Graduate Program in Biology Policy


The Master of Science program in the Department of Biology is based on thesis research. Students complete course work that extends their breadth of knowledge in biology and the concepts and techniques of their chosen discipline. They also conduct original research under the direction of a member of the faculty, and write up their findings as a Master's Thesis. Typically, students take two to three years to complete their graduate degree requirements.

Graduate students in the Department of Biology are supported through a variety of sources. The Department has approximately 30 teaching assistantships available each semester and these positions are filled one semester in advance (contact the Graduate Coordinator for details). In addition, students may receive research assistantships through individual faculty members and their research grants. The University offers a limited number of tuition fee waivers for qualified teaching assistants. Students can also obtain academic scholarships as well as financial aid (usually in the form of low-interest loans). The Department of Biology encourages current and prospective students to apply for external scholarships, fellowships and grants ).

Graduates of this program find themselves with an enhanced understanding of biology and first-hand experience in the practice of science. Many of our graduates move on to doctoral programs and careers in teaching and research. Others pursue careers in environmental consulting, resource management, industry, and various health professions.

Application and Admission to the Program

Students are strongly encouraged to review the information on research interests of faculty members contained in the departmental brochure or in their web pages and should contact them prior to submitting an application. Acceptance into the graduate program is contingent on an invitation to join a graduate faculty member's laboratory.

A graduate application package consists of the following: A) the originals for items 1-3 below submitted to SSU's Admissions and Records Office, and B) photocopies of items 1-3 and originals of items 4 and 5 below must be submitted to the Department of Biology (Graduate Coordinator):

  1. A completed University application (obtain from Admissions and Records Office).
  2. Official copies of all undergraduate transcripts.
  3. A 1-2 page Statement of Purpose essay detailing the student's background in biology, objectives for graduate school, career goals, and identification of the proposed faculty advisor.
  4. Two letters of recommendation from individuals who are familiar with the student's background in biology and ability to work independently, or who are able to comment on their potential for conducting original scientific research.
  5. Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for the General test (Biology Subject scores are recommended).

A complete application package must be received by the Graduate Coordinator (items 1-5) before an applicant will be considered for admission to the Biology Graduate Program.
Admission to the program requires:

  1. Meeting California State University admission requirements.
  2. Acceptance by a biology graduate faculty member to serve as a faculty advisor.
  3. Approval of the Graduate Committee.

Applications will be reviewed for evidence that the prospective student is capable of initiating and performing original scientific research. As a general guideline, the Department uses the following criteria to determine this potential:

  1. An undergraduate degree in biology or equivalent, including:
    1. One course in calculus or statistics;
    2. One year of general chemistry and one semester of organic chemistry;
    3. At least one other course in physical sciences;
    4. Upper division coursework demonstrating competence in three of four core areas (organismal biology; physiology; molecular or cellular biology; ecology or evolutionary biology).
  2. A GPA of 3.0 or higher in the last 60 units.
  3. A score at or above the 50th percentile on each section of the General Examination of the GRE.
  4. Evidence in the statement of purpose and letters of recommendation of potential for conducting independent and original research in biology.

Application deadlines are January 31 for the Fall semester and October 31 for the Spring semester. The SSU Admissions and Records Office will notify students about the status of their applications. Notice of acceptance typically occurs one month following application deadlines.

Students will be admitted into Classified Graduate Standing. Applicants deficient in undergraduate course preparation must demonstrate competency before being advanced to candidacy.

Prospective transfer students in other SSU Masters programs must meet the requirements of incoming Biology Masters students.

Advisory Committee

During the first semester in attendance, the student will consult with their faculty advisor who will be their principle guide in planning research and academic activities. By the end of the first semester, the student and faculty advisor must identify two other people to serve on the student's Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee consists of the advisor (chair of committee) and at least two other members. A minimum of two members of the Advisory Committee must be members of the Department of Biology's Graduate Faculty. At least one member of the committee must be a tenured/tenure-track faculty member in Biology. The third member of the Advisory Committee may be from another institution or agency, subject to approval of the Graduate Committee. Within the first year, the student may change their faculty advisor in consultation and agreement with the new advisor, and approval of the Graduate Committee.

The student meets with the Advisory Committee by the end of the first semester to complete the MS Coursework and Timeline Form listing the Committee approved courses that the student intends to apply to the degree, timeline for advancement to candidacy and completion of degree. This form is submitted to the Graduate Coordinator for approval by the Graduate Committee. Without filing additional forms, students can make changes in their course work if changes meet the approval of their Advisory Committee.

Course Work

From the time of initial enrollment until awarding the graduate degree, students must have enrolled in at least 30 units of committee-approved course work (maintaining a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0). The allocations of these units must be as follows:

  1. A minimum of 18 units must be in Biology.
  2. A minimum of 15 units must be at the 500-level, and must include:
    1. a maximum of 6 units in BIOL 595 (Special Studies) may be applied toward the MS degree requirements.
    2. a minimum of 3 graduate-level seminar courses (at least 6 units).
    3. a maximum of 6 units in BIOL 599 (M.S. Thesis) may be applied toward the MS degree requirements. Students must have advanced to candidacy to enroll in these units. Students will be given an "SP" grade ("satisfactory progress") until the final approval of the thesis. If work is not completed within four semesters, including the semester of their enrollment, students will be required to re-enroll in this course.

3. Up to 4 units of BIOL 598 (Graduate Practicum). Students involved in the development or delivery of instructional materials (for courses that they are not being paid as a Teaching Associate) are encouraged to complete 2 units of BIOL 598.
4. Students are encouraged to attend Biology Colloquium regularly, and can apply 2 units of BIOL 590 to their 30 unit total.
5. A maximum of 9 units of extension, transfer credit or credits taken in the last semester of a student's senior year may be applied to the M.S. degree. See the University catalog or consult Admissions and Records for details

Teaching Associateships

All graduate students, including those supported by extramural sources of funding, are required to participate as a paid Teaching Associate in the Department of Biology in a minimum of 2 laboratory sections.

To be eligible for a University Fee Waiver graduate students must be a paid Teaching Associate for a full academic year (i.e., at least one lab in both the Fall and Spring semesters).

Advancement to Candidacy

To advance to candidacy, students must:

  1. Demonstrate competency in the breadth of biology. This can be met by
    1. Course work reported on transcripts as described in the admissions criteria.
    2. Equivalency to the above courses as determined by the Graduate Committee.
  2. Complete or have in progress a minimum of 12 units of advisory committee approved course work (as outlined on the MS Coursework and Timeline Form).
  3. Demonstrate proficiency in written English. This may be met by:
    1. Possessing a bachelor's degree from a CSU institution, or
    2. Obtaining a score of at least 4.5 in the analytical writing portion of the GRE general test, or
    3. Passing the campus Written English Proficiency Examination (WEPT) (obtain details from the SSU Writing Center Office).
  4. Pass a two-hour Oral Qualifying Examination. This examination is administered by the student's Advisory Committee and a fourth member selected by the Graduate Coordinator from the biology faculty. For full-time students, this examination should be completed no later than the end of their second semester. During the examination, students must demonstrate that they are able to articulate the purpose of their proposed research project, the hypothesis(es) they are testing, and are competent to complete the work. Competency includes knowledge in the areas appropriate to the work proposed. Students are also required to demonstrate an ability to integrate general principles of biology with their proposed work. Procedures for the oral qualifying examination are as follows:
    1. Request that the Graduate Coordinator appoint a fourth member to the Qualifying Examination Committee.
    2. At least two weeks prior to the pre-examination meeting (see below), circulate a preliminary research proposal to all Qualifying Examination Committee members. This proposal outlines the student's proposed thesis research (minimum 5 pages in length) and is developed in close consultation with the student's thesis advisor
    3. Meet with the Qualifying Examination Committee for the pre-examination meeting. In this meeting the committee will discuss the format of the examination, appropriate student preparation and schedule the date and time for the examination.
    4. Complete the Qualifying Examination. Each student's performance is evaluated as a pass/no pass based on consensus of the Examination Committee.
      1. A "pass" may be conditional upon additional course work, or independent study determined by the Examination Committee. This course work or independent study is added to the earlier draft of the MS Coursework and Timeline Form and given to the Graduate Coordinator.
      2. If a student passes the Qualifying Examination, members of their committee sign the Advancement to Candidacy Form (GS01), and the student submits this form to the Graduate Coordinator, who submits this form to the Graduate Studies Office for final approval.
      3. If a student does not pass the Qualifying Examination, their committee will decide if this result is final or if the student will be offered a second attempt. In the latter case, the student may take the examination one more time with the same or a different thesis proposal and committee. The fourth member of the examination committee will remain the same unless this person has become a member of the student's new thesis committee, in which case a new fourth member will be appointed.

Completion of Degree

After advancing to candidacy, students must complete the following tasks to meet their graduate degree requirements:

  1. Approximately 1 semester before graduation (see dates to Apply for Graduation) submit the Application for Award of Degree Form to the Office of Admissions and Records (available from that office).
  2. Prepare a thesis for defense. A complete draft of the written thesis, approved by the Advisory Committee Chair, must be presented to the Advisory Committee prior to scheduling the thesis defense. Students may schedule their defense once the Advisory Committee has signed off on the thesis as 'ready to defend'. Thesis design format (manuscript or traditional) is to be agreed upon by the student and Advisory Committee (but must conform to SSU thesis format).
  3. Publicly present thesis research as the "Thesis Defense." Steps for the thesis defense are:
    1. Students present results of their research in a public forum such as the Biology Colloquium and notify the Graduate Coordinator at least one week in advance of the upcoming defense by submitting the title, date, time, and meeting room for the defense. The graduate Coordinator will then notify the Department. The presentation should not exceed 45 minutes and students should be prepared to address questions and comments. All three members of the committee must be present at this seminar.
    2. Immediately after the defense presentation, the student and their committee meet to further discuss, evaluate and comment on the thesis. At the end of this meeting, the student is excused and the committee decides on the acceptability of the thesis. The Committee may require the student to revise the thesis. Once accepted, step 4 (below) must be completed and the thesis will be signed for final submission to the Graduate Studies Office.
  4. Submit a final copy of the thesis abstract to the Graduate Coordinator.
  5. Submit the signed copy of the thesis to the Graduate Studies Office for final review, accompanied by the signed Completion of Requirements Form (GSO2). The details of editorial format and procedures for submitting work to SSU's Graduate Studies Office are contained in "Guidelines for Master's Theses and Projects".

Continuous Enrollment

Continuous enrollment is expected of all graduate students during their entire degree program. If students have completed their course work and do not register for thesis units, they must enroll in BIOL 578 through Extended Education. This involves a fee and requires written permission from the Graduate Coordinator.

Leave of Absence

An approved leave of absence from the Graduate Program may be granted in cases of extenuating circumstances. The student must submit a written request to the Graduate Committee for approval, followed by submission to the Graduate Studies Office for final approval. Approved leaves of absence will be granted for one semester.

Progress Report

By the end of their 5th semester students are expected to provide to their Advisory Committee a completed draft of the thesis (see Section 6.2), or a progress report (PDF) (MSWORD). The critical section of the progress report is a time line indicating the work to be completed in the upcoming (terminal) year. A copy of the Advisory Committee-approved progress report must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator by the student.

Policy for Adjunct Faculty Advisors

Tenure-track faculty in other departments at SSU are eligible to chair Advisory Committees for the Masters degree program in the Department of Biology, provided they have been granted adjunct faculty status in the Department of Biology. Adjunct faculty are expected to provide office space and research support for students they advise.

Important SSU Offices

Admissions and Records Office
Salazar Hall, Salz 2030
Tel: 707/664-2778

Campus Information
Tel: 707/664-2880

Department of Biology
Department Office: 707/664-2535 (Kathleen Hardy)
Department Chair: 707/664-3053 (Nathan Rank)
Graduate Coordinator: 707/664-3055 (Derek Girman)

Financial Aid Office
Salazar Hall, Salz 2050A
Tel: 707/664-2389

Graduate Studies Office
Stevenson Hall, Room 2010
Tel: 707/664-2237

Information Technologies
Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center
Tel: 707/664-2346

Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center (Library)
Tel: 707/664-2397

Open University/Extended Education
Stevenson Hall, Room 1012
Tel: 707/664-2394

Scholarship Office
Salazar Hall, Salz 1072
Tel: 707/664-2261

University Bookstore (where SSU catalogs can be purchased)

Writing Center
Tel: 707/664-4401

Revised Policy approved 5/09