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Graduate Program FAQs
- Q: How much biology background do I need to apply to the M.S. Biology or the Ph.D. Biosciences program?
- A: A college degree in biology "or
equivalent", which would be a 4-year college or university B.S. or B.A.
degree in one of the life sciences such as microbiology, biochemistry,
biomedical sciences, or environmental science. International
applicants may require a professional transcript evaluation to
determine whether their degree is equivalent to a 4-year U.S. college
Students applying to the concentration in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology may substitute a college degree in any of the natural sciences, mathematics, engineering, or computer science.
- Q: What if I don't have a degree in the Life Sciences?
- A: Students with a prior bachelor's degree in an unrelated field or who have a limited biology background are advised to complete upper-division undergraduate courses (numbered 300-499) in Genetics, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry, as well as any necessary prerequisites for these courses.
- Q: Can I register for graduate courses at Mason before being admitted to the program?
- A: Yes, if you have earned a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent. Check for details about Mason’s Non-degree Studies program on the Admissions website. Up to 12 credits of graduate level Non-degree coursework may transfer into a graduate program if it meets requirements outlined in the university catalog. Students in Non-degree Studies should obtain permission to take a specific class from the course instructor. Note that any "C" grades earned in Non-degree status will decrease the student's chances of admission to a graduate program, and are not eligible for transfer.
- Q: When are the application deadlines for the graduate programs?
- A: M.S. Biology has a March 15 deadline for
fall admission, and a November 1 deadline for spring admission. Ph.D.
Biosciences only has fall admission, with deadline of February 15 for
domestic applicants, and February 1 for applicants with
international credentials. All application materials -- including
official test scores, transcripts, etc. -- are to be received by the
College of Science Graduate Admissions Office by the deadlines.
International applicants should apply at least one month ahead of
the deadlines to allow for document processing. We encourage you
to apply online as early as possible, and send additional
documents to the admissions office to complete your application
When planning your application, please note the schedules for the GRE General and GRE Biology subject tests. Registration for the test is required several weeks before the test date. Official test scores are reported to the Admissions office approximately two weeks after the test date. Visit www.gre.org for information.
- Q. Should I specify a concentration on my application?
- A: Yes. In order to progress at a normal rate
through the graduate program, it is essential that students begin their
graduate work in a specific concentration, and with a specific faculty
advisor. These are important factors in the admissions process
and the Graduate Committee does consider whether the applicant has
thought seriously about their decision. It is strongly
recommended that applicants specify their choice of concentration in
their application. The
applicant's statement of purpose should address why that particular
concentration was chosen, and how the student expects this
concentration to contribute to his or her career goals.
Applicants to the M.S. Biology program may specify a first and a second choice concentration, or may decide to tailor courses to focus on a specialized area in the "General Biology" concentration. Students may decide to change concentrations at a later date, providing that they first receive the approval of their faculty advisor and the Program Director.
- Q. What happens if my application is not complete by end of the admission cycle?
- A: Students whose application files become complete after the deadlines but before the end of that academic semester may be considered for admission if space is available and time allows. Students whose application file becomes complete too late for the term will be considered for admission in the following semester. No additional application or fee is required.
- Q: Will I be able to finish the Accelerated Master's (Combined BS/MS) Biology program in 5 years?
- A: It is theoretically possible for a student in
the combined BS/MS program to receive both degrees in 5 years.
However, most students require more time than this. The BS/MS program
allows students to "share" up to 6 credits of 500-600 level BIOL
courses between both the B.S. and M.S. degrees. However, the exact time
to graduation is not guaranteed.
Students in the accelerated program must still complete all requirements for both degrees, including the M.S. Thesis or Project. This typically requires 1-2 years of graduate study and research after completion of the undergraduate degree, and longer times may be required by students who attend part-time.
- Q: Should I specify a faculty research advisor in my application?
- A: Students
applying to the M.S. and Ph.D. Programs are required to find a faculty
advisor. The student's statement of purpose should express an
interest in one or more faculty as advisors. In some cases, applicants
who do not select an advisor may be assigned an advisor if their
statement of purpose is sufficiently specific to guide this choice, and
if that faculty member agrees to serve. However, applicants with
no obvious match to an appropriate advisor will be rejected.
- Q: How can I find a faculty research advisor in the graduate programs?
Use The "Faculty and Staff" and "Affiliated Research Centers" links to
pages that contain brief summaries of faculty research interests in the
MMB and ESP departments, as well as summaries of research centers and
After students identify a faculty member with similar areas of research interest, they should contact that person directly by telephone or e-mail to discuss potential research topics, and whether the faculty member is willing to take them in their laboratory. Students who experience difficulty finding an area of research interest may start by taking a few classes through the Non-degree Studies program. This often helps students to develop more specific interests and have more contact with the faculty.
Q: Where can I find information about
appointing a graduate
- A: Students
ready to begin the Master's thesis or project, or the Doctoral
dissertation are required to form a committee of at least three
members of the graduate faculty. More information about the
process and University requirements can be found under "Resources For
Students" link on the left side.
Q: What is the difference between a Master's project and a thesis?
- A: The
same quality of work is expected of students regardless of their chosen
option (i.e. the M.S. thesis option or the M.S. project option).
The word "quality" is used to emphasize that both options require a
particular level of accomplishment rather than any specific amount of
time. Both options require forming a graduate faculty
committee. In general, the M.S. thesis is most appropriate for
students planning or considering a research career. The M.S.
project is most appropriate for students who have additional scheduling
commitments, such as a full-time job, which may preclude performing a complete series of
A thesis usually poses and answers a significant research question roughly equivalent to a single publication in a professional scientific journal. The student performs a series of experiments while supervised by their faculty advisor, writes a formal thesis based on these results, and presents a public defense (verbal presentation) of this work. Both the defense and the final draft of the thesis must be approved by all members of the student's graduate thesis committee. A final copy of the thesis is posted in the University library.
A project usually involves a significant research assignment, roughly equivalent to half of a publication in a professional scientific journal. The student performs all of the experiments or library research involved, and prepares a written report of the results which must then be approved by the faculty research advisor. In addition, students who select the project option are required to take additional units of coursework, as well as successfully complete oral and written comprehensive exams administered by their graduate committee.