Overall Timeline for Graduate Studies

The Master’s degree at Fisk University in the Natural Sciences should reasonably be completed within two calendar years. A consistent timeline for the MA in biology, chemistry, and physics is provided below. Because of the clinical practicum requirements of the Master’s Program in Clinical Psychology, this timeline will differ for those students.

Fall Semester, first year:

  • Required courses, determined in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies in your program.
  • Participation in the Professional Skills for Graduate Study Success Seminar (0.5 Cr.; weekly, required- described in more detail below). The final assignment in this course is an electronic Poster Presentation of the overall research area under investigation in your anticipated research advisor’s laboratory and the probable research project that you will undertake as your research thesis. Note that this assignment assumes (and requires) that students have been aggressively pursuing the identification of their research mentor.
    • Selection of research mentor: In the Natural Science graduate programs, students will enter graduate studies knowing who their research mentor will be. When students are accepted with already-defined research supervisors/mentor, the student’s mentor will take responsibility for introducing the graduate student to other ongoing work in the discipline ongoing at Fisk and at our collaborating institutions. Because students already have been matched with a mentor at Fisk, students will be expected to spend a defined minimum amount of time in that laboratory learning methods and reading relevant papers during the Fall semester.
    • Declaration of master’s thesis research mentor/supervisor is required by the close of the Fall semester.
  • Fulfillment of any other program-specific requirements, as outlined in specific sections.

Spring Semester, first year:

  • Coursework required by the program or electives identified by student and or graduate student advisor. Remember that courses at Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities are available for Fisk student registration.
  • Continued participation in the Professional Skills for Graduate Study Success Seminar (0.5 Cr.)
  • In concert with Master’s thesis advisor, begin to outline a detailed research project and plan, as this summary will be the focus of your first thesis committee meeting which should occur early in the Spring semester of the first year.
  • Begin a literature summary of state of knowledge in this area, unanswered questions or gaps in understanding, and what aspects of this your research will address. Developing this written review provides an opportunity to hone scientific writing skills as well as provide the written background for the student’s first thesis committee meeting and the written thesis proposal. Finally, this summary ultimately will be the backbone of the Literature Review section and the Introduction (Chapter 1) of the Master’s thesis to the thesis proposal. For students taking Scientific Writing, completion of a draft Chapter 1 will be the course project.
  • Create a thesis committee; and summarize your proposed research in a short document to share with the rest of your thesis committee in advance of your Committee meeting. Schedule your first Committee Meeting in the SPRING SEMESTER of your first year, no later than MARCH 1! The goal of these Committees is to be proactive and provide input regarding both your research and the courses and other experiences that will support for scientific development; thus, early and often meetings are essential in accomplishing this goal.
  • Participation in Graduate Program-specific required programs, such as seminars, Colloquia, etc.
  • Participate in Fisk Research Symposium.
  • Students whose academic performance is below the required B average (GPA of 3.0) at the end of the Spring semester will be put on academic probation; the status of continued or interrupted funding during academic probation will be decided after consultation of the student’s research supervisor/mentor and the DGS for the program, with approval of their decision by the Dean for Graduate Studies. Students will not be eligible for tuition waivers from Fisk University while on academic probation.

Summer, at the end of the First Year

  • This time is set aside for full-time research.
  • Elective courses that are only available in the summer may be taken, but only with written approval of the Director of Graduate Studies of the Program, cosigned by the Dean of the Graduate School Selection of appropriate courses for the Fall should be identified in consultation with your thesis advisor and thesis committee, with input as appropriate from the Director of Graduate Studies for each student’s particular program.

Fall Semester, Second Year

  • Courses, as advised by the thesis research advisor and Director of Graduate Studies, including electives relevant for student’s research project.
  • Participation in Graduate Program-specific required programs, such as seminars, Colloquia, etc.
  • Meet with Thesis Committee early in the Fall semester to review the progress of the summer.
  • Submit, in December, Sections A (Student personal information) and B (graduate school academic audit) of the form “Request for Permission to Graduate” to the Office for Graduate Studies, who will provide this information to the Registrar’s office. This form is due in the Registrar’s office by the stated December deadline for the Academic Calendar of that year (each Academic Year’s calendar is available on line). Students whose coursework, coursework performance, and/or research have not progressed in a timely fashion will need to develop a timeline for delayed graduation. HOWEVER, please note that stipend funding is only committed for 24 months; therefore, students who wish to extend the graduation timeline must check with their advisors about funding plans.

Spring Semester, Second Year

  • Continuing research, finding national and regional meetings and other venues for continuing presentation of project results and experimental plans;
  • Presentation at Fisk Annual Research Day in the Spring is expected (read: required)
  • Participation in Graduate Program-specific required programs, such as seminars, Colloquia, etc.
  • Meet with thesis committee to update members on progress and establish if work is complete enough to begin the development of the thesis document.

Planning for completion of the Master’s degree

Though each program will have additional discipline-specific recommendations regarding the overall timeline for thesis document: 1) preparation; 2) review and approval by the research mentor/supervisor; 3) and consideration by the Thesis Committee, below we outline a PROACTIVE plan for successfully completing you MA program with a degree in hand. We use the MAY commencement completion time as our specific example in outlining these recommendations. HOWEVER, note that for students in the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD Bridge program, completion of the Master’s degree is planned to occur in AUGUST of the second year, so that there is no gap in stipend funding between completing the MA requirements in full and the initiation of the PhD phase if attending Vanderbilt (August 15th of the second year).

Please also note: Students have NOT officially met requirements of their MS degree UNTIL their corrected and the committee-approved thesis has been received electronically, reviewed and received final approval by the Dean of Graduate Studies. The Dean of Graduate Studies will then forward that thesis document and all necessary forms to the Registrar as documentation that you have completed all that is necessary to be awarded a Master’s degree from Fisk University. As emphasized repeatedly, please do not be misled and think that presentation of your thesis research in a defense seminar equates with receiving an MS degree, because it does not!

Formal Commencement activities are only available in May.

Schedule for Completion of Work to Graduate in the MAY Commencement. Specific dates for EACH year are available on the Academic Calendar (available online) AND in the Registrar’s Office.


Complete Relevant Sections (A, B) of the Multi-Part Form “Request to Permit Conferring Master of Arts Degree” and submit to Graduate School Office.

A. Student Information (due the semester before graduating)

B. Academic Information (also known as the ‘graduate school audit’)


Research Mentor Approves Thesis before distributing to Committee members.


Thesis distributed to Committee at least two weeks prior to the Defense date.

Submit Form C.

Permission to set a Defense Date. The Public Defense MUST OCCUR at Least TEN DAYS prior to the deadline for completion of all requirements for the degree (including submission of a committee-approved and Dean of Graduate Studies reviewed and approved thesis document), in order to permit completion of any corrections to the thesis document identified by the Thesis Committee at the time of the Public Defense. Date required posted by the Registrar each year.

Receipt obtained from the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies that your thesis is complete and has met all of the requirements of the Graduate School, which is submitted by the Graduate School Dean to the Registrar, as documentation that you have met all of the expectations and requirements for conferring the Master’s Degree.


Graduate and, if desired, participate in Commencement Exercises.

For a Recommended timeline for completion of the Thesis Research, Document and Defense of the Thesis and Submission of the Approved Thesis document for AUGUST COMPLETION, a recommended schedule for trainees in the Biology Graduate Program.