Special Policies and Procedures

Please refer to the Undergraduate/Graduate Bulletin (https://www.southalabama.edu/bulletin) for general policies and procedures of the Graduate School and their application to the graduate program in biological sciences (https://www.southalabama.edu/bulletin/current/degrees-programs/biology/biology-ms).  Any relevant changes in or additions to these policies and procedures will be explained to students at the Fall Organizational Meeting.


Student in both Thesis and Non-thesis program are required to complete the Research Integrity Training requirement.  This  can be fulfilled by the Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI), GIS-501 "Research Integrity" or the Annual Research Integrity Half-Day Workshop offered through the Marine Sciences Department (contact that department for details). The choice of these options is at the discretion of the student’s Research Advisor and Graduate Committee for Thesis students or the student’s Research Advisor for Non-thesis students.

Online fulfillment can be met by completing the RCR Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative through the University of Miami as follows.  CITI training, if chosen, must be completed no later than three months after the start of the research project.

  • Go to https://www.citiprogram.org/
  • Register (or log-in if registered). USA can be found on the list of institutions.
  • Complete registration under the appropriate category.
  • Choose the “Responsible Conduct of Research” and the Biomedical Module.
  • Complete the training and evaluation.
  • Print two copies of your certificate (one to turn in and one for your records).
  • Your training is good for three years.
  • Note: Depending on your specific research, you may be required to complete additional training.
  • New students should complete these requirements before beginning any research.


The Biology Department provides a specialized course on professional development (BLY 510 - Professionalism in Science) as component of our core course series.  The Graduate School has also put together a web page with tools that will be of value to our graduate students.   You can access the tools for graduate student professional development by following this link.


Upon admission

Meet with mentor regarding selection of advisory committee, initial course work, and potential funding

By end of first semester

Remaining coursework outlined

Directed studies project outlined

By end of second semester

Remaining coursework outlined

Review of progress by advisory committee                                     

By beginning of third semester

Advisory committee meeting for review of progress

Continue formal course work

 By end of fourth semester

Complete all coursework

Complete draft of directed studies report and submit to advisory committee for review.

Present an open seminar about the directed studies project



Upon admission

Meet with mentor and graduate adviser regarding selection of thesis committee, initial course work, and funding

Plan for teaching requirement (see below)

By end of first semester

Formation of thesis committee

Thesis committee meeting

Coursework outlined

Teaching requirements discussed

By end of second semester

Draft of prospectus submitted to mentor

Review of progress by thesis committee

Plan for presentation at regional or national meeting

By end of third semester

Thesis committee meeting to review progress

Prospectus approved by thesis committee/Comprehensive exam

By end of fourth semester

Complete all coursework

Complete teaching requirements

Complete and defend thesis



In most cases the Major Professor will function as Research Supervisor. Exceptions include when students pursuing their degree in the BLY department are training in a BMD lab, and when extenuating circumstances prevent the Major Professor from functioning as Research Supervisor. Such alternate arrangements must be formally approved by the department chairman.

The student and Major Professor shall request at least two additional regular or adjunct faculty members, whose fields and interests are appropriate, to serve on the student's advisory committee. These requests will be given to the Chair of the Biology Department, who shall nominate the committee to be appointed by the Dean of the Graduate School.  No faculty member will be obliged to serve on a committee without their consent.

The duties of the Advisory Committee shall be as follows:

  1. The Major Professor shall advise the student in the choice of a curriculum and research problem; he/she shall direct the thesis and have authority over research techniques, methods and procedures.
  2. The committee members will aid in curriculum advisement and advise the Major Professor in the research work leading to the thesis.
  3. The student's curriculum will be considered and approved at a meeting of the committee called by the Major Professor no later than the beginning of the student's second semester in residence.
  4. Periodic meetings of the committee will be called by the Major Professor to review the student's academic progress and research.
  5. The Major Professor and the committee may aid the student in writing the thesis in accordance with the guidelines established by the graduate school.
  6. A simple majority of the committee will be required to accept and approve the thesis after an oral defense. Those accepting the thesis shall sign it.
  7. Research and Program Supervision
  1. Major Professor and Advisory Committee selection and Functions.
      1. Selection of a Major Professor/Research Supervisor is a precondition for admission. It is expected that the chosen Supervisor is properly trained to afford meaningful oversight for the problem that the student has selected to offer as the thesis for the graduate degree.
      2. Before the end of the second semester of residence, each student is required to select and have appointed an Advisory Committee, according to the guidelines established by the Graduate School.  A Master's thesis committee must include a minimum of three members of the Graduate Faculty.  Master's thesis committees may be chaired by Associate or Full Members of the Graduate Faculty.  Thesis committees must have at least one member from outside the student's department or program.  Administratively appointed graduate faculty members may serve on thesis/dissertation committees for a specified student. Two thirds of the committee must be USA Associate or Full Members of the Graduate Faculty.
      3. Should the Advisory Committee membership fall below the minimum requirements of the Graduate School because of the departure of one or more of its members, it is the responsibility of the Major Professor to take the steps necessary to rectify this problem.  The newly organized committee should be constituted as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the semester in which the problem arises.  The Major Professor will immediately advise the Departmental Chair of any and all changes in the membership of the Advisory Committee and will give official notification to the Graduate School.
      4. Should the Major Professor depart from the Committee, it becomes the responsibility of the student to arrange for appointment of a replacement. The student must demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Departmental Chair that the replacement supervisor is properly qualified to direct the research problem. This must be accomplished no later than the semester following the departure of the Research Supervisor.
  2. Progress Monitoring
      1. At least once a year the student must meet with the Advisory Committee to demonstrate that satisfactory progress is being made in both research and course work development.
      2. Although the Committee is involved with the student's work on a regular basis, this meeting will also serve for Committee to have input into the student's training program.
  3. Compliance

The student is advised that compliance with regulations is the student’s responsibility.  Failure to adhere to the requirement of the department or college can result in dismissal from the degree program.


After submission of the written research prospectus to the committee, students will schedule a committee meeting and comprehensive qualifying exam. The exam will be oral and will start with a presentation of the prospectus and, where applicable, a progress report.  Students will first be examined on the prospectus and progress report, and then any area of study closely or broadly related to the student’s area of specialization. The exam committee will consist of the student’s thesis committee, and will be approved to administer the exam by the Graduate School. The paperwork for approval (Comprehensive Examination Committee Appointment Request and Evaluation Report – GS Form #5) must be submitted and approved at least two weeks before the exam date.

The student will be graded by all committee members, following a rubric that considers various aspects of the presentation and has three possible scores for each category: 1 (insufficient), 2 (meets expectations), and 3 (above expectations).  To pass the exam, a student will have to score an average of 2 or higher.  Students are encouraged to examine the rubric before the exam to be aware of the committee’s expectations.

Students who fail the exam will be given a second opportunity.

Scoring Rubric Forms

Written Prospectus

Comprehensive Exam


The Graduate School has very specific guidelines for thesis preparation.  Follow this link to a page the Graduate School has prepared to provide help and answer questions.


The final oral examination prior to granting the master's degree shall consist of a defense of the thesis conducted under the following rules:

  1. The examination will begin with an open seminar.  Following the seminar, the student will defend their thesis orally before the thesis committee and other members of the graduate faculty who may care to attend.
  2. Attendance in person, or is special circumstances by videoconference, is mandatory for members of the advisory committee.  Each member will be informed at least two weeks in advance of the time and place of the exam.  Attendance is optional for other faculty members.
  3. With the advice of the faculty, the committee will vote on the performance of the student. The examination will be passed by a simple majority vote of the committee.

Questions will be confined to the thesis and related topics.

Scoring Rubric Forms

Thesis evaluation

Oral defense evaluation


All graduate students, both thesis and non-thesis, and regardless of funding status, must teach at least two lab sessions (example: BLY 101, 102, 121, 122) during the course of their graduate program.  Teaching requirements must be satisfied in order to graduate.  Full-time students who are not paid through the departmental teaching assistantship (TA) funds are required only to teach and grade two lab sessions over the course of their program.  They will not be required to prep labs and can teach these labs at their convenience.  Students with TA’s will, as part of their duties for which they are being paid, have to prep labs, and have a teaching schedule according to the needs of the department.  If a student has had substantial teaching experience prior to joining the department, this requirement may be waived at the discretion of the Departmental Chair.

Part-time graduate students are also required to fulfill the teaching requirement of two laboratories and an attempt will be made to compensate for their time.  All possible scheduling allowances will be made to accommodate part-time students.  A part-time graduate student may or may not be required to prep labs, depending on the time slot the student is able to teach.


All students are required to take at least 30 hours of 500-level coursework.

For thesis-option students, these will include 18 hours BLY 500-level formal coursework (not including BLY594). A maximum of 9 h of thesis (BLY599) and 6h of directed studies (BLY594) will be allowed.  However, the student’s graduate committee has the discretion to increase these hours to remediate any deficiencies in the student’s background.

For non-thesis-option students, these will include at least 18 hours of BLY 500-level formal coursework, a maximum of 6 hours of BLY 594 (directed studies).  Remaining graduate level coursework may be in other disciplines as determined by the students advisory committee.


All thesis-option graduate students must submit a paper for publication or present a talk at a professional meeting before they graduate. A professional talk is a presentation (or poster) given at a meeting held by a professional society.


At the beginning of fall semester, an organizational meeting of graduate students will be convened by the Graduate Program Committee of the faculty, during which the students will elect a member to serve on the departmental Graduate Program Committee. This student will attend meetings of the Committee.


All graduate students are required to attend departmental seminars, unless excused by their Major Professor.


Description of all Biology (BLY) Courses