Biological Sciences

Degree Requirements and Curriculum

The department offers the Master of Science degree in Biological Sciences. Coursework and area of research are determined on an individual basis.

The unconditional graduate student with an advisory committee will develop a program in a selected discipline of biology based upon interests and preparation. The student's approved program will include required core courses, a selection of additional formal courses in a specialization, independent study, and an appropriate thesis. It will normally constitute 30 semester units of credit.

Course Units. The degree program must include a minimum of 30 semester units. At least 22 semester units must be in 5000-6000 level courses. No more than 8 units may be from 4000-level courses. 

Transfers of Credit. A maximum combined limit of 9 units may be transferred for graduate credit. This total includes acceptable graduate credit transferred from another graduate institution and credit for courses taken through Extended University. Any course transferred into the graduate program must be taken after the student receives their undergraduate degree. Thus, any course that appears on an undergraduate transcript can NOT be transferred.

The stipulated time limit of 7 years applies to all courses counting towards degree credit.

GPA and Grades. A grade point average of 3.0 (B) or better must be maintained in all of the following categories: (1) overall GPA; (2) upper division undergraduate courses and all graduate courses.; and (3) all courses listed on the Course Plan / Graduate Contract for the Master of Science in Biological Sciences. Courses with a grade lower than "C" will not count towards degree requirements.

Advancement to Candidacy. Advancement to Candidacy requires: (1) filing of an approved Course Plan / Graduate Contract for the Master of Science in Biological Sciences; (2) successfully completing the thesis proposal (BIO 6930).

Thesis Defense. A final oral examination / thesis defense must be successfully completed (BIO 6960).

Written Thesis. An acceptable written thesis must be completed and submitted in accordance with university regulations.

Enrollment. The candidate must be enrolled in the university during the semester of graduation. Students must be registered for units and pay fees in the semester in which they graduate (including summer).

Supervisory Courses: Graduate level supervisory courses (BIO 5000, 6910, 6920, 6930, 6940, 6960) are NOT offered during Summer Semester. Plan your schedule accordingly.

Annual Progress Report. All graduate students must file an Annual Progress Report, together with an updated Course Plan and updated Thesis Timeline, to Graduate Coordinator each spring semester.


Curriculum: 30 semester units

Required Core Courses: 9 units

  • BIO 5800L - Research and Teaching Professional Development Laboratory (1) – Required course to take your first semester!
  • BIO 6800 - Seminar in Biology (3 total units) - All BIO 6800 courses must be on different topics.
  • BIO 6930 - Presentation of Thesis Research Proposal (1)
  • BIO 6940 - Thesis Research in the Biological Sciences (4 total units)

Required Culminating Experience Course: 2 units

  • BIO 6960 - Master’s Degree Thesis (2)

Elective Courses: Minimum of 19 units

A maximum of 8 units may be taken at the 4000 level.

No more than 3 units total may be filled with supervisory courses: BIO 5000, BIO 6910, and BIO 6920.

  • BIO 5000 - Training in Graduate Research (1-3)
  • BIO 6910 - Directed Study (1-3)
  • BIO 6920 - Independent Study (1-3)

1 unit of BIO 6800 may count towards electives.  (This is in additon to the 3 units that are required.) All BIO 6800 courses taken for credit (required or elective) must be on different topics.

Possible Elective Courses (courses from other departments considered on an individual case basis)

Important Information

Your sponsor / major professor will help you determine which courses to take. All courses will be approved by the thesis committee.

Course Plan / Graduate Contract. Depending on when you started the program, you will complete a Course Plan in BIO 5800L (started Fall 2022 or later) or Program of Study / GS101 (started prior to Fall 2022) for the Master of Science Degree in Biological Sciences. In consultation with your major professor and thesis committee, determine the courses you must complete and other requirements for graduation.

A Course Plan (started Fall 2022 or later) must be signed by the Thesis Advisor (major professor) and submitted to the Graduate Coordinator.

A GS101 (started prior to Fall 2022) must be signed by your Thesis Advisor, as well as the Graduate Coordinator, Department Chair, and College Dean, and submitted to the Graduate Studies office. You must submit this form by week 6 of your second semester, or a hold will be placed on your registration by the Registrar’s Office. Note: this form is sometimes referred to as the “graduate program” or the “graduate contract.” 

Formation of Thesis Committee. By the end of your first year in the program, you must assemble your Thesis Committee with the advice and consent of your major professor. A Graduate Thesis Committee consists of a minimum of three members including the Chair of the Thesis Committee (your major professor). At least one of the other two committee members must be Graduate Faculty from the Biological Sciences Department. You will ask them to serve on your Thesis Committee.

Thesis Proposal (BIO 6930). The thesis proposal is a public oral presentation and discussion of your proposed research plan. Some major professors also will require a written thesis proposal. The thesis proposal must be approved by the student’s thesis committee.  BIO 6930 must be completed by the third semester (second semester is recommended).  BIO 6930 cannot be taken during the same semester as the Thesis Defense (BIO 6960). BIO 6930 is required for Advancement to Candidacy.

Thesis Research. Upon completion of the Advancement to Candidacy, you will continue your thesis research and completion of courses. The 4 units of BIO 6940 provide academic credit for this work. You may register for more than 4 units of BIO 6940 as you do your research, but no more than 4 units may be counted toward your degree. Note that a maximum of 2 units of BIO 6940 can be taken during a given semester.

Written Thesis. The written thesis will include a literature review, objectives of your project, methods, results, discussion of the results, and conclusions. Your thesis advisor and members of your Thesis Committee will review your thesis and work with you to revise the thesis so that you can submit it with pride. The 2 units of BIO 6960 provide academic credit for this work.

Thesis Defense (BIO 6960). The thesis defense is a public oral presentation of your thesis research, followed by questions from the audience, and an examination by your Thesis Committee in a closed session. In this closed session, you should expect questions about your thesis, as well as questions on topics in basic biology that an individual with a Master of Science in biology would be expected to be familiar with. Discuss expectations for your thesis defense with your major professor.

BIO 6930, BIO 6940, BIO 6960, and other 6000-level courses

For courses that are still in progress at the end of the semester, you will be assigned a grade of RP (Report in Progress). This would apply to your Thesis Proposal (BIO 6930) if you enroll in the course but delay your proposal until after the end of the semester. Similarly, your will receive an RP if you enroll in your Thesis Defense (BIO 6960) but delay your defense until after the end of the semester. This also applies to BIO 6940 (Master's Thesis Research). These RP grades must be changed to actual letter grades before you graduate as follows: 1 unit of BIO 6930, 4 units of BIO 6940, and 2 units of BIO 6960. Grade changes are done by the Thesis Advisor; however, you must request that the changes be made. Be advised that BIO 6930 and BIO 6940 units must be changed to a grade within one year. BIO 6960 must be changed within two years. The one-year policy also applies to RP grades in all other 6000-level courses (e.g., BIO 6910, BIO 6920). If the changes are not made on time, you will have to enroll in additional units in order to obtain grades before you graduate. This could require you to pay additional fees and may delay your graduation.


Be sure to go to the graduate program web site: Read all of the information under “Current Students”. There is critical information here on your program, your thesis, and your thesis defense. You are responsible for all information/policies found on the website.