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Masters Thesis Standards

Successfully defending a thesis requires that the student has obtained sufficient data to make a significant contribution to a research paper that could be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Such contribution could consist of one or more of the following:

  • The student produces at least one figure or a table that could be included in a peer-reviewed research paper.
  • The student's work lays a significant foundation for further research (for example, the student conducted a genetic screen).
  • The student develops a new technique or improves an existing method, producing a significant, applicable technical advance.

Thesis Assessment Criteria

The Master’s Thesis should contain the following components. Please be sure that the thesis addresses each of the bullet points within. The thesis may address more points than listed below. The following general criteria should be applied when assessing the overall quality of a Master’s thesis:


  • Does the student briefly and clearly state the focus of the described research, experimental design and methods of data collection?
  • Does the abstract provide a summary of the most important findings and conclusion?


  • Does the student provide the background information for understanding the problem, its significance, and how it fits in biology at large?
  • Does the student support the background information, ideas, and hypotheses with citations of the appropriate scientific sources?
  • Does the student identify the gap of knowledge and clearly state the questions being answered/hypotheses being tested?

Materials & Methods

  • Are the experimental or analytical/modeling approaches appropriate to tackle the specific biological question?
  • Are the methodologies described in sufficient detail for another researcher to be able to repeat the experiments?


  • Are the experiments clearly described, and their results presented in the appropriate visual formats (graphs, tables)?
  • Are the figures and tables of sufficiently high quality and well labeled? Are figure legends concise and informative? Are the figures and tables appropriately referred to and described in the text of the thesis?
  • Were the appropriate control experiments carried out?
  • Were the appropriate statistical analyses employed?
  • Are the interpretations of the experiments supported by the data?
  • Are the data collected adequate for the solution of the problem?
  • Has the student obtained sufficient data to make a significant contribution to a research paper that could be published in a peer-reviewed journal?


  • Does the discussion provide a thoughtful summary of the data and draw the appropriate conclusions?
  • Does the student discuss whether the questions posed at the beginning of the study have been answered, and address the adequacy of the obtained data in answering these questions?
  • Are there any discrepancies/unexpected results and, if such were encountered, addressed?
  • Does the student discuss how her/his findings contribute to our understanding of the area of study?
  • Does the student cite relevant literature sources?
  • Does the student identify questions that remain unanswered and suggest possible follow-up directions?


  • Does the student use a sufficient number of primary and secondary, peer-reviewed literature sources?
  • Are all citations in a uniform, accepted reference format?

Updated Thesis and Graduation Requirements

The following includes updated requirements for Biology Master's students in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Changes to the original requirements are italicized.


The research requirements of the program can be accomplished either as bench- or field-based research, data analysis, a literature-based research, or co-writing a research proposal with the PI. Students must complete at least 24 units of research over a two years period that includes both the BS and the MS parts of the program (BISP193/196/199 and BGGN 271). This research needs to span six consecutive quarters, with at least three quarters at the graduate level. The student's faculty advisor will determine the need for modifications in the original research plan and the specific way in which a student will complete his or her research requirements (e.g., decrease in bench research and increase in data analysis or literature research).


The total number of units students must take in their graduate year is 36, including research (BGGN 271). The number of coursework units (not BGGN 271 course) should be no less than 12, but can be increased, as long as the total number of research units (BISP193/196/199 and BGGN 271) is no less than 24.The course of study must be approved by the faculty advisor.

Thesis preparation and defense

In addition to completing the required coursework, students will write and defend their thesis. In lieu of completing their experiments and obtaining sufficient data to make a significant contribution to a research paper, students can provide a more extensive literature review in the Introduction section of the thesis or a more extensive and detailed proposal of future experiments in the Discussion section of the thesis. The student's faculty advisor, in consultation with the student's thesis committee, will determine the appropriate way for the student to complete his or her thesis if the completion of experiments is not feasible.

Current UCSD students: Please submit your questions via the VAC. An advisor will respond in 1-3 business days.
Drop-in Advising times are posted on the Advising Calendar.