Biology Graduate Program

Current graduate students can find important information in the Grad Handbook and current Graduate School deadlines (links below).

Biology Grad Program Contact:

Shawn Arellano in science lab holding a specimen. Students in background conducting lab research.

Dr. Shawn Arellano
Graduate Program Advisor
Department of Biology 
Western Washington University
Bellingham, WA 98225-9160

Admission and Application Procedure

There are no rigid prerequisites for admission, and the program will accept graduate students with previous specialization in any area of biology, as well as other disciplines. However, students entering the program will usually have a background in the biological sciences, such as cell biology, molecular biology, botany, zoology, physiology, genetics, ecology, and/or biostatistics.

Incoming graduate students are expected to have the course preparation that is equivalent to the basic B.S. degree in biology as described in Western's General Catalog. Deficiencies in these areas may be remedied by coursework. Applicants must submit undergraduate transcripts, three letters of reference, and a letter of intent describing research interests and identifying potential faculty advisors. Applicants are strongly encouraged to contact potential advisors before applying.

Application Procedure

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are no longer required. Application, Transcripts, three letters of recommendation, the letter of intent, and application for teaching assistantships should be addressed to: Dean of the Graduate School, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9037. Application forms and information regarding the application procedure.

Program of Graduate Study

The graduate program leading to a thesis-based Master of Science degree in biology is designed to provide the student with a broad knowledge in advanced biology and the opportunity to conduct creative and independent research. Each student develops a flexible course of study individually arranged to meet his or her specific needs and objectives.

The major professor and two other faculty members comprise the thesis committee, and they serve to direct and advise the graduate student in research and writing the results of the thesis topic. Faculty in related departments such as Environmental Sciences, Chemistry, and Math may serve on thesis committees, enabling graduate students to pursue interdisciplinary research.

Two years are usually needed for completion of the program of study. Details about requirements are available in the catalog. Thesis research ranges over a broad spectrum of topics reflecting the strengths and interests of the 18-member Biology Graduate Faculty.

Faculty interests span four program areas:

  1. Cell and Molecular Biology
  2. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  3. Marine Biology
  4. Organismal Biology

Visit the Faculty Directory to find out more about our faculty's research.

We are happy to work with students whose interests span multiple realms of biology to develop interdisciplinary research. In those situations, having co-advisors from different fields is often beneficial.

Marine and Estuarine Science M.S.

In addition to the Biology M.S. degree, a Marine and Estuarine Science M.S. degree option is available within the Biology M.S. Program. This cooperative program draws upon faculty expertise from various academic units including the Biology Department, College of the Environment, and the Shannon Point Marine Center.

Students graduating from this program have an understanding of coastal marine and estuarine environments, biota and topical management issues, and fundamental biological, chemical and physical oceanographic processes.

Graduate Courses in Biology

The Biology Graduate Program offers numerous graduate courses, in topics ranging from developmental biology to biological oceanography. The core graduate curriculum features courses that provide training in teaching, giving scientific presentations, and developing research projects.

Other courses may be taken from the College of Environmental Studies, the Department of Chemistry, and other supporting disciplines. See the WWU Catalog for a complete listing of regularly-scheduled graduate courses.

The University Environment

Western Washington University is located in Bellingham, a city of 75,750 in the northwestern corner of the state, near the Canadian border. WWU has an enrollment of about 13,000 students and is organized into six undergraduate Colleges, a College of Education and a Graduate School. The hilltop campus of 180 acres combines a stunning blend of art and nature with views of the San Juan Islands and the Cascade Mountains. The backdrop for the campus is Sehome Hill Arboretum, featuring a 135-acre coniferous forest. The natural setting of the campus and its award-winning architecture make Western Washington University a stimulating and enjoyable place for work and study.

Within the region are three national parks (North Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Olympic), three national forests, and hundreds of miles of marine shoreline within Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Three freshwater lakes are in close proximity to campus.  The sagebrush desert and grasslands of Central Washington are easily accessible via three scenic mountain passes.

Excellent recreational facilities are available at nearby scenic state parks: Birch Bay, Larrabee, and Deception Pass, as well as at the Mt. Baker ski area.

For a small city, it boasts a multitude of parks and a diverse array of restaurants and a ready supply of fresh organic produce at a cooperative grocery, as well as two farmers markets. In addition, the large metropolitan cities of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle (WA) and Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), each about 90 minutes from Bellingham, offer extraordinary cultural activities and shopping opportunities.

Financial Support

A limited number of teaching assistantships are available to the most promising applicants, renewable for up to six quarters of support, depending on satisfactory performance as a laboratory instructor. In addition, some Biology graduate students have been supported by faculty research grants, summer teaching assistantships, and internal fellowships. 

Graduate student departmental research and travel support - The department has committed resources so that each student can receive $800 to support them while they complete their graduate studies. The amount is available for research or travel. The student can also split the award between research and travel in a way that best supports their needs. We encourage students to reserve some support for travel, so they can present their work at a meeting before they graduate. Students are responsible for their awards (i.e., the funds are not released to an advisor), which allows students to practice managing research funds. 

Further information on other sources of financial aid.