2014-15 Catalogs

MS in Biology

Coordinator: Douglas A. Currie

Professors: Gainey, Maher, Mazurkiewicz, Moore, Walker, Weber; Associate Professors: Champlin, Currie, Theodose; Adjunct Professors: Duboise, Evers, Harris, Levine, Ng, Oxburgh, Paruk, Stenhouse, Wilson, Wise

The M.S. program in biology at USM is designed to meet diverse student interests and to provide additional preparation for careers in biology. The program is aimed at three groups: 1) students who wish to continue the scholarly pursuit of biology and possibly continue with a Ph.D. or M.D.; 2) students desiring laboratory or field experience to make them more competitive for employment; and 3) students who teach, or wish to teach, at the secondary, community college, or technical college levels.

To meet these needs, the M.S. program in biology offers a breadth of coursework, and a thesis requirement with an individualized approach. Coursework and research opportunities span the subdisciplines of cell and molecular biology, developmental biology, evolutionary genetics, physiology (animal, plant, and microbial), ecology (animal, plant, and microbial), and environmental science.

The student master's thesis, tailored to individual interests and falling within the research subdiscipline of a faculty mentor, is intended to provide experience in scientific investigation. Students are exposed to the current state of knowledge within the subdiscipline, and learn skills necessary for creative scientific inquiry. These include exploration and evaluation of the scientific literature, experimental design, implementation of original laboratory or field-based research, statistical analysis of data, and the writing of a publishable scientific paper.

Students in the M.S. program have access to state-of-the-art facilities for research in modern molecular, cell, and whole organism biology.
  • cell imaging equipment such as epifluorescence microscopes, confocal laser scanning microscope and flow cytometers
  • equipment for molecular biology, such as gradient and quantitative PCR thermocyclers, DNA sequencer, fluorescence microarray reader, various electrophoresis supplies for DNA and protein analysis
  • constant temperature lighted growth chambers for plant and phytoplankton
  • liquid scintillation counter for radioisotope work
  • Geographic Information System (GIS) facility
  • NMR spectrometry
  • HPLC system



Interested students are strongly encouraged to contact program faculty directly. Applicants must identify potential advisors in their application essay.

David T. Champlin

champlin “at” usm.maine.edu

hormonal control of insect development

Douglas A. Currie

dcurrie “at” usm.maine.edu

cell signaling in the developing mammalian brain

S. Monroe Duboise

duboise “at” usm.maine.edu

virology and environmental microbiology

David Evers

david.evers “at” briloon.org

environmental toxicology of New England wildlife

Louis F. Gainey, Jr.

gainey “at” usm.maine.edu

cell signaling; physiological ecology of marine molluscs

David Harris

deharris “at” usm.maine.edu

cardiovascular disease programs and education

Ira A. Levine

ilevine “at” usm.maine.edu

physiological ecology of commercial red algae

Christine R. Maher

cmaher “at” usm.maine.edu

evolution of social behavior in mammals

Michael Mazurkiewicz

mazurkie “at” usm.maine.edu

estuarine and tidal marsh ecology

Lisa R. Moore

lmoore “at” usm.maine.edu

physiological ecology of marine phytoplankton

Leif Oxburgh

oxburl “at” mmc.org

Embryonic kidney development and acute kidney injury

James D. Paruk

jim.paruk “at” briloon.org

mortality threats and impacts of climate change on loon reproduction

Iain Stenhouse

iain.stenhouse “at” briloon.org

reproductive and behavioral ecology of marine birds

Theresa A. Theodose

theodose “at” usm.maine.edu

salt marsh plant ecology

Jeffrey A. Walker

walker “at” usm.maine.edu

evolutionary physiology of animal locomotion

Kenneth E. Weber

keweber “at” usm.maine.edu

genetic control of wing shape in Drosophila

Karen A. Wilson

kwilson “at” usm.maine.edu

freshwater and marine linkages

John P. Wise, Sr.

john.wise “at” usm.maine.edu

human and animal toxicology; molecular epidemiology

During the first semester, students are required to declare a research topic and to arrange an Advisory Committee, with guidance from their primary faculty advisor. The Advisory Committee consists of the student's primary faculty advisor and at least two other faculty members, of which at least one must be a member of the Department of Biological Sciences.

The degree provides two thesis options: research and literature review. Most students are expected to produce a research thesis, based on an original research project. However, with approval of the student's Advisory Committee, a student may undertake the literature review thesis option, which requires writing a comprehensive analysis of a specific topic. All master's candidates preparing a research thesis must complete a minimum of twenty-four credits of coursework and 6 credits of thesis research. Candidates completing the literature review thesis option must complete thirty-two credits of coursework, which must include at least one laboratory course, and three credits of literature review. Coursework is determined individually for each student in consultation with the student's Advisory Committee.

All students must take four required courses (15-18 credits):
     BIO 521 Graduate Seminar (minimum of 2 required)
     BIO 599 Biostatistics Topics in Biology, AMS 545 Applied Biostatistical Analysis, or STA 588 Introduction to Biostatistics
     BIO 601 Research Methods in Biology
     BIO 698 Thesis Research, or BIO 699 Literature Review

Students also choose electives. To maintain breadth, electives are required in at least two of three areas (selecting from Genetics and Molecular Biology, Physiology, and Ecology and Evolution). Upon approval of the Advisory Committee, students also may take graduate-level courses in other departments.

At the end of the program, the thesis or literature review must be written in a form satisfactory to the Advisory Committee and suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, and the results must be presented in a seminar open to faculty, students, and the public. After the presentation, the student and Advisory Committee will meet to discuss details of the project, paper, and seminar.

The following courses satisfy the three program areas. Also, courses from other departments, specifically the Applied Medical Sciences Department, Chemistry Department, and the Environmental Sciences Department may satisfy some of the program areas.

Genetics and Molecular Biology
     BIO 507 Molecular Mechanisms of Animal Development
     BIO 508 Experimental Genetics
     BIO 509 Cell and Molecular Biology
     BIO 510 Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory

     BIO 501 Animal Physiology
     BIO 502 Animal Physiology Laboratory
     BIO 545 Advanced Pathophysiology
     BIO 611 Endocrinology
     BIO 615 Plant Metabolism

Ecology and Evolution
     BIO 505 Animal Behavior
     BIO 506 Animal Behavior Laboratory
     BIO 511 Estuarine Ecology
     BIO 515 Microbial Ecology
     BIO 516 Microbial Ecology Laboratory
     BIO 517 Issues in Evolution

Laboratory Fees

Laboratory fees are assessed in biology laboratory courses to cover the cost of supplies and materials.

Admission to the M.S. program in biology is competitive and has two basic requirements. First, applicants should have earned a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution, preferably in some area of biology, with a minimum GPA equivalent to 3.0. Second, admission is also dependent upon a faculty member agreeing to serve as the primary faculty advisor to the student. Therefore, before applying to the program, students must become acquainted with the research interests of individual faculty in or adjunct to the Department of Biological Sciences (http://usm.maine.edu/bio), contact those faculty members to discuss the possibility of working with them in the M.S. program in biology, and identify the faculty member(s) in their application essay.

Students who do not meet the first criterion, but who demonstrate exceptional promise, may be granted conditional admission, during which time they must compensate for any specific deficiency as determined by the Biology Graduate Admissions Committee. Upon successful completion of the conditions, conditional students can be granted regular admission status.

Application Materials

In addition to the materials described in the Admissions chapter of this catalog, applicants must submit the following information:

  • Test scores Official scores from the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are required. Official scores from the GRE Subject Test in Biology are recommended.
  • Transcripts Official undergraduate and graduate transcripts are required from any college or university attended.
  • Essay The essay should discuss your academic goals and anticipated research interests, and should include the name(s) of specific faculty members with whom you have contacted to work.
  • Letters of recommendation Three letters of recommendation are required from people who can evaluate your potential for success in a master's program in the biological sciences.
Application Deadlines

Applications and supporting materials must be received by February 1 in order to receive priority status for fall admission and consideration of departmental financial support. The application deadline for spring admission is October 15. Students applying for spring admission are less likely to obtain graduate assistantships in their first semester, because most financial aid will be distributed during fall admissions.


Program Policies

In addition to the general policies described in the Academic Policies chapter, this program also includes the following policies.

Transfer credits

Graduate students may transfer a maximum of nine graduate credits, earned within the past 5 years, with a grade of B- or better. Approval of transfer credits must be requested at the time of admission.

Time limit

All courses for the M.S. degree must be completed within 5 years from the time of first matriculation. Students may apply to the program graduate coordinator for an extension, which must be approved by the Department graduate faculty.

Grade policy

Students must earn a grade of B- or better for courses to count toward the M.S. degree. If the cumulative GPA drops below 3.0, the student will be placed on probation. Terms and conditions of probation will be determined by the student's Advisory Committee in consultation with the Office of Graduate Studies.

Eligibility for Financial Aid During Thesis Completion Stage

To be eligible for federal financial aid (including deferment of student loans), a matriculated student must be enrolled in a minimum of six graduate credits in the master's degree program. However, a student who has completed coursework and is engaged in finishing his/her thesis will be considered eligible if he/she meets one of the following conditions:

  • Is enrolled in at least six graduate credits
  • Or is enrolled in less than six graduate credits, has obtained certification of satisfactory progress from the chair of his/her thesis committee, indicating that the student is actively progressing in the work leading to completion of the master's degree, and is registered for GRS 602 (see course description under Continuous Enrollment & GRS on the Office of Graduate Studies website:  http://www.usm.maine.edu/grad ).