University General Course Catalog 2019-2020 
    Jun 28, 2022  

Biology (General Biology Emphasis), M.S.

I. Contact Information

Stephen Vanderwall, Professor/Director, Biology Graduate Program
Office: (775)784-6583

Mailing Address:
University of Nevada, Reno
Department of Biology, Mail Stop 0314
1664 North Virginia Street
Reno, NV 89557

II. Brief Introduction

An M.S. in Biology provides a strong foundation for either a career in the biological sciences at graduation, or to further professional training in fields such as medicine, health sciences, conservation biology, wildlife biology, and biotechnology. Our curriculum is research-focused and rigorous; expect challenges, but also expect a rewarding atmosphere that encourages experimentation.

Faculty in the Biology department include world-renowned scientists who have contributed to and conducted National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health funded research


III. Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

Biology Master’s degree students will:

  • conduct rigorous research that makes a significant contribution to scientific progress,
  • produce clear and coherent written presentations of their work,
  • complete the program in a reasonable period of time,
  • attend and give presentations at professional meetings,
  • prepare and submit papers for publication,
  • prepare and submit grant proposals,
  • mentor undergraduates.

IV. Admission Requirements


To compete successfully for admission, applicants should have:

Minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.00, combined verbal and quantitative GRE score of 1100 or greater, with a minimum of 400 in each test; an advanced test is recommended, course work in physical sciences (3 credits), mathematics (6 credits), biology (18 credits), and chemistry (6 credits), or equivalent, and for international students, a minimum TOEFL score of 600 (paper exam) or 250 (computer exam).

Before admission into the Plan A (thesis) Master’s Degree Program (see below), a full time faculty member of the Department of Biology, must be identified and agree to serve as Faculty Advisor. Potential advisors can be identified by reviewing faculty research interests or the “Peterson Guide”. If a mutually satisfactory match of student and faculty interests and field of study cannot be obtained, admission into the research thesis program (Plan A) cannot be granted. Alternatively, the student may apply to the Plan B (non-thesis) Master’s Program, or undertake advanced studies as a Graduate Special student. Students accepted into the Plan B Master’s Program will be advised by the Special Programs Committee during the first semester of study until an Advisory Committee is established.


Prospective students must apply to both the University of Nevada, Reno Graduate School and the Department of Biology. Admission to the Graduate School follows the procedures outlined in the University General Catalog. Since these steps are similar to procedures within the Department of Biology, the student is advised to consult the UNR catalog, as well as the following information.

To be considered for admission to graduate study in the Department of Biology (Graduate Standing) a student must submit all necessary materials for admission prior to:

  • February 1 for the following Fall semester, or prior to 1
  • November 1 for the following Spring semester.

Note that some of the required materials are to be sent to both the Graduate School and to the Department of Biology.

Applying to the Graduate School:

See instructions and application information at the Graduate School.

Applying to the Department of Biology:

Send the following to:

Department of Biology, Mail Stop 314
Graduate Admissions
University of Nevada, Reno
Reno, NV 89557

  • A completed application for admission to the Department of Biology Graduate Program
  • Photocopies of transcripts from all post-secondary educational institutions attended
  • Photocopies of GRE test scores for general aptitude (and advanced tests, if taken)
  • Three letters of recommendation from individuals familiar with the applicant’s academic record
  • Copies of TOEFL test results (required for international students)

The Biology Special Programs Committee will review all complete files. Applicants will be notified of admittance, denial, or placement on a waiting list within two months of the application deadline. Admitted students will have one month to indicate acceptance. Students on the waiting list will be notified of final disposition as soon as possible after acceptances have been received. Applications completed prior to the application review date will receive first and full consideration.

V. Program Requirements

The Master’s degree program in the Department of Biology includes three emphases:

  • Cell and Molecular Biology,
  • Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology, or
  • General Biology.

All three emphases include either a thesis (Plan A) or non-thesis (Plan B) options. 

Plan A culminates in a research thesis for students interested in pursuing further advanced degrees or employment in biological research.

Plan B leads to a non-thesis Master’s Degree, and is intended as the terminal degree for students seeking careers in government agencies, or industry, education, or other areas.

A. Plan A (30 units)

  • A minimum of 30 semester graduate credits in biology or related fields must be completed with an average grade of “B” or better, with not less than 21 credits to be earned in residence at UNR.
  • At least 18 credits must be in 700-level courses, including six thesis credits.
  • Course selection will be determined in consultation with the Faculty Advisor and Advisory Committee.
  • The student is required to complete an independent research project and a written thesis suitable for publication in a peer reviewed scientific journal.
  • At the end of the student’s research program and following acceptance of the written thesis by the Faculty Advisor and Advisory Committee, the student will make a public presentation of the thesis research.
  • Following the public presentation, the student’s Advisory Committee will administer and judge a final oral examination that serves as defense of the candidate’s thesis, and an examination of the student’s general knowledge.

i. Required Courses (21 units)

B. Plan B (32 units)

  • A minimum of 32 semester graduate credits in biology or a related discipline must be completed with an average grade of “B” or better, with not less than 23 credits to be earned in residence at UNR.
  • At least 15 credits must be in 700-level courses. Course selection will be determined in consultation with the Faculty Advisor and Advisory Committee.
  • A research thesis is not required, but a scholarly paper must be prepared. The paper may be in the form of a scholarly review, analysis, and synthesis of a current topic in biology, or may be presented as a grant proposal in a format appropriate to a specific funding agency.
  • Following an oral presentation of a written paper to the student’s Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee will administer an oral examination, which covers both general knowledge of the candidate’s field and a more in-depth analysis of the topic of the candidate’s study. Passing the oral examination is determined by the Advisory Committee, and is necessary to complete the degree requirements.

i. Required Courses (16 units)

C. Program Electives (7-12 units)

Select additional courses for either Plan A (7 units) or Plan B (12 units) from the following in consultation with the Faculty Advisor and Advisory Committee.