If you have just earned a BSc in Biology, but did not gain any relevant experience outside of classes, it can be hard to find a job. Sure, if you’re planning on becoming a physician, a dentist, or decide to pursue many other health-related careers, your path is pretty clear forward. However, students who try to find a relevant job right out of college with a BSc degree in Biology often get frustrated. Internships and volunteering is a valuable experience, and sometimes lead to permanent jobs, but they can feel like a step back for some. Similarly, seasonal entry-level jobs can be a very useful first step, but do not offer the kind of job security that most college graduates hope to attain. Many full-time, permanent jobs, especially in the environmental fields, working for state and federal agencies, are open to apply for graduates with a BSc degree, but they often list having a MSc (Masters in Science) degree as a preferred qualification. And since more and more applicants do have a MSc degree, graduates with a BSc degree only are at a significant disadvantage when applying for such positions.
If the above paragraph resonates with you, and you have already contemplated obtaining an MSc degree to be more competitive for those permanent full-time Biology jobs, we at EWU Biology might be able to help you!
The MSc program in Biology has been going on for more than 30 years, and has successfully graduated over 146 students. It is a two-year, research-based program, where graduate students work on an independent thesis research project, in collaboration with their major advisors, while also taking classes. Classes add up to at least 38 quarter credits over the 2 years, as well as at least 14 quarter credits of thesis work. Classes include 16 quarter credits of core classes, which include scientific and research methodology, grantsmanship, advanced biostatistics, as well as practicing developing both oral and poster presentations. In addition, graduate students have to take 6 quarter credits of graduate seminars to get familiar with the literature, and 16 quarter credits of graduate level electives. In terms of their research, graduate students work together closely with their major advisor to develop a novel research topic that is feasible to complete within the timeframe of the program. You can see a wordcloud of various research topics on the figure on the right. Graduate students present a written research proposal (called prospectus) on their thesis research to their committee and the Department within the first year, and use the feedback received to perfect their plans. At the completion of their program, each graduate student defends their completed thesis (you can see some here) in front of their committee and the Department in a seminar format. Most graduate students also participate as teaching assistants in a wide variety of classes, practicing their skills in teaching.
Typically, being an MSc student is a full-time job, and requires a commitment for the two years of the program. Applicants must have a BSc degree in Biology or related field before they enroll in the program, with a GPA of at least 3.0 in the last 90 quarter credits or 60 semester credits of classes, and take the GRE test by the time of application. For the students who require financial assistance, one option is the Graduate Service Appointments (GSA) program. This program pays a modest stipend and provides a graduate tuition waiver for a subset of graduate students, in return for spending 20 hours a week as a Teaching Assistant in every quarter they receive the appointment. There is a limited number of such appointments, and therefore they are awarded on a needs-based and competitive basis.
Does that all sound interesting? If yes, the first thing you need to do is decide which faculty you would be interested in working with. Our faculty at EWU have a wide diversity of research backgrounds and interests, from neurobiology to microbiology to plant systematics and beyond. You can also take a look at our current list of 28 grad students (they are a good bunch!), where you can read about some of their research projects. Once you decided on the faculty that you’re interested to work with, send them a quick email and ask if they are looking for a new graduate student starting next fall. If yes, you can start discussing potential thesis project ideas, and put together your application materials. It is very important that you identify and get in touch with a potential major advisor, as they are your advocates throughout the application process.
If you’re applying for a GSA position, the deadline for applications is February 20, otherwise the application deadline is April 1st. The application materials include transcripts, GRE scores and two letters of recommendations. I mention these last as you do have to be timely with the letters when applying – several previous graduate students did not get a GSA position because their letters of recommendations were missing, as they didn’t leave enough time for their references to write their letters. Grades and GRE scores are of course very important, but the most important aspect is to have a connection to a potential major advisor who really wants to work with you.
Alumni of the EWU Biology MSc graduate program have been very successful in their career, obtaining permanent, full-time jobs relevant to their degrees (see wordcloud on left hand side based on their professions), all across the US as well as abroad (see map below). You can explore our alumni in more detail, for specific time periods and broken down by major advisor here. If you see yourself in the future in these locations,professions and positions depicted on the wordcloud, consider applying to our graduate program soon. We’ll be happy to hear from you!