Director of Graduate Studies for the MA in Biology:

  • Brian L. Nelms, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology and BMB
  • Department of Life and Physical Sciences
  • Office: Hughes-Kellogg Research Building
  • Email:
  • Phone: 615-329-8625

Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program in Biology Liaisons

For Fisk University

  • Brian L. Nelms, PhD
  • Associate Professor of Biology and BMB
  • Department of Life and Physical Sciences
  • Office: Hughes-Kellogg Research Building
  • Phone: 615-329-8625

For Vanderbilt University

Program Overview

The Biology Graduate Program at Fisk University has two tracks (MS and MA)

  1. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Masters-to-PhD Bridge Program, a thesis-based MS degree program exclusively for students who are committed to pursuing a PhD and a career in research. The Masters phase of the Bridge Program is research-intensive and is unique in that you take classes at both Fisk and Vanderbilt and receive mentoring and support from faculty and staff at both institutions. Your thesis committee will have faculty members from Fisk and from Vanderbilt, and we will encourage you and help you to make connections with Vanderbilt programs. During your first two years, you will carry out your thesis research in a lab at Fisk University. We have faculty members engaged in molecular biology, genetics, cancer biology, neuroscience, host-pathogen interactions, bioinformatics, structural biology, and health disparities research. You are not “locked in” to attending Vanderbilt for the PhD; many students opt to continue to Vanderbilt for their PhD, but we also have had students continue on to PhD Programs at Yale, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, and Meharry Medical College. Unfortunately, the way this program is structured and supported by federal grants, we cannot support students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

    For more information, visit:

  2. The Fisk University non-thesis-based Master of Arts in Biology Program. A non-thesis MA degree program for students wanting additional training before pursuing medical school, other professional schools, transitions from other fields into biology and biomedical careers, and those currently in teaching and industry professions seeking personal development and advancement. This degree is based on coursework at Fisk in molecular biology, biochemistry, cancer biology, bioinformatics, and related fields, and does not require a thesis. This program is open to U.S. and international students regardless of U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status.

    For more information, visit:

Biology - M.S.

The M.S. Biology Program at Fisk University is focused on preparing students for PhD level training in the biological and biomedical sciences or advancing their skills for careers in the sciences.

Students who complete the M.S. program in biology will be able to:

  1. search the literature independently to become aware of advances in subject matter;
  2. develop independent research questions in the research area of their thesis advisor
  3. possess skills to test, interpret and critically analyze data presented in the literature and obtained the laboratory; and
  4. communicate science effectively and prepare manuscripts for publication in relevant journals.

The student and advisor will develop a specifically tailored plan including courses and other graduation requirements during the first semester of enrollment. Full-time graduate students are expected to complete their course work by the end of their third semester in the program.

Required course work includes a minimum of 30 semester credits, which includes up to 6 credits for thesis research. At least 14 of the required 30 semester credits must be completed at Fisk. A maximum of 13 semester credits may be taken in cross-registration at Vanderbilt University; cross registration at institutions other than Fisk must be approved by the thesis advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies in Biology and should be selected to align with the research interests and anticipated research of the student.

The balance sheet below, to be completed by all graduate students as they progress through their time within the program, and to be shared by the student at every committee meeting, summarizes the requirements of the Graduate Program in Biology.

Biology - M.A.

Curriculum for a non-thesis track MA in Biology degree (30 credits minimum)