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Program Highlight: Biology Master's & PhD

UL Grad School -- 05/12/2016

The Department of Biology at UL Lafayette is a unique place to earn your graduate degree in biology. We’re one of the largest biology graduate programs on the Gulf Coast, offering a MS in biology and a PhD in environmental and evolutionary biology.

Our graduate programs

We offer a range of academic and research focus areas that include anatomy and physiology, genetics and cellular biology, coastal and marine biology, conservation biology, ecology and evolutionary biology. This wide range of specialties and active research gives you the opportunity to use our location and faculty expertise to explore issues affecting our coastline, water systems, environmental hazards, marine and terrestrial animals, and health and diseases.

In 2015, our biology grad students were first authors on 14 peer-reviewed publications, presented 15 off-campus seminars, and gave 46 conference presentations.

PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology

Our PhD program in biology is designed so you can contribute to and conduct your own research that advances knowledge in your field. You’ll gain specialized experience in your area of interest and, by spending the years needed on your research and dissertation, you’ll become the expert.    

Masters & Ph.D. in Biology

While you are pursuing your PhD in biology, you’ll gain experience designing, conducting, and analyzing research, giving presentations, preparing manuscripts for publication, and writing grant proposals. By the time you graduate, you’ll be prepared for the highest levels of scholarship and career opportunities in both academia and research-related agencies and industries. Of our graduates with a PhD in biology, about 80 percent go into academia and 20 percent work as research scientists in federal, state, or private labs.

Before you apply to the program, you must contact a faculty member with whom you would like to conduct research. Once you are accepted to the program, they’ll help you develop your plan for coursework and research related to their own expertise and resources. From there, you’ll assemble an advisory committee of biology faculty that will help guide your research and dissertation. You’ll also gain experience in writing, public speaking, and working independently, and with a PhD you’ll be ready to take charge of your own research and career direction.

Learn more about the PhD in biology program »

MS in Biology

Our biology master’s program offers both thesis and non-thesis tracks, which you can choose based on your academic and research interests. The non-thesis option is 36 hours of coursework, selected to match your specific interests, and is best if you want a career in an applied biological or biomedical field. The research-based thesis option is best for students who are looking toward earning a PhD in biology or pursuing a career in research.

Our master’s thesis students work closely with faculty to conduct research, and we work closely with all of our students to develop a curriculum that addresses their own career aspirations. After you’ve earned your MS in biology, you’ll be very well prepared for the rigor of a biology doctoral program or medical, dental, or other professional schools. Graduates with a master’s in biology also gain supervisory positions in environmental and natural resource agencies; work in biotechnology, food safety, or forensics labs; or become instructors in high schools, community colleges and universities.

Learn more about the MS in biology program »

Our research, partnerships, and location

Research is central to our biology graduate programs, and we conduct that research far and wide. Our location in southern Louisiana also provides a wealth of opportunities for research focused on our coastline and coastal restoration, waterways and the Gulf of Mexico, ecological threats, native species, and more.

But that doesn’t mean we’re limited to studying just our region. Our research is global. For example,

  • Dr. Karl Hasenstein’s experiments about gravity’s affect on plant roots took place inside the International Space Station;
  • Dr. Scott France’s study of deep-sea corals took him and his students on research expeditions to underwater mountains and canyons of the North Atlantic and Caribbean; and
  • Dr. James Albert’s research on Amazonian fishes is helping to describe the incredible diversity of Neotropical fishes and ecosystems.

We secure more than $2 million in research funding every year from agencies such as the NSF, NOAA, NASA, USDA, USGS, USFWS, DOD, and the FDA. We have strong partnerships with scientists at the USGS Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center and the NOAA Estuarine Habitats and Coastal Fisheries Center, both located in UL Lafayette’s Research Park. We also work closely with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) in Cocodrie, Louisiana, to conduct research along our coastline.

Our faculty’s research covers anatomy and physiology, functional morphology and biomechanics, biodiversity and evolution (microbes through mammals), cellular and developmental biology, coastal and marine biology, conservation biology, ecology, food webs and nutrient cycling, environmental toxicology, evolution of learning and cognition, mathematical biology (ecology and diseases), microbiology, neurobiology, plant biology and biotechnology, population genetics, and more.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, our faculty and students have secured funding to research the effects of the spill. For example, PhD student Nihar Deb Adhikary’s research includes studying how burrowing shrimp might help oil degrade faster.

Recent PhD graduate Taylor Sloey is working with a team to collect leftover oyster shells from restaurants and using them to create reefs in the Gulf that could help protect the Louisiana coast and marine life. It is the largest recycling projects of its kind in the nation.

PhD student Esprit Heestand Saucier is studying genetics and morphology of deep-sea coral to better understand patterns of biodiversity in the Earth's largest, yet underexplored, ecosystem. This research is important for developing effective management and conservation plans for vulnerable deep-sea habitats.

Doctoral student David Penning, along with undergraduate (now master’s student) Baxter Sawvel and Professor Brad Moon, recently discovered that harmless Texas ratsnakes can strike as far and fast as venomous rattlesnakes, and are faster than rodents can detect them and respond, overturning a century-old assumption about which snakes have the fastest strikes. Their research has received wide media coverage, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic News, and Smithsonian Magazine.

If you’re ready for the challenge of pursuing a master’s degree or PhD in biology, we want to help you get there. As a graduate student in our program, we will guide you as you ask questions and find the answers through cutting-edge research.