Department of Biological Sciences

Graduate Degrees

Thank you for your interest in graduate studies in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University. We are always interested in receiving inquiries from potential graduate students and have prepared the following information to guide you through the initial stages of applying for graduate work at MSU.

Programs of Study.

The Department of Biological Sciences offers degree programs leading to the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy. Traditional areas of strength in the department include basic and applied microbiology, cellular and molecular biology, comparative and environmental physiology, taxonomy, ecology, and evolution. Research by the Graduate Faculty focuses on mechanisms of organism function in terms of cell properties and structural components, variation in the structure and function of organisms and other complex biological systems, and the integration of biological scales and processes. Graduate training emphasizes preparation for careers in teaching and research in both academic and nonacademic positions.

The Graduate Handbook contains detailed information about requirements and deadlines in the graduate program.

The Master of Science program typically requires two years of course work, a research thesis, and an oral comprehensive examination and defense of the thesis. Thesis research for the Master's degree emphasizes basic research skills, hypothesis generation, experimental design, data collection and analysis, and manuscript preparation.

We now also offer an online Master of Science in General Biology for secondary school teachers. More information is available through the Mississippi State University Division of Academic Outreach & Continuing Education here.

The Doctor of Philosophy degree requires two semesters in residence, oral and written comprehensive exams, and a defense of the dissertation. Course requirements vary according to the needs of the student.

Application review

The graduate faculty screens applications and recommends for or against admission based on academic records, exam scores, letters of recommendation, program openings, compatibility with faculty expertise, and availability of funds. Because of the varying expectations of individual faculty, it is advised that potential applicants make contact with an appropriate major professor/thesis advisor prior to applying, to determine academic suitability and research compatibility. Typically, of students who apply to the program without initiating contact with a supporting faculty member in advance, only a small percentage are admitted to graduate studies in the Department. Thus, one of the first places you will want to look is through the faculty web pages.

Furthermore, we do not have a non-thesis option in Biology, so you must have a major professor and you must complete a research project in order to receive a graduate degree. In order to accomplish this, you will need to have a faculty mentor (Major Professor) who is engaged in research that interests you. Have a look through the individual faculty members' web pages to find someone who works on a topic in which you are interested, then contact them to determine whether they have space in their labs, resources to support your research, if you might meet with them, etc.

Application deadlines

Although applications may be submitted at any time, if you will need a teaching assistantship to help support your studies, you should be aware that priority for assigning assistantships will be given to students who apply no later than July 1st for the Fall semester and no later than November 1st for the Spring semester. These are deadlines set by the Office of Graduate Studies. Please be aware that visa requirements for international students will increase the time needed for processing of applications and assistantship materials. If you are not a US citizen you should target a deadline of about one month earlier than stated above.

Admission requirements

The general requirements for students wishing to pursue graduate studies at Mississippi State are a bachelor's degree, a 2.75 or greater GPA (4.0 scale) on the last two years of undergraduate study or on any graduate work, and submission of GRE general examination scores. We do not require the GRE subject area exam. We also do not have a Departmental minimum score for the general exam; however, individual faculty members may have specific expectations for GRE scores or percentiles. You should consult your prospective Major Professor for details. In the recent past, the majority of admitted students have scored in the upper 50th percentile of those taking the GRE general exam.

International students should score at least 550 on the TOEFL (written exam: CBSS, or Computer-Based Score Scale = 213; Internet-based TOEFL = 79-80) or a score of at least 6.5 on the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. Students with TOEFL scores between 475 and 550 (or IELTS scores between 4.5 and 6.5) may be admitted, but will be required to complete ESL training as specified in the MSU Graduate Bulletin (see Graduate Studies web page).

Financial assistance

A limited number of teaching and research assistantships are available in the Department. To be eligible for a teaching assistantship (TA), students must first be admitted to the Department, then must demonstrate English competency (if not a US citizen) and must successfully complete a two-day (US citizens) and/or five-day (international students) teaching assistant workshop. The international workshops presently (Fall 2012) are not held during Spring semesters; international students entering the program during Spring must complete an ESL training course through the MSU Office of Academic Outreach and Continuing Education (at their own expense). Summer TAs are limited to assistance in courses that are taught during the summer, which varies among years, based on faculty offerings.

Research assistantships (RAs) are available as faculty funding permits. Interested students should inquire with potential major professors about the availability of RA support for their studies. This type of support usually requires participation in specific research related activities, such as data collection for funded research. Stipends for RAs will vary, depending on funding sources and amounts. Eligibility, beyond that required for general graduate studies admission, would be determined by the faculty sponsor.

Some faculty provide assistantship support via combined teaching and research assistantships. This form of assistantship obviously would require a concomitant level of participation in both faculty research and Departmental teaching.

Both types of assistantship provide regionally competitive stipends, along with a 100% waiver of out-of-state tuition and 71% remission for in-state tuition and fees. Please consult the graduate studies web pages for information on estimated costs.

The Department and Office of the Graduate School also have a number of opportunities for students to compete for funding to assist in travel to conferences or to conduct research in support of their thesis/dissertation. Competitions have one or two deadlines per year (depending on program) and funding ranges from a few hundred to a thousand dollars per award.

Health Insurance

Graduate Assistants (TA, RA, SA) who purchase health insurance through the MSU Longest Student Health Center receive a partial reimbursement for their premiums. In Fall 2012, the annual (12-month) cost of this insurance was approximately $1,200. As of the 2012-2013 academic year, graduate assistants were provided $200 reimbursement during each of the Fall and Spring semesters ($400 per year) towards the cost of this insurance. To obtain this benefit, students purchase the insurance through the MSU Longest Student Health Center and then receive a reimbursement during the latter half of the Fall or Spring semester.

Graduate studies policies

Here are some web resources you should consult to investigate graduate studies policies at MSU in general and in the Department of Biological Sciences specifically: