Ph.D. Requirements

Completing Prerequisites

If the following subject area courses have not been completed prior to admission, then they must be completed by the end of the first year in the program either by (1) taking courses as approved by the Graduate Advisor, or (2) by being a Teaching Assistant in the courses listed below or their equivalents, and by attending the course lectures.

The equivalent of at least one course from each of the following subject areas:

  • Ecology (e.g. Ecology and Evolution 101, Environmental Science and
    Policy 100)
  • Genetics (e.g. Biological Sciences 101)
  • Statistics (e.g. Psychology 103, Statistics 102)
  • Evolution (e.g. Evolution and Ecology 100)
  • Animal behavior (e.g. Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior 102)
  • Physiology (e.g. Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior 101).

Dissertation Plan

ANB follows Dissertation Plan C, which calls for a three member (minimum) dissertation committee and a final oral examination. The final oral examination will ordinarily include a public presentation of the dissertation, followed by an oral defense of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee.

Course Requirements

Once enrolled, all students must take certain core courses and at least two elective courses. The aim of the core curriculum is to introduce students to the breadth of approaches to animal behavior, and to encourage the interdisciplinary thinking that distinguishes our program. These courses are required of all students in the program:

Core courses: 20 units

  • Scientific Approaches to Animal Behavior (ANB 201): 3 units
  • Fundamentals of Animal Behavior (ANB/PSC 218A and 218B): 10 units
  • Advanced statistical analysis (e.g. PSC 204A; PSC 204B, C or D; STA 205, 106, 108, 138; AGR 204, 206): 4 units
  • Seminar in Animal Behavior (ANB 290): 3 units

Elective courses: 6 units

Students must also take two elective courses (of at least 3 units each) in their area of interest, chosen in consultation with and approved by their Course Guidance Committee. The graduate advisors can provide lists of recommended courses focusing on the behavior and conservation of wild animals, animal management and welfare, ethology and evolutionary bases of animal behavior, and physiological bases of animal behavior.

Recommended Courses and Experience: the following courses are not required, but are strongly recommended:

  • A course in teaching science (e.g. BIS 310, PSC 390A, B)
  • At least one additional course in statistics or modeling (e.g. PBG 231, PSC 120)

Students are also strongly urged to obtain at least 30 contact hours of teaching in courses directly related to the subject of animal behavior. This may include assisting with laboratory or field study courses as well as giving lectures to undergraduates.


There are 26 units required. At least 16 of the 26 units completed for the degree must be taken in graded courses offered at the 200 course level. (Courses in the 300 and 400 series may be accepted if they have been approved for graduate credit.) Graduate students must register for a minimum 12 units per quarter to maintain full-time status.

Special Requirements



Admissions Committee

The Admissions Committee is composed of three to four ANB faculty members (volunteers appointed by the Chair of ANB) and one graduate student (elected by the ANB graduate students). Shortly after the deadline for applications, files are reviewed and ranked by the Admissions Committee. Based on academic accomplishment and potential, this committee determines which of the applicants can be recommended for admission to the Dean of Graduate Studies. Simultaneously, faculty members examine the files to identify students whom they are willing to sponsor. No student can be admitted to the group unless at least one faculty member in good standing indicates that they are willing to act as that student's major professor.

Course Guidance Committee/Graduate Advising Committee

Students should establish their Course Guidance Committee shortly after entering the program. This committee is composed of a faculty advisor and a student advisor, who are assigned to the student by the ANB Graduate Advising Committee, and the student’s major professor. A third faculty member may also be added to the committee, at the discretion of the student and the major professor. The Course Guidance Committee is responsible for helping students develop their study plan, and must approve any coursework taken to fulfill the admissions requirements as well as the electives taken to fulfill the course degree requirements.

Qualifying Examination Committee

Five faculty members, at least three of whom must be ANB faculty members, serve on the Qualifying Examination committee. The student selects faculty who are interested in the same type of research, who are knowledgeable in specific areas of interest, and with whom they have had interactions. The student’s major professor cannot serve on the Qualifying Examination committee.

The student should email the following to the Graduate Advising Committee for review and approval: (1) a list of the proposed QE members, along with the topic area(s) each will address, and (2) a summary of the proposed dissertation research (no more than 1 page). Once approved, students should contact prospective committee members early (e.g. at least 4 months prior to the target examination date), and determine which faculty member will serve as chair. Once an approximate date for the exam has been determined, students should complete and submit the Qualifying Exam Application.

See the UC Davis Graduate Council Policy for Doctoral Qualifying Examinations ( for more details concerning allowable QE committee membership.

Dissertation Committee

After passing the Qualifying Examination students must suggest members to serve on their Dissertation Committee. This committee consists of at least three individuals, one of whom is the student’s major professor. Membership nominations must be submitted to Graduate Studies for formal approval (see UC Davis Graduate Council Policy for Service on Advanced Degree Committees for more details concerning allowable dissertation committee membership).

The dissertation committee consists of at least three members who guide the candidate in his or her dissertation research. The committee arranges for meetings with the candidate as deemed necessary to complete the dissertation. The committee conducts a final oral examination which focuses primarily on questions arising out of the relationship of the dissertation to the general field of study of the dissertation. When the Dissertation Committee determines that the dissertation is acceptable for examination, students must complete the final oral examination which will ordinarily include a public presentation of the dissertation, followed by an oral defense of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee.

Advising Structure and Mentoring

The ANB has three graduate advisors, who serve staggered three-year terms. The advisors are nominated by the ANB Chair and appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The individual in the third year of his or her term serves as the Master Advisor. There are also three student advisors, appointed by the Master Advisor. Together these individuals comprise the Graduate Advising Committee.

Upon entering the program, each new graduate student is assigned one of the three faculty advisors and one of the three student advisors. The role of the Graduate Advising Committee is to serve as members of each student’s Course Guidance Committee, and also to review admissions requirements, advising policy, and curricular requirements, and to assist the Chair and the Executive Committee in implementing the graduate program in the ANB.

The role of the major professor is to provide his or her students with guidance with respect to degree requirements, dissertation research, and professional development. The faculty members participating in the ANB have agreed to adhere to the campus guidelines for mentoring of graduate students. Graduate students in the program are encouraged to review these guidelines, which may be found at Graduate students who are experiencing any difficulties communicating or interacting with their major professor are encouraged to seek advice of the Chair or Graduate Advisors as soon as these problems first arise.

Advancement to Candidacy

The student is eligible for advancement to Candidacy after successful completion of all Animal Behavior graduate program degree requirements, and after passing the Qualifying Examination. Students must have maintained a minimum GPA of 3.0 in all course work undertaken (except those courses graded S or U), and must have passed both quarters of Fundamentals of Animal Behavior (ANB/PSC 218A/B) with a grade of B or higher before a committee is appointed to administer that examination. The student must file the appropriate paperwork with the Office of Graduate Studies and pay the candidacy fee in order to be officially promoted to Ph.D. Candidacy. See the Graduate Council Policy on Doctoral Qualifying Examinations for further details.

Dissertation Requirements

The Qualifying Exam

The Written Research Proposal (the written component of the Qualifying Exam) should ordinarily follow the style of a 15 page (single-spaced) NSF (or comparable) research proposal. It should outline in detail a proposed dissertation project. After a one-page summary, the proposal should ordinarily include the following components: 1) a summary of the objectives and significance of the proposed research; 2) a conceptually coherent, well organized review of important relevant literature; 3) a summary of key aspects of the proposed study system (e.g., the basic ecology of focal species); 4) a description of preliminary research, if any; 5) a detailed description of proposed research including, as appropriate, experimental designs, methods and statistical analyses; and 6) a brief statement on the broader scientific significance and relevance of the objectives, and on future directions.

Students should also include an extensive Literature Cited section in addition to the 15 pages of the main body of the proposal.

The Oral Component of the Qualifying Examination is approximately 2-3 hours in length and focuses on the student’s proposed research, mastery of the student’s area of specialization, statistical analysis, and research methods. Passing the QE exam makes the student eligible for advancement to Ph.D. Candidacy.

According to university policy, graduate students cannot hold an academic title (e.g., Teaching Assistant, Research Assistant) for more than 9 quarters before passing their Qualifying examination. To make satisfactory academic progress and to meet this requirement, students are strongly encouraged to take this exam at the end of the second year (6th quarter) or by the beginning of their third year (7th quarter). All ANB students are required to have statistics and research methods covered in their exam. In addition, the student must select three to four additional subject areas within their area of specialization.

Examples of past subject areas chosen by students include: evolution, ecology, physiological ecology, reproductive physiology, conservation biology, ornithology, primatology, mammalogy, fish biology, social behavior, behavioral endocrinology, neuroethology, behavioral ecology, development, animal welfare.

The student should email the list of the proposed QE members, along with the topic area(s) each will address, to the Graduate Advisers for review and approval. When the proposed QE members are approved, the student fills out this form, has it signed and sends it to the Graduate Coordinator who keeps it in the student’s file. The student then fills out this form, has it signed and sends it to the Graduate Coordinator who forwards the approved QE member names to the Dean of Graduate Studies who formally appoints the committee.

Students should meet with each of their committee members several times prior to the examination to discuss the research proposal and appropriate readings and potential question areas. Students are expected to provide each committee member with a written copy of the research proposal at least three weeks in advance of the examination. If students so choose, they may give a 15-minute informal presentation of their proposal at the beginning of their exam.

The Dissertation

The dissertation committee conducts a final oral examination, which focuses primarily on questions arising out of the relationship of the dissertation to the general field of study of the dissertation. When the Dissertation Committee determines that the dissertation is acceptable for examination, students must complete the final oral examination which will ordinarily include a public presentation of the dissertation, followed by an oral defense of the dissertation to the Dissertation Committee. Admission to the oral defense is restricted to the members of the Dissertation Committee, all of whom must be present during the examination, either in person or via a video or audio link.

The normative time to degree is 5 years

Typical Timeline

Year 1: Remedy admissions deficiencies, if any. Take ANB 201, ANB 218A, and ANB 218B.

Year 2: Complete remaining core and elective requirements. Send names of proposed Qualifying Examination committee members to Graduate Advisers for approval. Take Qualifying Examination by the end of the 2nd year (6th quarter).

Year 3: Take Qualifying Examination during the beginning of the 3rd year (7th quarter), if not completed during the second year. Submit proposed Dissertation Committee to Graduate Studies for approval.

Year 5: Complete dissertation, public presentation of dissertation, defend dissertation

PELP and Filing Fee Status

Information about PELP and Filing Fee status can be found in the Graduate Student Guide found here.

Student Support

Students are often offered 1 or 2 quarters of block grant support from the Animal Behavior Graduate Group in their first year in the graduate program, but usually receive only limited support from the Graduate Group in subsequent years. Additional funding for student stipends typically comes from a mix of multi-year extramural fellowships, some university fellowships, graduate student research (GSR) support from grants (often through their research mentor), and teaching assistantships. Students also commonly apply for grants to support their own research.