The M.S. degree is intended for students choosing to gain experience in scientific research.

Admission Requirements

Acceptance into the biology Master of Science (M.S.) program is based on cumulative grade point average (3.0 minimum), Graduate Record Examination scores for the general test, letters of recommendation and statement of purpose. Master's students must maintain a minimum overall grade point average of a B (3.0) in all course work.

In addition to the Graduate School requirements, M.S. applicants should have a year of college mathematics, a course in organic chemistry and the equivalent of the biology core curriculum. A maximum of two core courses can be taken at the graduate level if no previous courses have been taken in the subject areas. The details of the course work will be worked out by consultation between the student and the advisory committee.

If a student is admitted by the Graduate School with provisional status and expects to be a candidate for a M.S. degree, he or she should apply for full status during the second semester in residence. Admission to full status will be based on the student's performance relative to the departmental requirements. Students admitted on provisional status must be formally admitted to full candidate status prior to the academic term in which they apply for graduation. More information is available on the Graduate School website.

Residency Requirements

USD has no specific residency requirements for students completing a M.S. degree.

Advisory Committee

New M.S. students who do not have an advisor should schedule a meeting with the biology department chair and/or graduate steering committee chair to discuss their research interests and help them identify an advisor. The student should select a thesis advisor who best suits his or her interests within the first semester. During the second semester of the first year or earlier, an advisory committee of three members should be formed (the faculty advisor plus two additional members). The advisor, who is chair of the committee, and student, should determine committee composition. One member must be from outside the Department of Biology. Outside members may be from another department (chemistry, math or medicine). It is the student's responsibility, in consultation with their advisor, to contact each member of the advisory committee to gain their agreement to serve on the committee and to notify the biology chair of the committee composition. This may be done in the format of the annual progress report. The Graduate School dean in consultation with the biology chair formally appoints advisory committee members. The graduate approval form must be submitted by the Graduate School deadline.

Functions of the advisory committee are to:

  • Advise the student in the development of an academic program.
  • Provide direction on thesis research and writing.
  • Approve the program of study and thesis proposal. At least one semester prior to graduation, the student, after consultation with their advisory committee, will submit a program of study to the Graduate School.
  • Approve the thesis.
  • Administer the final oral exam and determine whether the student has performed adequately in all aspects of the program. In the event of a disagreement within the committee, a majority vote of the three committee members will be used to resolve the question.

Program of Study

The program of study represents an agreement between the student and advisory committee about courses to be taken by the student during their tenure in the graduate program. The program of study must be comprised of all graduate work, and at least 50% of the course work must be completed at the 700-course level or above. Students must pay particular attention to this requirement and discuss it with their advisor. The student will draft a proposed program of study during their first year, generally at their first advisory committee meeting. The proposed program of study may be amended from time to time to compensate for changes in course offerings. The final program of study form must be filed by at least the first week of the academic term before the student expects to graduate, i.e., the semester before they graduate. The Graduate School cannot accept the program of study until the student's advisory committee and biology department chair have signed it. The program of study form must be typed before submission to the Graduate School.

Thesis Research Proposal

At least by the end of the first year of study, a written thesis proposal is required of all M.S. students. A typical proposal is approximately 10 double-spaced pages of text, with additional pages of references, figures, etc. Format of proposal needs to be discussed with the student's advisor. A draft of this proposal should be edited by the student's advisor before being given to the other two committee members. An advisory committee meeting should be scheduled to discuss the proposal, sign the approval of research proposal form and approve the student's proposed program of study.

Annual Progress Report

All M.S. students must arrange an annual research progress meeting and submit an annual progress report. These are designed for the student's benefit to ensure that they are making adequate progress toward completion of the degree, to identify any major problems (logistical or conceptual) in the project, to address feasibility and practicality of approach and to discuss accomplishments to date relative to what was proposed in the previous year's annual progress report. The research progress meeting should be held during the second semester, and before March 15 each year. Students who propose their thesis research and file the approval of research proposal form in the preceding semester do not need to schedule a progress report meeting or file a progress report during the second semester. The thesis advisor and all committee members must be present; if necessary another biology faculty may be substituted for absent members. The student is responsible for arranging the meeting. Graduate students should prepare a concise (1-2 page) written thesis progress report to give to all committee members at least one week prior to the meeting. It must include the following components:

  1. Thesis title, name, date, committee advisor and committee members with blank lines for signatures and also the heading "Progress Report Evaluation" followed by several blank lines (to be filled in by the committee).
  2. The concise report (above).
  3. A schedule of objectives for the following year, including target dates, etc.
  4. A copy of the schedule for the preceding year (against which committee members may judge progress).

This report must be signed by the members and given to the Chair of the graduate steering committee by March 15. If the report is not submitted by this date, the student may not be considered for Graduate Teaching Assistantship (G.T.A.) or Graduate Research Assistantship (G.R.A.) positions the following year.


An advisor-approved draft of the thesis should be in the hands of the advisory committee at least two weeks before the final oral examination. It is the responsibility of the student to anticipate this time limit. After approval of the dissertation by the advisory committee and the biology department chair, the candidate must submit two unbound copies of the thesis to the Graduate School office at least two weeks before anticipated graduation. Please contact the Graduate School for information on formatting requirements. An additional bound copy is required for the Department of Biology library. Before the degree is granted, the candidate must demonstrate proof to the Graduate School that arrangements have been made for binding the thesis and submitting the abstract for cataloging with UMI University Abstracts.

Application for Degree

Application for degree must be made no later than the first week of the session in which the student expects to complete degree requirements. The form is available by going to the following link: Application for Degree, which must be signed by your advisor.


Suggested time line for completion of the M.S. requirements:

Year One

  • Initiate course work
  • Initiate research
  • Select advisory committee (second semester)
  • Receive approval for proposed program of study (second semester)
  • Receive approval for thesis research proposal
  • A written thesis proposal should be evaluated by the advisory committee before the end of the first year in residence. Review, evaluation and discussion of this proposal are made at the program of study meeting.

Year Two

  • Continue and finish research (first semester)
  • Write thesis (second semester)
  • Complete first annual thesis progress report (second semester)
  • File application for degree form
  • Present departmental research seminar (second semester)
  • Schedule and complete final examinations
  • Submit final program of study to Graduate School
  • Submit unbound copies of approved thesis to Graduate School
  • Submit graduation approval form