Grad Student Life Beyond Fieldwork: Part 1 (Classes)

Riding in a boat in sunny South Florida, observing wildlife, being immersed in nature: all of these could describe someone’s vacation plans or a typical day of fieldwork for a FCE grad student. Although being a FCE grad student may at times sound enviable, there are numerous other aspects of grad student life, both positive and negative, which I plan to cover in a four-part series. First, I will focus on the classes we have to take.
What people think our average day looks like
The real average day of a FCE student

While our main goals are to conduct research, publish our work and write dissertations, we are still students who must take classes. Since there is no “Everglades” major offered at any university, FCE grad students are scattered across many departments. At FIU, where a majority of FCE grad students are enrolled, students conducting Everglades-related research are majoring in Environmental Studies, Geoscience, Biology, Chemistry, Anthropology and probably 9 other majors I have failed to mention. Due to the diversity of majors among FCE grad students, one student’s classroom experiences and program requirements may be entirely different than those of another student.

I am personally enrolled in the M.S. program in Geoscience at FIU. Grad students that are interested in Everglades-related hydrogeology or biogeochemistry are in the minority. The rest of the students in this program either conduct atmospheric science research or do mysterious things with rocks. Typically, students focus on taking classes during their first two semesters, then they enroll in credits oriented toward thesis work in later semesters. All students are required to take the “Planet Earth” series of courses as well, which introduces students from other disciplines to major geological topics.

Because the majority of graduate students in Geoscience focus on topics like paleobiology, hurricane modeling, and geophysics, course offerings relevant to my Florida Bay biogeochemistry work can be limited. Although I may not always enroll in courses directly related to my thesis topic, I try to connect my classes to my thesis work through any individual projects I am assigned. For example, in my first semester, I enrolled in Coastal Hazards, which mainly dealt with topics like beach erosion and coastal storm impacts. In a project I completed at the end of the semester in this course, I focused on hazardous effects of algal blooms, which ties in closely with my research. In my Paleoenvironments class, which I initially assumed had nothing to do with my research, I eventually completed a project on how paleobiological methods are used to study cyanobacteria blooms in the past. Some courses did have more direct tie-ins with my research. Planet Earth: South Florida, for example, covered geochemical concepts that are relevant to my work in Florida Bay.

I am now at the point where I have mostly fulfilled my course requirements. Overall, I believe the Geoscience program is designed very well. Though my undergraduate degree is in Biology, the Planet Earth courses and weekly seminars gave me a solid understanding of “hard rock” geology. I am also glad that the emphasis on completing course requirements early frees up more time for research in later semesters. Although not everyone in the program does Everglades research, I have the opportunity to interact with other FCE students through the FCE Student Group.

FCE grad students: How do you feel about the courses offered in your program? Are they relevant to your research? Do you have any course recommendations for other FCE students?

Other readers: Does anything about the daily lives of FCE grad students or their coursework surprise you?  Do you have any questions about our coursework or grad school life in general?


  1. I would highly recommend FCE reading group workshops when they are offered. Dr. Evelyn Gaiser usually teaches this course and is an awesome way to learn about the background literature, as well as future developments of FCE science. In the last workshop, students played a direct role in editing and contributing to the renewal proposal that was sent to NSF for the next stage of the program (FCE III). It was really rewarding to know our discussions and suggestions played a part in the successful renewal of FCE!


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