Graduate Program

Graduate students in the MLML Phycology Lab study marine macroalgae (seaweeds) and seagrasses. Under the guidance of advisor Dr. Mike Graham, students pursue an educational and research program tailored to prepare them for careers in research, teaching, or for entrance into advanced graduate programs. Dr. Graham’s philosophy holds that it is important for students to begin their scientific careers with a firm understanding of how scientific knowledge is accumulated, and thus, how science progresses. This is especially important in the pluralistic and interdisciplinary field of ecology, where the development of one sub-discipline may not track the development of another. He therefore emphasizes rigorous understanding of hypothesis testing, sampling theory, and experimental design, as well as the relative strengths and limitations of analytical and technical tools relevant to a student’s particular field of study. Students are encouraged to develop process-oriented interdisciplinary research objectives, although such research cannot be done without having a good handle on organismal biology and natural history. Student research generally focuses on seaweed population biology, morphology, physiology, taxonomy, and life history, as well as species interactions among seaweeds and within their associated communities. Finally, current and future ecological advances are considered to be fundamentally constrained by the success and failure of past endeavors, and thus Phycology Lab students are encouraged appreciate both historical and contemporary contributions in their field.


As noted in the Description and Requirements of the MLML Program, Moss Landing graduate students must take Quantitative Marine Science (MS 104) and three of five specified core classes to become fully classified in the MLML marine science master's program. To meet this requirement, most Phycology Lab students take Marine Ecology (MS 103), Geological Oceanography (MS 141) and Physical Oceanography (MS 142).

Other courses taken generally include the following:
MS 104 Quantitative Marine Science
MS 105 Marine Science Diving
MS 131 Marine Botany
MS 135 Physiology of Marine Algae
MS 208 Scientific Methods
MS 231 Biology of Seaweeds
MS 272 Subtidal Ecology
MS 273 Marine Environmental Studies of the Gulf of California
MS 285 Graduate Seminar in Marine Biology
MS 298/299 Master’s Research and Thesis

Dr. Graham’s course-load includes:
MS 103 Marine Ecology (co-taught with J. Geller, S. Hamilton)
MS 131 Marine Botany
MS 208 Scientific Methods (co-taught with J. Harvey)
MS 231 Biology of Seaweeds

He also teaches various courses and seminars on advanced topics in Ecology, Biogeography, Quantitative Ecology, Sampling and Experimental Design, Population Biology, Phycology, and the History of Ecology. 



As part of the M.S. in Marine Science degree requirements, students in the Phycology Lab at MLML must conduct original research that constitutes their M.S. Thesis. Phycology Lab student theses generally focus on some aspect of ecology of seaweeds, although other marine ecological topics may be applicable (see past projects). Student research may or may not be in line with Dr. Graham’s own research objectives, however, in every case a student’s research topic will represent a novel scientific contribution, most including a combination of laboratory and field research. Students have access to all shared-resources at MLML including: small boats and diving; aquarium culture facilities; analytical chemistry facilities; a molecular biology classroom; GIS; and numerous onsite research instruments. The close proximity of MLML to various habitats (rocky intertidal and subtidal; estuarine; sandy beach; marsh and dune) as well as shared resources for conducting research at remote locations (e.g. Gulf of California or Antarctica) greatly enhances the research opportunities available to Phycology Lab students.


Admission requirements

The Phycology Lab typically accepts 2-3 students per year in the Fall semester (Dr. Graham does not accept Spring applications). Prospective students must meet the minimum qualifications to be accepted to Moss Landing Marine Lab's program. To apply to be an MLML student, you need to apply to Graduate Admissions at one of the consortium schools that are affiliated with the lab. These are San Jose State University, California State University Hayward, Sacramento State University, Fresno State University, San Francisco State University, California State University Stanislaus, and California State University Monterey Bay. The school that accepts you will become your “home” institution. Acceptance decisions are usually made by the faculty at MLML and then relayed to the home institution and on to the student. Phycology Lab students are expected to have a good undergraduate GPA and GRE scores, and good letters of recommendation. Having some research experience is a good idea, and can make up for less than perfect grades and scores. Applications to the Phycology Lab are not considered until prospective students have personally met with Dr. Graham.

Phycology Lab students spend most, if not all, of their time in residence at MLML and will likely never need to visit their home campus except perhaps to turn in their thesis. Choice of the home institution is somewhat arbitrary. CSUMB is the closest to MLML, and SJSU is the most familiar with MLML students, policies, and procedures as they administer our grants and contracts. Be aware, however, that the requirements for maintaining student status and graduation are determined by the home institution, not by Dr. Graham.

Prospective Phycology Lab students should realize that MLML has limited resources for student salary and therefore funds few of their students. This means that unless you are among the lucky few that lands a TA or RA position during any given semester, you will likely have to work outside of the lab to make ends meet. Dr. Graham hopes to fund some or all Phycology Lab students on research grants by providing them with a salary and/or tuition. These students will work specifically for the Phycology Lab and the work may or may not relate to their subsequent thesis. However, it is anticipated that most students will be able to use the time they work on the grant in the lab or field to develop a thesis project, regardless of the thesis topic. It also means that if Dr. Graham’s grant applications are successful, students do not have to find a job tending bar somewhere, freeing up more time to devote to science .... which is what this lab is all about. The availability of funds, however, is never guaranteed and will play into the decision to accept or not accept students at a particular time. Funded students are expected to have research interests that overlap with Dr. Graham’s. Keep in mind that if a student’s research interests are too different from Dr. Graham’s, he cannot advise the student effectively as he will lack the proper experience. Most importantly, prospective students are expected to have a good sense of why they are pursuing a graduate degree in the Phycology Lab at MLML, what they hope to accomplish, and how the MLML degree will help meet their career objectives. Do not take this last point lightly.

Finally, prospective students should read and be familiar with the general information provided on the MLML home page. If you are still interested in working in the Phycology Lab, please contact Dr. Graham at:

Dr. Michael H. Graham
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
8272 Moss Landing Rd.
Moss Landing, CA 95039-9647
Phone #: 831/771-4481
e-mail: mgraham [at] mlml [dot] calstate [dot] edu