PLNU’s graduate program in general biology is unique in four main ways. First, it is currently the only program in California that provides an opportunity for earning a graduate degree in general biology on either a part-time or full-time basis. Second, the program is highly flexible. Third, the program offers a general biology degree, rather than a degree focused in a particular area of biology such as ecology, or molecular biology. Finally, the courses are taught by highly qualified PLNU faculty representing a range of biological specialties.
Students can complete the program on either a full- or part-time basis. Due to the scheduling of classes in a variety of formats, working professionals from all over southern California are able to complete the program. Some courses meet in-person every week all semester, others are hybrid with several in-person classes each semester, and some meet in an intensive format to allow students to earn units in a compressed time frame. On-campus housing is available during intensive summer classes for students who travel to San Diego.
The flexibility of the program is an important factor. Students have the opportunity to earn elective units in many ways. The outstanding Perspectives on Science seminar series held on campus, and various readings courses focus on primary literature. Additional biology lab courses can also be used as electives, often chosen due to relevance to a student’s career goal. Students are also encouraged to complete at least one internship, often in a college biology lab since program graduates are qualified to teach biology at California community colleges. In addition to many choices in terms of electives, flexibility is also built into the program with four possible entry points each year.
Earning a degree in general biology, rather than a specialized degree in a narrow area of the field, is desirable for many graduate students. Anyone teaching biology from middle school through community college benefits from having a breadth of knowledge and being able to see how ecology connects with molecular biology and with physiology, for example. Many alumni of the program have stayed in their current full-time positions teaching middle school or high school, but also now work as adjunct faculty members at community colleges or teach dual enrollment biology courses at their high schools so that the students can earn college credit. Other alumni go on to careers in dentistry, optometry, medicine, biotechnology, environmental science, or biological research and the broad degree provides them with a far greater understanding of the interconnectivity of various subdisciplines.
PLNU Biology faculty members’ qualifications in terms of their academic credentials, research backgrounds, and commitment to teaching are outstanding. The PLNU biology department faculty is large relative to the size of the university, with specialties across the field of biology. In addition to their research expertise, the faculty approach the practice of teaching from the perspective of student learning, which means creating course assignments and activities that help students to develop a deep understanding of concepts.