Master's Degree Program Guidelines
Biological Sciences (rev. 8/10)

For questions, contact the program either by phone or E-mail.

Director of Graduate Study
Jane L. Witten

Cristi Vaughn, Graduate School

Graduate School regulations and requirements are described in the Graduate School Bulletin. The specific requirements for the Biological Sciences Master's Program are described below.


A. RESEARCH. The Master's degree is a RESEARCH degree. The most important requirement is that you must make an original, publishable contribution to your field of study. MS students are encouraged but not required to have submitted or published one primary or coauthored manuscript in a peer reviewed journal before graduation.
B. MAJOR PROFESSOR. Upon acceptance into the program the student will be notified of his/her initial advisor. Any questions may be addressed to the advisor, or to the Graduate Director of the Department of Biological Sciences. A student may change major professors if the advisor assigned initially is not in a research area appropriate for the student. If the decision to change advisors is made, the student must obtain the permission of his/her prospective advisor and notify the Graduate Director in writing of the change.
C. ADMISSION REQUIREMENTS. Upon acceptance, you will be notified of any curricular pre-requisites that must be completed. This basic coursework must be completed by the end of your first year. Extra programmatic requirements (physics, organic chemistry and calculus) will be determined by each student's thesis committee.
D. COURSEWORK. In the first semester, you and your major professor will determine an initial schedule of courses. A complete plan should be finalized by the end of the first year, after consultation with your MS Committee. You should attempt to complete your formal courses during the first year.
A. MS GRADUATE ADVISORY COMMITTEE. You and your major professor should establish a Committee that consists of your advisor and at least two members. Prospective members should be consulted before they are assigned to the committee. At least one committee member must be a voting member of the Department of Biological Sciences. The major advisor or committee members must be: (1) a member of the UWM Graduate Faculty, or (2) UWM Category B Research Academic Staff, holding the title of Scientist, and recommended by the department or programmatic unit, or (3) a non-UWM Committee member approved by the Graduate Director (submit a cover letter and Curriculum Vitae.). Teaching Assistant support will be given on a priority basis to graduate students under the direction of voting members of the Biological Sciences Faculty.

While your major professor has primary responsibility for your program, your MS Committee monitors your research and academic progress and approves the thesis research proposal, administers the preliminary oral examination, reviews the thesis, and administers the final thesis defense.

1. You must file a STUDY PLAN and PROGRESS REPORT by January 15 of your first year. Both forms must be signed by you and by your major professor. File the original PLAN with the Biological Sciences Graduate Director.
2. You must update your STUDY PLAN and PROGRESS REPORT by January 15 each year you are in the graduate program. You and your major professor can include separate comments on your PROGRESS REPORT.
C. CREDITS. Twenty-four (24) credits beyond the Bachelor's degree are required. Of the 24 credits, 12 must be in formal coursework and seminars (two seminars are required, to a maximum of 4 credits); and four (4) from Colloquium. Additional credits can be from Independent Study, research, or additional graduate coursework. At least 18 credits must be in Biological Sciences courses.
D. GRADES. You must maintain a GPA of 3.0 in all graduate work. Students receiving a grade of "B-" or lower in Biological Sciences coursework will receive a letter of warning from the Graduate Director. Students with an overall semester GPA below 3.0 will receive an academic warning from the Graduate School. Continued poor academic performance may result in dismissal from the Graduate Program (see Graduate Bulletin).

You must register for courses or research credits (BioSci 990) during Fall and Spring semester in order to use University facilities for research. Satisfactory progress in research can receive a "S" (satisfactory) in lieu of a letter grade for research credits. Grades indicating unsatisfactory progress may result in a recommendation for academic dismissal from the Graduate Program. After the final thesis defense, "S" grades are changed to letter grades by the major professor.

E. MS PRELIMINARY ORAL EXAMINATION. An oral examination is required for the MS degree. The MS Committee determines examination content consistent with each student's area of research and academic goals. You should ask each Committee member about the areas that he/she plans to cover in the examination. Typically, students answer questions from each Committee member for 20-30 minutes.

The MS Committee decides whether the student passes, fails, or must retake part or all of the examination. The student must obtain a departmental Preliminary Oral Examination form (from the Biological Sciences office) which will be signed by the committee following the successful completion of the oral exam. In the case of unsatisfactory performance, the MS Committee, the Biological Sciences Graduate Director, and the Department Chair can recommend that the student withdraw from the Program.

F. THESIS RESEARCH. Thesis research is conducted with your major professor, and should be initiated immediately upon enrollment. The written thesis should be of high caliber and be written in a style and format appropriate for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Stylistic requirements for theses are detailed in the Graduate School's "Thesis and Dissertation Instructions". You must provide two copies of the final thesis to the Graduate School, one to the Department (required for degree processing), one to your major professor, and one to each Committee member (upon request).
G. ORAL THESIS DEFENSE. The final thesis defense is a public presentation of thesis research, followed by an oral defense administered by the MS Committee. All other degree requirements must be satisfied before the defense. The date of the defense must be posted publicly one week prior to the defense. MS students are encouraged but not required to give a departmental seminar. The student must obtain the Final Oral Examination form from the Biological Sciences office (it is the second half of the form used for the Preliminary oral exam). The form will be signed by the MS Committee upon the successful completion of the thesis defense.

Your major professor must approve the thesis before it is presented to the rest of the Committee. You should provide final thesis copies to all MS Committee members at least one week in advance of the defense to allow sufficient time for review. MS students are encouraged but not required to have submitted or published one primary or coauthored manuscript in a peer reviewed journal before graduation. The Graduate School requires that all degree requirements be completed within five years of the date of matriculation. ANY STUDENT WHO EXCEEDS THIS TIME LIMIT CAN BE RECOMMENDED FOR ACADEMIC DISMISSAL FROM THE GRADUATE PROGRAM. Extensions beyond the 5-year limit must be requested in writing from the Graduate School, and require approval by both the major professor and the Biological Sciences Graduate Director (in concert with the Graduate Committee).

H. SCHEDULING THE FINAL SEMESTER. Important deadlines from the Graduate School are outlined in the Bulletin, Thesis and Dissertation Instructions, and the Calendar (all available from the Graduate School).

Early in the graduating semester you must file an Application for Graduation (available at with the Graduate School (see Graduate School Calendar for deadlines). After reviewing the student's records for eligibility, the Graduate School will forward the approved application to the Biological Sciences Graduate Director. When the defense is completed and the final thesis copy is submitted to the Graduate School by the appropriate deadline, the completed application is signed and forwarded to the Graduate School. Any "S" grades for research must be cleared before this time.

Prior to the final defense, the student should make an appointment to take a "draft" version of the thesis to the Graduate School to ensure that the format is correct. Degrees are formally awarded at ceremonies scheduled in May and December; however, degrees may also be awarded at the end of the Summer Session.

For questions, contact the program either by phone or E-mail.

Director of Graduate Study
Jane L. Witten

Phyllis Shaw, Program Assistant
Cristi Vaughn, Graduate School