1. Course Requirements

A minimum of 30 credit hours of graduate coursework is required, including

  • At least 25 credit hours with a letter grade (i.e., not Pass/Fail)
  • A maximum of 6 credit hours with a letter grade may be taken from BSC 507 (Research Techniques in Biology) and/or BSC 607 (Advanced Research Techniques in Biology) combined and students must select either option A, B or C as their culminating “Capstone” experience (see section 6).
  • NOTE: Up to 5 hours of Pass/Fail credit can be applied toward fulfillment of degree requirements. Pass/Fail credit hours can include up to a total of 5 credit hours of BSC 598 and/or 4 credit hours of BSC 601
  • Of the 30 required credit hours, 18 must carry the BSC or MS designation.

All courses taken for MS graduate credit hours must be numbered 400 and above, and no more than six credit hours can be at the 400 level.  A maximum of 6 semester hours of 400-level course credit may be accepted for a master’s degree only if all the following apply:

  1. The 400-level courses taken are outside the Biological Sciences Department.
  2. The department offering the 400-level course offers a graduate degree.
  3. The 400-level course must carry appropriate extra work to be counted for graduate credit.
  4. The student must have the consent of his/her major advisor.
  5. The Approval of 400-Level Course Master’s Credit form must be approved by the department and Graduate School prior to the semester in which the 400-level coursework will be taken.

Candidates for the M.S. degree under Plan II must complete a culminating or “Capstone” experience (see section 6.A).

BSC 599 may not be applied toward this degree.

Transfer credits

Up to 12 credit hours of graduate courses taken at other institutions and meeting Graduate School requirements may be transferred.  Transfer credits are considered Pass/Fail for calculation of grade point average, but are included in the 25 required graded course hours, provided they are from graded courses.

A Plan II Masters Course Checklist to assist in tracking progress toward meeting course requirements is available on the Department of Biological Sciences website and in the appendix of this document.

*All graduate forms must be submitted through the Graduate Program Office in SEC 1325.

Marine Science

The guidelines cited above regarding credit-hour requirements are applicable.

2. Residency Requirements

A student’s program at the M.S. level must provide sufficient association with the resident faculty to permit individual evaluation of the student’s capabilities and achievements. The student’s Advisory Committee, with the approval of the Department Chair, will determine residency requirements.

3. M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee

A student must form an M.S. Advisory Committee prior to their first annual review meeting. The first committee meeting is to be held after completion of the first semester of studies (by January 31 for students entering in the fall semester and by June 30for students entering in the spring semester) to evaluate progress toward a degree. In subsequent years of study, the committee will meet prior to December 15 to review progress during the previous academic year (see Section B.5 below). It will also meet as needed to administer all qualifying and final examinations and to examine and approve the culmination Capstone Experience.

The M.S. Advisory Committee must consist of at least three members. All members of an M.S. Advisory Committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty. For Plan II M.S. degree-seeking students, the three committee members may all be Graduate faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences. One of the three committee members may be from outside of the department and University. The Department Chair is a non-voting, ex officio member of all graduate student committees.

The student’s major professor will nominate M.S. Advisory Committee members to the Department Chair using the MS Appointment of Plan II Committee Form. The Graduate Program Office will forward this nomination to the Dean of the Graduate School who will make formal appointments. Nominations of outside members from other institutions require the nominee’s CV, a letter of support explaining the need for temporary graduate faculty status submitted by the student’s major professor and a formal request for the temporary graduate faculty appointment from the Department Chair. Nominations should be submitted to the Graduate Program Office who will direct the form to the Department Chair, who will then relay the formal request to the Graduate School.

Marine Science

The guidelines cited above for an M.S. Advisory Committee are applicable. In addition, at least one member of the student’s M.S. Advisory Committee must be a qualified member of the Biological Sciences faculty at the Tuscaloosa campus.

4. Degree Timeline

Students must meet the following milestones by the times indicated in order to maintain the highest priority for financial assistance and achieve an acceptable evaluation score at annual performance reviews.

Milestone Deadline
Rotation (if necessary) Complete prior to first annual review
Choose M.S. advisor Complete prior to first annual review
Choose M.S. advisory committee Complete prior to first annual review after completing the first semester of studies (by Jan. 31 for students entering in the fall semester and June 30 for students entering in the spring)
Capstone Experience proposal Complete by the end of the second semester
First annual review Prior to Dec. 15 of 2nd academic year, as well as any subsequent years of study
Coursework Complete by the end of the fourth semester
Apply for graduation No later than the first week of classes of the intended semester of graduation
Submit Capstone Experience report At least 2 weeks prior to the oral exam
Formal departmental seminar and oral exam Complete by the end of the second year
Submit Completion of Requirements for the Plan II Degree Documentation Form After successful completion of the final oral exam (but no later than 3 weeks prior to commencement. Please see Graduate School deadlines for the last day to submit.)

According to Graduate School policy, all requirements for the M.S. degree must be completed during the six calendar years immediately preceding the date on which the degree is to be awarded.  The Department expectation is that M.S. students complete their degree in accordance with the Plan II M.S. timeline as outlined in this section. A Plan II Master’s timeline checklist is available on the Department of Biological Sciences website and at the end of this handbook. Each student’s checklist will be updated at each annual progress review and appended to the report submitted by the advisor to the Department Chair.

*All graduate forms must be submitted through the Graduate Program Office in SEC 1325.

5. Annual Progress Review

Upon completion of each annual review, each graduate student must initiate the committee review process by completing the application for committee review through the Biological Sciences Graduate Student Evaluation portal. When prompted, enter your CWID then complete all requested information, including selection of all departmental committee members.

These evaluations are a part of the data used to establish priorities for assistantships.  The student is expected to make a formal presentation to the committee during the annual meeting.  This presentation shall include a description of progress made with respect to research and completion of other degree requirements. When the presentation has been completed, the student will be asked to leave the room and the committee shall then evaluate the student’s progress.  This evaluation will be in the form of a ranking from 1 to 5.  Guidelines for these rankings are given below:

  1. A score of 1 indicates the student’s progress is unacceptable for reasons such as a GPA of less than 3.0 for the year in all (both graduate and undergraduate) courses attempted, insufficient research progress, or not completing the degree within time limits without an acceptable/approved reason.
  2. A score of 2 must be given to students who have fallen behind schedule with respect to such requirements as the formation of a committee, literature search and submission of a research proposal, writing of the thesis or dissertation, etc. (see timeline under Section A.4). Little or no research progress during the year may also result in a score of 2. It may apply to a student receiving less than a B in a course during the previous year even though the (overall) GPA is 3.0 or higher. Committees awarding a score higher than 2 for students who have fallen behind schedule must provide a written rationale to the Graduate Committee and the Department Chair.
  3. A score of 3 indicates that the student has made satisfactory research progress commensurate with his/her time in the program, has maintained at least a 3.0 GPA, and has met other requirements of the program (e.g., formed a committee, presented a research proposal, etc.) in a timely manner.
  4. A score of 4 is assigned only when there is clear evidence of above average or unusual accomplishments. Accomplishments deserving of a score of 4 would include one of the following:
    • Presentation of research at a national or international meeting.
    • Submission of a research proposal for funding external to the University.
    • Fellowship award external to the department.
    • Any honor or award reflecting outstanding achievement.
    • Having a junior authorship on a paper published or accepted/in press for publication.
  5. A score of 5 is reserved for truly exceptional achievements made during the previous year. Accomplishments would include two or more of those listed under criterion 4 (above) or one of the following:
    • Having a research proposal funded.
    • Having a first-authored paper published or accepted/in press for publication.
    • Receiving an invitation to speak at a symposium or conference.

GRADUATE STUDENTS RECEIVING A RANKING OF 1 FOR ANY ANNUAL REVIEW, OR TWO RANKINGS OF 2 FOR ANY TWO ANNUAL REVIEWS, WILL BE DISMISSED FROM THE BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES GRADUATE PROGRAM.

The major professor shall inform the student in writing of the committee’s evaluation within 2 weeks of the meeting. A copy of this report shall be sent to the Department Chair, Graduate Directors, and the student’s committee members via the Biological Sciences Graduate Student Evaluation portal. Since the committee evaluations are taken into consideration when assigning teaching assistantships and awarding research/travel funds, it is imperative that they be completed and submitted by January 10th of each year (March 1 or August 1 for first-year students beginning in the fall or spring semesters respectively)

If the student is progressing satisfactorily toward a degree, no further action is necessary. If the committee determines the student is not making satisfactory progress and awards a score below 3, the student shall be informed in the committee evaluation of specific deficiencies and of the committee’s recommendation(s) for correcting them.

It is the primary responsibility of the student to see that these deadlines are met.  Failure to complete evaluations by this date will result in the student not being considered for graduate teaching assistantships.

6. Culminating Capstone Experience

In addition to earning a minimum of 30 semester hours of credit, candidates for the M.S. Plan II degree are required to complete one or more of the following:

  • Non-thesis research project. This requirement is met by completing a research project under the supervision and to the satisfaction of the student’s M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee.  The M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee determines the nature and extent of the research project.  The student must prepare a report, present a public defense, and pass an oral exam on this research.  The oral exam will take place immediately following the public defense.  The research report must be submitted to the M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee for review at least 14 days prior to the public defense and oral exam.  In addition, a copy of the research report must be submitted to the department office and the public defense announced at least 14 days prior to the defense date.  Students selecting this option may apply up to 6 hours of BSC 507/607 and up to 5 hours of BSC 598 toward fulfillment of requirements for the degree. 
  • Research practicum. This requirement is met by earning 6 credit hours of BSC 507 (Research Techniques in Biology) under the supervision and to the satisfaction of the student’s M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee.  The M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee determines the nature and extent of the BSC 507 research project.  Examples of research practicum experiences include, but are not limited to, conducting research in the M.S. Plan II Advisor’s laboratory, at a regional research center (e.g., HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center), or at a national lab (e.g., National Institutes of Health).  The student must prepare a report, present a formal public seminar, and pass an oral exam on the research experience.  The oral exam will take place immediately following the public defense.  The research report must be submitted to the M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee for review at least 14 days prior to the oral exam. In addition, a copy of the research report must be submitted to the Department office and the public defense announced at least 14 days prior to the defense date. Students selecting this option may apply up to 6 hours of BSC 507/607 toward fulfillment of requirements for the M.S. Plan II degree.  BSC 598 may not be applied toward fulfillment of requirements for the degree under this option.
  • In-depth topical literature survey.  Students selecting this option must prepare a formal paper and pass an oral exam on a research topic approved by the M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee. Students selecting this option may not apply BSC 507, BSC 598, BSC 607, or BSC 698 toward fulfillment of requirements for the degree.

7. Culminating “Capstone” Experience Proposal

A formal Capstone Experience proposal is required and should be completed by the end of the student’s second semester in the program. This proposal should include a full but concise statement of the specific goals of the Capstone Experience. M.S. Plan II option A candidates must also include in their proposals the following:

  1. A full but concise statement of the specific goals of the research.
  2. A review of the relevant literature to place the proposed work in a solid theoretical context.
  3. A discussion of the significance of the proposed research and how it addresses a novel question.
  4. A description of the experimental design, including experimental methods, procedures, and methods used in analysis and interpretation of results.
  5. Literature citations.

The M.S. Advisory Committee can establish additional requirements such as page length and format. The proposal should be submitted to and approved by the student’s M.S. Advisory Committee not later than the end of the second semester. A new proposal will be required if the thesis research changes significantly.

8. Formal Departmental Defense (M.S. Plan II Options A and B only)

A publicly announced formal departmental defense of the student’s research is required for students selecting M.S. Plan II Options A and B.  The defense is scheduled immediately preceding the final oral examination.  All students are required to notify departmental office personnel of the date, time and room location of their formal defense a minimum of 14 days prior to the defense.  A title and an abstract must be submitted to the departmental office at the time of defense notification so that a public announcement can be made.  In addition, a copy of the final draft of your written report must be made available in the departmental office for those wishing to review it.  The report copy will be kept at the front desk during the 2-week period. When you deliver your draft to the office, you will be required to enter it into a log book that will be kept in the office.  Failure to meet any of these requirements will result in a delay of the Plan II M.S. defense.

9. Final Oral Examination

All M.S. Plan II students must pass a final oral examination related to their research or literature survey topic. Final oral examination questions may also include other subjects beyond the student’s research that the M.S. Plan II Advisory Committee or other faculty members consider to be relevant.  Final oral examinations must be taken not less than two weeks prior to the proposed graduation date.  All committee members must attend and participate in the oral examination, either in-person or by electronic means (e.g., Skype). All students are required to notify the departmental office of their final oral examination 14 days prior to the exam.

All departmental faculty have the right to attend the oral examination and have the right to ask questions of the student that are relevant to the goals of the examination. Only faculty on the student’s committee may vote on whether the student has passed or failed the examination.

For M.S. Plan II as a transitional degree (pre-Ph.D.)

In order to qualify for the M.S. degree, Ph.D. students must fulfill all requirements of the M.S. Plan II culminating “Capstone” experience option A, namely (i) submit a written report detailing the research experience,   (ii) present a formal departmental dissertation and (iii) pass a final oral examination).  Research applied toward fulfillment of the M.S. Plan II degree requirements may not be applied toward fulfillment of requirements for the Ph.D. degree.

Each candidate for a master’s degree must apply for graduation through the Office of the Graduate School no later than the registration period for the semester or the first session of the summer term in which requirements for the degree are to be completed. The Application for Degree can be accessed via your myBama portal and instructions are available on the University’s Graduate School website.