Overview of Combination BS/MS Degree Programs for Biology and Botany Majors

Introduction

Students enrolled in the Biology and Botany majors are eligible for participation in combination degree programs that culminate in a BS degree and a thesis-based MS degree. These BS/MS degree programs allow students to complete the MS degree with a research thesis in as little as one year after receiving the BS degree. The BS/MS degree options are partnerships between the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Medicine (Table 1).

Table 1: Combination BS/MS degree programs available to students in the Biology BS and Botany BS degree programs.

BS Program BS Track Options MS Program MS Track Options
Biology Applied Biology, Biotechnology, Natural Science, Pre-professional Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Metabolism and Metabolomics Research, Molecular Biology Research, Structural Biology Research
Botany General*
Medical Sciences Genetics, Microbiology, Pharmacology
Zoology General*
Botany Botanical Research Botany General*

* The Botany and Zoology MS programs do not have tracks

Completion of a BS/MS program helps prepare students for employment in the bioscience industry, and can increase their competitiveness for admission to bioscience Ph.D. programs and professional post-graduate degree programs (for example, medical, dental, or veterinary school). A BS/MS degree program may shorten the typical time required to obtain both degrees by allowing the student to begin their thesis research while an undergraduate, and by allowing the student to substitute up to 12 credits of approved graduate courses for some of the required undergraduate electives in the Biology or Botany majors (Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Allocation of credit hours (CR) between the BS degree and MS degree in separate BS and MS programs (top) and combination BS/MS programs (bottom. The combination degree allows up to 12 CR of graduate coursework to double-count toward the BS degree requirements.

Research Mentoring

Every student in a BS/MS degree program must recruit a faculty member to serve as their faculty research mentor. Some of the student’s research mentoring will likely occur through engagement with other personnel in their faculty mentor’s research group (e.g., more experienced undergraduate students, graduate students, post-doctoral trainees, laboratory technicians, and laboratory managers), but the faculty research mentor is primarily responsible for the student’s development as a research scientist. Therefore, the faculty research mentor is usually the most important mentor for the student’s success in the BS/MS degree program.

The pairing of a student with their faculty research mentor should be mutually beneficial, with a successful pairing being dependent on more than similar research interests. The student is responsible for identifying potential faculty research mentors, contacting them to arrange for interviews, and ultimately recruiting one to serve as their BS/MS degree program faculty mentor, although the Department of Biology’s Combination Degree Coordinator will assist the student in this process by recommending potential faculty. Any faculty research mentor must have “graduate faculty status” in the graduate degree program of the specific BS/MS degree program. During the student’s research experience, the student and faculty research mentor should contact the Combination Degree Coordinator if either person believes that their mentoring relationship is no longer mutually beneficial or that the student should be paired with a different mentor.

Research Topics

When the student begins participating in research, they are not expected to develop their own project. Instead, the faculty research mentor will typically assign them to work with another more senior member of their research group. As the student gains experience and knowledge, and demonstrates the necessary skills and motivation, the faculty research mentor will generally allow the student to assume increased responsibility and autonomy. Typically, as the student nears the end of their third (junior) year, the student and their faculty research mentor will collaboratively develop a specific topic and plan for the thesis research project.

Research Activity

In order to complete a master’s thesis by the end of the fifth year, the student should start working with their faculty research mentor to begin the thesis research project no later than the beginning of the student’s fourth (senior) year. Therefore, when the student formally begins the MS program in their fifth year, they should have already completed a substantial portion of their research project. In order to have the necessary preparation to begin their thesis research project in their fourth year, the student should begin participating in research under the guidance of their faculty research mentor no later than the beginning of the student’s third (junior) year, and ideally by the beginning of their second (sophomore) year.

The time devoted to research activity throughout the BS/MS degree program varies and must be agreed upon by the student and their faculty research mentor. However, in general the minimum expectations for fall and spring semesters are 6 h/wk in the second (sophomore) year, 10 h/wk in the third (junior) year, 14 h/wk in the fourth (senior) year, and 20 h/wk in the fifth (graduate) year. In the summers, the time devoted to research may be close to full-time, especially in the summers before the senior year and graduate year. The pre-professional track of the Biology major allows students to apply up to 6 credits of research toward the BS degree. Additional undergraduate research credits may be applicable to credits earned outside the major (e.g., as non-major electives), but most students meet these elective requirements with other coursework. Therefore, although some of the time devoted to undergraduate research can count as course credit, most of it cannot. The MS programs include a larger number of research credits, which will constitute most of the coursework in the graduate year.

Funding

Most PhD programs in the sciences do NOT require that incoming students have a MS degree prior to beginning the PhD program. Therefore, a combination BS/MS degree program may not reduce the time required to earn a PhD. Nonetheless, for some students who intend to continue to a PhD program, a prior MS degree program may be beneficial in providing additional experience with research and graduate-level courses. However, the student must also consider the availability of financial support. PhD programs in the sciences typically provide their graduate students with a monthly stipend, free tuition and fees, and health insurance. In contrast, MS programs very rarely provide such stipends, and therefore MS students must typically support themselves financially and pay for tuition and fees. This is also true of the BS/MS degree programs.

During the undergraduate phase of the BS/MS degree program (including the senior year), the student’s eligibility for financial aid does not change and they can continue to receive any undergraduate scholarship or other financial aid for which they qualify, but this eligibility for undergraduate financial aid ends when they graduate with the BS degree. However, in rare cases a stipend and tuition waiver may be provided as part of a graduate teaching assistantship or graduate research assistantship.

An additional financial consideration for the student is that the tuition for graduate courses is higher than for undergraduate courses, regardless of whether the courses are taken as an undergraduate student or a graduate student. The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program may provide tuition support for the equivalent undergraduate cost of a graduate course, but an undergraduate student is responsible for the differential cost between the undergraduate tuition and the graduate tuition (the cost of tuition and fees per credit is about 2.5-times higher for graduate courses than for undergraduate courses). However, the student can file a petition with the Student Financial Aid Office to increase their cost of attendance for the semesters in which they are taking graduate courses as an undergraduate student. While this does not increase support from Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, it may increase the student’s eligibility for other financial aid.

Double-Counted Graduate Courses

Up to 12 credits of specific graduate courses may be double-counted toward the BS degree. These courses must be letter-graded, graduate-level courses earned with a grade of B or better. These courses will apply to the BS degree, and will count toward the 30 credits required for the MS degree at the time the student formally begins the MS degree program. Each graduate course must substitute for a specific course in the Biology or Botany BS degree programs, as described in BS Degree Substitutions. This will usually be an elective in the BS degree program, but in special cases core coursework in the major may be substituted with analogous graduate courses that are consistent with the student learning outcomes of the BS degree program. All substitutions must be pre-approved by the Combination Degree Coordinator and relevant Graduate Coordinator.