Master's Programs

The Biology Department has two separate master's degree programs, one in Biology and one in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. The two programs differ in their curricula, and in the focus of the training provided. The MS Biology program offers a thesis option and a non-thesis option for the Masters of Science degree.  A thesis-based degree offers the opportunity to carry out original research, and provides necessary training for research-based careers in the biological sciences and related health sciences (e.g. research associates in academic and corporate lab settings, some state and federal agencies, and Ph.D. programs).The thesis-based option has two concentrations—environmental and organismic biology, and cell biology. Environmental and organismic biology offers training in a wide range of fields, including conservation biology, ecology, evolutionary biology, behavior, fisheries, ornithology, herpetology, and invertebrate biology. Training opportunities in Cell Biology are similarly diverse, and include applied genetics, endocrinology, development, reproductive biology and cell biology.  Students select coursework relevant to their research interest within their concentration of choice. 

A non-thesis master’s degree is appropriate for careers that value individuals having advanced technical and conceptual training in biology, but do not require one to carry out research in order to succeed in their professional endeavors.  These include clinical doctorate programs that are practice-focused (e.g. medicine, dentistry, physical therapy), business applications (e.g. pharmaceutical sales representatives), positions in management and policy, and teaching at the community college or secondary education levels.  The non-thesis option offers a highly rigorous curriculum that is tailored to the student’s individual career goals.

The MS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology program also trains students for entry into doctoral level programs in biology and the health sciences, but the coursework is more heavily grounded in practical laboratory coursework emphasizing skills relevant to the biotechnology industry. These courses include those that focus on genetic engineering, protein biochemistry, cell culture technology, transgenic technology and bioinformatics/genomics. Students are provided with guidance concerning employment opportunities in the biotechnology industry and where possible contacts are created for them through industry liaisons, which include a network of former graduates.

Why Pursue An MS In Molecular Biology / Biotechnology?

A Message from program director Dr. Ed Stellwag

Dear Prospective Student,

ECU's Biotechnology Education Program, which includes both undergraduate courses and a Master's degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, is proud of our legacy of providing ECU students with a rigorous and well-rounded education in biotechnology. We believe our educational program is second to none in terms of fully preparing you for one of the many career opportunities available in biotechnology today. Our record of achievement is highlighted by the many graduates of our program who are pursuing active and rewarding careers in all facets of the biotechnology industry including management, research, development and sales.

We understand that the opportunities in biotechnology for well educated students are significant. The continued growth of biotechnology is evident throughout the nation and particularly in North Carolina, where employment increases in the biotechnology sector exceed 10% annually. The robust growth in employment in all sectors of biotechnology provides extensive career opportunities at all levels of the educational spectrum, including undergraduate and post-graduate university students.

Technological advancements stemming from biotechnology are already addressing some of our society's most urgent needs. The ready availability of an increasing number of recombinant human blood proteins is having a profound effect on critical health care issues and developments in plant biotechnology are addressing important agricultural needs of our nation and the world. Future developments in biotechnology, including stem cell technology, biosensors, recombinant vaccines, and biofuels promise to extend these advancements into areas of tissue regeneration, national security, energy resources and sustainable agriculture.

If you are interested in preparing yourself for an exciting career on the forefront of technology, you should seriously consider the ECU Biotechnology Education Program.

Edmund J. Stellwag, Ph.D.

Financial Support: MS Programs

Graduate Assistantships. Graduate Teaching Assistantships are available for students in the thesis-based MS degree programs.Students receiving a Graduate Teaching Assistantship teach 2 or 3 labs during a semester, depending upon the course. Duties include assisting in lab preparation, instruction, and administering and grading lab problem sets, quizzes, practicals, or other assignments. Teaching assistants are normally assigned to labs supplementing introductory and sophomore level (1000 and 2000) lecture courses. A Graduate Teaching Assistantship is currently funded at $10,000 for the academic year, and is intended to help defray the costs of living and of attending the University A minimum of $2,500 of additional support is also available from a variety of funding sources for the summer period.    

Tuition Remissions. A limited number of tuition remissions are available that pay the difference between the In-State and Out-of-State tuition rates. These out-of-state remissions are awarded in the Fall term on a competitive basis. Additional tuition remissions occasionally become available at the beginning of the Spring semester. In order to be competitive for consideration of an out-of-state tuition remission, a complete application should be submitted by March 15.

General Requirements for the Thesis-Based Master's Degrees:

1) Complete of a minimum of 30 semester hours of graduate course credit. A maximum of 6 hours of graduate credits may be transferred from another accredited college or university program, and a maximum of 9 hours of graduate credits earned as a non-degree student at ECU may be applied to the 30 hour minimum. At least 15 credits must be derived from coursework at or the 6000 or 7000 level.

2) Plan and conduct research on a suitable topic involving the collection of original data under the direction of a faculty mentor.

3) Submit and successfully defend a written account of the research as a thesis to the mentor and other members of the student's graduate advisory committee.

4) Provide a formal presentation of the findings of the thesis research to the to the Department faculty.

5) Demonstrate competence in teaching either in the capacity of a Graduate Teaching Assistant or by providing evidence of equivalent teaching experience prior to entry into the program.

General Requirements For The Non-Thesis MS Biology Degree:

1) Complete a minimum of 38 s.h. of course work.

2) Plan and carry out work on a final project under the direction of a faculty advisor

3) Submit a written account of the final project

4) Participate in teaching as a biology lab instructor

The ‘final project’ could be a literature review, refinement of an experimental procedure or methodology, or a participation in a group research effort. 

Curriculum requirements specific for each Master's degree program can be obtained from the on-line Graduate Catalog here (Graduate Degree Programs:  Biology, MS or Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, MS).

Program Timeline Goals:  Thesis-Based MS Degrees

The table presented below describes the annual program and research goals for  a thesis-based  degree in the MS Biology and MS Molecular Biology/Biotechnology programs, assuming a 2 year timeline for completion of all degree requirements. Note that in order to complete the MS degree within this time frame, the thesis proposal must be developed, written and defended within the initial 12 months of the program. Students are also strongly encouraged to apply for scholarships and grants to supplement their research needs and for the additional experience gained in proposal writing. The comprehensive examination consists of a) the written thesis proposal, b) defense of the thesis proposal, c) the written thesis, d) defense of the thesis, and e) Departmental seminar on the thesis research. All MS students must satisfy a teaching requirement of one semester, and this can be done during any semester of their residency. All teaching assistants are evaluated as instructors by a member of the faculty and a fellow graduate student during the fall or the spring semester of each academic year.

 Time Program Goals  Research Goals 
Year 1: Fall  Confirm Mentor Develop thesis proposal as part of BIOL 6880 
  Plan curriculum in consultation with your mentor and the director of graduate studies  Collect preliminary data 
  Peer-review of teaching  
Year 1: Spring Complete required coursework for degree; total credit hours accrued = ~80% of 30 credit hour minimum   Form Thesis Committee
    Collect data/Thesis research  
    Write and defend thesis proposal
    Apply for scholarship/grants 
Year 1: Summer   Collect data/Thesis Research 
    Write and defend thesis proposal 
Year 2: Fall Complete curriculum requirements; can enroll for thesis  Thesis research; update thesis committee on research progress 
    Present research finding at professional meeting 
Year 2: Spring Enroll for thesis Compete thesis research 
  Peer review of teaching  Write and defend thesis 
    Department Seminar 
Year 2: Summer   Complete thesis research 
    Write and defend thesis
    Department seminar 
    Submit paper for publication 

Program Timeline Goals:  Non-Thesis MS Biology Degree

The table presented below describes the annual program and final project goals for non-thesis MS Biology students.  Note that in order to complete the MS degree within this time frame, the project proposal must be developed, written and defended within the initial 12 months of the program.


Program Goals

Project Goals

Year 1: Fall

Confirm project mentor

Develop project proposal as part of BIOL 6880


Plan curriculum in consultation with mentor and the director of graduate studies





Year 1: Spring

Complete a minimum of 24 credit hours of required coursework for degree

Form Project Committee  

Write and defend project proposal




Year 1: Summer


Collect  data / information for project







Year 2: Fall

Continue progress for completion of curriculum requirements

Final Project:  Update project committee on project


Assist in teaching biology labs

Complete project




Year 2: Spring

Complete curriculum requirements

Write and defend project


Assist in teaching biology labs



Peer review of teaching


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