College of Science & Engineering

Graduate Program Structure

The M.S. degree in Biology or MESP-Biology are research thesis, and require coursework and a research thesis to graduate.  Below are the requirements a student must complete to graduate.

Plan of Study (Graduate School requirement)

During the fall quarter of the first year, you should complete the following:

  • discuss the courses needed to meet the graduate requirements,
  • have a meeting to discuss this plan with your committee, and
  • submit the Plan of Study to the graduate school.

See the section on Graduate Coursework for more information.

Advancement to Candidacy (Gradaute School requirement)

Advancement to Candidacy is a prerequisite to earning the Master’s degree. To provide you with adequate time to complete your research, you must Advance to Candidacy by the end of the second quarter after admission. After you have advanced to candidacy, your primary responsibility is to complete the approved thesis research.

Requirements to advance to candidacy are the following:


  • Establish the Thesis Committee

  • Submit a completed “Graduate Plan of Study” form to the Graduate School. You can find the form online here (see Section 4.2 for more details).

  • Satisfy any academic deficiencies listed in your letter offering admission.

  • Complete at least 12 credit hours3 of graduate study with a cumulative GPA ≥ 3.04.


  • Have no incomplete (K) grades

  • If admitted provisionally, you must have attained graduate degree status

  • Submit an approved Thesis Topic Approval card (see Section 5.3)

    Advancement to candidacy will occur automatically once all of the above requirements are met.

Thesis Topic Approval Card (Gradaute School requirement)

The This Topic Approval requirement establishes your thesis committee and informs the Graduate School that this committee has discussed and approved the general topic of your thesis research.  So, before you can submit this form you must establish your thesis committee (see Thesis Committee) and have a thesis committee meeting (fall or early winter quarter of your first year) to discuss the topic and scope of your thesis research. During this meeting, the committee should verbally approve your thesis topic.  After this meeting, you can complete the online Thesis Topic Approval form, which you can find here. The form will ask for the title of your thesis, but is not binding and can be altered on the actual thesis. It is your responsibility to submit this form to your thesis advisor. 

It is important to complete the Thesis Topic Approval requirement as soon as possible, because you cannot register for research credit (BIOL 690) until the Graduate School approves receives this form (and most students want to take BIOL 690 credits during spring quarter (and sometimes during winter quarter).

Thesis Proposal Approval (Biology requirement)

During winter or spring quarter of your first year, you need to schedule another Thesis Committee meeting, during which you will discuss your formal thesis proposal. This proposal, developed during the previous quarter, must provide sufficient detail on the context, hypotheses, and proposed methods to allow your Thesis Committee to assess the following.

  • Whether your research is likely to produce meaningful results,

  • Whether it is of the appropriate scope for a MS thesis.

  • Whether the appropriate resources are available to complete the thesis project.

Once your Thesis Committee has approved your proposal, you must give a copy of the approved (signed) proposal to the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Thesis Proposal Guidelines

Below are suggested guidelines for a thesis proposal.

  • 50% of the proposal should be Introduction, Overview and Background, and Question and Hypotheses.

  • 50% should be Methods, Timeline, Possible outcome and interpretations, and Contingency plans.

  • Length (excluding the project summary, bibliography, tables and figures, and budget, supplies, and resources):

    • Minimum of 10 double spaced pages.

    • Maximum of 15 double spaced pages.

    • If the proposal exceeds the maximum, then there is likely a problem (e.g., you have proposed too much work).

Proposal Outline

Project Summary (typically  < 1 page)

Introduction, Overview and Background



Experimental Approach

Questions and hypotheses (can be bulleted)


Study site(s)

Experimental or sampling design



Expected Results and Interpretations

Possible outcomes and interpretations

Contingency plans



Budget and needed resources

  • University resources (e.g. instrumentation, field equipment, use of Scientific Technical Services, SPMC facilities, boat support, etc).

  • Indication of usage (e.g. 6 months of one piece of equipment)

  • Expendable supplies

  • Other