Students contemplating a master’s degree have typically settled in on a specialty, which continues into a doctorate program. Some of the diverse disciplines in the biology arena are cell, molecular, developmental biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, microbiology, genetics, genomics, neuroscience and behavior, plant biology, marine, biochemistry, and physiology systems. Students eager to take the two graduate degrees together will find limited opportunities.
The option to take the two simultaneously depends on the field and the learning institution. Ideally, if you enroll in a thesis master’s program, the school will permit you to expand the dissertation for the doctorate. You are thereby reducing further extensive research. A Ph.D. is a research degree, which suits those who have a passion for a specific subject. This research culminates in your doctoral thesis suitable for presentation and possibly publication. Most Master’s programs take two years to complete, with the student bearing the tuition cost. A doctoral student might secure funding from academic organizations and professional sources.
Earning a Doctor of Philosophy is a longer process than a master’s degree. It could take from 3 to eight years to complete coursework and finalize a dissertation. The number of credit hours influences the time length. For example, the Department of Biology at The University of Oklahoma requires 90 hours of courses beyond the bachelor’s degree. Its Master of Science in biology is 30 hours; therefore, students take 60 hours of classes for the doctoral phase.
As mentioned above, dual degrees in biology are difficult to find. The University of Delaware, for example, combines a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences. The dual degree is a joint effort offered by the Department of Biological Sciences and the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. The school also has a Master of Science in Biological Science.
Students interested in combining Forensic Science and Biology have this option at Florida International University in Miami. The Master of Science in the former is for students who have an undergraduate degree in natural science and wish to pursue a graduate research program. There are 32 graduate credits and a thesis based upon original research or completion of an independent study option. Graduation from the M.S. in Forensic Science requires a minimum GPA of 3.0 GPA. Additional requirements include selecting a Master’s defense committee while pursuing the MSFS and a Ph.D. dissertation committee. Letters of recommendation and sponsorship by a Biology faculty member are also prerequisites to graduate admissions.
The graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Department of Biology at the University of Virginia (UVA) allows students to apply for the Ph.D. program after completing the first year in an M.S. in Biology. First-year students on the doctoral track must take two laboratory rotations during the fall and spring semesters. Those with a master’s in a biological science require only one rotation. Students entering the Ph.D. program upon completion of the M.S. at UVA can skip the lab rotations.
The GSAS requires doctoral students to complete no fewer than 72 hours of graduate credit, of which at least 24 must be topical or graded credit hours. The Department expects completion of the 24 topical credit hours by the end of the student’s 3rd semester. Five years is the recommended plan to complete one’s dissertation and a timeframe of seven years is the maximum to finish – taken from the date of admittance to the Ph.D. program.
With the low number of dual degrees in biology, another option is to take a fast-track master’s, which will decrease the time to apply for a doctorate. Consider the M.S. in Biology at Boston University (BU) with two one-year tracks: coursework and scholarly paper. Students can graduate from either choice in one year plus a summer semester. Both consist of 32 credits, with the latter requiring a 30-80 page research paper written in consultation with a Biology Department faculty member. Subject to approval from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, up to eight credits are transferable from another institution.
BU also offers a Ph.D. in biology, which takes most students at least five years to complete. One advantage is that the school guarantees financial support for all doctoral students for five years! This program requires 64 credits of coursework, of which you might be eligible to transfer up to 32 credits from students attending the university.
Although there are not many choices to combine a master’s and Ph.D., there are other means to mitigate the timeframe. Another example is the M.S. in Biology with a Graduate Certificate in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Houston. Offered through its Department of Biology and Biochemistry, students could graduate within a one-calendar year. A shorter program allows students to pursue professional and doctoral degrees in medicine, health sciences, biology, and related fields.