Section XIV: Master's Degree

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The Program offers a Master’s degree, but this is only available to students that have already been accepted into the doctoral program.  Since the Master’s is a non-terminal degree, students can graduate with a Master’s degree and then proceed with their PhD dissertation research without interruption.  Graduation with a Master’s also provides a possible exit route for students who opt to leave the Program following a decision not to pursue a doctoral degree, while still acknowledging their advanced study and research.  The master’s examination is taken after submitting the Application to Graduate on GRADFORMS during the autumn or spring semester or summer term in which the student plans to graduate. A student must be registered for at least three graduate credit hours at the time the examination is taken. The Program offers three possible routes to obtaining a Master’s degree, which are explained below.

Thesis option

In addition to all requirements in Section 6.4 of the Graduate School Handbook, candidates for MCDB Master’s degrees must:

  1. Complete the MCDB curriculum as described in Section VIII of this Handbook
  2. Complete a minimum of 30 graduate credit hours of courses
  3. Complete a thesis detailing acceptable research results
  4. Undergo a final Master’s oral examination

Students opting for the thesis Master’s degree must complete the requirements within six calendar years of entering the Program.

The format and length of the thesis is decided by the Master’s Examination Committee, which consists of the student’s advisor (chair) and at least two other members of the MCDB faculty, who would normally be on the student’s Advisory Committee.  This committee is responsible for reviewing and approving the thesis and also conducting the oral exam.  A final draft of the thesis should be submitted to the committee at least two weeks prior to the oral examination.  The thesis draft must be approved unanimously by the committee prior to the oral examination.  The committee’s approval may be conditional upon specific changes to the text of the thesis.

The time and date of the examination is determined by the advisor, in consultation with other committee members and the candidate.

The oral examination should last at least one hour and not more than two hours. The exam should begin with a brief research presentation (not more than 30 minutes).  This will be followed by questions from the Committee.  Although the examination is primarily a defense of the thesis, questions of a more general nature may also be asked. Procedures for video conferencing, postponement of halting an oral exam in progress are described in Section 6.2 of  the Graduate School Handbook.

A positive decision requires a unanimous vote of the examination committee.  If the outcome is judged to be unsatisfactory, a second final examination and defense with the same committee may be scheduled with the permission of the examination committee.  Failure of a second examination will result in ineligibility for an MCDB graduate degree.

Non-Thesis option

Candidates for a non-thesis Master’s degree must:

  1. Complete the MCDB curriculum as described in Section VIII of this Handbook
  2. Complete a minimum of 30 graduate credit hours of courses
  3. Undergo a final written and oral examination

The non-thesis Master's examination includes a “closed book” four-hour written portion and a one-hour oral portion.  The time and date of the examination is determined by the advisor, in consultation with other committee members and the candidate. The two portions of the exam do not have to be scheduled on the same day. 

The content and scope of the exam is determined by the Master’s Examination Committee, which consists of the student’s advisor (chair) and at least two other members of the MCDB faculty, who would normally be on the student’s Advisory Committee.  The written portion of the exam may consist of questions on general areas of biochemistry and molecular, cellular and developmental biology.  Alternatively, it may take the form of a paper describing research accomplished by the student.  In either case, the purpose of the exam is to determine the student's proficiency in the subject and the student's ability to integrate information and to solve scientific problems.  Procedures for video conferencing, postponement of halting an oral exam in progress are described in Section 6.2 of  the Graduate School Handbook.  The candidate must pass both the written and oral portions of the exam, each of which requires a unanimous vote of the committee. 

Master’s Degree based on Candidacy

Students may also apply to graduate with a Master’s degree based upon satisfactory performance on the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination.  The Application to Graduate should be submitted the same semester that the student intends to take the candidacy exam.  No prior approval is required for this, providing that the student is in good standing and has met the following criteria:

  1. Completed the MCDB curriculum as described in Section VIII of this Handbook
  2. Complete a minimum of 30 graduate credit hours of courses
  3. Passed candidacy within the past 5 years (i.e. the candidacy has not expired)
  4. The student does not already hold an equivalent master’s degree in the same field

 

Rev: December, 2020