School of Marine Science (SMS) students generally are bound by the requirements stated in the catalog for the academic year stated in their Notification of Admission letter. The department in which a student specializes and individual advisory committees may prescribe additional requirements for their students. For a summary of degree requirements, use the link above.
To fulfill the full-time academic residency requirement of the SMS, students must:
- Successfully complete the core course requirements;
- Be a full-time student in academic standing for two consecutive semesters.
SMS Core Curriculum
Successful completion of the SMS core curriculum ensures that students achieve a broad understanding of the essential processes that define oceanic, coastal, and estuarine environments. Students are expected to build upon this foundation by pursuing specialized and advanced courses tailored to the needs of their individual research projects.
Relative to this goal, specific objectives of the SMS core course curriculum are to:
- Educate students in the fundamentals of marine science in a way that fosters interdisciplinary and synthetic understanding of oceanic, coastal and estuarine systems;
- Provide students with an appreciation for the integration of marine science and its application to complex environmental problems;
- Ensure that students have the methodological, quantitative and communication skills needed to pursue successful careers in marine science.
Students must pass all required SMS core courses with a grade of B- or better by the end of their second year following matriculation. Students are required to choose courses in each of the following four groups, I-IV, as follows:
I. Fundamentals Core Courses: MSCI 501A , 501B , 501C , 501D , 501E , 501F
- An M.S. student must complete three (3) fundamentals courses.
- A Ph.D. student must complete four (4) fundamentals courses.
- Successful completion of an advanced principles course in lieu of one of the above Fundamentals Courses will also satisfy the above core course requirement. In order for a course to satisfy the core course requirements, a grade of B- or above must be earned.
II. Advanced Principles Courses:
- If required by the department, a student in either degree program must choose one of the advanced principles courses offered by their department of specialty (For example, a student in the Department of Biological Sciences must take MSCI 526):
- Biological Sciences: MSCI 526
- Aquatic Health Sciences: Any course in the department over the 550 level with 3 or more credit hours
- Fisheries Science: No Advanced Principles course requirement; all students are required to take MSCI 501F
- Physical Sciences, discipline specific: MSCI 520 (physical oceanography); MSCI 522 (geological oceanography); MSCI 524 (marine chemistry)
III. Quantitative Core Courses:
- A student in either degree program must choose at least one of the following quantitative courses; the required course may be specified by the department: MSCI 504 or MSCI 554
IV. Interdisciplinary Core Requirement:
- All SMS graduate students are required to take the following interdisciplinary course: MSCI 503
Department Required Courses
In addition to the SMS core courses specified above, students take additional courses as required by their department:
Biological Science: MSCI 515A - Biological Sciences Seminar (every Spring Semester).
Aquatic Health Science: MSCI 515B - Aquatic Health Sciences Seminar (every Fall and Spring Semester) and at least one departmental offering (with 3 or more credit hours) in addition to that taken to satisfy the advanced principles course requirement.
Fisheries Science: MSCI 515C - Fisheries Science Seminar (every Spring Semester) and one of the following: MSCI 583 , MSCI 667 , MSCI 669 , MSCI 670 , or MSCI 671 .
Physical Sciences: MSCI 515D - Physical Sciences Seminar (every Fall and Spring semester) and at least one advanced Physical Sciences course (550-level or higher) appropriate to the student’s specialty.
*Students are expected to register for seminar (MSCI 515A-D) as required by their respective departments; however, only two (2) credits will be applicable to the degree.
Degree Program Milestones
Student progress within the degree programs of the SMS is guided by milestones, which specify how long a student has to complete each degree requirement. In addition to fulfilling course and credit-hour requirements, the student must complete and document the program milestones. Forms for documenting completed milestones are available from the Office of Academic Studies or may be printed from the following URL: http://www.vims.edu/intranet/graduate_studies/forms. The milestones for degree completion in the SMS are described below. For timelines by degree, refer to summaries for the M.S. , M.S. Bypass Option , and Ph.D. program.
Selection of Major Professor: The major professor, co-advisor (when applicable), and advisory committee direct the student’s program. The student must select a VIMS faculty member as a major professor. When appropriate, the student may select a co-advisor who is a VIMS faculty member or a VIMS Research Scientist. Research Scientists must hold a Ph.D. and be approved as a co-advisor by the Academic Council and the Associate Dean of Academic Studies. Should a student’s major professor retire or leave VIMS before the student completes the degree, the student is required to select an appropriate on-campus advisor or co-advisor from the VIMS faculty.
Selection of Committee & Research Topic (M.S.): The advisory committee, chosen by the student in consultation with the advisor, consists of at least four members. A majority of the committee members must be from the SMS faculty. The committee must include at least one SMS faculty member who is both outside of the student’s research discipline and outside of the student’s home department. An additional committee member with appropriate qualifications from within or outside of the SMS may be included. The committee must be approved by the Associate Dean of Academic Studies before the qualifying exam is scheduled. Note: A Master’s student who plans to petition to bypass the Master’s must constitute an examination committee in accordance with the requirements for a Ph.D. program advisory committee. This should be done prior to the scheduling of the comprehensive exam.
Selection of Committee & Research Topic (Ph.D.): The advisory committee, chosen by the student in consultation with the advisor, consists of at least five members. A majority of the committee members must be from the SMS faculty. The committee must include at least one SMS faculty member who is both outside of the student’s research discipline and outside of the student’s home department. At least one committee member with appropriate qualifications must be from outside the College of William & Mary. The committee must be approved by the Associate Dean of Academic Studies before the comprehensive and qualifying exams are scheduled.
Pre-Qualifying Interview: Every student is required to have a pre-qualifying interview with the committee prior to the qualifying exam. Master of Science students should have their pre-qualifying interview before the end of their first year (i.e., before the beginning of the second fall semester for students matriculating in Fall). Ph.D. students should have the interview before the end of the second fall semester.
Comprehensive Examination (M.S. Bypass and Ph.D.):
A written comprehensive exam at the Ph.D. level allows a student to demonstrate comprehension and integration of material from the disciplines of marine science that are relevant to the student’s area of specialization. The objective of the written comprehensive examination is to ensure that the student has an appropriate general understanding of the field as well as the specific knowledge needed to undertake their research project. Successful completion of a rigorous comprehensive exam signals that a student is ready to pursue advanced training and original scientific research. The comprehensive examination milestone for PhD students is 21 months. The exam must be passed within 6 months, i.e. before 27 months. After the initial exam, Ph.D. students are allowed one exam retake for any sections that were not passed. At a minimum, a student must pass all but one of their exam sections to be allowed to proceed in the Ph.D. program to the qualifying exam. Students who fail more than one section will be given an option to enroll in the M.S. degree program. Master’s Bypass candidates are provided one opportunity to take the comprehensive exam. If they pass all but one section, they may apply to bypass to the Ph.D. program. There is no appeal of this policy.
The exam will be created, administered, and graded by the student’s advisory committee. For a student pursuing a M.S. bypass, the examination committee must satisfy the requirements for a Ph.D. advisory committee. The student’s advisor will notify the Associate Dean of Academic Studies of the outcome of the pass/fail exam and if any remedial action is needed. Following the exam, a copy of the questions, as well as the graded exam with the questions and student responses will be submitted to the Associate Dean of Academic Studies. The questions will be maintained electronically in the Office of Academic Studies. The graded exam will be maintained in the student’s file.
Qualifying Examination and Prospectus Defense: The qualifying examination and prospectus defense gauge a student’s progress early in his/her research program. The qualifying examination milestone is 18 months for an M.S. student and 30 months for a Ph.D. student. The exam must be completed within 6 or 12 months of the milestone date for M.S. and Ph.D. students, respectively. A student who fails to meet the milestone in the timeframe specified will be placed on academic probation. A student on academic probation will have one calendar year to satisfy any outstanding deficiencies. Failure to do so will result in automatic termination of the student’s degree program.
The qualifying examination is an oral exam designed to test a student’s scientific competence and ability to pursue the research project. The exam consists of two components: (1) questions that address knowledge specific to the proposed research project and (2) questions concerning the general knowledge in the student’s field of study. The qualifying examination will be administered by the student’s advisory committee and chaired by a moderator who is not a member of the student’s advisory committee. The moderator must be identified at least three weeks prior to the examination. It is expected that the committee members will attend in person. Should a committee member need to participate remotely, the advisor should alert the moderator and confirm the availability of adequate means of communications, both at VIMS and at the remote location. Students must file appropriate paperwork for the scheduling and announcement of the qualifying examination with the Office of Academic Studies. The approval of the Associate Dean of Academic Studies is required in the event that more than one committee member needs to participate remotely. Consistent with SMS procedures, the examination will be advertised and open to all faculty members. The examination allows a student’s advisory committee to identify any deficiencies in a student’s preparation to successfully conduct and complete the degree program. The minimum elapsed time between successful completion of the qualifying examination and the final defense must be no less than six months for M.S. students and no less than one year for Ph.D. students. SMS policy prohibits audio or video recording of exams, although exceptions may be made for students with documented disabilities.
The prospectus is a formal written presentation of the proposed research. Its purpose is to present the rationale for selection of the hypotheses, objectives and methodology to be used in the research. It must include a problem statement, review of current literature in the area of study, and a detailed plan of study, as well as a summary of preliminary research conducted by the student. The prospectus must also provide a detailed rationale for the proposed work, clearly stated objectives, and testable hypothesis(es) when appropriate, consistent with the problem statement, and a description of research design, field and laboratory studies, methods and data analysis intended to test the hypothesis. The prospectus must be formally approved by the committee via signing the “Prospectus Acceptance Form. Committee members participating remotely can sign it digitally or give the qualifying exam moderator the authority to sign this form.
Admission to Candidacy: A student who has completed the SMS core and departmental requirements, passed the comprehensive exam (Ph.D. only) and qualifying exam, and has an approved prospectus may apply for candidacy. The student must also have achieved a grade point average of B (3.0) or better, averaged over all courses taken for credit at the time of application for admission to candidacy. The student will be admitted to candidacy upon a favorable recommendation of the student’s advisory committee and the Academic Status and Degrees Committee, followed by a majority vote of the Academic Council and the approval of the Associate Dean of Academic Studies.
Credit Requirements (M.S.): At least 36 credit hours of advanced work, of which at least nine (9) credit hours have been earned in courses numbered 550 or above with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better, are required for the M.S. degree. In addition, a student must have registered for thesis credit (MSCI 599 - Thesis ) for at least one semester. No more than six (6) thesis credits may be counted toward the minimum 36 credits required for the M.S. degree. Students are expected to register for seminar (MSCI 515A-D) as required by their respective departments; however, only two (2) credits will be applicable to the degree.
Credit Requirements (Ph.D.): At least 42 credit hours of advanced work, of which at least 15 credit hours have been earned in courses numbered 550 or above with a grade point average of 3.0 or better, are required for the Ph.D. degree. In addition, a student must have registered for dissertation credit (MSCI 699 - Dissertation ) for a least one semester. At least nine (9) but no more than 12 dissertation credits may be counted toward the 42 credits required for the Ph.D. degree. Students are expected to register for seminar (MSCI 515A-D) as required by their respective departments; however, only two (2) credits will be applicable to the degree.
Seminar Presentation and Defense of Thesis or Dissertation: The defense of a thesis or dissertation will consist of two parts. All students are required to present a seminar to the marine science faculty, staff and students on their thesis or dissertation research. The seminar will be advertised and open to any interested individuals.
Immediately following the seminar, the student will undergo an oral examination, the defense of his or her thesis or dissertation, by the student’s Advisory Committee. The defense will be chaired and administered by a moderator who is not a member of the student’s committee, It is expected that committee members will attend in person. Should a committee member need to participate remotely, however, the advisor should alert the moderator and confirm the availability of adequate means of communications, both at VIMS and at the remote location. The approval of the AD-AS is required in the event that more than one committee member participates remotely. Any interested faculty members of the College are invited to attend. SMS policy prohibits audio or video recording of exams and defenses, although exceptions may be made for students with documented disabilities.
At the conclusion of the defense, the student’s Advisory Committee will vote on a pass/fail decision, and indicate this on the “Thesis/Dissertation Defense Acceptance Form”. Unanimous committee approval is necessary for satisfactory completion of both a student’s thesis or dissertation defense and the final version of the thesis or dissertation. In lieu of signing the approval page that is inserted into the thesis or dissertation, the “Thesis or Dissertation Final Acceptance Form” must also be signed by all committee members (preferably at the defense when committee members are present). Once final edits following the defense have been incorporated, the advisor and student will also sign this form. Digital signatures are not accepted on this form. In the event that a committee member is unable to sign the paper copy, they can grant the Associate Dean of Academic Studies authority to sign for them.
Graduation Milestones: The requirements for the degree, including submission of the approved thesis or dissertation to the Swem and Hargis Libraries, must be completed within the following time lines established by the faculty:
- 36 months - students pursuing a master’s degree
- 48 months - students pursuing a Ph.D. who enter the program with an SMS master’s degree
- 60 months - students pursuing a Ph.D. who enter the program with an outside master’s degree
- 72 months - students pursuing a Ph.D. who bypass completion of a master’s degree
Failure to meet major milestones (Qualifying Examination, Comprehensive Examination, Graduation) is evidence that a student is not making satisfactory progress in the program and may result in loss of funding, academic probation or dismissal from the program.
VIMS Employees: The same degree program milestones and SMS rules and regulations apply unless permission to change degree program milestones has been approved by the Academic Status and Degrees Committee and the Associate Dean of Academic Studies.
Filing for Graduation
Students filing for graduation must complete an Online Graduation Application in Banner. Instructions are found at: http://www.wm.edu/offices/registrar/studentsandalumni/graduation/onlinegraduation/index.php.
There is a one-time graduation fee, currently $95.00, payable for the initial filing date. Only first-time filers can use the on-line filing process. If a student is unable to complete the requirements for graduation by the date specified, he/she must notify the SMS Registrar and complete a paper form to re-file for a new graduation date. There is no graduation fee charge for re-filing.
Submission of Theses and Dissertations
All graduating students are required to submit electronic-only theses or dissertations to the William & Mary Institutional Repository via the ProQuest ETD Administrator website no later than 5:00 p.m. on the deadline date listed on the academic calendar in this catalog. Bound print copies of theses and dissertations are no longer required to be submitted to the Swem and Hargis libraries. Refer to the SMS Student Handbook for additional guidelines.
Conferral of Degrees
The College confers degrees in August, January and May of each year. The commencement ceremony is in May. Degree recipients of the previous August and January are recognized and invited to attend the May ceremony. Students who will complete requirements in August rather than May may participate in the spring commencement with permission of the Associate Dean of Academic Studies and the Vice President for Student Affairs.