Jul 13, 2024  
2024-2025 Catalog 
2024-2025 Catalog

Biological Sciences, M.S.

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Graduate Advisor:
Julie Jameson, Ph.D.

Program of Study

The graduate program in biological sciences leads to a research-based Master of Science (M.S.) degree. The program provides the opportunity for participants to receive advanced training in biological sciences and to pursue independent research investigations in specialized areas of interest. Laboratory and/or field research is an integral component of the program, which emphasizes a hands-on approach with close faculty mentoring. Research experience also enables students to hone investigative skills including experimental design, implementation, data analysis, and interpretation. Another important feature of the program is the Teaching Assistantship requirement, which is designed to give students the opportunity to discuss and implement pedagogical strategies employed in science education.

Graduates with an M.S. in Biological Sciences will be prepared to continue study at the Ph.D. level, to successfully pursue careers in private industry or government affiliated labs and agencies, and to teach at the college level.

Our program fosters the integration of many disciplines. A wide range of faculty expertise and research interests enables the department to offer a curriculum that spans the fields of molecular genetics, aquatic biology, evolution, ecology, physiology, biotechnology, microbiology, immunology, and molecular cell biology. Students may develop a program of courses and research tailored to their individual needs within the areas of faculty expertise. In addition, students may choose a research supervisor outside of the Biological Sciences Department, allowing them to pursue interdisciplinary studies, special field research, or industrial projects. Seminar courses focus on the primary literature and are presented as a forum for open interchange and dissemination of scientific knowledge.

The department has sophisticated research laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation. Facilities include a vivarium, greenhouses, tissue culture laboratory, elemental analysis equipment, environmental growth chambers, numerous aquaria, flow cytometry, and equipment for radioisotope and modern molecular biology work. Excellent computer facilities and GIS software are also available. The close proximity of the campus to marine, chaparral, and desert environments provides many opportunities for field studies.

Student Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate with a Master of Science in Biological Sciences will be able to:

  1. Actively participate in and lead discussions about current topics and selected research topics to become highly knowledgeable about specific areas in biology.
  2. Locate, acquire and critically evaluate primary literature in the biological sciences.
  3. Develop specific hypotheses/aims pertaining to a research problem and design and conduct a study or experiment to accomplish this goal.
  4. Quantitatively analyze and interpret biological data (e.g., class project, original thesis research).
  5. Critically evaluate, synthesize and report on biological data (e.g., class project, original thesis research) in oral and/or written formats based on their knowledge of biology.

Admission Requirements and Application

The Program in Biological Sciences will consider applicants having the following qualifications:

The applicant must meet the general requirements for admission to graduate studies at CSUSM. These are described in this catalog under Graduate Admission Requirements .

The applicant should have a bachelor’s degree in a biological science-related field, or the equivalent of the CSUSM Biological Sciences Minor .

Required courses include:

1. Lower- or upper-division biostatistics

2. Upper-division coursework in at least three (3) of the following four areas: cell or molecular biology, genetics, physiology, and ecology.

Courses covering these topics may go by other names; what matters is that the content is sufficiently covered. Students with course deficiencies will meet with their prospective advisor and the biology graduate committee to map a reasonable academic plan for remediation prior to starting the program.


Applicants who wish to enter the program from outside the biological science area must meet with their prospective advisor and the biology graduate committee to identify course deficiencies that need to be satisfied. In general, the course remediation will be similar to those of the CSUSM Biological Sciences Minor , but will be tailored by the research advisor to their field of study.

The applicant must have maintained an undergraduate grade point average in science and math courses of at least 2.75, or a grade point average of at least 3.0 in the last 35 semester units of science and math courses.

All applicants, regardless of citizenship, who do not possess a bachelor’s degree from a post-secondary institution where English is the principal language, must take the combined Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the Test of Written English (TWE) examination. A minimum score of 550 on the paper TOEFL and a minimum of 4.5 on the TWE are required.

Apply to the Biological Sciences Master’s degree program using the CSU Apply website: https://www2.calstate.edu/apply

Application components include:

  • Transcripts. One set of official transcripts and one set of unofficial transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, with indication of graduation date, is required. (CSUSM students are not required to submit an official transcript.) Official transcripts must be sent to the Office of Admissions & Student Outreach, CSU San Marcos, 333 S. Twin Oaks Valley Road, San Marcos, CA 92096
  • GRE scores (optional). General and/or Biology GRE scores will be considered, if the applicant wishes to submit them. GRE scores are not required for admission and will be used only to support the applicant’s overall academic preparedness.
  • Letters of recommendation. Two or three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s academic performance and potential for independent research are required. The online application will require the submission of two or three names of references and their email addresses. The references will be contacted automatically and provided with instructions for submission of recommendation letters through the application portal.

  • A personal statement. The statement of purpose is a two-page essay that should describe: 1) The candidate’s core research interests and preparation/training that supports their application, and 2) The candidate’s motivation to pursue a master’s degree in Biological Sciences at CSUSM.

  • Resume or curriculum vitae

  • Application fee

Application Deadline

March 1 for admission in the Fall semester. Spring admission is allowed only by petition to the graduate coordinator.

Review and Acceptance

All files received by the March 1 deadline will be reviewed by the Biology Graduate Committee for potential acceptance. In addition to the previously mentioned qualifications, acceptance into the M.S. program also depends on availability of faculty to accept an applicant into their lab. Applicants are strongly urged to review faculty research interests (available on the Biological Sciences web site) and make contact with relevant faculty prior to applying to the program.

Applicants can submit their application without the commitment of a major professor, but the Graduate Committee will not recommend admission to the program until a major professor has agreed to accept the applicant as a student. Interested mentors will reach out to candidates for interviews prior to acceptance into the program.

The Graduate Committee uses a holistic review to identify applicants who are likely to be successful in biology research. Criteria include: Long-term goals and commitment, academic preparedness, research experience, resilience and adaptability, creativity and innovation, contributions to diversity and/or outreach and inclusion, and leadership and work experience.

Applicants who meet all CSUSM and Biological Sciences department requirements will be admitted as classified graduate students. In addition, promising applicants, who have deficiencies in specific admission criteria (i.e. missing one preparatory course or slight GPA deficiencies) that can be removed by additional preparation or coursework, may be considered for admittance with conditional classification status. The procedure for removing the acceptance conditions will be detailed in the acceptance letter. Please contact the Graduate Advisor for more information.

Accepted students will be assigned a faculty advisor, whom they should contact prior to the start of the Fall semester to schedule an advising appointment.

Program Requirements

  • Each graduate student must establish a specific plan (program of study) that will lead to fulfillment of requirements for the Master of Science degree. It must be approved before the student advances to candidacy. This program must contain at least 30 units of courses at the graduate level, of which at least 17 units are in 600-level courses, and the remaining units are in 500-level courses. Additional courses for the area of study may be required. The program of study should be developed in consultation with the chair of the student’s thesis committee with a focus on gaining in-depth knowledge of a particular subdiscipline of biological science.

Required courses are:

The program of study may include additional courses needed to satisfy coursework for classified status. The formal program of study must be submitted for approval to the student’s thesis committee before the end of the second semester after admission to the program.

A typical full-time student, enrolled in nine (9) units per semester (see Academic Regulations /Student Course Load), is expected to complete his or her program of study after four semesters in residence. Graduate units earned not in residence at CSUSM may not exceed six (6) and they must be approved by the student’s thesis committee. All students must complete their program of study within ten semesters in residence and must be enrolled continuously. Leaves of absence may be granted for no more than two semesters and do not extend the five-year limit. Students not enrolled or not on official leave of absence will be dropped from the program by the University.

Advancement to Candidacy

To be eligible for advancement to candidacy for the Master of Science degree, a graduate student must have attained classified status and have constituted a thesis committee. Each student must obtain the permission of a tenured or tenure-track Biological Sciences faculty member to serve as the chair of his or her thesis committee. The thesis committee chair and student then recommend two additional members for the thesis committee according to the Department of Graduate Studies Handbook. A student’s research supervisor need not be a member of the CSUSM Biological Sciences faculty but must be a member of the thesis committee. The Graduate Coordinator must approve the composition of the student’s committee. The thesis committee chair will assist the student to establish a program of study and develop a thesis research proposal. A formal written thesis proposal will be orally presented to the thesis committee no later than the beginning of the second year of full-time study, or after twelve (12) units of graduate coursework have been completed. The student will be advanced to candidacy after the official program of study has been approved by the thesis committee, the written thesis proposal has been successfully defended, and all deficiencies for conditional classified status have been removed.


Graduate students must maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 and earn at least a C (2.0) in each course, except those graded credit/no credit (see Academic Regulations /Definition of Terms). Students who are conditionally classified because of GPA deficiencies may not earn less than a B (3.0) in the courses on their approved list. Any student whose overall GPA falls below 3.0 for two semesters, or who receives more than three grades of C (2.0) or lower, will be dropped from the program. A full-time graduate student should be enrolled in at least nine (9) units per semester. Full-time students serving as teaching assistants or graduate assistants should be enrolled in at least six (6) units during the semester of service. In addition, except in unusual circumstances, a completed thesis must be submitted and defended not later than eight semesters following advancement to candidacy, and not later than five years after entry into the program. The student must be registered in BIOL 698, BIOL 699 or GRAD 699  when the completed thesis is granted final approval.

Financial Aid

Several sources of financial aid are available to graduate students. Students are responsible for identifying other sources of aid and may wish to consult with the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarship.

Degree Requirements

The Master of Science degree requires a minimum of 30 semester units of study at the advanced level (500-698 courses). At least 17 of these units must be in courses organized for graduate students (courses numbered 600-698). Six (6) to seven (7) units of Directed Studies (BIOL 697) and six (6) to seven (7) units of Thesis (BIOL 698) may be included in the 30 units required for the degree.

All of the following requirements must be met within five years to earn the degree of Master of Science in Biological Sciences at CSUSM:

  1. Advancement to candidacy. In order to be considered for advancement, graduate students must have obtained approval of their program of study and have successfully defended the proposal to their thesis committee. On approval of their thesis proposal, and after completion of any conditional acceptance requirements, classified graduate students will be advanced to candidacy for the Master of Science degree.
  2. A completed program of study. This program is composed of at least 30 units of graduate-level work including required courses and research, all of which must have been approved by the student’s thesis committee and must have been completed with a GPA of at least 3.0.
  3. Completion of a written thesis based on original field or laboratory research. This thesis must be approved by the student’s thesis committee and defended in a public oral presentation to the faculty and students of the Biological Sciences Program.
  4. Completion of at least one semester as a teaching assistant. Because effective communication is important to success at the Master’s level, the program in Biological Sciences requires that a graduate student serve as a teaching assistant. Candidates who can demonstrate that this requirement would pose an undue hardship may petition the Graduate Studies Committee to waive this requirement.

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