Department of Biological Sciences

MS in Biology

Coordinator: Theresa Theodose, 476D Science Building (C Wing), Portland

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

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.


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 24 credits of coursework and 6 credits of thesis research. Candidates completing the literature review thesis option must complete 32 credits of coursework, which must include at least one laboratory course, and 3 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 (14-18 credits):
     BIO 513 Applied Biostatistics
     BIO 601 Research Methods in Biology
     BIO 621 Graduate Seminar (minimum of 2 required)
     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 Department of Chemistry and the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, may satisfy some program areas.

Genetics and Molecular Biology
     BIO 507 Environmental Modulation of Developmental Mechanisms
     BIO 508 Experimental Genetics
     BIO 509 Cell and Molecular Biology
     BIO 510 Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory
     BIO 531 Principles of Immunology

     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

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 6 graduate credits in the master's degree program. However, a student who has completed coursework and is engaged in finishing the thesis will be considered eligible if he/she meets one of the following conditions:

  • Is enrolled in at least 6 graduate credits
  • Or is enrolled in less than 6 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:
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, 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.

For application instructions, go to and find the Graduate Application Process.  Please note:

  • 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.
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.

Alumni of the Biology graduate program have secured positions as instructors in community colleges, lab technicians in research facilities, and biologists with state and federal agencies as well as nongovernmental organizations; and they have gone on to medical and graduate schools.