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University of South Florida, St. Petersburg
College of Marine Science

Letter to Prospective Graduate Students

Thank you for your interest in graduate studies in Marine Science at USF.

The following is basic information that I send to students who inquire about our graduate program and about my specific area of research. For more information on the college and faculty, please thoroughly explore our website at

To be accepted for graduate studies with no background deficiencies, you must have a degree in a science, mathematics or engineering, and a minimum of two semesters each of calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, and geology. Besides that background, you need a grade point average of at least 3.0 on your last 60 credits and a minimum combined verbal and quantitative GRE score of 1100. Those are the basic requirements. Because we are a graduate-level college, we have relatively few teaching assistantships. A limited number of very highly qualified students are awarded first-year assistantships, and one or two of the very best applicants each year (i.e., typically with combined verbal/ quantitative GRE score in excess of 1350 and GPA above 3.8) may be awarded university fellowships. To be considered for nomination for a multi-year USF Presidential fellowship, applications must be complete by mid January, because nominations are due February 1. In subsequent years, students are supported in a variety of ways, including research assistantships on their major professorsí grants, college fellowships (very competitive!), part-time or full-time jobs at FMRI or USGS (see below), part-time jobs at the St. Petersburg Pier Aquarium, or some combinations of teaching assistantships, part-time jobs and student loans. Competition for admittance into our program is very high for biology students; approximately one in ten qualified marine biology/biological oceanography applicants are accepted by our program. Geological oceanography has become increasingly competitive in the past few years, but the probability of admission is still very good for fully qualified applicants. In chemical and physical oceanography most applicants are accepted. This discrepancy is because nearly everyone thinks ėMarine Scienceî means ėMarine Biologyî, where, in fact, we need roughly equal numbers of students in the four disciplines.

Here in St. Petersburg, we have more marine scientists in one location than anywhere else in the southeastern United States. The College of Marine Science, with approximately 30 faculty and about 150 students is also home to the Center for Ocean Technology, an engineering group developing instrumentation for marine research. The Marine Research Institute of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWRI) is next door ( we share some facilities. They have around 50 Ph.D. scientists and 2-3 times that many Bachelor's and Master's level scientists. The Coral Reef Research group of FWRI is headed by Dr. Carl Beaver, a reef ecologist. Walter Jaap, an internationally recognized expert in coral-reef monitoring and restoration, is a long-time member of that team. The Center for Coastal Geology and Regional Studies of the US Geological Survey (USGS) is a few blocks away ( Their staff includes several prominent carbonate sedimentologists, including Lisa Robbins, Robert Halley, Kim Yates, Gene Shinn, and Barbara Lidz. Reef ecologists and microbiologists include Ginger Garrison, Christina Kellogg and Dale Griffin, Several scientists of the Biological Services Division of the USGS are also at the St. Petersburg center. The National Marine Fisheries Service Southwest Regional Office ( is located on the USF St. Petersburg campus. The National Estuaries Program also has a small staff here. Eckerd College also has a good undergraduate marine science program and several Eckerd faculty serve on committees of students in our college. There are also faculty with marine interests in the Geology and Biology departments of USF at the main campus in Tampa, and at the University of Tampa, which is another local private 4-year college. A bit farther afield are Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce; researchers from both institutions have worked with our students in co-advisory or committee-member roles.

So we have tremendous human resources here in the Tampa Bay area. Students seeking Marine Biology degrees rather than interdisciplinary Marine Science degrees should consider applying to the Biology Department on the Tampa Campus instead of, or in addition to, applying to the College of Marine Science. There is also a graduate program in Environmental Science and Policy on the Tampa campus, and an undergraduate program on the St. Petersburg campus. Some of our students find opportunities to serve as teaching assistants in the latter.

Among our areas of specialties in the College of Marine Science are paleoceanography, carbonates and reef research. Besides my work on carbonates, nutrients and reef-dwelling foraminifera, Al Hine is a leading carbonate sedimentologist. Ben Flower and Michael Howell are paleoceanographers who work primarily in pelagic carbonates. Terry Quinn is a paleoceanographer focusing on shallow-water carbonates. David Hollander, an isotope geochemist with strong interests in environmental applications. Ashanti Pyrtle is a chemical oceanographer interested in biogeochemical applications, particularly radionuclides.

We have several biological oceanographers with reef-related interests as well. Jose Torres has strong interests in physiology of cnidarians and has a student working on coral physiology. David Mann studies hearing and sound production in fishes in relation to reproduction and life history; his graduate research involved reef fish. John Paul, a microbiologist in the College of Marine Science, is working on microbes and viruses in waters around Florida, including the Florida Keys. Microbiologist Mya Breitbart will be joining our faculty in the near future; her interests include viral and microbial communities in corals. Remote sensing studies of south Florida and other reef environments are being conducted by Frank Muller-Karger's remote sensing lab and by Kendall Carder's ocean optics laboratory in the College of Marine Science, by Drs. John Brock of the USGS, and the CAMERA group of the FMRI.

I specifically study reef-dwelling foraminifera as bioindicators for reef monitoring and assessment. Foraminiferal research is also a CMS specialty; Dr. Ben Flower, Dr. Michael Howell, and their students use planktonic foraminifera in their paleoceanographic research. In addition, Dr. Richard Poore is a paleoceanographer at the USGS and Dr. David Hastings at Eckerd College studies trace elements in foraminiferal shells. I currently have a sizeable group of students, both masters and Ph.D. level, working on a variety of reef-related projects. We are pursuing two major lines of research: ecological and biogeological. We use assemblages, population dynamics and other techniques to study stressed populations, and use the sedimentary record of forams and other shelled organisms to assess anthropogenic impact on reefs. We have also been studying bleaching in reef-dwelling foraminifera over the past decade and there is plenty more to do. One of my students and I also are participants in an NSF-funded project that is examining biocomplexity in arsenic-rich sediments around hydrothermal springs in a reef environment in New Guinea. You can see the range of projects of my current and former students elsewhere on this website.

I typically accept one or two new students each year (i.e., complete applications for fall admission should be submitted by February 15, and for spring by October 1), depending upon the progress of my current students, funding availability, and quality, interest and funding needs of the applicants. I am interested in students with both field and molecular interests and background, who are willing to take on the challenge of adapting biomolecular techniques to studies of reef foraminifera. I especially need students with SCUBA experience who are eager to dive. Funding is always a gamble and depends upon state, national and international events, so flexibility and determination are absolutely essential.

If you have additional questions, please contact me. If you apply for admission to CMS and want me to consider your application, please e-mail me when you receive notice from the CMS Office of Academic Affairs that your application is complete and ready for examination.

Best wishes in your search for a suitable graduate program.

Pamela Hallock Muller, Professor
College of Marine Science
University of South Florida
140 Seventh Ave. S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Phone: 727-553-1567
FAX: 727-553-1189

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