Graduate Thesis Requirement

Open Unit Enrollments (Thesis Courses)

Enrollment in BIOL696 and BIOL698 is permitted to facilitate the completion of research and writing for a thesis under the direction of one of the faculty. These courses are available in only 3-units with an expected commitment of 6 hours work per week (90 hours per semester).

Enrollment in either course requires permission from the thesis advisor. The permission form is available in the Biology Department Office.BIOL696. Directed Graduate Research

BIOL696. Directed Graduate Research

Enrollment allows students to earn units towards their Biology MS Program while conducting research in the lab or field for their thesis. A maximum of 6 units may be applied to the Biology MS Program. However, thesis advisors may require enrollment every semester that students are active in the lab. Grades earned in excess units will still apply to the overall GPA.

Enroll in the BIOL696 course below that is most appropriate to your field of study. If you are unsure which one is most suitable, consult with your thesis advisor.

696A. Microbiology

696B. Marine Biology

696C. Cellular/Molecular/Physiology

696D. Genetics/Developmental

696E. Ecology & Evolution

BIOL698. Thesis

Enrollment allows students to earn units towards their Biology MS Program while writing their thesis. Normally, you should enroll in thesis units within the last two semesters prior to completion of all other requirements for the program. A minimum of 3 units is required for the program. A maximum of 6 units can be applied to the program, however, no more than 3 units can be taken in any one semester. You must be a fully classified graduate student in order to enroll in BIOL698.

A grade of RP (Report in Progress) will be assigned by the Graduate Coordinator at the end of the semester to be later converted to a letter grade after submission of a thesis to the Office of Graduate Studies. The letter grade is determined by the thesis advisor and not by the Graduate Coordinator, however, it is the responsibility of the student to ask the thesis advisor to forward grades for BIOL698 to the Graduate Coordinator.

Once you enroll in BIOL698, you have two years to graduate until the course can no longer be counted in your graduate program. Extension beyond 2 years must by approved by the Associate Vice President of Graduate Studies by submitting a Graduate Petition Form available in the Biology Office.

The Thesis (Culminating Experience)
Requirement for the MS in Biology

For the MS in Biology degree, the Department of Biology requires a written thesis that is presented and defended in front of a thesis committee.  A thesis is the only recognized form of culminating experience in the Department of Biology for the MS in Biology degree.

The thesis represents an original scholarly contribution to the field of biological sciences.  A thesis project may be a completely independent study, or it may be part of a larger research program involving one or more faculty members and graduate students, however, a thesis is a unique contribution within that program and is authored by only a single student.


The contents of theses varies greatly but all incorporate a description of a research problem and its importance, an explanation of the methods used to answer questions derived from the scientific problem, an analysis and description of the findings, a discussion of the findings in context of a review of previous studies relevant to the subject, and a conclusion. A thesis may be a single monograph or may be composed of several related studies written as individual chapters.  Consult with your thesis advisor for what style bests suits you.  Your advisor may also have copies of theses from previous students for you to look at.

There is specific formatting of your thesis that must be followed before the Office of Graduate Studies will accept your thesis.  These guidelines are described in great detail here. Also, all graduate students are required to submit a draft of their thesis via the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation website for the Office of Graduate Studies to review the formatting of your thesis.  Formatting checkst must be made before the last week of classes as that week is reserved for final submission of theses only.  Check the Office of Graduate Studies for deadlines.

Thesis Committee

Students in Classified Status must select a Thesis Committee.  The committee is composed of a minimum of three members.  One of the members, usually the thesis advisor, will serve as Chair of the committee.  Two of the committee members must be full-time on-campus faculty. The third committee member may be off campus but must meet the following criteria:
   a) a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in the field
   b) must be experienced in the area of your thesis project
   c) must be recognized professionally through publications, reports, papers, or
   membership in professional organizations

Part-time faculty in the Biology Department may serve on a thesis committee as a fourth member, or as a third member in situations where a full-time member of the faculty is not available. 

Once the committee is selected, submit a Thesis/Graduate Project Planning Form via the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation website to obtain approval from each of your committee members and the the Biology Department Graduate Coordinator. You will need to upload the Curriculum Vitae for any part-time or off-campus committee members.  

The thesis committee should be selected prior to the time you expect to engage in your thesis research.  Although the committee will examine your final thesis and approve it for submission to Graduate Studies, they are also a resource to provide guidance in your research.  All students must select their committee within their first year, prepare a research proposal, and present it to the committee for feedback in the early stages of the study.  Consult with your advisor on which committee members to ask to be on your committee.

Thesis Proposal*

You are required to produce a written thesis proposal and present it orally to the department by the end of your second semester.  This will give you the opportunity early in your program to receive valuable feedback and confirmation from your committee that your thesis project is feasible and acceptable for an MS in Biology.  The proposal should include the following:

i.  a thorough review of the key literature and research relevant to introducing and justifying the hypotheses and objectives proposed in the research.

ii.  the significance of your research in your field of study 

iii.  the methods you intend  to use to test hypotheses and meet the objectives of your research

iv.  any preliminary data/analysis that may have already been collected

v.  a timeline to completion

Consult with your thesis advisor on specific written and presentation content and formats required by your thesis committee.

On the day of your thesis proposal download a copy of the “Thesis Proposal Evaluation Form” from the Biology Graduate Website (or pick it up from the Biology office).  Complete the first page and provide copies to each member of your thesis committee.

*This is a requirement for all new graduate students entering the program Fall 2011 or later. 

Thesis Defense

You will defend your thesis publically in front of your thesis committee, an external evaluator, and faculty and students from the rest of the department.  In your defense you will give a 30-45 minute presentation on your thesis research followed by a question and answer period.  You will receive questions from your thesis committee, other department faculty and other students in attendance.

Before your defense, download a copy of the “Thesis Evaluation Form” from the Biology Website or pick up a copy from the Biology Office. Complete the 1st page and make a copy for each of your committee members and another copy for an external evaluator. 
The external evaluator is another faculty member in the department who is not directly involved in your thesis research.  Ask your advisor to contact the Chair of the department “Assessment Committee” to arrange for an external evaluator for your thesis and defense.  The evaluator must receive a copy of your thesis at least 2 weeks prior to your defense date.  This person is merely an observer who will evaluate your presentation and thesis independently from your thesis committee.  The external evaluator is necessary for our department as a means of assessing the quality of our Master of Science in Biology Program.  The external evaluator does not play any role on deciding if your thesis is acceptable for a Master’s Degree.  That is up to your thesis committee.  The external evaluator will use the same evaluation form as your committee but your name will not be associated with the scores used for assessing our graduate program.

It is normal to be nervous during your defense, but keep in mind that you are the expert on your thesis research and you likely know more about your particular area of research than just about everyone else in the room. Be confident and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know the answer to a question.  I don’t know is not a wrong answer, but trying to bluff your way through a question is the absolute worst response to a question.  If you don’t know the answer, ask to repeat or rephrase the question if needed, and don’t be afraid to take a couple of moments to think about it before answering.  The committee has read your thesis so they know that you know a lot about your research, so they may ask questions that test the limit of your knowledge.  What will really impress them is your ability to think through challenging questions.

Remember that you are defending your research based on what you did, what you discovered, and what others before you have discovered that help support your conclusions.  Be ready to defend why you did what you did and why you think what it means.  Just because the question or criticism comes from a professor does not mean that the professor is right and you are wrong.  You’ve been working on this project for many months and possible several years and so you must have thought about everything inside and out – more so than anyone else has. If you know that you are right, then politely explain why you are right.

You don’t need to dress formally for your defense, but don’t dress like a slob.  You are presenting yourself as a professional, so you should look the part – think business casual attire.  Wear comfortable shoes since you may be standing for a quite some time.

The specific structure of a defense varies, so you should consult with your advisor on what is required of you during your defense, and what sequence of events you should expect.  For example, after the questions and answer period, your committee may require everyone else in the room, but you, to leave so that they may ask you more specific questions.  They may then ask that you temporarily leave the room while they discuss your fate, and then invite you back in to receive their decision.

Thesis Writing and Submission Schedule

Careful planning is required to ensure that you are able to graduate in time. The last day to submit your final thesis to the Office of Graduate Studies (via the Electronic Thesis and Dissertaion website) for graduating in the same semester is the last day of classes.  However, there are many steps prior to that and may take many weeks even after you have finished writing your thesis. Here are some considerations to help you plan the writing of your thesis:

  1. Your advisor must approve of your thesis before you give it to your committee to examine.  This may take 3-4 weeks of editing and rewriting after you have your first draft. 
  2. Submit your approved thesis to your committee for their review.  This will require at least 2 weeks. 
  3. If your committee agrees that your thesis is acceptable towards the MS degree they will return the thesis to you to make corrections before your defense day. This will require about 2 weeks for corrections. Note: there are always corrections.
  4. The fully corrected thesis should be returned to the committee to approve corrections at least 1 week before your defense day.
  5. Provide a copy of your thesis to the external evaluator at least 2 weeks prior to your defense.
  6. More changes may be required after your defense day so schedule your defense with time to spare (1-2 weeks) before the deadline for thesis submission to Graduate Studies. 

In summary, plan on having the first complete draft of your thesis to your advisor by the second month of the semester you plan on graduating.  Consult with your advisor on your timeline and seek their advice on how you can stay on track to graduate.  Your advisor may accept to review parts of your thesis while you are working on the rest in order to accelerate that stage of the thesis writing.  When scheduling your thesis you need to take into consideration the schedules of your committee members.  If you plan on defending one week prior to deadline remember that there are many other graduate students that may be planning the same and so committee members may be already over committed.  Check with your committee early to schedule important dates such as reviewing your thesis and attending your defense.