Biology graduate programs span courses of study that might lead to a graduate certificate, Master of Science (MS) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biology degrees. Most often available through a university’s Department of Biology or Biological Sciences, it is common for graduate biology programs to have specific research interests. These could include water science, neuroscience, cancer research or infectious diseases among others. It may be helpful to look for a program where one’s own interests are mirrored. Or, where it is possible to expand a point of view.
Biology graduate programs explore biology as a multidisciplinary science – ‘biological sciences’. As the ‘study of life’, biology has many facets. Hence, the biology major may cover several key areas.
Some graduate programs in biology address human biology and development. Others might cover molecular and cell biology, microbiology, and immunology. Or, programs that cover diversity and the ecology might highlight evolutionary biology, plants and organisms.
DID YOU KNOW?
When surveyed, 33% of Biological Sciences Professors reported they had a Masters degree, 47% a Doctoral degree, 17% Post-doctoral training.i
Many biology graduate programs format their programs with core courses and concentrations. An area of emphasis may provide the basis for cross-disciplinary research and alliance with other disciplines such as mathematics or engineering. Or, they might help a graduate student to prepare professionally for a targeted career path such as biotechnology.
|Interdepartmental Biological Sciences Program||Northwestern University School of Continuing Studies||PhD|
|Master of Science in Biology||Northeastern Illinois University||MS|
|Biological Sciences||Southern Illinois University - Carbondale||MSBE|
|Master of Science in Biology||Plymouth State University||MS|
|Master of Science in Integrative Cell Biology||Loyola University Chicago||N/A|
Some biology graduate schools encourage students to check off one or two areas of interest in their application. They might also suggest that an applicant list potential faculty mentors whose research interests them on their form.
Other required materials vary between schools. For instance, some require PhD candidates to have a MS degree, while other graduate programs in biology might admit students with their Bachelors and a strong research background.
Some Biology Graduate programs offer both MS, PhD and Certificate options. Students might want to earn a graduate degree in biology and at the same time, pursue an area of interest. Others might want to focus more exclusively on a specific category. Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Genetics and Genomics are three examples.
Most Masters in Biology programs may be completed in about two to three years of full-time study. Also, within some universities, students who pursue their MS may be able to apply these credits to a subsequent PhD program. Biology Masters programs often get students started in their research early on and build coursework around these efforts.
While topics vary from school to school, students might study the following topics while working toward their masters degree in Biology.
Certainly, one way to land on a great biology graduate program for your needs is to examine both course syllabi and research opportunities within each program. Contact an admission advisor to learn more.
Admissions to Biology Masters programs may require a Bachelor of Science in a biological science or a related science, from an accredited school. Applicants may also need a minimum 3.0 GPA and prerequisite course credits in general biology, cell biology, molecular genetics, general chemistry, organic chemistry with laboratory, physics with laboratory; and mathematics beyond pre-calculus.
Other application material might include a personal statement, previous laboratory experience, work history and referral letters.
Aside from coursework, students may have the option to pursue a thesis or not while earning a biology masters degree. The thesis option is often recommended for those who intend to pursue a career in research, or continue their studies at the doctoral level. Students who do not work towards a thesis may have to prepare a library research paper.
In both cases, the course of study might include biostatistics, gross anatomy, human physiology, labs, biological research. Apart from their core courses, students may be able to pursue a minor (such as business administration), or earn a masters degree in Biology with a specific track (such as neuroscience). These options may require additional classes in a given area and allow students to further tailor their biology degree.
Graduate Certificate in Biology programs are post-masters course of study that may help students refine their expertise or add-onto their credentials. For instance, a Graduate Biology Certificate might be designed for those who want to meet regional or state requirements to teach community college biology courses.
Or, a certificate may be intended to help current scientists. While they may already have an extensive background, they may need to learn specific bioinformatics (or other) skills to design experiments and analyze data. In most cases, students follow a sequence of about five or six courses (about 15 to 18 credit hours).
As a terminal degree, the PhD in biology is a research-focused program. Many schools provide advanced courses and recent research in current life science disciplines. Genetics, cell and developmental biology, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, molecular ecology and immunology are a few examples.
Some PhD programs may be completed in as few as four years for full-time students, although the typical completion time is five to six years.
Application requirements to Biology PhD programs vary. Some students enter a PhD program after they have earned a Bachelor in Biology or Chemistry. Others have masters level experience. Aside from transcripts of graduate and undergraduate coursework, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a resume, a personal statement may be needed.
Most PhD in Biology programs consist of two phases: foundation coursework and dissertation research. In between, students take a comprehensive exam. In addition to classes and seminars, PhD students conduct research through their faculty’s programs.
Or, their research might be in collaboration with local biotechnology, pharmaceutical or academic institutions.
Students who want to focus their study on topics such as gene regulation, DNA, cancer biology or hormone actions might pursue a PhD, MD/PhD or MS in Biochemistry. Biochemistry graduate programs often include degrees in Science, Math and Engineering, Chemical Engineering and Developmental Biology.
Cell and Molecular Biology graduate programs often span PhD, MD/PhD and MS degrees. Programs in this category may provide learners with the chance to investigate molecular genetics, bacterial pathogens and vaccine development.
Also, programs often focus in on current research in neuroscience and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and glaucoma.
Genetics and Genomics graduate programs explore molecular biology and related disciplines. Students might receive a broad education in biochemistry, bioinformatics, cell biology and epigenetics. Many programs of this nature lead to a PhD, although programs in genetic counseling might offer Master of Science degrees.
Biology graduate students might pursue a variety of career paths in the life sciences, dependent on the level of their education and other factors. Some students may go onto medical school. Those who want to pursue a career in independent research and development generally pursue a PhD.ii This is typically the case for postsecondary Biology teachers as well.iii
Other possible career choices might include:
|Metro Area||Annual Mean Salary||Employment|
Many regionally-accredited universities offer biology graduate degrees. Some individual programs may also be approved by a professional outside agency. You can contact indivdiual graduate programs in biology to learn about their accreditation status.
[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1042.00 |[ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biochemists-and-biophysicists.htm |[iii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm |[iv] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1029.02 |[v] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1020.01 |[vi] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1029.01 |[vii] onetonline.org/link/summary/19-1029.03 |[viii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/microbiologists.htm