Graduate Advising

Graduate Student Advising- Spring 2022

Weixing Zhu, Graduate Program Director


Dr. Miranda Kearney, Graduate Advisor

Advising by appointment 


Dr. Cláudia Marques, Graduate Advisor

Advising by appointment



Master of Science (research thesis) course requirements

The MS degree allows students to expand their background in a particular area of the biological sciences and to gain experience in research. Entering students must affiliate with a professor, form a three-member supervisory committee and begin research in the first semester. Soon after formation, the committee meets with the student to establish the nature and scope of the research. The committee meets regularly to assess the student's progress.

Degree requirements

A minimum of 30 credits beyond the bachelor's degree is required for completion of the MS degree. These credits are distributed as follows:

  • 20 credits of courses numbered 500 or above (exclusive of BIOL 591, 595, 599 and all MAT/MSEd courses). In addition to formally structured BIOL courses, these may include up to eights of elective courses outside of the biological sciences. Approval of the supervisory committee is required. A maximum of 12 credits of BIOL 597: Independent Study is allowed

  • Four credits of BIOL 580 courses

  • Six credits of BIOL 599: Investigations in Biology — Thesis are required

Granting of the degree

The department requires that each candidate for the degree of master of science in biological sciences complete the following additional requirements:

  • Maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in all graduate credit courses

  • Complete a thesis acceptable to the supervisory committee

  • Pass a final oral examination on the subject matter of the thesis and related biological knowledge

  • Present a formal seminar to the department based on the thesis research

Master of Arts (non-thesis) course requirements

The master of arts non-thesis degree is designed for students who want to expand their knowledge of the biological sciences primarily through coursework. The degree is designed to be completed in one year. Entering students may either:

  • A). Affiliate with an individual faculty advisor and form a three-member supervisory committee, or

  • B). Join the group of the MA coordinator and progress through the special capstone courses

Pathways A and B require the completion of a special project as defined by the advisor.

Degree requirements

A minimum of 30 credits beyond the bachelor's degree is required for completion of the master of arts—non-thesis degree. A cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or above is required. These credits are to be distributed as follows:

For Pathways A and B:

  • 28 credits of formally structured courses numbered 500 or above (exclusive of BIOL 591, 595, 599 and all MAT/MSEd courses). Four of these credits may be taken as courses outside of the biological sciences with advisor approval.

  • Two credits of BIOL 680X.

  • Up to eight credits of BIOL 597: Independent Study. BIOL 597 may be either a library or laboratory research project designed to acquaint the student with the principles of experimental design.

MA Project: The project may be completed either through a course, through affiliation with a faculty mentor (by permission of advisor), or through the BIOL 680M capstone course (by permission of instructor). The project may be a paper submitted in fulfilling the requirement of a course.

PhD course requirements

The Biological Sciences Department is made up of many sub-disciplines, each with its own special requirements. Graduate students entering these sub-disciplines have a variety of backgrounds and future needs. The department recognizes these differences by stressing maximum flexibility for the program of each individual student. This flexible planning is the province of the committee supervising the research program of the graduate student.

The PhD is a research degree. Entering graduate students must affiliate with a professor, form a four-person supervisory committee and begin research in the first semester. Regular meetings with the supervisory committee are required. The major steps leading to the granting of the degree are:

  • Take the concentration examination by the end of the first full year of study

  • Take the formal research proposal examination prior to the start of the fifth semester

  • Submit an approved dissertation prospectus

  • Submit the dissertation

  • Give a final oral defense of the dissertation, including a departmental seminar on the research

Degree requirements

Doctoral students must complete 30 credits of graduate coursework, including 2 credits of BIOL 680X and 4 credits of BIOL 580. Other specific course requirements are determined for each student by the supervisory committee.

Concentration examination

Concentration exams evaluate if a doctoral student has gained basic graduate-level expertise in his or her field. The concentration exam is a written and/or oral exam consisting of three specialty sections which are administered across several days.

The specialty sections are determined by the student's supervisory committee. The areas of specialty include, but are not limited to, behavior, biochemistry, cell biology, ecology, endocrinology, evolution, evolutionary genetics, genetics, immunology, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, animal physiology and plant physiology.

At this time, the need for the ability to read and/or speak a foreign language is evaluated. The need for a foreign language varies considerably within the different sub-disciplines of biology. The requirement is therefore flexible (usually one or no foreign language) and is determined by the individual supervisory committee.

Formal research proposal examination

The purpose of this examination is to ensure a doctoral level of general research skills (e.g., ability to write an NSF- or NIH-type grant proposal, ability to discuss and defend ideas, competency in review and interpretation of the literature, competency in experimental design). The examination consists of the student submitting a formal research proposal to the student's supervisory committee and then defending the proposal at a meeting with the committee. The proposal should be in the style of a standard grant proposal to the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health or another federal funding agency with similar proposal requirements.

Dissertation prospectus

A dissertation prospectus must be submitted within two months following the completion of the formal research proposal examination. This prospectus is a revised version of the research proposal submitted to the supervisory committee for the formal research proposal examination. The four-member supervisory committee must approve the revision in writing. A copy of the approved revision must be submitted to the department. Meetings between the student and supervisory committee should continue on a regular basis to allow committee members to monitor the progress of the research.

Final oral defense

After the dissertation is submitted, the research must be defended in an oral examination. A five-member committee made up of the supervising professor, the other three members of the supervisory committee and an outside examiner appointed by the Graduate School conduct this examination. This examination covers the details, background and implications of the student's research.

Seminar requirement

Beginning in the third year, all doctoral students are required to give a presentation on their research annually. A variety of venues are acceptable, including a talk at 1) the meeting of a professional society (includes posters), 2) the regular Friday afternoon departmental seminar, 3) the annual departmental research symposium held in January (includes posters), or 4) an organized research discussion group within the department.

Certificate in College Teaching

Colleges and universities frequently want new faculty to have a demonstrated proficiency in teaching as well as research. This certificate provides tangible evidence of the teaching skills of the graduate student. Students must participate in University-wide teaching workshops, complete required teaching-related activities within the department, demonstrate teaching and presentational skills in a formal setting and prepare a teaching portfolio.

Certificate requirements

  • Attend at least one fall semester orientation for new teaching assistants.

  • Attend 10 hours of University-wide teaching events such as the University Science Education Workshops, Spring Teaching Event and Poster Sessions, and Alliance for Teaching meetings. Other activities, such as being the participating representative from the Department of Biological Sciences to the fall semester orientation for new teaching assistants, may be substituted at the discretion of the graduate committee.

  • Participate as a teaching assistant in at least four semesters of laboratory sections or recitation sessions for biology undergraduate students, with at least one class observation visit per semester by the faculty instructor who formally evaluates the student's performance.

  • PhD students: Present at least one oral research presentation in the Department of Biological Sciences fall symposium. Master's students: Give at least one oral presentation, either at the departmental symposium or at an organized lunch seminar, e.g., for the EEB or BCMB groups.

  • Complete at least two BIOL 680 seminar courses:

    • BIOL 680: Survival Kit for Scientists: Part I-Teaching Issue OR

    • BIOL 680: Science Education

  • Complete at least one course that emphasizes communication skills, such as BIOL 680: How to Write a Grant Proposal,which stresses written and oral expression. Courses that qualify are determined by the graduate committee.

  • Submit a teaching portfolio with contents specified by the Department of Biological Sciences and approved by the departmental director of graduate studies.


This certificate is only for graduate students in the Biological Sciences Department; therefore, no formal admission process is necessary. However, the student must check with the graduate secretary of the department for detailed instructions on how to proceed with fulfilling the requirements for this certificate.

Other graduate degrees

Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and Master of Science in Education (MSEd) degree programs in Biology Adolescence Education, Grades 7-12, are available in conjunction with the Department of Teaching, Learning and Educational Leadership in the College of Community and Public Affairs.

Have Questions?

  • What kind of credentials must I have to be accepted?

    You need to have an appropriate undergraduate degree and/or course background to enter a graduate program. For example, to enter a graduate program for a Masters in biology specializing in a BCMB track (Biochemistry, Cell & Molecular Biology), you need a BA/BS with a major in biology with appropriate courses in biology and chemistry for a BCMB foundation. If, for example, you have an undergraduate degree in psychology but want a PhD in biology with a specialization in an EEB track (Ecology, Evolution & Behavior), then you would need a sufficient foundation of biology and chemistry courses, with some upper level courses in the EEB area. In that case, if you did not have the foundation courses, then you would have to fill in the gaps by taking undergraduate courses at your own expense and which would not count toward the PhD degree.

    Most graduate schools require that you maintain a 3.0 GPA for a graduate degree; therefore, they expect evidence at the undergraduate level that you can do that. Consequently, the undergraduate GPA should be 3.0 or better. If yours isn't, then you could take graduate courses as a non-matriculated student (meaning that you simply register for graduate courses (and pay) without being admitted to the graduate program). If you do well in the courses, a graduate program may decide to waive the GPA entrance requirement. If you obtain approval ahead of time, the graduate program may accept those courses as part of your work toward a degree.

    You need to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and if you are an international student from a non-English speaking nation, then you must take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam. Exceptions to this may be certificate programs.

    Usually you will need to have at least two people write letters of recommendation for you and/or fill out evaluation forms. Give the people writing letters for you advance notice of at least two weeks.

    If you aren't sure whether the letter writer can provide a strong evaluation, ask; if the person says he/she can't do that, then ask someone else to write on your behalf. Also, the letter writers need to know you well enough to be able to say more than you did well in a course and you seemed like a nice person. So choose these people carefully. They must have the expertise to evaluate your ability to succeed in graduate studies and they must know you well enough to be able to write a page about you in some detail. It helps greatly if these people supervised a research project conducted by you or you worked for them on some research endeavor. Letters that indicate that you have research experience and/or can handle difficult intellectual and other kinds of challenges can be especially persuasive, even to the point of convincing graduate programs that marginal GPAs and/or GREs can be overlooked.

    In addition, usually you will have to write a short essay about your background and career aspirations. Be as specific as possible. Have someone else read your essay, and then revise it. You may also wish to submit a resume, in which case send a hardcopy with your application materials.

  • Should I contact faculty in the graduate program and, if so, how do I do that?

    Yes, you should contact faculty whose research interests you. Many programs require that a faculty member sponsor an applicant, meaning that the faculty member is willing to take that person into his/her laboratory group. Often financial aid from the department is contingent upon the applicant having made such a connection because part of the financial support comes from the research grants of faculty. It is okay to contact several faculty in a particular program while you are trying to sort that out. Email is an efficient way to make initial contact. Tell the faculty member about yourself and what your research interests are. Ask whether he/she has room in his/her laboratory to take on a new student. You can also ask whether he/she can provide a summer or academic year research stipend. Ask if you can contact his/her graduate students to find out more about the lab group, the graduate program, etc.

  • Do I have to take the GREs?

    All applicants who have not attended Binghamton University (either as an undergraduate or as a graduate student) are required to take the Graduate Record Exam as an indicator of aptitude for graduate studies. This requirement is waived for Binghamton University student applicants.

  • How long does it take to get an advanced degree?

    Certificate programs are usually 1-2 semesters, if you work at it full-time.

    Non-thesis Master programs are usually 1 year, if you work at it full-time.

    Master programs requiring a research thesis usually take 2 years because typically students work part-time as teaching or research assistants.

    Doctoral degrees usually take 4 years, with students usually working part-time as teaching or research assistants. These assistantships help develop necessary skills.

  • What is the difference between MA and MS degrees?

    In terms of pay scale by an employer, there is no difference. Instead, the employer will adjust salary of someone with a Masters based on experience and background that the person has and which is desirable to the employer.

    The Binghamton University MA program is a course-only program designed to be completed in one year. The MS program typically takes two years because it requires a research project culminating in a written thesis. 


Graduate Director:
Weixing Zhu
Science 3, Room 391