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MA and MS in Biology - FAQs

To complete an MA in the Department of Biology, student must satisfactorily complete their coursework and upon completion of said coursework, pass an exit exam. See Masters of Arts in Biology for more details

To complete an MS in the Department of Biology, all students must satisfactorily complete their coursework as well as complete and defend a thesis based on the independent research they conducted. See Masters of Science in Biology  for more details.


What do I need to do to get my Masters of Science?

Find a research mentor
Find a research mentor quickly – do not wait for your coursework to begin (in fact, many start this process during the application stage)! For you to finish in a timely manner, it is essential for you to start your research quickly. This requires looking at the research of our various faculty members and deciding which area fits your interests and goals. See here for a list of research faculty and their research interests. Next, contact them and make an appointment to discuss their research, find out if there is available space in their lab for a new graduate student, and decide on a potential project and direction for your work. In some situations, projects might require co-advisors, and this is acceptable. Once you find a research “home,” let the current graduate director know your decision, and get started!
Course work requirements
Masters of Science in Biology
Thesis committee
The thesis committee consists of advisors and experts within your field who will help you devise and carry out your project. Use them as a resource to build a quality project. This process is meant to teach that collaboration is essential to carry out quality science ultimately relies on peer review.
  1. Committee make up
    Committees have at least three members who are familiar with one or more aspects of your field. At least two members are Hofstra biology faculty: your thesis adviser and one other faculty member. The rest of your committee can be either more faculty within the department, or they can come from other institutions or organizations (i.e., outside committee members). The final make up is contingent on approval of the thesis adviser, the graduate coordinator and the student.
  2. Committee meetings
    At least two committee meetings should be held, but more are advised in order to complete your thesis seamlessly. Ideally, you should have at least one committee meeting after you develop your methods but before you begin data collection. This provides you the opportunity to get early feedback about aspects of your project you may have overlooked or not considered. The minimum requirement is that you have one committee meeting before you begin your second semester of research (Bio 302) to update the committee, address any issues you might be having, and decide on any course corrections, etc. Ideally, you should have a meeting before starting your 301 research and another meeting should take place before you defend. This is to get the committee up to speed and to get their approval that you are ready to defend. It is important to keep your committee up to date on your project.
Thesis defense
  1. Public Defense
    You will organize and give a lecture about your thesis project. It is open to faculty, students and visitors. You should discuss the specific length and content with your advisor. Typically, it is about 30-45 minutes in length, consisting of slides that aid your presentation of a sufficient background for understanding the lecture  including methods, results, and broader meaning of your results (discussion). The scope of your thesis lecture  may be restricted due to the time constraint but should give the general theme and findings of the thesis. Communication with your advisor and committee members prior to defense will help how you communicate your data, with what you can and cannot say, etc.
  2. Private Defense
    Following the public defense, the private defense consists of only you and your committee. You may expect the following types of questions during your private defense: general knowledge of biology, knowledge of background related to your thesis topic, more detailed knowledge about your procedure and results, questions about your thesis itself, etc. The more you have communicated with your committee during your project, the fewer “surprises” there will be regarding what questions or concerns they may have.
Assessment of defense
Your committee will convene after your private defense to discuss the next steps. If your committee does not feel you have satisfactorily defended your thesis, they will decide how you should proceed. If your committee feels you have satisfactorily defended your thesis, committee members will present you with corrections they want to see incorporated into your final thesis document. It is up to your outside committee members if they wish to see your corrections when you are done. This is typically based on the degree of corrections required. However, your thesis advisor will most certainly need to see your corrections. No graduate student will be awarded an MS until the final, corrected thesis has been approved and signed by all committee members and the graduate coordinator. See “How to Prepare My Thesis” for more details.

How do I prepare my thesis?

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 or plagiarism 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. This is a good text to refer to if you are unfamiliar with the basics of writing a scientific manuscript.

Thesis Format:
Generally, your research mentor will determine the format for your thesis. In most cases it should conform to the standards of your field for publication purposes. The only standard requirement for all students is the title page format. However, some basic standards are to double space your text, and use 1" margins all around (left, right, top, and bottom). Do not justify the text, and do not hyphenate words at the end of a line.

A thesis typically has the following sections:

  • (REQUIRED) 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 - it does not matter but be consistent.
  • Abstract: page 3, brief (less than one page) summary of the major point(s) of the research.
  • Table of Abbreviations: this is sometimes used if the research area demands extensive use of abbreviations beyond DNA, RNA, amino acids and other common abbreviations. Generally speaking, the use of abbreviations should be avoided in formal writing like a thesis because most abbreviations are understood only by individuals in the same field. Ask your committee members if a Table of Abbreviations is necessary for your thesis.
  • Introduction: begin on a new page, contains a review of other work done in the area in order to be able to put the current work into context. You should have a clear, concise statement of the purpose of the investigation.
  • Methods and Materials: include clear descriptions in paragraph format.
  • 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 (preferable) or all be at the end. The written portion of the results should lead the reader through the various data, highlighting the most important or relevant "take home messages".
  • Discussion: discuss/interpret the data with respect to your introduction. Do your data support your hypotheses or predictions? How do your data relate to previously published literature on your research area? It is essential that the student fully develop the core theme or thesis.
  • Appropriate Chapter Headings: Some projects warrant separating one’s research into coherent chapters. Make sure to check with your research mentor and committee as this is project and lab specific. For example, some labs prefer that if you have multiple publications, that these be separated into chapters. Others prefer that your central thesis, regardless of how many chapters you have have a general introduction and a general discussion chapter to tie all the chapters together. This is all solely dependent on the size of your project, your publication goals, and your committee’s wishes.  
  • Acknowledgements: (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Literature Cited: References should be cited in text by the format typical for your field/journal destination. Check with your research mentor on the preferred format Typically the "Literature Cited" section is in alphabetical order (if you are not using numerical format) and within that it should be chronological. If the same author or authors published multiple papers in a single year, these are typically differentiated by an "a", "b", "c", etc. add to the reference itself where it appears in the text and within the literature cited section.
  • Tables, Figures: all tables and figures included in these sections must be referred to in the text, and must have an accompanying descriptive legend. Typically the title for the figure or table is listed at the top of the table or figure, or at the start of the legend. Consult your committee or research advisor for preferred legend placement (above or below the table or figure). Journals often require that the legends are listed separately from the figures, however this is not necessary for the thesis. Each of the tables or figures must be of professional, i.e. publishable, quality. Tables should be consecutively numbered. Avoid the temptation to copy 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.

Following successful completion of the defense, students are usually presented with corrections from their committee to incorporate into the document. It is up to your outside committee members if they wish to see your corrections when you are done. This is typically based on the degree of corrections required. However, your thesis advisor will most certainly need to see your corrections. No graduate student will be awarded a Masters until the final, corrected thesis has been approved.


How do I submit the final version of my thesis or essay to the Department and University?

Once your corrections are completed, your committee and the graduate program director will sign your thesis cover page. This signed cover page has to be integrated into your e-file (as part of a single PDF file). Then - and only then - you can submit your thesis or essay. To do so submit electronically to the library following the instructions HERE

When you submit your essay or thesis electronically, you will be linked to a ProQuest site where you deposit your document. You will be given the option of ordering nicely bound copies. Ordering bound copies is not required, but the prices are reasonable, and students often wish to have a professional bound copy for themselves, advisor, family, etc.