MS IN BIOLOGY
The Master of Science degree in Biology offers students the opportunity to pursue advanced study through both coursework and independent research.
All MS students will prepare and defend a thesis based on their independent research. Key points:
- Degree requires 30 credits, including a minimum of 20 in coursework and the remainder in thesis research.
- Research available in all areas of biology.
- Program culminates with an original written thesis that you will prepare under the direction of a faculty mentor and two additional committee members.
See a list of Master's Student Theses.
- Degree requires 30 credits, including a minimum of 20 in coursework and the remainder in thesis research.
- Maximum of 10 research credits (Directed Research: BIO 9007, BIO 9008 and Thesis Research: BIO 9307, BIO 9308, BIO 9309).
- Directed Research may be taken as introductory research courses prior to the formation of a student's Advisory Committee. At the end of each semester, each student registered for Directed Research will receive either a P (pass) or NP (no pass) grade.
- A student may register for Thesis Research only after that student's Advisory Committee has been formed and a Program of Study has been approved. No more than five credits of Thesis Research may be taken in any semester. Students registered for Thesis Research will receive the grade of IP (in progress) at the end of each semester; the IP designations will be converted to P (pass) designations only after the student's master's thesis has been defended successfully.
- Students may accumulate up to five research credits (Directed Research and/or Thesis Research) prior to presenting their thesis research proposal. However, registration for research credits beyond these first five will be allowed only for students who have successfully presented their thesis research proposal. A student may not register for both Directed Research and Thesis Research in the same semester.
- Written thesis research proposal and an oral presentation of the proposed research in a public seminar.
- Written thesis and an oral defense of the thesis in a public seminar.
- Maintenance of a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
- All graduate students are expected to attend the Department of Biology Seminars, held weekly throughout the academic year. Teaching Assistants and Research Fellows, supported on University or grant funds, are required to attend these Seminars.
Students pursuing the MS degree are required to conduct independent research under the direction of a Villanova faculty member, the Thesis Mentor. The Thesis Mentor not only will have primary responsibility for directing the student's research but also will act as the Chair of the student's three-person Advisory Committee. In a general sense, the Advisory Committee is expected to play an active role in guiding the graduate education and intellectual development of the student. More specifically, working with the student, the Advisory Committee has responsibility for approving the student's program of study (formal course work), the student's written thesis research proposal and oral presentation, and the student's written thesis and oral defense. Thus, selection of a Thesis Mentor and an Advisory Committee are important decisions for those students wishing to pursue the MS degree.
Many students begin their graduate studies in Biology at Villanova with questions about whether an MA or MS degree would be more suitable for their own goals. The Department of Biology offers an approach to academic advising that ensures that faculty will be available to both full-time and part-time graduate students. As a part of their academic advisement role, advisors can help a student identify faculty whose research seems to overlap with the student's interests. The brief faculty presentations in the Research Prospectus course also are useful in this regard.
Students contemplating pursuing an MS degree are encouraged to make that decision as early as possible in their graduate career. The logical first step toward this end is obtaining a Thesis Mentor. Preferably during the first semester of study for full-time students, and early on in the tenure of part-time students, those contemplating an MS degree are encouraged to discuss thesis research possibilities with several Biology Graduate Faculty. Some students may come to Villanova having already discussed thesis research possibilities with one or more faculty members, and some may come with a preliminary commitment from a particular faculty member to serve as their Thesis Mentor. Prior discussions with and/or commitments from individual Biology faculty are not a requirement for pursuing the MS degree.
The Department of Biology recognizes that not all research can take place within the confines of Mendel Hall. In particular, field research and studies involving equipment and/or facilities that are not available within the Department may dictate that students conduct some or all of their research elsewhere. Students are not prohibited from conducting research elsewhere when doing so is necessary or intellectually justifiable. However, the Department embraces the concept that the intellectual development of graduate students is enhanced through active participation in Departmental activities. Specifically, all graduate students are expected to attend the weekly Department of Biology Seminars. Also, participation in informal journal clubs, opportunities for impromptu discussions between and among students and faculty, opportunities to meet researchers who "pass through town," etc. require graduate students to be physically present and to be mentally receptive to being active Departmental citizens.
The Department of Biology absolutely prohibits students who are gainfully employed as researchers to use the work for which they are paid as thesis research. Thesis research must be an independent activity in which the student has a substantial personal intellectual investment. Work done in the context of a job meets neither of these criteria. Under some circumstances, it may be possible for a student to conduct some parts of their research at their place of employment, as long as: 1) the student is not being paid by the employer to conduct the thesis research; 2) the student's thesis research is as independent as research that might be done outside of his/her place of employment; and 3) the research is the intellectual product and property of the student. The Biology Graduate Committee reserves the right to request that a student's employer certify their assent to and/or compliance with these policies in writing. Wherever thesis research is conducted, it will be carried out under the supervision of a Biology Graduate Faculty Member as Thesis Mentor.
Research is a human endeavor, which begins with an idea and culminates in the dissemination of findings to the larger scientific community. Although characterization of these steps as a linear progression may be overly simplistic, the structure of the MS degree acknowledges that research progresses through a series of phases: a conceptualization phase (getting an idea), a design phase, a data collection phase, an interpretation and synthesis phase, and a final writing and dissemination phase. Critical thinking and analysis play a central role through all phases of this progression. As a mechanism for a student to demonstrate mastery of the conceptual and design phases, our program requires the student to prepare a written thesis research proposal and to present the proposed research in a public seminar.
In the written proposal, the student should: 1) demonstrate a thorough knowledge and understanding of the historical and current literature relevant to the proposed research; 2) present a clear statement of hypotheses (objectives, questions), consistent with the literature; 3) present a detailed experimental design and set of procedures needed to address the stated hypotheses; and 4) describe how the data obtained will allow for the acceptance or rejection of the stated hypotheses. Preliminary data, especially if presented to demonstrate familiarity with methods, may be included in the written proposal. However, preliminary data are not required. Indeed, given the rationale stated above, the written proposal is not meant as a progress report for thesis research already well into the data collection phase.
The oral presentation of the student's proposed thesis research is consistent with the Departmental philosophy that scientists need to develop skills to communicate research ideas and results to their colleagues both orally and in writing. More specifically, the oral presentation serves two complementary functions that are not well served by the written proposal. First, the oral presentation informs the faculty and students in the Department of Biology about the proposed research. This sort of communication helps build a spirit of community in a diverse Department. Second, the oral presentation serves as a mechanism by which the student may solicit constructive comments about the proposed research. Research must not be conducted in a vacuum. All researchers need to be intellectually open to comments and to constructive criticism, as well as to new ideas. Discourse and discussion play important roles in this regard.
Satisfactory performance on the written proposal and the oral presentation, as judged only by the student's Advisory Committee, constitutes an endorsement of the student's intent to continue the research into the data collection phase toward eventual completion and defense of a thesis.
Each MS student will submit a written thesis proposal to the members of their Advisory Committee for review and comment. It is the responsibility of the Advisory Committee to pass judgment on the written proposal; thus, it is likely that one or more revisions of the written proposal will be required.
The oral presentation must be attended by all members of the student's Advisory Committee. A Moderator, a Biology faculty member chosen by the student (but who is not on the student's Advisory Committee), will preside at the presentation. The Moderator will introduce the student, identify the student's Thesis Mentor and Advisory Committee members, and announce the protocol for the presentation/defense. During the presentation, which should take about 35-40 minutes, the Thesis Mentor is not allowed to speak. Following the presentation, the student should expect to field questions poised first by the general audience, then by the Advisory Committee members, and finally by the Thesis Mentor. The Moderator will identify questioners and may intervene if, for example, the student seems to not understand a particular question or if a line of questioning seems inappropriate. At the end of the question period, the student and the Advisory Committee will meet privately for an additional session to further discuss aspects of the presentation and/or the proposed research.
Satisfactory performance on the oral presentation (requiring a unanimous vote of the student's Advisory Committee) will be conveyed to the Chair of the Biology Graduate Committee through the submission of the signed Evaluation of Thesis Proposal Presentation form. Should the Advisory Committee find the student's performance on the oral presentation to be unsatisfactory (one or more negative votes), the Advisory Committee will provide the student with specific written suggestions for improvement, using the Evaluation of Thesis Proposal Presentation form. The student will be allowed to repeat the oral presentation; unsatisfactory performance in the second presentation will result in the student being dropped from the MS program. In this event, the student may petition the Biology Graduate Committee to transfer into the MA program; the extent to which research credits accumulated as an MS student will count toward the MA degree will be determined by the Graduate Committee.
Ready for the Next Step?
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.