LRES Grad Student Handbook  (Downloadable PDF)



The Graduate School website may be found at



The Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences (LRES) at Montana State University
offers graduate programs leading to the following degrees:

  • M.S. in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences
  •  M.S. in Land Rehabilitation
  •  Ph.D. in Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Specialization within each area depends upon the student's interest and availability of financial
support for interested students. LRES also participates in the cross-departmental M.S. in Entomology
Program. LRES graduate students enrolled in the Entomology M.S. degree program will be expected to
follow the guidelines in this booklet unless those guidelines are superseded by the Entomology

The purpose of the graduate program is to provide students with the opportunity to focus and extend
their knowledge in a subject matter field as well as to develop their capability for critical thinking,
originality in research and depth of academic training. The information contained in this booklet has
been assembled for the convenience of graduate students and advisors in LRES. This booklet should be
used in concert with the MSU Bulletin and information on The Graduate School website. Graduate
students and advisors are expected to become thoroughly familiar with the regulations of this
booklet and those of The Graduate School. Failure to follow these regulations and observe the degree
requirements invariably results in complications and often delays progress in completing the chosen

It is the student's responsibility to meet all deadlines regarding their graduate program. Deadlines
may change from time to time. Check with The Graduate School and the LRES Student Academic
Coordinator for updated information.

Graduate students on formal appointment and receiving an assistantship stipend are considered fulltime research assistants (GRA) or teaching assistants (GTA) in the department. These appointments represent an agreement between the student and department with each party having a responsibility in
the arrangement. GRA’s generally devote about one-half time to class studies and one-half time to a
research project under the guidance of a faculty Major Advisor over the course of the appointment.
GTA’s generally devote about one-half time to teaching responsibilities and about one-half time to class
studies during the academic year. Research responsibilities occur throughout the year, but are the
predominant activities during the summer months. The time devoted to these activities will vary
between student programs, but students will devote their full and concerted efforts toward completion
of their program. The period of appointment is considered to be one of academic growth and
professional development. Students are on duty in the LRES Department on a regular basis each working
day except for university holidays or approved leave periods. Inherent in the graduate student training
program is an expectation that students will devote long hours, often substantially in excess of a typical
work week, toward degree completion. Indebtedness to the research project and the Department is not
satisfied until the thesis and graduation are accomplished and appropriate publications are completed.

Students seeking admission to graduate status in the Department of Land Resources and Environmental
Sciences must hold a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree and have a record of appropriate scholarship in
areas closely related to land resources and environmental sciences. They are expected to present
evidence of college level training and mastery in biology, chemistry and mathematics sufficient to
provide a good background for further study at the advanced level. Students with deficiencies may be
required to take background courses to make up these deficiencies before or after being approved for
acceptance. GRE scores are NOT required for applicants to any LRES graduate program. However, if applicants have already taken this test and would like to share their scores, they are free to upload a copy as part of their application. A TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or Duolingo test is required for international students whose first language is not English.  For the TOEFL test, a score of 550 for the paper-based test, 213 for the computer-based test and 80 for the internet-based test is required. For Duolingo, a minimum score of 120 is required.  English proficiency exam scores are not required if English is the first official language of the applicant’s country of citizenship or if the applicant has received an undergraduate or graduate degree from an institution in the United States. A GPA of 3.0 for the last two years of an undergraduate degree, three letters of recommendation and a letter of application describing the applicant’s research interests and career goals in pursuing graduate training are minimum requirements for acceptance to the LRES graduate program. No foreign language credits are required by LRES for the M.S. or Ph.D. degrees.

Students in the Land Rehabilitation M.S. program are eligible for the WICHE (Western Interstate
Commission for Higher Education) tuition waiver. Students who have accepted WICHE support MAY
NOT change to the M.S. program in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences unless and until they
repay the entirety of their previous WICHE support. All policies listed in the MSU Bulletin, Graduate
Catalog and in this booklet apply to all graduate degree candidates in the Department of Land Resources
and Environmental Sciences.



All new campus graduate students are required to attend a departmental orientation with the Department Head
and LRES staff which will be held at the beginning of the semester.


When students are appointed to an assistantship, this implies that the assistantship will continue
contingent on satisfactory student performance and availability of funds for the time periods stated
in the paragraph below. Exceptions to appointments are included in the hire letter offering the

Assistantships are awarded as a means of providing financial assistance so students can make steady
progress toward completion of a degree. Students on assistantship do not qualify for additional
remuneration. They are expected to complete degree requirements within a reasonable time frame
depending upon the nature of their programs. Students on assistantships are expected to complete an
M.S. degree in 2 to 2½ years and the Ph.D. degree in 3 to 4 years. A Graduate Assistant Agreement Form
must be completed before a student can be placed on an assistantship. Graduate Students may work
(through any combination of payroll types) at Residence Life, University Food Services, ASMSU Tutoring,
or apply for classified, professional or adjunct positions with no restrictions. For this type of
employment, a Graduate Student Authorization Form must be submitted with approval from the
student’s advisor and The Graduate School.

Graduate students appointed as Graduate Teaching or Research Assistants may not be employed for
more than 19 hours per week cumulatively for all forms of employment on campus. All campus
employment of graduate students must be approved through The Graduate School.

Currently, the Department Head allocates university-funded in-state and/or out-of-state tuition
waivers to GTA’s and GRA’s. In general, GTA’s have priority in these assignments. The majority of GRA
programs are funded by research grants and contracts awarded to individual LRES faculty. Fees and/or
tuition may be paid by a research grant or contract, if approved by the major advisor and granting

Domestic students are encouraged to obtain residency status as soon as possible. Contact the
Registrar’s Office in Montana Hall for full details on policies regarding residency.

Major Advisor/Graduate Committee Chairperson

The major advisor is the primary contact for each graduate student and assists the student in all
matters related to graduate study.

The major advisor has responsibility to be familiar with and to uphold LRES and MSU standards for the
M.S. and Ph.D. degrees and to provide excellent mentorship to graduate students under their
supervision, consistent with departmental goals and expectations.

Only tenurable LRES faculty may serve as the major advisor/graduate committee chairperson for
LRES graduate students. Non-tenurable LRES faculty on courtesy appointments (e.g., Research and
Affiliate faculty), or tenurable faculty from other MSU departments, may co-chair LRES graduate
committees with a tenurable LRES faculty member upon approval of the LRES Department Head. The
major advisor must be selected by the middle of the second term in residence.

Duties of the major advisor:

  • Assigns graduate students to their research/teaching programs.
  • Assists in selecting the student's graduate advisory committee.
  • Initiates the thesis proposal and initial meeting with the graduate advisory committee.
  • Helps determine the student’s program of study (required courses) in consultation with the
    student and the graduate committee.
  • Monitors student progress and conducts annual reviews.
  • Administers comprehensive, defense-of-thesis and final examinations.
  • Reviews program change requests.
  • Ensures program rigor.
  • Helps arrange for the student to gain teaching experience.
  • Monitors student progress toward degree completion and adherence to the time schedule for
    meeting Department and The Graduate School requirements.

Graduate Committee

The major advisor and graduate advisory committee share responsibility for overseeing the
student's needs and progress. The graduate committee members are selected by the student and
major advisor on the basis of their qualifications to directly assist in the student's thesis research
program. Appropriate disciplinary representation should be present on the committee, consistent
with the specific research project.

A master’s committee is composed of a minimum of three (3) members. A doctoral committee is
composed of a minimum of four (4) members. At least three members of a Ph.D. committee and
two to three members of an M.S. committee are required to be full-time tenurable faculty at
MSU (as opposed to emeritus/research/adjunct/affiliate faculty or non-academic experts). The
majority of the committee should be made up of faculty from the degree-granting department but
due to the interdisciplinary nature of many degrees, is not limited to the degree-granting
department. The graduate committee chair and the department head recommends the
committee composition and final approval rests with The Graduate School.

Committee members not holding faculty status at MSU must submit documentation of their
qualifications, including current vita, to the LRES Student Academic Coordinator prior to approval.
The proposed committee membership is submitted and approved by the Department Head then
submitted to The Graduate School as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the second
semester for M.S. students or by the end of the third semester for Ph.D. students. Committee
composition may subsequently be modified as needed but must remain within the guidelines

Graduate Program of Study and Committee Form

All master’s and doctoral candidates are expected to be familiar with both The Graduate School and
their specific academic college and department degree requirements.

The minimum credit requirement for master's degrees is thirty (30) credits; individual degree programs
may require more. Only those courses listed on an approved graduate Program of Study are applicable
toward graduate degree credit requirements.

All students earning a doctoral degree from MSU must complete a minimum of sixty (60) credit hours
post-baccalaureate, of which eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) must be dissertation credits. The
satisfactory completion of certain courses is stipulated by the department. Only those courses listed on
an approved Graduate Program of Study are applicable toward graduate degree credit requirements.

A maximum of thirty (30) credits from a previously earned master's degree (from MSU or another
accredited University) may be applied toward the sixty (60) credit minimum required for the doctoral

Doctoral students who have previously earned a master’s degree must take at least twelve (12)
coursework credits and eighteen (18) to twenty-eight (28) dissertation (690) credits. For students who
apply master’s credits, an additional twelve (12) coursework credits must be taken beyond the master’s
degree credits.

A minimum of thirty (30) credits applicable to the degree must be taken from MSU.

The course program is planned by students in close collaboration with the major advisor and graduate
committee, and is submitted to the Department Head, followed by The Graduate School, no later than
the end of the second (M.S.) or the third (Ph.D.) term. The Program of Study and Committee Form
MUST be submitted to the LRES Student Academic Coordinator in PDF format to be reviewed for any
changes that need to be made if needed BEFORE submitting to DocuSign for Signatures. A deficiency
identification exam may be given at the discretion of the major advisor and graduate committee. The
goal of the exam is to help identify areas of course work or disciplinary deficiency to assist in designing
an appropriate plan of study. The members of the graduate committee (including the graduate
representative on doctoral committees) must initial the original typed copy of the program form before
it is submitted to the Department Head. The program may later be altered as needed, subject to
department and The Graduate School approval. Any changes may be requested before or during the
term affected. Final changes must be made at least one month prior to the end of the term in which
degree requirements will be completed. See “Guidelines and Instructions for Completing the Master’s
and Ph.D. Program of Study and Committee Form” in the appendix for Graduate School requirements.)

Students receiving tuition waiver or having tuition/fees paid from a grant normally will register for a
minimum of nine (9) credits per semester. EXCEPTION: Those students working toward residency status
must register for no more than six (6) credits per term for the first 12 months in attendance.

Completion of the thesis research requirement will be verified by the graduate committee and the
major advisor following the outcome of the final defense-of thesis examination. M.S. degree
students in the department are expected to pursue a “Plan A” option (thesis). If a “Plan B” option
(professional paper) is desired, this must be communicated to the major advisor prior to the
initiation of the graduate program. Students are not allowed to change from Plan A to Plan B except
in the event of remarkable circumstances beyond the control of the student. Such a change must be
approved in writing by the student’s graduate committee and the Department Head.

Graduation Application

A Graduation Application must be submitted the semester of graduation to the LRES Student Academic
Coordinator in time to allow for completion and auditing. It is forwarded to The Graduate School on or
before the specified deadline. If the student does not complete the requirements during the term
specified, the previous application must be withdrawn and a new application form must be submitted to
the LRES Student Academic Coordinator to forward to The Graduate School by the applicable deadline.
Thus, the student and major advisor should carefully plan the timing of program completion and filing
the application for advanced degree. If the thesis/dissertation is submitted after the published deadline
and the student is currently registered for three credits, the student may choose to make all
corrections/changes before the first day of the following academic term and be eligible for a one-credit
registration the following term (instead of the mandatory three credit registration the term of
graduation). Students who choose and are eligible for this option will be certified to graduate the
following term. If more time is needed beyond the first day of the following term, the student will be
required to register for at least three credits to be eligible for graduation that term.

Thesis Proposal

Thesis topics are to be chosen so they are in harmony with the research project with which the student
is associated. Students should develop, as soon as possible, with their major advisor for consideration
by the graduate advisory committee, a complete, comprehensive, and workable thesis research
proposal. This proposal should provide an appropriate title, a synopsis of the current literature or lack
of it, a statement of what is to be researched, why the research is important relative to that already
done, proposed research methods, and a proposed time line for completion.

Recommended guidelines:

  • Title - Journal title style
  • Objectives - one-half page
  • Justification - one paragraph
  • Literature Review - about three pages
  • Materials/Methods - one to two pages
  • Expected contribution to existing knowledge - one-half page
  • Time line and metrics

Greater detail and/or length may be required by the major advisor and/or graduate advisory


General Guidelines for Electronic Theses or Dissertations may be found on The Graduate School
website and is to be followed by the student and major advisor during the preparation of the
thesis/dissertation and its approval by The Graduate School.

Thesis grading is Pass/Fail. Full-time students who are doing thesis work should register for an average
course load of 9 credits per semester. This can be accomplished by adding thesis credits each semester
around course credits to bring the total up to near the average figure.

Thesis preparation must follow The Graduate School guidelines. Make certain that all names and titles in
the acknowledgments are accurate and spelled correctly. Typing and other costs are the degree
candidate's responsibility. The departmental copier may be used to make copies of the EXAMINATION
DRAFT for the graduate advisory committee in preparation for the defense-of-thesis. All other
duplicating costs of the thesis, including those after the defense, are the responsibility of the degree
candidate; departmental copiers may not be used. If more than four copies of the examination draft are
required, costs of duplicating extra copies will be paid by the student or project. Students are
responsible for the proper distribution of final thesis copies, including one copy required for the LRES
archives and one for the major advisor. Any changes in thesis format from those in the "Guide" must
have prior approval from The Graduate School.

Submit one paper copy of your thesis to be bound for the LRES archive. Single-sided copies are
preferred. The Certificate of Approval Form for Theses and Dissertations must be typed by the graduate
student and signed by the student, chair and committee members to be submitted to The Graduate
School with an electronic copy of their thesis.

A graduate student can expect the draft of the thesis to be returned from the major advisor and
graduate committee reviews within two weeks of the time submitted. A draft version of the thesis
must be reviewed and given tentative approval by all members of the graduate committee before an
examination copy is prepared and the final exam scheduled.

Completion of the thesis research requirement will be verified by the graduate committee and the
major advisor following the outcome of the final examination.

Examinations and Defense of Thesis/Dissertation

Refer to the MSU Bulletin or Graduate Catalog regarding all dates to meet graduation deadlines. After
the thesis has been read by the full committee, the final examination can be scheduled. Adhering to
MSU GRADUATE CATALOG regulations, the examination copy for the thesis defense is to be made
available to LRES at least one week before the examination.

The M.S. final examination will be both comprehensive, to test breadth and depth of knowledge, and a
defense-of-thesis (see MSU Graduate Catalog for full details). Students should discuss with the major
advisor how this exam will be handled, so they may appropriately prepare for it.

Comprehensive examinations (see the online MSU Graduate Catalog for full details) for the Ph.D. degree
are both written and oral. The written phase precedes the oral exam by no more than one month and is
scheduled when the candidate and major advisor agree that the student is ready. The comprehensive
examination should be taken by the end of the second year of the student’s program. The graduate
committee will discuss with the student the format, scope, and location of the written and oral
comprehensive exam at least one month before the exams are taken. The written exam must be
completed within a period of one week. Questions are prepared by the candidate’s graduate committee,
with additional questions solicited from other staff members if the major advisor desires. Grading is on a
Pass/Fail basis. The committee has final authority, and two dissenting votes constitute failure of the
comprehensive examination.

The final examination for the Ph.D. degree, which should occur at least six months (preferably nine
months) after passing the written and oral comprehensive examinations, is primarily a dissertation
defense, but may also include additional questions within the broad scope of the student's discipline.

A Public Thesis/Dissertation Defense seminar is required for all M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. The defense
seminar shall present results included in the draft thesis submitted to the graduate advisory
committee for review and may not take place until the draft thesis has been presented to the student’s
graduate committee for approval.

Once the date has been set, contact the LRES Student Academic Coordinator at least two weeks
before the date for the thesis/dissertation defense.

A notice to all departmental faculty and graduate students announcing the final exam and its location
will be circulated by the LRES Main Office one week before the final exam date. (Again, contact the
LRES Student Academic Coordinator – students are NOT to prepare notices on their own). The
Graduate School will be notified of the defense seminar by the Student Academic Coordinator so it
can be posted on the website. LRES faculty are encouraged to attend all final exams, but action
relative to the candidate’s achievement rests solely with the graduate advisory committee and the
Department Head. An open seminar (30-45 minutes) covering the results of the thesis research is
presented to attendees prior to the beginning of the thesis defense. The thesis in final form will be
approved by the major advisor, graduate committee, the LRES Department Head and the Dean of The
Graduate School.

Expectation for Publication

Publication of the thesis research results in a research journal IS EXPECTED; thus, the thesis research
should be conducted with publication beyond the thesis in mind. Authors are encouraged to write in a
manner that requires the least rewriting for a publication format and still meets the requirements of The
Graduate School’s guidelines ( The student will prepare the
journal manuscript(s) and submit to their major advisor. Publication guidelines are available from each
major society or journal which describe correct format and requirements. If publication is not
accomplished within one year after graduation, the advisor will be expected to publish the work as
senior author.

Duties and Expectations

All graduate appointments are awarded with the understanding that the student will be involved in
departmental research activities as an integral part of their academic program and training. They are
to become familiar with and obtain a complete working knowledge of their chosen major area of
study. Graduate students learn by assisting their major advisor in undertaking and completing
research. An important part of the research process involves publishing results in a format that is
readily accessible to others and thereby adds to the body of scientific knowledge. Funded graduate
students are explicitly expected to publish their research in scientific journals, if the work is deemed
appropriate for publication by the major advisor. This is true even if funding has ended before the
work has been converted to manuscript form and submitted.

All students, regardless of funding source, are expected to gain instructional experience through
assisting with teaching in an LRES or other approved lecture or laboratory course. This activity may or
may not provide added financial compensation. Students completing the teaching assistance
requirement will typically be involved about 15 hours per week in teaching activities in addition to their
own research and course work. This time requirement will vary with specific courses and activities,
number of graduate assistants participating, etc. Students should explore potential opportunities with
their advisor and with other LRES faculty well in advance of their anticipated service.


Evaluation is a continuous process and is constantly being done by the major advisor, graduate
committee, department head, and LRES faculty. Unsatisfactory student progress may lead to
termination of the assistantship or graduate program. In some cases, a special meeting may be called
to interview the committee and/or student relative to progress.

Vacation and Personal Interest Courses

Allowances for vacation and for special interest or recreational physical education classes must be
arranged with the major advisor in advance. Tuition waivers allocated by the Department Head will
NOT cover these courses. Graduate students do not automatically receive time off when classes are
not in session unless it is a recognized university holiday.

LRES 594 Graduate Seminar

M.S. and Ph.D. students are required to complete one credit of LRES 594 Graduate Seminar. LRES 594
guidelines and instructor protocols must be followed. The seminar will be about the student’s
proposed thesis or dissertation research. This seminar should be timed so that it is presented early in
the student’s program (i.e., first or second semester). Students may take additional LRES 594 credits,
but these are not required and a seminar presentation will be required each time LRES 594 is taken.



Graduate students are encouraged to attend regional and national professional meetings and to
present their work. Financial assistance may be provided from project funds, if available, and if the
project leader and the administration are convinced that benefits to the project justify expenditure.
Students may receive different amounts of financial assistance from different project sources. Certain
funds that may occasionally become available to the department will be distributed to graduate
students with priority given to those scheduled to present professional papers. If transportation to
meetings is available in official vehicles, expenses incurred for other forms of transportation will
normally not be paid by the department.

An Out-of-State Travel Authorization form must be completed at least 10 days prior to departure
date, and prior to encumbering any funds for travel arrangements. See the Accountant in the LRES
Main Office for a complete explanation of all travel requirements well ahead of any planned travel.

Exit Process

Students are to submit an exit interview form to the Student Academic Coordinator before leaving
campus. Also, departing students should give the MSU Human Services and the LRES Student Academic
Coordinator a forwarding address, telephone and email address before leaving the campus. In the event
a student has obtained employment, they should give the following information to the LRES Student
Academic Coordinator for the annual Career Services Survey: Name of Company, Address, Position Title,
and Yearly Salary. Any early departures should be arranged with the major advisor and Department
Head as soon as possible when a change is anticipated.


If such cases arise, these are referred to the major advisor and/or the Department Head.

Graduate Program Overview Committee

Many aspects of the LRES Graduate Program fall under the authority of the LRES Graduate
Curriculum Committee.

Department Head

The Department Head serves multiple functions relative to graduate students and programs. Among
these are oversight and approval of proposed graduate programs and associated forms, and ensuring
that the quality and standards of the departmental M.S. and Ph.D. programs are upheld and maintained.
The Department Head also serves as an advocate for LRES graduate students, and as a mediator of
any disputes or difficulties encountered by graduate students that cannot be satisfactorily resolved by
the student’s major advisor or graduate advisory committee. Students are encouraged to contact the
Department Head before any such difficulties become exacerbated and/or prolonged.


* * Graduate School links * *

Graduate School Home page

Current Students

Resources for Graduate Students

Equity and Inclusion



LRES Department Exit Interview

You will be provided with the LRES departmental Exit Interview form to complete and submit
to LRES Student Academic Coordinator before the end of your graduating semester.