Master’s Degree (MS) in Biology

The University of the District of Columbia offers a Master’s Program in Biology with three options, Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control, Infectious Diseases and General Studies. The option in Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control  is in partnership with the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center (LCCC) at Georgetown University.  This unique Master’s Degree Program in Biology, where students can apply their aptitude in science toward changing the healthcare disparities in cancer and in infectious diseases both are challenges  in the Washington D.C. community, as well as this nation.  Infectious diseases have a major focus and concern, especially,  in the time the COVID-19 pandemic which is  impacting our nation and the entire world.   The current MS Program in Biology was initially named the  MS Program in Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control  and began in 2004.  This particular Program was jointly administered and taught by UDC and LCCC faculty and enables students to benefit from UDC’s focus on untiring community outreach and Georgetown’s reputation for  stellar biomedical  research. By learning from active faculty researchers and taking advantage of opportunities to engage with the community, the students in this MS Program  make a difference by addressing health disparities and contribute to cutting edge biomedical research, as well.  The MS program was launched by grant funding from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.  Since its inception, several grants have been awarded to the program and many of its students have acquired doctorate degrees or advancements in their careers. In 2018 the MS Program expanded its focus with the new and expanded  Master’s in Biology with the three concentrations: Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control, Infectious Diseases and General Studies.

Curriculum and Requirements in the UDC Master’s Degree in Biology Program

Students applying for admission into the Master’s Degree Program in Biology must meet the following criteria:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from an accredited educational institution; or have earned an equivalent degree in biology or natural sciences from a recognized college or university in another country.
    • Admission with a  degree in a discipline or area other than biological sciences will require an evaluation by the Graduate Advisory Committee and admission may be on a conditional basis.
  • Have a minimum overall grade point average of 3.00.

The master’s program requires 36 credits for graduation through a plan of study that incorporates classroom study, research, and community work. Students are exposed to topics such as

  • Cancer Epidemiology
  • Molecular Laboratory
  • Epidemiology
  • Cancer Education, Outreach, and Field Study
  • Tumor Biology
  • Principles and Practices of Behavior Science in Cancer Control

Student Organizations and Activities in the UDC Master’s in Biology Degree Program

Students in the master’s program have the opportunity to participate in a number of research-oriented institutes and programs, including:

  • The STEM Center for Research and Development is a valuable resource for biology students and other students in STEM disciplines. The center offers course, research, and enrichment activities designed to strengthen students’ academic skills and engagement, as well as increase graduation rates.

Faculty Spotlight: UDC Biology Master’s Degree Program

Carolyn Cousin, Ph.D., professor and program director, is an experienced cell biologist and parasitologist with a longstanding research interest in the area of schistosomiasis. She has received more than $15 million in grants from the NIH and the Agency for International Development to fund this research and student training. Cousin also has served as the principal investigator on a USDA-funded grant to examine the current perception of African Americans on cancer in the District of Columbia. She has received numerous awards and accolades for her teaching and research, both from within the university and from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health, the Washington Post, Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society, and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.

Dr. Matty Knight is an internationally known research scientist who is highly respected for her work on host/ parasitic relationships and an authority in infectious diseases. She teaches several courses in the MS Program and has served as a research advisor for several research student thesis projects. She is the research coordinator of the Master’s Program in Biology and focuses on cutting edge research training for the students in this Program. Dr. Knight has been the recipient of  several NIH prestigious R01 grants and has over 125 refereed journal publications in the biomedical sciences.

Course Offerings for the First Year

Course Offerings – Option in Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control

The two-year curriculum described below outlines the conceptual and practical information that we deem necessary for a successful career in cancer biology, prevention, and control.  The curriculum will be thoroughly reviewed annually to update the program as we proceed.  We understand and appreciate the need for flexibility in course offerings to meet societal needs.  

Option : Cancer Biology, Prevention and Control

First Year/Fall Credit First Year/Spring Credit
Molecular Genetics  hours) (core) 3 hrs. Environmental Health 3 hrs.
Research and Career Development 2 hrs. Cell and  Molecular Biology Lab (core) 3 hrs.
Graduate Journal Club (core) 1 hr. Minority Populations and Health Disparities 2 hrs.
Biostatistics  (core) 3 hrs. Cancer Education, Outreach & Field Study 4 hrs.
Research & Applied Ethics (core) 2 hrs. Cancer Epidemiology 3 hrs.
Cancer and Infectious Disease 3 hrs.,
Total 14 hrs. Total 15 hrs.


* Existing course in LCCC’s Tumor Biology Program

Second Year Research Project, 3 credits for each semester(  Research l and Research ll), Graduate Journal Club and Seminar

One elective is required

  • Cancer & infectious Diseases (3 credits hours)
  • Tumor Biology  (4 hrs.) (core)
  • Biotechnology- ( 3 credit hrs.)

B. Course Offerings- Option – Infectious Diseases

First Year/Fall Credit First Year/Spring Credit
Cancer and Infectious Diseases 3 hrs. Bioinformatics  (core) 2 hrs.
Biostatistics (core) 3 hrs. Ecology of Disease Transmission 2 hrs.
Global Health 2 hrs. Cell and Molecular Laboratory (core) 3 hrs.
Applied Immunology 2 hrs. Applications of Biotechnology 3 hrs.
Research and Applied Ethics (core) 2 hrs. Environmental Health 3 hrs.
Graduate Journal Club (core) 1 hr. Dietary Health 2 hrs.
Total 13 hrs. Total 15 hrs.

Second Year  Research Project, 3 credits for each semester(  Research l and Research ll)Graduate Journal Club and Seminar

One elective is required

  • Molecular Genetics (3 credit hours) (core)
  • Toxicology- 3hrs
  • Biotechnology- 3 hrs.

 C. Course Offerings- Option – General Studies in Biology-    This intent of the Master’s Program in General Studies in Biology is to upgrade the students’ academic credential to

Course Offerings for the First Year

First Year/Fall Credit First Year/Spring Credit
Global Health 2 hrs. Histology 3 hrs.
Cell and  Molecular Biology Laboratory 3 hrs. Bioinformatic 2 hrs.
Graduate Journal Club (core) 1 hr. Minority Populations and Health Disparities 2 hrs.
Biostatistics  (502)* (core) 3 hrs. Advanced Physiology 3 hrs.
Research & Applied Ethics (core) 2 hrs. Ecology of Disease Transmission 2 hrs.
Advanced Microbiology 3 hrs. *Research Methods Career and Development 1 hr.
Total 14 hrs. Total 13 hrs.
  • * Existing course in LCCC’s Tumor Biology Program
  • Second Year  for Thesis MS Research Project, 3 credits for each semester(  Research l and Research ll ) Graduate Journal Club and Seminar  (Thesis MS)
  • Second Year  for Non- Thesis MS :  One Semester  Laboratory Rotation Course (4 hrs.)  Non-Thesis Master’s

 Course Descriptions

BIOL541 Advanced Microbiology (3 credits: This course addresses microbes and Society and
focuses on activities of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, and their influence on humans. Microbe-related topics include disease, bioterrorism, food, biotechnology, and ecology. Examines the nature of scientific inquiry, along with major biological concepts.

BIOL 519 Advanced Physiology (3 credits):   This course addresses the  study of the body’s function from molecules to the whole organism by  applying fundamental principles of physics and chemistry to the understanding of the body’s functions and regulatory mechanisms.   The approach  used in the course is to analyze the mechanisms responsible for producing a healthy individual in ordered analytical processes. The objective of the course is to demonstrate how to think with a physiological perspective  and   solve physiology and related clinical problems by applying physiologic principles.

BIOL 519 Applied Immunology (3 credits):  This course covers fundamental principles of immunology and applications with special emphasis on molecular and cellular immunology, including antigen and antibody structure and function, effector mechanisms, complement, major histocompatibility complexes, and the cellular basis for the immune response

BIOL 505 Bioinformatics  (2 credits): This course is an introduction to computer-aided analysis of gene sequences and their relationships to DNA, RNA, and proteins. Topics include use of the computer for restriction mapping, primer selection, and database searches for homology discovery. In addition, students will be able to carry out analyses aimed at predicting the structure and evolution of macromolecules.

BIOL 502 Biostatistics (3 credits): This course will address statistical analysis needed in research. Probability, distribution I and II, graphical approaches to data analysis, estimation and hypothesis testing, categorical data, linear and logistic regression, and epidemiological statistics are some of the topics covered.

BIOL 507 Biotechnology  (3 credits): This course is an introduction to the field of biotechnology. Topics include recombinant DNA, production of biological molecules, bioprocessing, and current events. Students also review employment and careers in the biotechnology and biopharmaceutical industries. There are several laboratory skills in molecular biology that can be applied in industry. This is a shared Elective Course.

BIOL 585 Cancer Education, Outreach and Field Study (4 credit):  This course is designed to acquaint students with the techniques and methods required to carry out cancer prevention and control activities.  Health education theories and models,  a basic overview of cancer, behavior changes and its connection to cancer prevention and control, basic counseling skills and communication techniques, life-style modifications and cancer prevention and control and organizing and implementation of cancer outreach projects will be presented and implemented.

BIOL 566 Cancer and Infectious Diseases (3): In this course students are introduced to a variety of infectious diseases that may lead to a cancer diagnosis and the development of infections during cancer.  This course addresses current research finding informing the development of preventive strategies, innovative diagnostic and biomolecular methodologies and promising therapeutic strategies for treating chronic infections and cancer.  Topics will be discussed such as  human herpesvirus multiplex ddPCR detection in brain tissue from low- and high-grade astrocytoma cases and controls.

BIOL 531 Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory (3 credit):  In this course the student will be introduced to basic tissue culture techniques, microscopy,  cancer cell lines and molecular biological principles and procedures that will help them in understanding of the subject and prepare them for the research assignment in the second year of the program.

BIOL 501 Dietary Cancer Prevention (2 credits ):  This course will consist of presentations primarily by the faculty and postdoctoral fellows, and class discussions of any materials provided to the students in advance.  Students may be required to read up to 2 papers per week, and to participate in all class discussions.

BIOL612  Ecology of Disease Transmission (2  credits).   This course covers vector-borne diseases.  It addresses the  ecological and demographic changes resulting from the introduction of irrigation and new or more favorable habitats for disease vectors.   A discussion of the  subtle differences in the ecological requirements of a range of disease vectors and there are intricate transmission patterns.  It will address how  interdisciplinary dialogue must guide planners in the incorporation of engineering and environmental management measures in the design, construction, and rehabilitation of irrigation.  There will a discussion of the y determinants that can influenced the greater chance  that are responsible for  transmits a disease to one or more humans.

BIOL 545  Epidemiology (Principles of ) (3 credits):  This course will introduce epidemiological methods with a focus on methodological issues relevant to cancer research.  Examples from “real” studies and issues will be used throughout the course. There will be “homework” assignments given each week for students to put into practice some of the material introduced in class.

BIOL 535    Principles of Environmental Health(3 credits ): This course stresses understanding of the basic principles governing the behavior of toxic agents in the environment and their effects on humans. Emphasis will be on environmental agents that use cancer.

BIOL 543 Global Health (2 credits):  This course provides the student with detailed insight in epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention and treatment of important infectious diseases, and contemporary issues and novel developments Global health problems. As the (re-)emergence of infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance development are a global problem, the course will also address the Global Health aspects of infectious diseases.

BIOL 593 Graduate Journal Club (1 credit) .    This course will meet once per week for 2 hours.  Topics are selected for discussion and  presented through a mix of didactic lecture and discussion focused on refereed journal research articles that have been selected by faculty and students. Students are expected to present these papers and lead conversations in which the group analyzes them in depth.  A major component of the course is for students to discuss in detail the papers using critical thinking skills and similar articles will be used in a comparative analysis.

BIOL 526 Histology (mammalian)  (3 credits). The microscopic study of mammalian tissues and the tissue organization of organs in relation to their function using light and electron microscopy preparations will be the focus of this course.  Information detailing tissue preparation for microscopic study, histochemistry, stains and stain technology will be included. Recognition of tissue that has undergone both light and electron microscopically preparation will be achieved.

BIOL 610 Infectious Diseases with Clinical Microbiology (4 credits). This course consists of lectures covering the most clinically important bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic pathogens, their diagnosis and control.  There will be practical class demonstrations involving laboratory techniques and the role of the diagnostic laboratory.

BIOL515 Minority Populations and Health Disparities (2 credits): This course addresses the biological basis for the observed unequal burdens of cancer across racial/ethnic populations. The impact of genetic/genomic/epigenetic variability between groups that may affect cancer susceptibility and/or response to therapy which is vital to reducing the cancer gaps will be explored. The course will also explore evidence- based mechanisms that are designed to increase our understanding of biological factors and mechanisms that play a role in cancer health disparities.

Molecular Epidemiology (1 credit hours): This course is designed to familiarize the student with literature sources and specific laboratory tests used in determination of risk factors involved in cancer and disease susceptibility.  The criteria used assess molecular epidemiological studies will be discussed.  The course will incorporate a first-year journal club and students will make presentations in that forum.

BIOL 660 Molecular Genetics (3 credits) This course introduces the fundamentals of the molecular genetics and molecular cytogenetics of cancer.  In addition, it covers diagnostic, clinical, and population-based aspects of this rapidly advancing field.

BIOL 535 Principles and Practices of Behavioral Science in Cancer (2 credit hours) – This course provides an understanding of general principles and practices involved in cancer control through behavior and behavior change at the individual and population levels.  In addition, it covers theory and applied aspects in this field.

BIOL 601 and 602 Research I and II (3-9 credits each)  This course is for Masters students in Cancer Biology Prevention and Control. The course involves the planning, conducting, and reporting of independent laboratory research under the supervision of a graduate faculty member engaged in cancer research.  Students develop a research proposal in an area of their choice in Cancer Biology.  The research follows designated readings that are assigned from books, journals, and handouts. The student must write a report at the conclusion of the research project and present an oral presentation.  The format of the presentation is exclusively Power point, discussion, questions, and answer.

BIOL 534 Research and Applied Ethics (2 credits):  This course addresses responsible conduct in research and applied ethics. It details the proper ethical methods in conducting research (e.g. data sharing, ownership, publication issues, null results, credit, and plagiarism) human subjects, conflict of interest, and genetic counseling and policy issues.

BIOL500  Research Methods Career and Development (1 credit):  This course introducing students to methods in responsible conduct of research, procedures in searching scientific literature, preparing presentation, and participating in scientific meeting.  Also, sources, drafting, and submitting grants and fellowships will be discuss, also with career information.

BIOL590 Toxicology (3 credits). Toxicology is a 3-credit course where Students examine basic concepts of toxicology as they apply to the effects of environmental agents, e.g. chemicals, metals, on public health. We discuss the distribution, cellular penetration, metabolic conversion, and elimination of toxic agents, as well as the fundamental laws governing the interaction of foreign chemicals with biological systems. Students focus on the application of these concepts to the understanding and prevention of morbidity and mortality resulting from environmental exposures to toxic substances through case study. The course is intended for students who wish to gain a broad understanding of the basic concepts and principles of toxicology. It also serves as an introductory course for those students in academic degree programs who are planning on following a course of more advanced study in the science of toxicology.    This is a course elective for the Infectious Disease Concentration.

BIOL 508 Tumor Biology – Cellular and Molecular Aspects of the Transformed Cell (4 credits):  This course is designed to provide students with an integrative overview of mechanisms of growth control and malignant transformation by physical, chemical, and viral mechanisms.  Introduction to growth factors, oncogenes, and suppressor genes. Includes an introduction to means of reverting or blocking malignant behavior with a particular emphasis on biochemical and molecular mechanisms

Career Pathways and Prospects

By the time students graduate from the cancer biology, prevention and control master’s degree program, they will have already contributed to addressing health disparities and cutting-edge research on cancer biology and control. This preparation provides students with a distinct advantage when applying to PhD programs or pursuing occupations such as laboratory and field researchers. Through the joint assistance of the UDC and Georgetown faculty, students receive concrete assistance to achieve their educational and career aspirations.

Contact info:

Carolyn Cousin, Professor, Director
E: | T: 202.274.5874