Fredonia shortens path leading to B.S., M.S. in Biology

Tuesday June 11, 2019Roger Coda
student at microscope

An academic program that enables students to earn B.S. and M.S. degrees in Biology in five years, instead of the conventional six years, is being launched at Fredonia.

The B.S./M.S. multi-award program is intended for students with specific career goals that require advanced degrees as well as those who haven’t chosen a profession and want to do advanced research or perform an additional internship before applying to graduate or medical school or other health professions program.

“We’re excited to expand our current programs to better serve students in our region. It will really serve students with lots of interests,” said Dr. Karry Kazial, who serves as graduate coordinator in the Department of Biology.

Fredonia’s new program, a hybrid of existing B.S. and M.S. programs, is informally known as a 3-plus-1-plus-1 program. In the first three years, the course sequence mirrors the four-year bachelor’s track. Undergraduate and graduate courses are scheduled in the fall and spring semesters of the fourth year; graduate courses comprise the fifth year.

“It’s a very efficient way for students to start out, as undergraduates, and then to leave here with a graduate degree. They don’t have to go someplace else,” said Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Andy Karafa.

Reducing the number of years to earn both degrees is a clear economic advantage for students.

“The benefit is the student gets to have a B.S. and a M.S. in five years, so it saves a year of tuition,” explained Associate Professor Patricia Astry. Savings are also realized in the fourth year, Ms. Astry noted, when the student pays the less expensive undergraduate tuition rate for graduate-level courses.

Both the existing two-year and new multi-award programs are designed for students interested in Ph.D. programs in biological and biomedical sciences as well as professional careers in public and private sectors, technical work in education, healthcare and environmental settings and employment as instructors at two-year colleges. The two-year traditional M.S. program will continued to be offered.

“Some students are probably pretty clear, that their ultimate goal is medical school or a Ph.D., but they might feel like they’re not quite ready to go into that after graduating with a B.S., or that they need more course work, or want to do more research or another internship, or they want to do something else in that ‘gap year,’ which has become increasingly popular,” explained Astry, chair of the Department of Biology. It also provides an opportunity for seniors to take the required capstone project to a higher level.

“They can stay here for the fifth year and graduate with a M.S. and a B.S., which looks pretty good on a resume,” Astry said.

Fredonia’s M.S. program has also appealed to students whose career goals do not involve medical or doctoral degrees. “Our master’s program has led to students obtaining employment directly after their M.S., in education and environmental careers, for example, as well as for allowing for entry into further graduate education,” said Dr. Kazial.

Like the existing M.S. program, the 3-plus-1-plus-1 provides two academic tracks: thesis and comprehensive exam. The B.S./M.S. program makes it possible to incorporate research at the undergraduate level into a master’s thesis to prepare students for careers in biology that require training beyond the bachelor’s degree, such as industry, research or Ph.D. programs. The comprehensive exam option is geared for students entering medical school, dental, pharmacy or other health professions schools to enhance their credentials.

The accelerated degree track already has overwhelming support among current Biology students, according to a survey. In the poll, 94 percent of respondents expressed interest in pursuing graduate study and nearly all want more information on the combined B.S./M.S. program.

In fact, within minutes of responding to the poll, some students asked biology office staff when they could enroll in the program, Astry noted, “So the interest is really there. We think it will be a great opportunity for a number of students.”

Students who will be juniors in the 2019-2020 academic year can apply to the program in the fall semester.

“For those students who have a clear goal already laid out, and those who are not quite ready to move on from their senior year to a graduate program, this will serve their needs very well,” Astry said.

Because Fredonia already offers B.S. and M.S. programs in Biology, the hybrid program was readily endorsed by the State University of New York, the State Education Department and Albany. Of nine SUNY institutions in Western New York, only Fredonia and two others offer a combined B.S./M.S. in Biological Sciences or Biology, Kazial said.

Dean Karafa said the new program continues a Fredonia trend to offer more accelerated degree programs. Other multi-award degree programs include Music Education and Childhood Inclusive Education and Literacy B-12. An English education multi-award program is currently under review at SUNY and a draft of a science education multi-award program is being developed, Karafa said.

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