M.A. and M.S. in Biology
To complete an M.A. or M.S. in Biology in the Department of Biology, all students must successfully complete and defend either an essay or a thesis. Neither the essay or the thesis is inherently superior, but one or the other may be more suited to the specific needs of an individual student.
- What if I choose the thesis option?
- What if I choose the essay option?
- What is a Graduate Advisory Committee and what are my responsibilities to this committee?
- How do I prepare my thesis or essay?
- What is the oral defense?
- How do I submit the final version of my thesis or essay to the Department and University?
- Students in the MS in Biology program must complete a thesis. Students in the MS in Biology program who would like to write an essay instead of a thesis must complete a Graduate Change of Program form (available in the Biology Office, 130 Gittleson or from the graduate director) and change to the MA program.
- The master's thesis in Biology represents original research and thought. It is intended as a training exercise in the research process and thus includes first-hand opportunities to participate in planning a project, carry out research procedures, analyze original data, develop a thesis or core theme, and prepare a high-quality written document.
- It takes more time. Students should usually figure at least 1-2 years of full time lab work or field work in order to complete the thesis research. (That is why students sign up for 6 credits [301 and 302].)
- It is a good choice for people who know that they want to do research.
- It is a good way to discover whether a student really likes to do research or not.
- A student should begin his or her thesis research project as early as possible after beginning the graduate program.
- Students should NOT sign up for 301 or 302 without discussing the plans with their prospective advisor and gaining his/her permission.
- A student does not need to have a research plan in mind before speaking to a prospective advisor about working in his/her lab.
- Thesis research can be done either on site in a lab at Hofstra or, with the permission of a Hofstra Biology advisor, at another institution. The off-site project director must have a terminal degree (Ph.D., M.D., etc.) and usually serves as a committee member (see below).
- Students in the MA in Biology program must complete an essay. Students in the MA program who would like to write a thesis instead of an essay must complete a Graduate Change of Program form (available in the Biology Office, 130 Gittleson or graduate director) and change to one of the MS programs.
- The master's essay represents a review and analysis of current information on one or more subjects in biology. It is intended as a training exercise for those students whose career goals do not require or allow time for first-hand bench/field research experience. The essay must be more than a literature review. The essay must be a well-written document that reflects original thought and input by the student.
- This can usually be completed in a semester of full time work. As always, part time study takes longer.
- This is a good option if the student must complete the degree in a specified period of time. Students have more control of the progress on an essay; lab or field work is much more unpredictable.
- A student does not need to have an essay outline in mind before speaking to a prospective advisor about working with him/her.
- This is a good option for individuals who are not particularly interested in the "benchwork" aspect of biology or who are restricted to part-time or evening study.
- Students should NOT sign up for 303 without discussing the plans with their prospective advisor and gaining his/her permission.
All students are required to have a committee evaluate the thesis or essay and the oral defense. The committee must consist of at least three individuals as follows.
Major advisor or committee chair: This person must be a full time faculty member in the Department of Biology. Occasionally, adjunct faculty may serve as major advisor, with the knowledge and permission of the Chair of the Department of Biology. The committee chair will usually be the person in whose lab the research is being done or who has the most expertise (within the department) in the major subject of an essay. This individual will read and comment on initial drafts of the student's essay/thesis. Some students, because of the subject matter of their research, may have two faculty members as co-chairs. The major advisor may require that the student prepare a thesis or essay proposal (1 or more pages). It is also a good idea for each student to discuss the format and content of his or her committee meeting (see below) with the thesis committee chair well in advance of the committee meeting.
Committee members or readers: These individuals have varying amounts of input into the research. At least one must be a full time faculty member in the Department of Biology. If a student is involved in a research project in a lab located off the Hofstra campus, the project director for that laboratory is usually one of the committee members, and usually reads and comments on the initial drafts of the thesis. All members must have a terminal degree in an appropriate field (Ph.D., M.D., etc.).
Committee Meeting(s): Every thesis and essay student MUST have at least one committee meeting well in advance of the oral defense. For thesis students, at least one meeting is required by the end of the semester in which the student enrolls in Bio 301 and before the student enrolls in Bio 302. For essay students the meeting should be held approximately half way through the writing process and no later than by the end of the semester in which the student enrolls in Bio 303. A Committee Report form (obtained by the committee chair and located in I:/facbio/policy/commeet.doc) must be filled out and signed by all members of the committee and the student. The report will contain the committee?s evaluation of the student?s progress to that point. The student is expected to prepare a 10-15 minute outline of his or her results and progress. Data and other relevant information should be brought to the meeting. Members of the committee will ask questions. Most committee meetings take about an hour.
The Department of Biology subscribes to and expects all students to be guided by the Statement of Ethics in the Hofstra Student Handbook. That means that ?even the appearance of? cheating, data falsification, plagiarism etc. will not be tolerated and is punishable by removal from the graduate program. The Department of Biology also requires the latest edition of A Student Handbook for Writing in Biology, by Karin Knisely for almost all classes. The faculty expect all essay and thesis students to follow the writing instructions in this text.
The final "original" copy must be printed on a laser printer (available through the Computer Center for graduate thesis and essays--inquire in advance) or a high quality, "letter quality," printer. All letter-quality printers must be approved by the Chair of the Department of Biology (bring in a sample). The text should be double-spaced with left margin set at 3.2 cm (1 1/4") and all other margins at 2.5 cm (1"), with a font size of 10-12 pt in a standard font like Times Roman or Arial. Do not right justify margins, and do not hyphenate words at the end of a line.
The thesis or essay ordinarily will not be typed in final form until after the final examination, thus allowing for incorporation of suggestions presented during the oral defense. Following successful completion of the defense, the student must submit the original and one copy of the thesis or essay to the Department of Biology and must pay the appropriate binding fees. Additional copies of the thesis or essay (for the student, parents, etc.) may be presented for binding as long as the appropriate fees have been paid. No graduate student will graduate until the final, corrected thesis or essay has been approved and all binding fees paid. Students are responsible for all costs and labor associated with printing and copying of the thesis or essay drafts and final version.
Thesis or Essay Format:
Jan A. Pechenik A Short Guide to Writing about Biology, 5th ed. (2004, Pearson Longman) is an excellent guide to preparing your thesis or essay. Here are some specific format criteria:
The thesis or essay must have the following sections:
- Title Page: the title page must follow the example. The title page is considered page 1 of the thesis but does not have a number on it.
- Table of Contents: this is page 2. This and all subsequent pagination should be at the top of the page, in the middle or on the right hand side?but be consistent.
- Abstract: page 3, brief (less than 150 words) summary of the major point of the research.
- Table of Abbreviations: (optional) this is used only if the research area demands extensive use of abbreviations beyond DNA, RNA, amino acids and other common abbreviations listed in Appendix D of Pechenik's (2001) book. Generally speaking, the use of abbreviations should be avoided in formal writing like a thesis or essay because most abbreviations are understood only by individuals in the same field. You should spell out and not abbreviate any term that is used less than five times in your paper. Ask your committee members if a Table of Abbreviations is necessary for your paper.
- Introduction: begin on a new page, contains a review of other work done in the area and a clear, concise statement of the purpose of the investigation.
- (Thesis) Methods and Materials: include clear descriptions in paragraph format.
- (Thesis) Results: present but do not discuss data in this section. Tables, graphs, charts, drawings, and photographs may be introduced in this section. Figures, tables, and legends may be incorporated directly into the text or attached as the final section of the thesis (see below), but either all figures must be in the text or all be at the end. Keep in mind that there will probably be many versions of the thesis or essay and it is difficult to manage all the editing and formatting when the figures etc. are embedded in the text.
- (Thesis) Discussion: discuss the data. It is essential that the student fully develop the core theme or thesis.
- (Essay) Appropriate Chapter Headings: develop and present the ideas in a cogent, appropriate manner. Most students have two to five chapters in the body of the essay.
- Conclusions: (optional) may be in numbered outline form.
- Acknowledgements: (optional)
- Literature Cited: References should be cited in text by last name and date of publication (Millan, 1991). Papers by two authors should list both names and the date (Barcia and Remsen, 1991). For multi-authored papers use the first author's name, et al., and the date (Nouri et al., 1991). The Literature Cited section should be in alphabetical order and within that it should be chronological. Students wishing to use a different style, i.e. numbered references, must obtain the permission of their major advisor and the Chair of the Department of Biology. Examples of the accepted style are given in A Student Handbook for Writing in Biology, by Karin Knisely.
- Tables, Figures: all tables and figures included in these sections must be referred to in the text, and must have an accompanying descriptive legend. The legend for tables may be included above the table, but all figure legends must be printed on the facing page (i.e. backwards when compared to the rest of the thesis or essay--see your advisor for clarification) unless the figure is embedded in the text pages. Each of the tables or figures must be of professional, i.e. publishable, quality. Tables should be consecutively numbered with Roman numerals and all tables should be put together before the figures. Figures should be consecutively numbered with Arabic numerals. Avoid the temptation to copy numerous tables and figures from other papers, even if the tables or figures are correctly cited. All figures and tables must conform to the same margin requirements as the text.
Upon the approval of the major advisor, copies of the "almost final" thesis or essay should be distributed to the committee members no less than two weeks prior to the anticipated oral defense. The oral defense should be scheduled no later than two weeks before the end of the semester in which the student plans to graduate, i.e. 8 December for a December graduation. The major advisor may suggest or require that a committee meeting be held before or during the final stages of thesis or essay writing (and therefore before the oral defense). The oral defense will be public with notices posted one week in advance. It is the student's responsibility (with the advice and consent of the major advisor) to schedule the defense and be sure that the appropriate notices are posted. To schedule the defense: 1) find an acceptable time for all committee members and the graduate director; 2) contact Mr. Burke or the secretaries and ask for a room assignment; 3) notify the secretaries of the title (written out neatly so all the spelling is correct, click here to send an email), room, and time of the defense. Students are responsible for making sure that the necessary computer and presentation software and technologies are available in the room in which they present. Most classrooms have Sympodiums with integrated projection hardware, PC computers, and laptop connections. Plan a 30-min. presentation. The oral defense is open to questions from the audience, after which the audience will leave and the committee will continue the examination. The examination will cover not only the thesis or essay but also related areas. After the committee's questions, they will meet privately to evaluate the thesis or essay and the oral defense. The committee's decision to accept the work and pass the student must be unanimous. If the student does not pass the oral exam the first time, he/she may have a second, final opportunity.
Following a successful defense, your advisor and defense committee usually require corrections to your thesis or essay. After all of your corrections to your thesis are completed and your committee and the Graduate Director have signed your signature page, you need to provide the Department with an electronic copy of your thesis or essay on a CD or DVD. Please include a copy in whatever word processing program you used (i.e. Microsoft Word) as well as a PDF copy.
In addition to the electronic copy provided to the Department of Biology, you are required to submit your thesis to the library using these instructions provided. The library submission tool will also provide you with an opportunity to obtain bound copies of your thesis or essay should you or your advisor want them.