MS Biology | Department of Biology

MS Biology


The Master of Science in Biology requires completion of at least 30 semester hours of graduate level course work and research or capstone hours. Generally, MS-thesis students take 15 hours of formal courses and 15 hours of research and thesis. During the first semester students rotate through three faculty labs and by the beginning of the second semester select a thesis advisor. Some incoming students may have already made arrangements to complete their thesis research with a particular faculty member prior to beginning the program. Non-thesis MS students may complete 3 credits of a capstone experience in addition to 27 credits of flexible, personalized coursework. Plan of Study templates and checklists for MS students can be found on the Graduate Resources page, here.

*For further information on applying to the MS Program please see the Applying to Graduate Programs page.


Students entering the MS program are not required to take particular courses. Rather, course selection will initially be made in consultation with the Graduate Program Director or thesis advisor and will depend on the student’s interests and educational background. In some cases, students may have to take a lower-level course for non-graduate credit to complete a deficiency. The core courses for the PhD in Environmental Health Science are open to the MS students. The MS in Biology requires 30 semester hours. At least 15 hours must be in 600-level courses (including 6 hours of BIO 699 for thesis-track students). MS thesis students are required to take 6 hours of BIO 699 (Thesis). MS thesis students may also apply up to 9 credit hours of BIO 695 (Biological Research) to the MS degree.

*For further information on Graduate Core and Elective courses please see the UNCG Graduate Bulletin.

Non-thesis MS

The non-thesis MS in biology requires completion of at least 30 semester hours of graduate-level coursework. Generally, non-thesis students will select 27 credits of electives from graduate-level biology courses and 3 credit hours of BIO 698 Non-thesis as a capstone experience. Students who select the non-thesis option may take up to 12 credits at the graduate level in other departments outside of biology. Selection of courses outside of the biology department require prior approval of the student’s graduate committee and the final approval of the Graduate Program Director and/or Department Head.

Non-thesis Capstone Experience

Students who elect to pursue a non-thesis MS in biology must take at least 15 credits in biology courses 600-749 and cannot enroll in BIO 695 Biological Research, BIO 699 Thesis, BIO 801 Thesis Extension, or BIO 803 Research Extension. Three credit hours of BIO 698 Non-Thesis is required for all non-thesis MS students to complete their capstone experience. The student’s faculty advisor will be the instructor for their section of BIO 698. The capstone experience will be designed by the student’s faculty mentor in collaboration with the Graduate Studies Committee and can include a comprehensive exam, written report, or scholarly literature review on a pre-approved topic relevant to the student’s career field.

Research and Thesis

The MS-thesis in biology requires completion of a research project. Students conduct research under the guidance of their faculty advisor and write a master’s thesis based on their research. Students enrolled in the MS program have the opportunity to work with a research faculty advisor from over 20 full-time faculty. Students receive credit for research and thesis by taking two courses:

  • BIO 695 Thesis Research
  • BIO 699 Thesis

Thesis advisory Committee

The MS Advisory Committee serves to approve the Plan of Study, participate in planning of the thesis, evaluate the written thesis, and evaluate the defense of the thesis. The committee consists of at least three faculty members, at least two of whom, including the Chair, must be faculty members from the Department of Biology, and all of who must be members of the Graduate Faculty in Biology Graduate Program and the UNCG Graduate School. Additional adjunct members from outside of the UNCG committee are also permitted (see Graduate School policy in the Graduate School Bulletin). The Chair of the committee is generally the Advisor, and the other committee members should be selected in consultation with the Advisor. The Thesis Committee must be formed during the first year in the program.

MS Thesis Proposal

In close consultation with the Advisor, the student must select a Master’s research project, prepare a thesis proposal, present the proposal to the department, and defend the proposal to the Advisory Committee. The proposal must be approved by the Advisor prior to submission to the Advisory Committee. Typically, there are several drafts of a thesis proposal before approval by the Advisor, so students should plan their time accordingly. The proposal must be submitted to the committee members at least one week prior to the proposal review meeting, and in most cases, should be defended prior to completion of the first year of study, but no later than the third academic semester. Failure to meet this deadline may result in loss of funding. At the defense, the committee will discuss the merits of the proposal and suggest changes intended to improve the quality of the research. The proposal meeting is intended to be advisory, not evaluative, and frequently leads to important improvements in the research project. The committee may approve the research as proposed or may ask for revisions. If major revisions are required, another proposal meeting may be required. If the proposal defense is the first meeting of the Advisory Committee, the committee may also wish to discuss the courses listed on the Plan of Study at the meeting.

Master’s Thesis Defense

A thesis must be prepared based on data collected during the thesis research. Typically, the Advisor works closely with the student until he or she is satisfied that the document is of sufficient quality for defense. At that time, the thesis is submitted to the Thesis Committee and the defense is scheduled no less than one week after document is received by the Thesis Committee. At such time, the student arranges a suitable time and place for the meeting, and works with the Biology office staff to ensure that the thesis defense is advertised to the department. In the great majority of cases, the Master’s defense meeting will result in a number of suggested or required revisions in the thesis. Accordingly, the student should allow sufficient time for revisions prior to the Graduate School deadline for receiving the thesis. Failure to meet the deadline will result in a student being required to register for thesis extension (Bio 801) the following semester. Students should follow the guidelines set forth by the Graduate School when preparing the thesis. All theses must be electronically submitted to the Graduate School after they are approved by the Thesis Committee. See:

The thesis defense begins with a presentation of the thesis research. This portion of the process will be open to the university community and will be announced through the department office. After a period of open questioning by all that are in attendance, a closed session will follow where committee members will ask the student questions related to the thesis research and the intellectual foundations of the research. After the questioning, the committee will deliberate to assess the performance of the student. Three outcomes are possible: acceptance, provisional acceptance, and rejection. Acceptance of the thesis indicates that the student has met the standard set forth for theses by the department. Minor revisions may still be required of an acceptable thesis prior to submission. However, the Advisor can supervise these revisions. Provisional acceptance indicates that there are substantial format, content, or analysis problems with the thesis that make it unacceptable as written, but that upon revision, the document will likely be acceptable. The committee will outline the problems in writing and present them to the student. Prior to acceptance the student may be asked to convene an additional meeting to explain the revisions to the entire committee, or may be asked to resubmit the document to the committee. Provisional acceptance may also be granted if the student’s thesis is fully acceptable, but his or her ability to defend the thesis is inadequate. In such cases, the committee will clearly define the steps needed for the student to overcome the inadequacies. Inability of a student to rectify any inadequacies will result in a rejection of the thesis. A thesis is rejected if the student has not adequately conducted, analyzed, or interpreted the research that was proposed, and the committee judges that the problems cannot be amended. In such cases, the student will be either dismissed from the program, or will be required to satisfactorily complete additional data collection and/ or analyses and revisions to the thesis. Prior to acceptance the student may be asked to resubmit the document to the committee or may be asked to convene an additional meeting to explain the revisions to the entire committee. All committee members must approve of the revised thesis.