Department of Biology


Biology Master's Program Information


The Master’s program in Biology (M.S. and M.A.) is supported by internationally recognized faculty working on research projects funded by federal, state, local, non-profit, and for-profit organizations in a variety of different fields of biology. Follow the links to learn more specific information about the coursework in our graduate programs in Cell & Molecular Biology and Ecology & Natural Resources.

Our thesis-based Masters of Science (M.S.) program consists both of taking master's level courses (30 credits) and participating in an individualized research project in the lab of a faculty member willing to sponsor you. To graduate, students write a thesis (typically 75-150 pages) about their research findings and present their research in an oral presentation to the department in a public defense followed by a short oral exam (private defense) pertaining to their project conducted by their committee.

Our Masters of Arts (M.A.) program consists primarily of taking master's level courses (36 credits) and may include research experience from a faculty advisor as part of this coursework. The final culminating project of the M.A. program is a comprehensive exam (see below for more information about the comprehensive exam).

How to Apply?

To apply for graduate school you will need to complete the GRE exam and meet the Department of Biology's minimums (150 or higher for Verbal and 150 or higher for Quantitative). You will also need a minimum GPA from your undergraduate education of 2.5 or higher.  

If you are interested in a thesis-based Master of Science (M.S.) degree you will need to find a faculty member in our department willing to be your graduate advisor where you will gain hands-on-experience working on a research project in their lab. We will only accept student for an M.S. degree from whom we have a faculty advisor willing to mentor the student in their lab, so make sure to contact a faculty member before applying.

When contacting a faculty member, it is recommended that you provide the faculty some information about your academic background and career interests. At the minimum, this information should include your undergraduate GPA, GRE scores, relevant work experience, and career goals. Only after you have made contact with a member of the faculty do we recommend sending your formal graduate application to the university. In your application, it is helpful to indicate the faculty advisor who has agreed to sponsor you on a research project.

For further information on potential faculty advisors and their research follow the link here.

When Should I Apply?

Our program has a rolling application such that we review applications as we receive them, so we do not have any official application deadline. However, we must have enough time to process your application before your first semester begins and if you wish to apply for a TA position you will need to be accepted into the program before April 1st (for any open Fall Semester TA positions) and before November 1st (for any open Spring Semester TA positions). Students can begin their program in either the fall or spring semesters.

TA Positions and Other University Funding

An opportunity to fund your education at our institution is a Teaching Assistantship (TA). We award paid TA positions to graduate students to help pay for their graduate education (typically $9,250 for a 9 month appointment in addition to full tuition reimbursement up to 8 credits a semester). As a teaching assistant, students are responsible for teaching 2-3 two-hour-long lab sections per semester of undergraduate biology laboratories (not lectures). Criteria for selecting students for TA positions includes GRE scores, undergraduate GPA, prior teaching experience, and the degree track of the applicant (M.S. students are given priority in TA rankings). TA applications are accepted in the Spring (April 1st) and Fall (November 1st). Applicants must already be accepted into our graduate program to apply for a TA position. While sstudents enrolled in our M.A. program are still eligible to apply for TA positions, applicants enrolled in our thesis-based M.S. program are given priority in TA application rankings.

  • A student can occupy a TA position for a maximum of 4 semesters (2 academic years).
  • If a student changes their degree plan (for example from a M.S. to an M.A.) during their TA position, they must reapply for a TA position following the completion of their initial contract.
  • Students with a TA position MUST register for BIOL 678 during their first semester of TA status.
  • Return your TA Application to Biology Office Staff before the appropriate due date.

In addition to TA positions, you can also apply for one of many Graduate Assistantships offered in other departments on campus to perform various work that also includes a stipend and tuition reimbursement.

Graduate Research Assistantships are also a possibility contingent on funding from your faculty advisor. Inquire with your faculty advisor about the possibility of Graduate Research Assistantships. 


Below is a general outline of required coursework necessary to complete your chosen degree plan. Many of the course offerings during your graduate degree are flexible, allowing you to plan out a suite of coursed with your faculty advisor that will complement and enhance your learning experience.

  • Master of Science (Plan A – Thesis) – 30 credits (15 of these must be 600 level) and thesis required.
    • Required: Exactly 6 credits of BIOL 699 Thesis research
    • Required: Graduate-level statistics course
    • Required: At LEAST 15 credits of 600-level courses
    • Required: At LEAST 3 credits of BIOL 610 (Special Topics, up to 8 credits)
    • Required: BIOL 628 (Research Design, 2 credits)
    • Required: At LEAST 3 credits of BIOL 630 (Seminar, 1 credit each semester)
    • Other coursework can include 500-level courses
    • Students with a TA position must take BIOL 678 in first semester of position
    • Students must be registered for at least one credit during the semester in which they graduate
  • Master of Arts (Plan B – Comprehensive Exam) – 36 credit hours (18 of these must be 600 level) and comprehensive exit exam required.
    • Required: Graduate-level statistics course
    • Required: At LEAST 18 credits of 600-level courses
    • Required: At LEAST 3 credits of BIOL 610 (Special Topics, up to 8 credits)
    • Required: BIOL 628 (Research Design, 2 credits)
    • Required: At LEAST 3 credits of BIOL 630 (Seminar, 1 credit each semester)
    • Other coursework can include 500-level courses
    • Students with a TA position must take BIOL 678 in first semester of position
    • Students must be registered for at least one credit during the semester in which they graduate
    • The comprehensive exam is the ONLY option in the Department of Biology as the final culminating project for an M.A. degree. There is NO option for a capstone project or starred paper available in the Department of Biology.

Program of Study and Forming a Graduate Committee (M.S. and M.A. Students)

During your first semester of graduate school you should declare your program of study and form a graduate committee that is composed of your faculty advisor, a second faculty member from biology, and an outside faculty member from a department other than biology. Additional faculty members or external scientists/faculty can be added as approved by the faculty advisor. You must submit a form indicating the composition of your committee.

Thesis Proposal Defense (M.S. Students)

During your second semester of graduate school you should organize a committee meeting to discuss your proposed thesis research and your plan for how you will accomplish this work. While it depends on the faculty advisor, you will typically need to prepare a written document outlining your thesis plan and give a presentation about this plan. Following the completion of this meeting you will need to submit a form indicating the committee's decision regarding your thesis plan.

Public and Private Thesis Defense (M.S. Students)

Typically during your fourth semester of graduate school you should begin to finalize writing your thesis and preparing for your final public and private thesis defense. A public defense is a requirement for the Department of Biology M.S. program and your public defense must be advertised at least a week in advance. In addition to a public defense, you will need to schedule a final committee meeting for your private defense.

Submission of the Thesis (M.S. Students)

After the completion of your public and private defense and the acceptance of your thesis by your graduate committee, you will need to upload your thesis into the institution repository and have it finalized for approval by the graduate school. The School of Graduate Studies provides detailed instructions on the formatting of the thesis document and how to upload your final submission. These instructions also include information on how to order bound copies of your thesis. Follow these formatting instructions carefully, as it will greatly expedite the final submission of your thesis if it is in the proper formatting style. Also do not forget to apply for graduation in the semester you intend to graduate.

Comprehensive Exam (M.A. Students)

The M.A. Comprehensive Exam is a written examination designed to demonstrate understanding and integration of learning in the program. All M.A. students will take the comprehensive exam as the final culminating project of the degree. Following the completion of the exam your committee will grade it and you will need to submit a Final Evaluation Committee form indicating the result of the exam. The format of the exam is outlined below.

  • On-campus, closed-book exam 
  • Exam consists of 10 core concept questions (i.e., experimental design, evolution, etc.) and 10 course-work based exam questions.
  • Graduate Committee chair chooses core concepts course-work based questions from a question bank provided by the graduate faculty and maintained by the Graduate Committee.
  • Each question is graded individually as pass/fail.
  • A student passes the exam with 75% passed answers (i.e., 15 of 20 answers are graded “pass”). A student who received a pass grade on 10-14 questions (50-70%) will be given one chance to retake the exam within six months of receiving the grades for the first MA exam. A student who received a pass on 0-9 exam questions will be considered failed and will NOT be given an opportunity for a retake of the exam.
  • Students retaking the exam will receive 10 new core concepts and 10 new course-work based questions from the question bank.
  • Only one retake of the MA exam is permitted.
  • Form: Report of Final Evaluation Committee

Timeline of your Final Semester (M.S. and M.A. Students)

The final semester of your graduate program includes numerous forms and deadlines (discussed above). Keep track of when all the relevant dates these forms and milestones must be completed by checking this calendar of the current academic years deadlines.