Biological Sciences, M.A.

Graduate Degree

What is Biological Sciences?

You not only love learning about life and the world around you, but also exploring related disciplines—paleontology, ecology, physiology, microbiology, genetics and more—to expand your knowledge. Studying the Biological Sciences can match your interests for deeper study, while preparing you for a rewarding career in science.

The field of biology studies life in the field and in the lab, from molecules to whole organisms. This discipline enables you to learn many vital methods and techniques that will help you navigate the explosion of scientific information—and misinformation. Biology is inherently multidisciplinary, so you’ll also learn about the aspects of chemistry, physics, mathematics and other fields that are critical to life’s functions.

As a graduate school for biology, Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, offers the Master of Arts (MA) degree in Biological Sciences. This is a top master’s degree program in biology that focuses on the study of life’s interactions with the environment. A master’s degree in the biology field enables you to build upon your undergraduate education with advanced courses in cutting-edge research areas, in-depth discussions and seminars, and original research opportunities. You will also develop skills related to your career whether you plan to move on to a professional school or into the workforce.

Why Study Biological Sciences at Marshall?

Marshall University’s graduate MA degree in Biological Sciences is based on advanced coursework and may include a smaller research project. Biological Sciences majors in the Master of Arts program do not write a thesis, but a passing grade on a comprehensive oral exam is required.

An MA degree at Marshall provides additional training and education that may help students with admission to professional schools (e.g., medical, dental, etc.). This master’s in Biological Sciences degree program also can assist undecided students in focusing their career or educational goals. If an MA in Biological Sciences student becomes interested in a specific research area, and is accepted into a faculty member’s lab, the MA track can be converted into Marshall’s Master of Science (MS) in Biological Sciences degree track.

The Department of Biological Sciences at Marshall University is diverse and offers biology students opportunities openings to do coursework, research and discussion in a range of related areas: neuroscience and endocrinology, physiology, microbiology, cell and molecular biology, ecology and conservation biology, genetics and systematics, plant biology, paleontology and evolution.

This means the Biological Sciences department can provide mentors for biology students in numerous disciplines, as well as opportunities to collaborate across sub-disciplines. In addition, students who are still exploring career choices can enjoy a broad experience that will help them find their passion.

Marshall offers competitively awarded stipends and tuition waivers to help ease the financial burden of achieving a biology master’s degree.

Dedicated mentors. The master’s in Biological Sciences program at Marshall provides personalized mentorship to ensure that students achieve their personal goals. This graduate degree in Biological Sciences is not a one-size-fits-all program with limited direct faculty mentorship. Biology students are able to work directly with a faculty mentor in the Department of Biological Sciences who can provide the intellectual and career advice that’s pertinent to a student’s future education and career plans.

As a non-thesis track, the Biological Sciences MA graduate program focuses on coursework and related experiences to help students enhance their knowledge, and go beyond undergraduate study to explore cutting-edge and complex subject areas. Faculty mentors also ensure that Marshall MA students learn critical skills in communication, critical thinking, and the integration and evaluation of complex information. Marshall mentors also help Biological Sciences MA students develop professional networks and take advantage of potential opportunities to expand their skillsets by shadowing professionals in the field.

Research opportunities. Faculty in biology master’s degree programs at Marshall encourage MA students to engage in original research with faculty mentors. The Biological Sciences MA program offers several paths that are more flexible than the full-time Master of Science (MS) track so students can enter labs and gain technical and intellectual experience. Research experience is one of the strongest aspects of a CV or resume when applying for professional schools and many jobs.

Experienced faculty. All graduate faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences hold PhDs in their areas of expertise, and are passionate about their research and about training the next generation of scientists, educators and professionals. The biology department has a strong track record of helping students successfully enter the work force and professional programs.

Career Outlook for Biological Sciences Majors

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth in all areas of the Biological Sciences over the next 10 years, with the strongest growth in integrated fields such as biomedical, biochemistry, plant and soil science, theoretical biology, and data science.

According to the BLS, employment in life, physical and social science occupations is projected to grow 5 percent through 2029, faster than the average for all occupations, resulting in about 68,200 new jobs. Increasing demand for expertise in the sciences, particularly in occupations involved in biomedical research, psychology, energy management, and environmental protection will impact employment growth.

A master’s in biology prepares Marshall graduates to directly enter the workforce as a natural resource or lab technician; complement professional degrees in law or education; or open the way to other educational positions. The MA in Biological Sciences degree also can prepare graduates to enter highly competitive PhD programs to lead the next generation of scientific discovery or secure admission to professional schools.

Job Opportunities

Recent Master of Arts in Biological Sciences graduates from Marshall have taken jobs with the Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies, state and national parks, technical and analytical labs in universities and the private sector, and in high school education. Marshall graduates have entered professional programs including medical, veterinary and dental schools. Obtaining an MA degree before entering professional school can greatly increase an applicant’s competitiveness.

Master’s in biology salaries. The diverse and integrative nature of the Biological Sciences department ensures that MA degree students receive the necessary training to enter a wide range of fields. Annual median (or midpoint) salaries across the biological sciences varies from the mid-$60,000s to mid-$90,000s annually, depending on field.

Students who move from Marshall’s biology graduate degree program into professional fields have an enhanced earning potential. Some examples of the specific career areas that Marshall students will be prepared to enter, either directly or with a doctoral level degree, are:

Environmental, wildlife or forest management in research, conservation, monitoring or policy
Industry positions in bioengineering, genetic technologies, drug development, sample analysis, etc.
Theoretical biology and data mining
STEM educator

Employment of biochemists and biophysicists is projected to grow 4 percent through 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Biochemists and biophysicists will continue to be needed to develop biological products and processes that improve people’s lives. The median (or midpoint) annual wage for biochemists and biophysicists was $94,270 in May 2020.

For bioengineers and biomedical engineers, employment is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Increasing numbers of technologies and applications to medical equipment and devices, along with the medical needs of a growing and aging population, will require the services of these workers. The median (or midpoint) annual wage for bioengineers and biomedical engineers was $92,620 in May 2020.

Opportunities for Biological Sciences Majors

Cutting-edge Labs and Resources
Marshall’s Department of Biological Sciences offers or has direct access through the Marshall community to modern research equipment and facilities for genomics and bioinformatics, high-performance computing, microscopy, CT scanning, 3D-sensing and printing, cell and molecular biology, sample analysis and more. While using this state-of-the-art equipment, Biological Sciences master’s degree students can develop valuable skills that are in high demand in the job market as well by doctoral schools in biology and related disciplines.

Biological specimens. For the field of biology, the Biological Sciences department maintains renowned collections of plant and animal biological materials, with a strong focus on specimens collected from West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia. These resources provide students interested in field sciences with the resources they need to perform detailed integrative and comparative work, and with the opportunities to develop marketable skills in curation and specimen management.

Field sites. In West Virginia, Marshall University is located in close proximity to several sites that are important to studies in ecology-related fields and human impact, such as the Ohio River Basin, Fernow Experimental Forest and the Appalachian Mountains. Some faculty also conduct field studies at various locations throughout the United States and North America, and at sites worldwide from Madagascar to China. Marshall also has a greenhouse facility to allow biology studies under controlled conditions.

Networking and Professional Development

The ability to effectively communicate with the scientific community and others is critical to success in careers in biology and related areas. Marshall offers courses centered on developing communications skills, encourages student participation in discussion in classes and seminars, and assists students in developing other necessary job-hunting skills: writing a CV or resume, interviewing and networking.

Valuable experience. Master of Arts students who wish to engage in more research also may also have the opportunity to present their work at scientific meetings. Faculty in master’s degree programs in biology fields maintain active collaborations with government agencies, NGOs and other universities, enabling our students to gain exposure to additional networking opportunities. Biological Sciences master’s students who wish to enter teaching or communications careers can gain additional experience through teaching labs, and, if qualified, can present lectures. Faculty mentors help to identify relevant experiences outside the classroom, such as shadowing, to give graduate biology students stronger advantages to successfully compete for job positions.

The biology department’s work has direct relevance to the environment and to human health in West Virginia and the surrounding region; therefore, many faculty and graduate students engage in public outreach and education. This develops links between the University and surrounding regions, and also hones the abilities of our students to communicate effectively and accurately with non-scientists, a critical and marketable skill. Students also participate in some of our larger outreach and education programs, such as the Marshall Brain Awareness Program, Herd Science, West Virginia Science Adventures, and the Water Festival.

Graduate Assistantships

The biology department offers a limited number of graduate assistantships (GAs) to qualified and motivated master’s in Biological Sciences students. Students must have been accepted into the Biological Sciences MS or MA degree program, or have submitted their application for admission to be considered for a BSC GA. A graduate assistantship includes a stipend and a tuition waver. Duties of departmental GAs include teaching labs, maintenance of collections, and other functions related to departmental life.

Admission Requirements

Applicants should follow the admissions process described in this catalog or at the Graduate Admissions website at

Applications for admission to the program are accepted throughout the year. However, graduate teaching assistantship (GTA) positions are open until filled beginning April 1 for GTA positions for the fall semester and October 15 for GTA positions for the spring semester. Later applicants may not be awarded a GTA if all the positions for the upcoming semester are filled. 

In addition, applicants should send the following materials directly to the Graduate Admissions office:

  • three letters of recommendation from academic or professional references;
  • a written statement of educational and professional goals that identifies a member of the graduate faculty from either the Department of Biological Sciences willing to serve as the student’s advisor (250-500 words).

Applicant must also have:

  • An overall undergraduate GPA and a GPA in biology courses of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
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