A master’s thesis in biology is a form of independent study. The purpose of a master’s thesis is to provide a capstone or final project in which the student can use the knowledge and methodology obtained in previous courses for the investigation of some problem in depth. Master's theses involve six units of independent study, generally taken in two consecutive semesters (i.e. fall/spring), during the first of which the student carries out their research, and during the second of which he or she will write up the project. A thesis can become a meaningful way to bring to conclusion a student’s work for the Master’s degree.
In general, all the procedures outlined for Independent Study apply to setting up and carrying out a thesis investigation. Like Independent Study, most master’s theses are based on a literature survey, rather than a laboratory investigation. For many students, the problems of setting up and carrying out a successful laboratory project often make this approach impractical. Laboratory-based thesis projects are possible, however, under certain circumstances, as outlined below.
Organization and Scope of a Thesis Project
To carry out a thesis project the student must secure an advisor with whom to work, define the project and fill out the necessary forms to be signed by the advisor, student and University College Program Coordinator. Advisors (mentors) can come from any part of the university or, with approval, from an outside institution or organization. The Biology program coordinator will assist the student in selecting an advisor. The advisor works closely with the student at all stages of the project. A thesis project is expected to encompass a larger range of issues, or a more in-depth investigation than an individual independent study. Theses can be anywhere from 40-50 pages minimum, depending on the topic and type of thesis.
Laboratory-Based Thesis Projects
The problem with laboratory-based thesis projects lies in the practicality of getting set up in a new laboratory and learning techniques and methods used in studying that lab’s particular area of research. In most cases laboratory projects work best when carried out in a laboratory where the student is already working. In most cases this has involved students who work in a laboratory at one of the local medical schools, or biotechnology laboratories. The student's PI, supervisor, or a Post-Doc in the lab with appropriate credentials, can serve as the mentor. If a student carries out a M.A. project in their workplace laboratory, the topic must be something they are independently investigating, and cannot be part of their regular paid job assignment.
When completed, an M.A. thesis will be evaluated by a committee consisting of the mentor, the Biology Department program coordinator, and one other faculty member from the Biology Department or Division of Biology and Biomedical Sciences who is a specialist in the area on which the thesis focuses. The program coordinator will assist the student in selecting the additional faculty member.
Procedures and Timeline
It is important to adhere closely to requirements and deadlines associated with the final project in order to ensure timely completion of the project and fulfillment of program requirements. Please read carefully below for detailed information about procedures, requirements, forms, and deadlines. All students authorized to pursue the Master’s Thesis must complete the Title, Scope, and Procedure form. See below for detailed information about procedures and deadlines.
If you have authorization to pursue a Thesis, begin planning two semesters prior to your final semester of study. The Title, Scope and Procedure form must be completed and returned to University College at least six months before the month in which the degree is expected to be conferred (August, December, or May). University College will forward approved Title, Scope & Procedure forms to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
The Final Project form must be completed with all required signatures for registration. Registration follows the normal academic schedule. Refer to the current course schedule for registration deadlines. Submit your Final Project Proposal Form to the Administrative Assistant for Academic Programs at 11 N. Jackson Road, Suite 1000, St. Louis, MO 63105-2153. Complete the University College Registration Form for the appropriate course.
Schedule Your Oral Defense
The Oral Defense should be scheduled as soon as possible after you have registered. The Oral Defense should take place no later than two weeks prior to the end of the semester you plan to graduate. Consult with your committee to find a time that is agreeable. Your Oral Defense will probably only last 1 hour, but schedule 1.5 hours for the defense to provide a small cushion of extra time if needed. To schedule and reserve space, contact the Administrative Assistant for Academic Programs, (314) 935-6759.
Usually the defense must be completed by the beginning of September for summer graduates, the beginning of January for fall graduates, and late April or early May for spring graduates. Please note that these dates conform to deadlines for all graduate programs and are not flexible.
Submission of the Master’s Thesis
Submit a copy of your thesis to each member of your committee two weeks in advance of your oral defense to allow time for review. Upon successful defense of the project, the final version must be submitted to University College. In addition, thesis candidates must submit an electronic copy and one hard copy for the Master’s Thesis to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences according to the deadlines listing in the online calendar.
Please refer to the Graduate School Arts & Sciences Master’s Thesis guidelines for formatting and presentation requirements.