Graduate Biology students and faculty conducting field work

The Master of Arts degree program is designed to provide advanced study across a broad range of biological sciences while still allowing the opportunity to concentrate on an area of interest. Our course offerings, the Comprehensive Examination and extracurricular activities such as weekly Biology Departmental seminars reflect the breadth and depth within the program. Key points:

  • Degree requires 33 credits, with no thesis requirement.
  • Concentrations in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology (CMDB) or Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology (EEOB).
  • Research available in all areas of biology.
  • Program culminates in a comprehensive written and oral examination.



  • A total of 33 credits is required to complete the degree.
  • All students take Research Prospectus (BIO 8920). This course should be taken during the first year of part-time or full-time graduate study.
  • Students may opt to receive designation of a concentration in course work in one of two subject areas: Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology (CMDB) or Ecological Evolutionary and Organismal Biology (EEOB).
  • At least four graduate courses with laboratory. MA Students may choose to take Directed Research (BIO 900 , BIO 9008). However, this course does not count as a laboratory course. Up to four credits of Directed Research is allowed toward the degree.
  • At least one Seminar course. This requirement may be fulfilled by either taking a graduate seminar course (BIO 8900) or a Special Topics (BIO 7940 , BIO 7950 , and/or BIO 7970) or Advanced Topics (BIO 7960 , BIO 7980 , and/or BIO 8940) course offered in a seminar format. The Chair of the Graduate Committee or Chair of the Department will advise students regarding which courses fulfill this requirement in any given semester.
  • Successful completion of the Comprehensive Examination.
  • Maintenance of a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
  • Attendance at weekly Department of Biology Seminars.

Students who wish to specialize may concentrate their coursework (minimum of 24 credits) in one of two areas of academic focus within the department:

  • Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology
  • Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology

MA students who concentrate in one of these fields will receive a degree with a concentration in either area indicated on their transcript (e.g., Master of Arts, Biology, with concentration in Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology or Master of Arts, Biology, with concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology).

MA students who take a broader selection of courses to meet the degree requirements will receive the traditional M.A. diploma at the completion of their studies.


All students receiving the MA degree will complete a Comprehensive Examination. This examination is considered a capstone experience for MA students, for it provides an opportunity for the student to explore specific questions beyond the level typical of most courses. Answering the questions on the examination will require use of both the primary and secondary literature.

The Comprehensive Examination consists of a written and an oral component. The format of the Comprehensive Examination reflects two of the goals of the master's programs in Biology. First, the examination is designed to promote critical thinking on the part of the student. This goal is reflected not only in the questions themselves but also in the discussion of the answers in the oral portion of the Examination. Second, both the written and oral portions of the examination promote effective communication of scientific ideas and research results. We view both of these goals as processes; as such, we encourage active interaction between the student and the members of the Examination Panel.


The Comprehensive Examination involves several steps that require planning well before beginning the Exam. To take the Exam, the MA student must be in their last semester or have completed 24 hours of course credit. The first step in the process is the formation of an Examination Panel. Each Exam will be administered by a three-member Panel chosen in part by the student and in part by the Graduate Committee. When preparing to take the Comprehensive Examination, the student will choose the Chair of the examination panel from the Villanova Biology Graduate Faculty. In addition, the student will provide the names of five additional Graduate Faculty members willing to serve on the Examination Panel. Research Assistant Professors (or ranks above) may serve as either the Chair or one of the additional members of the MA examination panel. Teaching postdoctoral fellows who have taught or are teaching graduate courses, as well as full-time tenured or tenure track faculty members who are not on the Graduate Faculty may serve as panel members, but not as Chair. No more than one such panel member may serve on any single examination panel. The student will notify the Chair of the Graduate Committee that he/she is ready to take the Comprehensive Exam and to indicate their choices for their Examination Panel by submitting an Application for Comprehensive Examination form at least one month prior to the date on which the exam will be given to the student. Once the form is received, the Department of Biology Graduate Committee will appoint the two additional members from the list provided by the student to serve on the Panel.

The Chair the student chooses who will serve this important role on the Examination Panel. The Chair will be responsible for overseeing the examination. This includes: (1) helping determine the schedule for both the written and the oral components of the examination in consultation with the student and the other two members of the Examination Panel; (2) ensuring that all members of the examination panel receive copies of the questions asked by the other panel members; and (3) ensuring that all members of the examination panel receive copies of the written answers of the student.

Each member of the Panel will submit three questions (for a total of nine questions for each Comprehensive Examination). At least one of the questions from each Panel member must address the scientific method, including experimental design and hypothesis testing. After receiving the questions, the student will have six weeks to answer any two of the questions asked by each Panel member (total of six questions). At least one of the six answered questions must pertain to the scientific method mentioned above. The test is to be an open note, open book test that will require library work using primary literature and should be appropriately referenced. The student is especially encouraged to approach the Panel members with inquiries regarding the scope and content of the specific questions.

The schedule for the Comprehensive Examination follows a predetermined course; the student and all faculty involved in the Exam must complete the form entitled, Timetable for the Comprehensive Examination prior to receiving the questions. The schedule for the Exam is as follows:

The student must return the completed exam to the Panel Chair within the allotted time.

The panel will notify the student in writing of their performance on the written portion of the Exam no later than seven weeks after the student receives the questions. To be able to proceed to the oral portion of the Exam, the student must satisfactorily answer four of the six questions (including at least one from each Panel member). The oral portion of the exam will be scheduled at any time that is convenient for the four participants, but no later than eight weeks after the student received the questions. Questions answered unsatisfactorily will be pointed out and the student encouraged to research the topic more thoroughly before taking the oral portion of the Exam. If three or more questions are answered unsatisfactorily (or two questions from any one Panel member), the student will not be permitted to take the oral portion of the Exam, and they will have to reapply to take the Exam the following semester. Note that in order to graduate by a specific date, the Exam must be taken prior to the final date for Comprehensive Examinations set by the Office of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The oral exam will be scheduled for two hours. Each Panel member will direct two, 20-minute periods for questioning (one during each hour). The written component will be used as a basis for the oral examination; the questions should be an elaboration (or defense) of the written questions, but may go beyond the questions and explore new but related areas of biology. The oral Examination need not necessarily cover all six questions during the period.

After the end of the two hours, the Panel will excuse the student to discuss the results of the Exam. To pass the Exam, all three Panel members must agree that the student has performed at a passing level. The student fails if one or more members concludes that the student has performed at a failing level. The student will be notified immediately of the results. At this point, the Comprehensive Examination Report should be completed and filed in the student's permanent file.

If the student fails the Exam, they can retake the Exam the following semester following the same procedures as above. A new Panel will be formed for the second Examination. The Comprehensive Examination can be taken only once during a semester. If the student fails the Examination a second time, they will be dropped from the Graduate Program.

Academic advisors are expected to provide guidance to graduate students with respect to completing the requirements for a masters degree in a timely manner, consistent with: 1) the goals and aspirations of the student, 2) the mission of the graduate programs in Biology at Villanova University, and 3) the rules and regulations of the Office of Graduate Studies, College of Arts and Sciences. The Department of Biology is committed to academic advising that accommodates the needs of all graduate students, taking into consideration the schedules of full-time and part-time students, as well as of faculty. Rather than a rigid system under which each graduate student is assigned a specific faculty advisor, we offer a more informal structure that guarantees that advisement will be available while providing students flexibility in seeking out advisors. 

Full-time students just entering the program initially shall be placed under the advisorship of the Chair of the Biology Graduate Committee, who at a minimum will assist the student in registering for their first semester of courses and will inform the student of the various degree requirements. Graduate students may continue under the advisorship of the Chair of the Biology Graduate Committee if they wish, but always have the option of seeking advice from any member of the Biology graduate faculty, all of whom have authority to sign course registration forms.

For part-time students, the Chairs of the Department and the Graduate Committee will appoint a three-person Part-time Student Advisement Committee. The Advisement Committee will make themselves available to part-time students during evening hours during the semester, through regularly scheduled office hours and/or by appointment. Part-time students also should feel free to contact the Chair of the Biology Graduate Committee at any time.



Ready for the Next Step?

Department of Biology
Mendel Hall Room 147
Villanova University
800 Lancaster Avenue, Villanova, PA 19085 
Tel: 610.519.4830

Graduate Program Director:
Dr. Adam Langley




February 1: For admission with funding consideration for the fall

August 1: For admission without funding for the fall

December 1: For admission without funding for the spring

If you have missed a deadline, please contact Dr. Adam Langley to discuss your options.

Begin Your Application.



Emily Geoghegan ’19 MS conducting field research

Faculty Mentors Key to Biology Student’s Graduate Experience

Finding a faculty mentor with similar research interests was a top priority for Emily Geoghegan '19 MS when she was exploring graduate schools. Emily discovered that her interests aligned perfectly with those of Villanova Biology professor Samantha Chapman, PhD, who studies mangrove migration in Florida. Emily worked on Dr. Chapman’s National Science Foundation-funded wetland protection study, learning the critical research and writing skills that helped her gain entry into a PhD program at the University of California Davis.