Biology Graduate Program

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.

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, Huxley 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.

Recent Thesis Titles

Reflecting the diversity of graduate student interests, recent thesis titles include the following:

“Harbor seal abundance & habitat use relative to candidate marine reserves in Skagit County, Washington.”

“Home range and haul out use of Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) in northern Washington and southern British Columbia.”

“Modeling relative effects of riparian cover and groundwater inflow on stream temperature in lowland Whatcom County, Washington.”

“A comparison of populations birds and reptiles in burned and non-burned areas in high elevation shrubsteppe habitat.”

“Exploring Spartina anglica seed spread in North Puget Sound, Washington.”

“Latitudinal differences in the distribution of two algal symbionts within the intertidal sea anemone,Anthopleura xanthogrammica.”

“Nest site selection for the Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata, in Washington.”

“Relationship between land use and biological stream conditions in lowland streams of western Washington.”

Zeta-proteobacteria dominate the formation of microbial mats in low-temperature hydrothermal vents at Loihi Seamount, Hawaii.”

“The DM gene family in the parasitic wasp Nasonia vitripennis: an analysis of gene structure and expression.”

“The evolution of mating cues in a beetle hybrid zone: causes of geographic variation in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles.”

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 Huxley 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.

GRAD 699 – Continuing Enrollment

What is it? GRAD 699 is a one-credit placeholder course that costs $50 per quarter and maintains current student status until a student is ready to graduate. Because University regulations require that a student is enrolled continuously from the start to finish of their graduate degree, if a student isn’t enrolled in any other classes, GRAD 699 is required every fall, winter, and spring quarter until graduation. If the student will graduate in summer, it would be required for that summer quarter, but is not required in the summer otherwise. 

Why use it? Registration will keep your WWU email, universal account, library access, etc. active. If you do not maintain continuous enrollment, these accounts will go inactive and you would have to file a returning student application with fee for readmittance.

When to use it? GRAD 699 is intended to cover situations in which students are just finishing writing their thesis, typically outside of the initial two years of their program and when they are not officially working for the university.

  • If the student is still doing primary research associated with their thesis, they should register for BIOL 690, Thesis Research.
  • GRAD 699 does not meet the Student Employment Office’s requirement for WWU student jobs (including TA and grant-funded RA positions). If a grad student will be employed in any capacity by Western, they need to register for regular academic credit rather than GRAD 699.

How to register? GRAD 699 requires an override each quarter. The Graduate School enters the override, so please contact to request that when registration opens for the quarter of interest.

See also Continuous Enrollment at the Graduate School web site

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.

Admission and Application Procedure

There are no rigid prerequisites for admission, and the program will accept graduate students with previous specialization in biology (zoology or botany), as well as other disciplines. However, students entering the program will usually have a minimum of one year of chemistry (including organic chemistry), one year of physics, and a course in calculus, as well as selected background in the biological sciences to include cell biology, botany, zoology, physiology, genetics, ecology, and biometrics.

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, test scores from the Graduate Record Exam (General test), 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

Application, Transcripts, Graduate Record Exam scores, 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.

Further Information

For further information about graduate programs, please contact:

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