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Master of Science (M.S.) in Biology

The M.S. degree is designed for students seeking research experience. Successful candidates must demonstrate the mastery of essential research techniques and the ability to communicate effectively the results of research and scholarship. Minimum requirements for the degree are 30 credit hours, consisting of 24 hours of formal course credit (at least half of the 24 hours must be from courses numbered above 499), a thesis proposal (BL 598, 1 credit hour), and a research thesis (BL 599, 5 credit hours). Course descriptions are available in the JCU Graduate Studies Bulletin

What does it mean to be a teaching and/or research assistant when you enter the Master of Science in Biology program? What are my options?

Graduate Teaching Assistants

Students working as Graduate Teaching Assistants will have their tuition waived by JCU, and they will receive a moderate living stipend in exchange for assistance with laboratory courses. This typically involves 20 hours per week of preparation and setup for laboratory courses, grading lab reports, and assisting in management of grades. G.A. awards are competitive and are granted only to M.S. students who are (or will be) working actively on their thesis research with a faculty sponsor in our department.

G.A. Consideration Process

To be considered for a G.A. position, prospective students must:

  • specify their intent to be considered for one of these positions during the application process.
  • provide two letters of recommendation that comment on the applicant’s qualifications for this appointment as part of the application process.
  • be sponsored by a faculty advisor in our department.

Applicants for the M.S. program who desire a G.A. position must consider finding a faculty advisor as central to the application process, as admission to the this program and receiving a G.A. position both require having a faculty sponsor for active thesis research.


Self-funding of the M.S. program is ideal for students who may have existing full-time employment with an institution or business that will pay all or some of the tuition of their employees, or for students who have the finances necessary to cover tuition. Self-funded students are only accepted if they have a research advisor.

M.A. Program (self-funded)

Finally, if a student applies to the M.S. program and meets the GPA requirements but is unable to find space in a faculty research laboratory for thesis research, that student may consider requesting admission to the M.A. Program as a self-funded student.

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Other Requirements

Biology Seminar Program

All graduate students in the M.S. and M.A. degree programs are required to participate in the Biology Seminar Program on a regular basis during their tenure. The course may be taken once for credit (BL 581, 1 credit).

500-level courses

For any Biology course that is cross-listed at both the 400 level and 500 level, graduate students must take the 500 level course. The 500 level courses require an additional oral presentation or paper beyond the requirements for the corresponding 400 level course.

Comprehensive Exam

All graduate students in both degree programs are required to pass a comprehensive examination upon completion of the requirements. Only two opportunities are granted to take this exam. If a student fails the first exam, a second comprehensive exam must be taken no sooner than 30 days after the first exam. Failure to pass this exam on both attempts will result in dismissal from the program, and no graduate degree will be granted. The format of both exams will be determined by the student’s committee as follows:

Oral or written examination consisting of questions that reflect the student’s educational experience and thesis and that seek to integrate knowledge across those areas. The examination will be administered by the thesis committee after successful completion of the thesis.

In some cases, a student and the committee may feel that an alternative examination would be appropriate. In this case, the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies may be petitioned via the Biology Department chair. For more specifics on the graduate program, including a course list, visit the JCU Graduate Studies Bulletin.