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Degree Overview: Master’s Degree Program in Life Science

Majors Overview April 27, 2015

With a bachelor’s degree, a student can seek continuing education by choosing from a wide array of graduate degree programs in the life sciences, including a Master of Science (M.S.) in Plant Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Ecology, and Biology.

Information on Life Science Programs

Many schools offer master’s degree programs in life sciences that combine lab work and classroom lectures to provide students with practical experience in scientific research and experiments. Students take about one to two years to complete most of these programs, which include the completion of a major research project or thesis. Those who complete the program can continue on to careers in elementary- and secondary-level teaching jobs, conservation advocacy, and research.

Master of Science (M.S.) Programs in Plant Biology

Several areas of specialization, such as cell biology, molecular biology, ecology, and anatomy, are in the plant biology program offered by schools. Coursework includes topic areas such as soil degradation, photorespiration, photosynthesis, and plant metabolism and nutrition. Programs may also focus on the effects of climate change on plants.

Hypotheses are facilitated through lab experiences, and students look at life cycles, genetics, and plant composition. Oral and written examinations are given to students, who engage in conducting academic research and completing a capstone project toward the program’s culmination.


Coursework emphasizes the need to sustain and improve the life of plants in both water and land ecosystems. Through laboratory courses, students are trained to become effective researchers apart from developing theories and hypotheses on the basis of scientific experiments. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Gene regulation
•Physiology and biochemistry
•Plant physiology
•Plant genomics

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, job growth rates of 19% have been predicted for biochemists and biophysicists — 29,200 of whom found employment in 2012 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). In May 2012, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $81,480 (BLS).

Continuing Education Choices

Graduates who are interested in teaching at higher education institutions can pursue a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology and Microbiology, Plant Biology and Conservation, Biology, Plant Biology, or Biotechnology. Another option is to join the American Society of Plant Biologists, which offers membership benefits like career services, graduate groups, and symposiums for professional development.

Master of Science (M.S.) Programs in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Core coursework in the major, field studies, and laboratory experiences comprise the program curriculum that imparts hands-on experience to students through the study of the organisms and ecosystems inhabiting them. Participants study the human influence on global environmental change, including the effects of greenhouse gases and pollution and the structure of ecosystems.

Among the various topics of discussion are evolutionary processes, oceanic ecosystems, and the biology of humans, animals, plants, and insects.

Students learn through laboratory experiences about collecting scientific data, analyzing samples, developing hypotheses, and reporting research findings on scientific papers.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to possess a strong background in undergraduate biology coursework apart from completion of prerequisite courses in physics, chemistry, and mathematics. They are also required to submit satisfactory scores on the biology subject and general sections of the GRE.


Coursework is devised to make graduates adept at identifying the major influences on the evolution of ecosystems and the animal and plant life that sustain it. Core coursework may include topic areas such as the following areas of study:

•Molecular evolution
•Population ecology

Career Choices

Graduates can contribute to the study of ecology and evolutionary biology through lab experiences, field studies, and field research. They may seek popular career options such as:

•Conservation biologist
•Marine biologist
•Research scientist
•Viral biologist

Continuing Education Choices

Graduates can seek continuing education by enrolling in Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs for Biology, Plant Biology, Cell Biology, Systems Biology, or Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Alternatively, they may seek the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) Ecologist or Associate Ecologist credential, which requires membership of the ESA by applicants.

Master of Science (M.S.) Programs in Biology

Schools offering this program give both non-thesis and thesis options for students to choose from; the program also includes the selection of a concentration area, such as ecology, and organism biology or cell and molecular biology. Program coursework covers subject areas such as microbiology, genetics, life cycles, biological organisms, and ecosystems. Students engage in lab work to use scientific equipment in identifying pathogens, tissue systems, bacteria, and cells. The opportunity to dissect and explore the upper extremities of the human body is afforded to students through a dissection course.

Enrollees get involved in conducting academic research and taking comprehensive exams at the program’s culmination.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require incoming students to have attended a bachelor’s degree program at an accredited institution and earned previous credits in undergraduate coursework in biology. They may also be required to submit a personal essay with a statement of purpose outlining career and academic goals and letters of recommendation. Often, submission of satisfactory scores on the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) is specifically expected of students choosing the thesis option.


The program coursework explores the structure of immune systems, the evolutionary processes of life, and the relationship between organisms and ecosystems. Core coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Plant anatomy

Career Choices

Graduates can seek careers in various settings, including conservation, education, and research. They may seek popular career options such as the following:

•Plant biologist
•Life sciences teacher

Continuing Education

Graduates who seek continuing education may enroll in various doctoral degree programs such as computational biology, molecular biology, wildlife biology, and biology, which could lead to jobs in college-level research or academia.

Those interested in elementary- and secondary-level teaching careers have many graduate degree program options in biology. Information on educator licensing requirements may be sought from the department of education of the student’s state.

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