May 28, 2024  
2014 - 2015 Graduate Catalog 
2014 - 2015 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Biology Department



View the Biology Faculty .

The Biology Program

The Department of Biology at William and Mary offers a two-year, research-intensive master’s program where students are supported by teaching assistantships and full tuition waivers. A master’s degree can provide research experience and specialized training before entering a Ph.D. program or it can be an end in itself. Students with advanced training, one or two publications, and a strong laboratory or field research experience are in demand in biotech, pharmaceuticals, resource management, and environmental consulting. Recent grads are pursuing Ph.D.’s at Duke, UC Davis, Johns Hopkins, and University of Toronto.

The goals of the Biology graduate program are to:

  • Generate a productive academic community of students dedicated to performing high quality, publishable research within a two-year program.
  • Produce graduates with both specialized training in their chosen subdisciplines as well as communication skills to effectively function within a broad-based scientific community.
  • Equip students with a range of research and teaching proficiencies that will significantly enhance their scientific or professional career opportunities.
  • Foster close academic interactions between faculty and graduate students.

Our graduate students are part of an active community of scholars, where they learn critical analysis of scientific publications, field and laboratory techniques, and skills in disseminating their research results. Our students pursue a master’s of science, culminating in a thesis defense.

Strengths of the department include molecular, cellular, and developmental biology; physiology, behavior, and neuroscience; and evolution, ecology, and conservation. With a low student to faculty ratio (approximately 8-10 new students each year with 22 full-time faculty), we can offer an intimate and highly personalized research and education experience rarely attainable at larger universities. Also, our graduate students often work closely with and mentor undergraduates, providing numerous informal teaching and personal development opportunities.

General Description

The Biology graduate program generates a close-knit academic community of productive students dedicated to performing high quality, publishable research. We produce graduates with both specialized training in their chosen sub-disciplines as well as communication and teaching skills to effectively function within a broad-based scientific community. Graduate research opportunities exist in three broad areas: molecular, cellular and developmental biology; physiology, behavior and neuroscience; and evolution, ecology and conservation.

With the approval of his or her committee, a student registered in the M.S. program may take up to 6 credits in other departments. M.A. students may take up to 12 credits in other departments. Depending on background and preparation, a student may be additionally required to take one or more undergraduate courses that will not count toward the degree.

Teaching Assistantships will be awarded without reference to track. Both M.S. and M.A. students will be eligible for 4 consecutive semesters of support as long as they remain in good standing. M.A. students are not eligible for summer support. All students receiving an Assistantship may not register for more than 12 course credits.

To ensure timely completion of the M.S. degree, students matriculating in the fall must have their research advisor selected by Nov. 1st and a thesis committee selection form submitted to the Biology Office by November 15th. The first committee meeting must be held no later than the first week of the spring semester. A comprehensive exam must be passed or passed conditionally no later than May 30th within the first year of residency.  It is recommended that the comprehensive exam be scheduled before April 1st. Petitions to deviate from the above schedule must be approved by the Graduate Program Director and research advisor or the student risks being withdrawn from the program. For students matriculating in a spring semester, a schedule for research advisor and thesis committee selection, committee meetings, and comprehensive exam dates must be developed by the student in consultation with their likely research advisor and approved by the Graduate Program Director.  Permission for a M.S. student to change to the M.A. program will be given only under extraordinary circumstances and will require repayment of funds received by the student in support of summer research.

For additional information regarding requirements, consult the Department of Biology Graduate Handbook (available upon request). For information concerning the Cooperative Program in Secondary School Teaching with the School of Education write to the School of Education, College of William and Mary.


The department requires the General GRE and requests the Biology GRE for nontraditional applicants.

Programs and Course Descriptions

Description of Courses

Unless otherwise noted, all courses are graded using standard grading [A, B, C, D, F] scheme (See Grading and Academic Progress  in the section entitled ‘Graduate Regulations ’) and may not be repeated for credit (See Repeated Courses  requirements in the section entitled ‘Graduate Regulations ’).