 8 years- completing both my Master’s and PhD degrees. And dang- I wish I would have had someone to write this article before those adventures. Frustration, feeling lost, yet determined… sound familiar? I have experienced it all- and it wasn’t because of my advisor. I expected there to be a standard process and I felt that I was the only one left out of the loop. That “standard process” for advisors to guide all students to eliminate the uncertainty? It doesn’t exist. I know that now by having gone through it, talking to hundreds of students and advisors, doing it the hard way when looking back it could have been WAY more enjoyable, and now I have my own graduate students. So here I am to share what I have learned about what TO expect and NOT to expect from your advisor to help overcome the overwhelm.


I have learned that the quality of the advisor is directly related to the efforts of the student.


It seems backwards, I know.  But I also know that graduate advisors are extremely busy while also very caring. Advisors want to see students succeed and to be a part of each journey, but they need students to take initiative and use them as a resource, not a hand-holding graduate school babysitter. 




So, here are my key lessons of what a graduate advisor IS and IS NOT.  

  •  A graduate advisor IS…. knowledgeable about the boring but critical stuff. They know the academic and research requirements at your specific institution for your specific degree program. They know the policies, procedures, and deadlines for all those required forms.  BUT – you need to ask them. You need to schedule a meeting before school starts to ask them for these forms or where to find them. Some of these are due early in your graduate program and need specific signatures. It is up to YOU to ask, make a calendar for the several-year program so you don’t miss a deadline, and return to this calendar with your advisor at meetings (that you arrange) to keep on task. 
  • A graduate advisor IS…. a resource to guide your thesis or dissertation process. I said PROCESS. Your advisor should be able to give you the guidance and advice you need to start the research process and with writing.
    • Who will you be doing research with?
    • How does that start?
    • What’s your specific project?
    • What’s expected for the thesis or dissertation format?

    This varies by institution – but ask the following questions before you start your program, and then check back in every month to give an update on where you are and ask for input on next steps and for critical feedback. It’s up to you to make sure you are on the right path.

  • A graduate advisor IS…. able to provide recommendations on groups to be part of, conferences, and networking opportunities. Again – YOU need to ask! This won’t just be provided to you. But, if you do ask, your advisor will be excited you asked and help guide you to these networking options.  This isn’t assumed and it won’t just be given to you. Ask the specific question. 
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT…. in charge of keeping you accountable. Those forms that are due in one week? Your advisor is not responsible for reminding you. You need a signature but one of the required people are gone? You should have asked one month before a due date.  The point is that you are responsible for keeping track of deadlines and for doing all the things that need to be done well in advance of a deadline.  Crap – I needed 3 copies but only made 1!  Details.  Find out the details.  The sooner you know these – the more peace you will have knowing you are capable of figuring out and doing things on time.
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT… your personal statistician.  You will need to find a statistician even if you are doing your own stats to help you when you’re stuck, need clarification, or someone to check your work. Do not expect your advisor to sit down with you when you’ve collected all your data and tell you what do with it. Your advisor can give you recommendations on who to work with, but do not expect them to know all of the statistics or to do it for you. Again – YOU must do the work.  Do you see a pattern here? 
  • A graduate advisor IS NOT… responsible for what you do after graduate school. It’s very unfair, and common, for students to march into their advisor’s office near the end of their programs expecting them to have defined options for what they do after graduate school. It’s not up to the advisor to find your next step. Advisors are more than happy to help discuss options with students throughout their graduate program. Job? Internship? Additional school? A good advisor will lead you to various doors if you ask. The advisor is not responsible for pushing you through that door.  


My tips are either good news or bad news… no graduate school advisor is the same and there are no set rules on what they do.  Having this knowledge is meant to help push you to take control and action for your unique graduate experience.  If you know what to expect, it removes the fear. There are so many opportunities throughout graduate school if you are willing to put in the extra efforts to use the resources around you. Ask your advisor for guidance, but also offer your help. Showing that you are eager to serve and not just constantly asking to receive is an excellent way to build your “hero” advisor story.  Turns out – the hero has to be you. 

Ask for guidance. Offer your help. Share what you know with others that are lost. Be a leader. Heroes stumble many times because they put themselves out there even when it’s terrifying, but they get back up and move forward. Do that.


Dr. Kari Morfeld is a Wildlife Endocrinologist, Reproductive Physiologist, Teacher, and Mentor. She helps environmental professionals on their career journey at with weekly tips, resources, and motivation direct to your inbox.


Career Advice Environmental Careers Skill Building

8 Ideas To Boost Your Environmental Career

If you are pursuing an environmental career, it can be daunting to think about the future. Navigating the job market these days can be overwhelming and incredibly frustrating.

A worrisome “Catch 22” conundrum greets most people at stepping stone number one of an environmental career path. You need experience to get an entry-level position, but you need an entry-level position to gain experience. It can be disheartening.

But don’t lose hope – especially if you have some free time. There are various steps you can take now to improve your chances of getting that first position. Even if you have cleared the first employment hurdle and you already have your foot (or leg or torso) in the door, it never hurts to build your skills and knowledge.

The term “environmental careers” refers to a vast umbrella of opportunities that extend widely across multiple disciplines. You may or may not have an idea of where you are headed. And that itself can complicate your job search (not to mention add to your anxiety). But thankfully, the ideas in this article can also help you figure out (and confirm) your career path – which is great because this is one of the most helpful things you can do. 


Check out our list of ideas for how you can advance your environmental career now.

1. Conduct Informational Interviews

If you can define “your dream job” or even just “a great job” you have taken an important step. From there you can define a step-by-step career pathway to arrive at your dream job. It can be difficult to figure this out on your own. So just ask someone who has already done it.

If you are interested in a specific position (or area of research for graduate school), do a little digging and find people who already do that work. Then reach out to them. You can find people through organizations or labs related to your interests. You can also reach out to people through Facebook professional groups in fields like the career networks in wildlife science and marine biology.

If you have a lot of dream jobs, talk to a lot of people. These discussions may also help you narrow down your interests.

Conducting an interview may sound scary. But face your fear! No one can tell you about a field better than a person who is living it. Simply put, informational interviews are one of the best ways to get real answers about what it takes to get to where you want to go. 

2. Volunteer Somewhere

Volunteering can be a helpful step for people who are interested in an environmental career but lack the education and skills to get an entry level or seasonal job. Volunteering is a great way to gain some technical and specialized skills that you might need for these jobs but don’t have.

But more importantly, volunteering can help you gain important insight into a career.

See if you actually want to do it. Reality is often different from our perceptions. Volunteering can help you decide if a career path is really right for you (before you spend years in school preparing for it).

If you look around in your area, you will likely find environmental organizations and university research labs that have low-intensity opportunities for you to help with a project 5 or 10 hours per week.

If you are looking for something higher intensity, then organizations like conservation corps offer longer term, full time volunteer opportunities that include some financial and educational benefits.

3. Learn GIS

Geographic Information Systems. It is one of the most useful tools for environmental and conservation work.

It allows you to make sense of mountains of data. Much of environmental work is intrinsically linked to space (as in spatial position, not stars and planets and stuff… leave that to the astronomers), which makes GIS invaluable to many projects. It’s also an invaluable addition to your resume.

If you have time, you can learn GIS or build your skills if you have a background in it. Luckily, a multitude of online resources can help you accomplish this. Courses range from beginner to expert and from free to not-so-free.

Free GIS Resources 

Esri is a great place to start. 

Paid Courses and Certificate Programs

Certificate programs are a series of courses. They can provide a deeper education in GIS than individual online resources. They cost money – sometimes a lot of money –  but they lead to an official certification that you can showcase on your resume.

Here’s a relatively inexpensive certification program (offered by UC Davis) through Coursera. 

4. Build Your Specialized Skills

Ecology teaches us that specialization can lead to tremendous success. And there are many careers under the environmental umbrella that utilize very specialized skills.

Data Science Programs

For example, much of environmental work exists in the realm of science and data. R and Python are the 2 most widely used programs. You can spend 10 summers measuring tree trunks in Guatemala. But it won’t mean anything to anyone unless you can properly analyze all those carefully collected numbers. 

But learning R or Python requires learning a new language. The language of programming. And this requires time and study. But, like GIS, there are numerous courses online to choose from. Datacamp has courses in all the major data science programs, and you can find courses on Coursera (R, Python) as well.

Scientific Illustration

If you’re artistically inclined or have amazing attention for detail, scientific illustration might interest you. Though photography and videos are robust tools, there are still limitations. Scientific illustrators use art to help us visualize concepts and objects that are beyond the scope of the eyeball.

EdX offers this online course. There is a free audit option or an affordable certificate. You can also find internships or and graduate certificate programs at various universities and institutions. Like CSU Monterey Bay, California Academy of Sciences or University of Washington.

Capture-Mark-Recapture (CMR)

Learning CMR can boost your resume tremendously for wildlife-related jobs. Scientists use CRM to estimate wildlife populations. This data helps us assess the health of ecosystems so we can create sound management plans and policy.

CMR is not widely taught. But if you want to work in the wildlife profession, learning this specialized skill could help your career. This online course can help you learn the basics.

5. Read Journal Articles

Reading scientific journal articles on a daily basis can be a great way to increase your knowledge and broaden your understanding of the field.  Everyday, scientific journals in your field of interest are publishing articles with new research findings and ideas. 

When you read journal articles, it can help you in many ways. It can better inform you for school, interviews or jobs. It can broaden your understanding of your field which can help you develop your career path and research interests – it may even open your eyes to areas of your field that you didn’t know existed.

Reading journal articles is a great way to explore the possibilities of graduate school.

When you find an article that especially piques your interest, you can explore more articles through the references. This can be a great way to find research labs for graduate school. You can email study authors to ask questions about the study.

So how do you find journal articles to read? You can start off with the leading scientific journals in your area of interest (ask around if you need recommendations). If you don’t have library access to articles, you may want to select open-source options. Then, bookmark their table of contents webpages that show new articles each day as they are approved (or follow them in a reader application).  For example, here is the table of contents page for the journal Ecology. Then each day, check in and review the new abstracts. When you find an interesting abstract, add the full article link to your “To Read List.” Try the “30 Articles in 30 Days Challenge.” Make reading journal articles a “habit”.

6. Attend Conferences

You don’t have to be at the forefront of your field to attend a conference. They are great opportunities for you to learn and stay updated about current research and professional developments. 

Learning is a key goal here. But the connections you make at conferences can be just as valuable. It’s much easier to network when you have multiple people you want to connect with – all in the same spot.

Unfortunately, during COVID, these opportunities are limited. But they are not gone completely. Many of these events have moved to online platforms. You won’t be in the same physical space as these folks. But you can still work the virtual room to build your network.

WASET and Conference Next are great resources for finding conferences in different disciplines. There are many databases like these online. You can also find events by talking to people in your field. Ask a biologist friend or your ecology professor if they’ve got any conferences on their calendar. And maybe tag along… 

7. Participate in Citizen Science

Citizen science projects are scientific research studies in which “ordinary” people are helping with the data collection.

These are great opportunities to practice and learn all kinds of valuable skills.

Among other things, you can assist with data entry, identify different organisms, or identify individual animals. You can get exposure to different aspects of science through these projects.

Zooniverse is great because it’s easy to browse specific topics and find an array of interesting studies. You can use the vast list to find things that really interest you. There’s a huge variety. 

Find studies like SquirrelMapper, which tracks the selection for specific color morphs in your favorite rodent. Or Aurora Zoo, which looks at the tiniest shapes within the aurora borealis to better understand our atmosphere.

Citizen science projects can be powerful. Entirely new species have been discovered with crowdsourced science! It can help your career and it also feels really good to contribute. iNaturalist and eBird are other popular citizen science sites.

8. Practice Your Naturalist Skills

Seriously. Just go outside and remember why you wanted to get into this field. 

Learn about the natural history of your area. Go on a walk and bring a field guide. Find a Nature Mystery and work to solve it. Keep a nature journal. Practice plant ID. Look closely at the rocks. Learn bird language. Practice tracking. Get connected.

So often, as we move forward in our careers, we narrow our focus to the specifics of our niche. And there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a lot of value in building expertise on a subject.

But backing up and remembering to look at the big picture will help you combat tunnel vision.

And it has the potential to invite epiphany in your own field. One of the major points we learn in our ecological and environmental classes is that everything is connected. 

So pay attention to all of your surroundings and you just might discover those connections.


Graduate Program Reviews

Student Reviews of Environmental Graduate Programs: PART 1

We wanted to help you learn more about graduate programs in environmental fields. So we asked former students to write firsthand accounts of their graduate program experience.

You can also learn more by searching our directory of 1,300+ environmental Master’s, PhD, and Certificate programs.

Read the program reviews below to gain insight into environmental graduate programs across the United States and abroad.

Program Reviews

[anchor_link section=”section_uh”]UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI’I AT HILO
[/anchor_link] | Conservation Biology & Environmental Science – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_uf”]UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA[/anchor_link] | Forest Resources and Conservation – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_uwv”]WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY[/anchor_link] |  Wildlife and Fisheries Resources – MS 
[anchor_link section=”section_ut”]TUFTS UNIVERSITY[/anchor_link] | Conservation Medicine – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_ums”]MONTCLAIR STATE UNIVERSITY[/anchor_link] | Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_ucs”]COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY[/anchor_link] | Human Dimensions of Natural Resources – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_uwm”]UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON[/anchor_link] | Environmental Conservation – MS 
[anchor_link section=”section_pc”]PRESCOTT COLLEGE[/anchor_link] | Environmental Studies – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_ubg”]BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY[/anchor_link] | Biology – MS
[anchor_link section=”section_vub”]VRIJE UNIVERSITEIT BRUSSEL[/anchor_link] | Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management – M.Sc.




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Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science – MS


“I am writing from my experience in the Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science masters program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. I participated in the internship track, although this program offers both internship and thesis routes. If you are thesis you need to have an advisor before you start the program and form a committee in your first year. So if you are looking that route, I suggest you reach out to professors and labs as you turn in your application. The internship route gets appointed one advisor for the whole internship track and you gain mentors as you start working with your internship organization.

My first year in the internship program was the first year they revamped the requirements. You are required to take 10 internship credits of courses and complete a 600 hour professional internship experience alongside your course load totaling 36 credits. When you get accepted to the program, and in your first year, you work with the advisor to find an internship organization. Your internship can be on island, or abroad. I would start looking up organizations and make connections asap when you are applying, as some students found it harder than others to find an internship after their first semester.


Overall, I was happy with my experience. I got to learn about Hawaii’s culture and ecosystems while earning my masters degree in two years.


This track is great for people who want to be natural resource managers. If you want to be a researcher or professor, I suggest the thesis route.

At times this experience was frustrating being the first cohort to go through the new program. Now that this will be the 3rd year of the revamped program, some formatting and issues have been adjusted or brought to light to benefit the students. If you are looking to go this route, my advice would be: 1. Be your own advocate, get your name out there, and be open to opportunities, 2. Respect Hawaiian culture and land, and do your best to educate yourself before coming to Hawaii, 3. Get funded, out of state tuition is CRAZY expensive (over 1,000 a credit) so search for scholarship and funding opportunities beforehand.”

– Student Graduate |  2020

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Wildlife and Fisheries Resources – MS


“My experience at WVU as a grad student from 2015-2017 was very positive. I found the program fairly robust and was able to complete a graduate certificate in GIS and Spatial Analysis in addition to my M.SC. A definite bonus as my undergraduate school didn’t provide exposure to GIS applications for resource Management.


The faculty were fair and worked with students to balance their scholastic and research commitments.


My advisor Jim Anderson was hands off in a good way for me. He allowed me to pursue my project on my own and left it up to me to initiate check-ins and seek resources. He also took me on with no funding and allowed me to create my own project, helped me find funding, and placed me as a TA in a separate department to make sure I was financially supported. He also supported me to attend conferences both internationally and nationally. This mentorship worked well for me and I loved having Jim as an advisor.

My favorite thing about the program was my cohort. We had a great group dynamic and among the wildlife, fisheries, and forestry grad students. There was no competitive nature among us and we supported each other through coursework, assisted on each others’ research, and spent a lot of time together socially. The school has a chapter for the Wildlife Society, American Fisheries, and Society for Conservation Biology which were open for both undergrad and graduate students alike to participate in.

Overall I felt that the courses I took supported me in my professional career and I have built a strong network through my time and experience with the WVU Wildlife and Fisheries Resources Department.”

– Program Student | Graduated 2020

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Forest Resources and Conservation – MS


“I received my masters of science online through UF in Forest Resources and Conservation/Natural Resource Policy (non-thesis) and I felt it was a great choice for me. Although the program was non-thesis, I did have the opportunity to write a substantial research paper in lieu of a final exam. My advisory board was extremely supportive and even helped me edit my paper so that I might one day be able to publish it. I was also given many opportunities to travel to campus in order to help with hands-on research, teaching experiences, and special summer courses in the field.

By pursuing an online degree, I was able to continue living and working part-time were I was. I was also able to save a ton on tuition as the distance program allows students to pay an in-state tuition rate. Plus, with all necessary coursework online I was able to create a flexible schedule that worked best for me and the education I received was amazing. Within this program you are also able to pursue a concentration in several areas of study such as policy, GIS and technology, and aquatic sciences.


Overall I would highly recommend this program to place-bound students or anyone looking to pursue a higher degree without having to dedicate their entire life (or bank account) to it.


The education I received was on par with other masters programs and I had no trouble finding a higher paid position upon graduating.”

– Student Graduate |  2019

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Conservation Medicine – MS


“I received my masters of science in Conservation Medicine at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts. While this degree is non-thesis you still have a case study or research paper to present which can be upwards of 40 pages, but you also have the option to do your own original research and submit this for publication. There are a variety of opportunities to collaborate on research projects if you are looking to be published, you can also audit and take classes that the veterinary students are taking if you are interested. There are also a lot of laboratories that are happy to have students that are eager to learn.

The faculty is very receptive and they give you their full attention while you are a student. You are also required to do an externship and work in the field for 4-6 weeks. This is usually something that is your choice and helps you hone in on your personal interests.


Some students use this opportunity to go abroad and work with a particular species or a particular topic that highlights their passion.


Overall the Conservation Medicine Program is One Health focused. This program is about a year or so long and is very immersive but there are opportunities for hands-on training both in the laboratory and in the field that are integrated into your curriculum. The schedule does allow you to work part-time while you are matriculated but I would suggest waiting, if possible, until the second half of the program before exercising that option.

I was a non-traditional student and the cohort is comprised of roughly 18 students that vary in ages and disciplines. In the past, the range of students have been anything from veterinarians from other countries to students right out of completing their undergraduate degree. The curriculum has a great GIS course and you grow to become very comfortable with making maps very early on even if you have little to no experience.

I enjoyed the experience and was able to find work before officially graduating. Much like any program, this program is what you make of it and how driven you are to seek out opportunities and build your skills. Overall, the Conservation Medicine program has given me the tools to be more competitive in the field of conservation Medicine.”

– Program Student | Graduated 2019

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Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences – MS


“The program was originally called Aquatic and Coastal Sciences. It’s a fairly new program only started by one professor in the 2000s.

That being said if you don’t align with the professor’s research studies, you would have a harder time doing the program. Let’s just say our whole curriculum only had a couple mandatory biology and marine biology course, mostly environmental science courses. Even the marine biology courses were mainly focussed on the different overall water ecosystems, not even going that specific in any marine life. It definitely changes your perspective and outlook on what you want to do in the future! It allows you more options when you are looking for jobs. From my point of view, it seems that the whole university is concentrating more on building up its environmental science programs than it is marine biology. Now, it’s slowly gaining momentum by having more people applying and one more professor joining the program!

In conclusion, I guess the reason why the program is not as “on par” as other programs is because the university in not near a huge body of water and the job market up here in the Northeast is either geared towards science education or environmental consultancy.


In all, if you are the person that thinks with a bigger picture in mind and would like to dabble into other disciplines then this school can be for you!”


– Program Student | Graduated 2019

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Human Dimensions of Natural Resources – MS


“Overall I had a very good experience at Colorado State University. I received my MS from this program in 2004 when the department was called Natural Resources Recreation and Tourism. They have since changed their name to Human Dimensions of Natural Resources. When I attended, the department was heavily focused on natural resource recreation and protected area management. I think the department has further diversified since it changed names but my understanding is that it’s still very strong in these areas.

This department is housed within CSU’s College of Natural Resources which is great because it also includes very strong departments in forestry, wildlife biology, and other fields. So as a grad student, I got access to a wide range of high quality courses and faculty across the fields of natural resources. For me, this was helpful because I had no background at all in ecology or natural resources before starting the program. And I was able to get broad exposure to a variety of topics both within the department and outside.


It helped me figure out what I was interested in and prepared me for multiple job pathways which my career ultimately took.


I completed my Masters in 2 years but I combined my schooling with 2 years in the Peace Corps as part of the Masters International program. This was an option of the program and Peace Corps at the time – I’m not sure if it’s still available. There wasn’t much practical benefit of combining my Master’s and the Peace Corps other than the timing worked better for me.”

– Program Student | Graduated 2004

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Environmental Conservation – MS


“This program really packs a lot of information into a small amount of time! If you do your due diligence and keep up with the readings (which can be extensive), you can learn a lot in the 15-months you’ll spend here. Just be ready to dedicate a lot of time to coursework, because the three semesters that you spend taking classes will be busy. 

As is the case with many graduate programs (I suspect), some classes teach more useful skills than others.


I found the Conservation Planning and GIS courses to be some of the most challenging yet most valuable courses available to students.


This is a cohort-based leadership program, so you will spend a lot of time working with the ~30 other students in the program with you. I really enjoyed the support and diversity of viewpoints this structure offered. 

Opportunities to specialize in this program are limited, as you only have two elective courses you can choose and the rest are all required for the program. So if you’re looking for something that will let you dig into a specific research question or discipline, I would recommend exploring some thesis-based options. 

What this program offers is a set of practical skills that you will get to put into practice during your last summer semester, when you join a conservation organization somewhere in the world to complete a capstone project (this is another opportunity to specialize, as you have a decent amount of input in choosing where you go).

The one cautionary note I would offer is that some of the classes are pretty easy if you approach them from a homework standpoint, and it can be tempting to skate through. Don’t – you’ll get out exactly what you put in. Overall, I enjoyed my time in the program and grew professionally as a result of attending.”

– Program Student | Graduated 2020

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Environmental Studies – MS

PRESCOTT COLLEGE | Prescott, AZ (Online)

“I transferred to Prescott at the end of my degree program, attending one semester of classes and one semester to write my capstone. Everyone I spoke to and worked with genuinely desired my success, and both faculty and administration answered my many questions in a timely manner. In my capstone experience, they are very flexible in guidelines and requirements. So much so that I thought the process was too easy at times. The department was revising their guidelines during my time there, but I received conflicting information on the requirements and submission process and was never given nor could find a concise list of directions for the capstone process. That being said, they did work with me and I submitted and graduated without any issues.” 

– Program Student | Graduated 2020

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Biology – MS


“I attended Bowling Green State University (BGSU) from 2018 to 2020 pursuing a MS of Life Sciences. BGSU is a middle sized college in Northwest Ohio where there are lots of research opportunities and the majority of graduate students are paid to go in exchange for Research Assistantships or Teaching Assistant positions. There is a lot of money in water quality research (as well as Ichthyology opportunities) due to many grants being established after the toxic algal bloom in Lake Erie in 2014 which shut off water access to Toledo. There are many opportunities for land based research based on the rare ecosystem of the Oak Openings nearby, especially regarding the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. There are also sizable opportunities for microbiology research at BGSU but as an ecologist, I did not have much crossover or experience with the people in those programs and am unqualified to talk about the quality of said programs.

While this school is very good for students to not go into debt while attending, I had a very mixed experience there. Being a Teaching Assistant can be immensely frustrating due to poor communication if you teach some of the entry level courses, and some Faculty members expect you to take on multiple research roles past your graduation research if you are a Research Assistant which should not be the case. I have only the nicest things to say about fellow graduate students I work with but many of the faculty at BGSU have problems with elitism, minimal Ivory Tower perspective, and can be openly verbally abusive. There are many excellent faculty members, but it is not wrong to say the worst experiences color the rest of your time there. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to graduate without further debt, but in my own, highly specific situation, had a very negative experience at BGSU. I give my personal experience at BGSU a 3/10 but recognize the majority of students in the program probably have a 7-8/10 experience. Parts of what lead to my negative experience was that I switched advisers at the end of my first year due to disproportionate, unwarranted verbal abuse. It is something where I was unable to do due diligence research about the adviser and research opportunity available as I was working a minimum wage retail job and could hop into grad school in 2 weeks or work retail for another year. Warning signs were there (other students told me to never share anything personal with my adviser as it would be used as a guilt bargaining tool), but I chose to ignore them as I believed I could make it work. 

If I could go back in time, I would have waited another year, but hindsight is 20/20 and it was the right decision at the time. I would wager the vast majority of students with positive experiences did not sort of fall into the position like I did. I know students who did have negative experiences in normal situations (especially when they are appointed a committee member they don’t get along with), but like I said, i’d say the average graduate student has a 7-8/10 experience. I do believe my 3/10 is the exception and not the rule at BGSU.”

– Program Student | Graduated 2020

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Marine and Lacustrine Science and Management – M.Sc. 


“Length: 2 years, about 1.5 years of classes and a full-length European thesis (~10 pages – like a paper submission) 

Pros: First and foremost, tuition is dirt cheap. Even as a non-EU international student tuition is about $2,000/year. Second off, the program has a wide range of available courses and spans a ton of topics. You can choose between 4 focuses (Global Change Impacts on Ecology and Biodiversity, Conservation Biology and Ecosystem Management, Environmental Impact and Remediation, Marine and Lacustrine Geosciences). For the thesis you have almost unlimited options between the 3 universities and multiple departments involved. The program (aside from COVID19 in 2020) is super hands-on. Multiple weeks on a Belgian government RV, probably 10-15 educational field work trips each year and a week on the North coast of France learning coastal ecology field techniques. We missed it this year but, most years this is a huge selling point of the program. 

Cons: Studying in Europe is different. While graduate students in the US are treated like junior-faculty, grad students in Europe are treated more like advanced students. There is a lot less guidance and there is little to no communication. For this program in particular, the program directors are a little in over their head and can’t handle the students they have in their program. It’s sort of a “one-size-fits-all” feel which sucks. Also, Belgian students (and Dutch students) are treated as sort of superior to other international students – a complaint common among Belgian universities. 



Overall, VUB’s Oceans and Lakes is a good option if you want to prepare yourself for a PhD in Marine Sciences, ecology, wildlife science etc, but also want to take advantage of an opportunity to live and study in Europe.


If you are easily upset by having a lack of communication, organization and often inefficient structure, this program probably isn’t for you. If you are self-sustaining and you can push through that kind of thing, this program has a lot of perks.”

– Program Student