VCU Bulletins

Bioinformatics, Master of (M.Bin.), accelerated Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics (B.S.) to master’s

Graduate program director
Gregory A. Buck, Ph.D.
Director, Center for the Study of Biological Complexity
(804) 827-0026

Additional contact
Allison A. Johnson, Ph.D.
Assistant director, Center for the Study of Biological Complexity
(804) 828-6782

Program website:

Refer to the program search function of the online VCU Bulletins for a complete listing of all programs, concentrations and related curricular options.

Bioinformatics, Master of (M.Bin.)
Bioinformatics, Master of Science (M.S.)
Bioinformatics, Master of Science (M.S.), accelerated Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics (B.S.) to master’s

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Admission requirements

Bioinformatics, Master of (M.Bin.), accelerated Bachelor of Science in Bioinformatics (B.S.) to master’s
(non-thesis degree)
Semester(s) of entry:
Deadline dates:

Jul 1
Nov 15
May 1
Test requirements:
Special requirements:
Applicants must have junior or senior status in VCU’s Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Bioinformatics program and should discuss their interests with the bioinformatics coordinator during the junior year in order to plan the graduate courses to be taken during the senior year and shared between the two degrees.

In addition to the general admission requirements of the VCU Graduate School, applicants are encouraged to include in their personal statements, and to request that their referees also discuss, one or more examples of creative and analytical contributions they have made to a recent research project (preferred) or to a challenging course assignment.

The accelerated bachelor’s to master’s program in bioinformatics permits selected students majoring in bioinformatics to earn the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in a minimum of five years by taking certain graduate-level courses during the senior year of the undergraduate program. The program is restricted to students with strong credentials and a clear interest in a career in the field of bioinformatics.

In order to be admitted into the program, a student must be a VCU bioinformatics major, must have completed 90 undergraduate credit hours with an overall GPA of 3.0, including a substantial amount of collateral and core course work within the major and evidence of strong academic achievement. An application must be submitted to Graduate Admissions. Students also are required to provide at least two letters of recommendation from their major professors attesting to their interest and competence in bioinformatics. Most students will be able to initiate the application process during the second semester of the junior year.

Following acceptance into the accelerated program, students must continue to meet the requirements stated above throughout the senior year, as well as the graduate standards of performance specified in this bulletin, in order to be awarded formal acceptance into the graduate program, which typically takes place just prior to the fall semester of the fifth year.

VCU Graduate Bulletin, VCU Graduate School and general academic policies and regulations for all graduate students in all graduate programs

The VCU Graduate Bulletin website documents the official admission and academic rules and regulations that govern graduate education for all graduate programs at the university.  These policies are established by the graduate faculty of the university through their elected representatives to the University Graduate Council.

It is the responsibility of all graduate students, both on- and off-campus, to be familiar with the VCU Graduate Bulletin as well as the Graduate School website and academic regulations in individual school and department publications and on program websites. However, in all cases, the official policies and procedures of the University Graduate Council, as published on the VCU Graduate Bulletin and Graduate School websites, take precedence over individual program policies and guidelines.

General academic regulations for
all graduate students in all graduate programs at VCU

Program goals

Established and administered by the VCU Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, the Master of Bioinformatics (M.Bin.) degree program provides a “professional science master’s” option for students desiring maximally efficient graduate training toward a career in industry or elsewhere. Students enter the program from a variety of academic backgrounds (biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics/statistics, etc.), assisted by flexible “bridge curricula” designed to help them meet program prerequisites. This P.S.M. program is expected to attract capable students who might otherwise not undertake graduate training. The program replaces thesis research with a summer-long professional externship and associated training. Students will have an effective exposure to the biotech industry and other career options and to real-life applications of their learning.

The Master of Bioinformatics degree program will prepare students to:

  1. Synthesize and apply interdisciplinary subject matter: The M.Bin. degree program seeks to provide students with the skills and knowledge required to advance into Ph.D. training programs or research positions. The program provides a framework for the progressive development of a mastery of the interdisciplinary subject matter pertinent to bioinformatics and an ability to synthesize this information and apply it to key areas of investigation and experimentation in bioinformatics.
  2. Design, implement and interpret experimental approaches: The program relates the above framework to the development of the ability to design, implement and interpret experimental approaches.
  3. Develop communication skills: In addition, the program will develop skills in oral and written communication of interdisciplinary science concepts, experimental design, results and interpretation.

Student learning outcomes

  1. Oral communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of oral communication skills with respect to the content, organization, logical flow, presentation and appropriate use of language incorporating the use of visual aids, as measured by rubric.
  2. Written communication skills: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of written communication skill with respect to grammar, syntax, spelling and use of vocabulary to effectively present information, including the use of figures, tables and citations, as measured by rubric.
  3. Experimental design competency: The candidate will demonstrate the achievement of an appropriate level of competence in the ability to appraise, modify, and/or create and implement bioinformatics experimental protocols and to design and develop experiments, as measured by rubric.
  4. Problem-solving skills: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of ability to analyze scientific problems including pertinent datasets and design and develop appropriate methods to solve said problems, as measured by rubric.
  5. Integrated knowledge of bioinformatics: The candidate will demonstrate an appropriate level of knowledge of fundamentals of molecular biology, computational science, statistics and a more detailed understanding of an individual area of internship research, including an appropriate familiarity with the research literature, as measured by rubric.

Degree requirements

Accelerating students take as many as 12 graduate credits during the senior year. These credits may be applied to both the B.S. and M.Bin. degrees. These courses must be chosen in consultation with their undergraduate academic advisers. A sample set of shared credits is provided below.

1. BNFO 620 Bioinformatics Practicum may replace BNFO 420 Applications in Bioinformatics 3
2. Course work taken to meet master’s requirements replaces undergraduate program electives or helps student meet general degree requirements for the B.S. degree (e.g. upper-level credits, total credits). 4
3. BIOL/BNFO 540 Foundations of Molecular Genetics and BIOL/BNFO 541 Laboratory in Molecular Genetics may be counted toward both degrees. 5
Total shared graduate credit hours 12

Prerequisites and bridge curricula for master’s programs

Program prerequisites are listed below. In general, bioinformatics undergraduate students will meet most prerequisite requirements while completing the undergraduate major. It is expected that any remaining bridge course work will be completed during the first year of the graduate program.

  1. Biology/genomic prerequisites: an introductory knowledge of biochemistry and molecular biology, one semester of organic chemistry (e.g. CHEM 301), cell biology (e.g. BIOL 218) and Essentials of Molecular Biology in Bioinformatics (two-credit module: BNFO 507)
  2. Computational science prerequisites: an introductory knowledge of discrete mathematics (e.g. MATH 211) and an introductory knowledge of computer science, including at least one general computer programming language, met by taking structured programming (e.g. CMSC 255) and data structures and advanced programming (e.g. CMSC 256)
  3. Quantitative/statistical prerequisites: an introductory knowledge of mathematics/statistics, met by taking calculus with analytic geometry I (e.g. MATH 201) and Introduction to Statistical Computing (STAT 321) or Applied Statistics for Engineers and Scientists (STAT 541)

Bioinformatics externship

In addition to general VCU Graduate School graduation requirements, students enrolled in the M.Bin. degree program complete a 10- to 12-week full-time externship at an industrial, government or academic site, usually during the summer between the first and second years of the bioinformatics program. In preparation for this externship, students will enroll in BNFO 620 Bioinformatics Practicum in the semester preceding their externships. Under the supervision of their major advisers and Graduate Advisory Committee, the external supervisor, and the coordinator of the bioinformatics practicum course, each student must develop and write a short proposal outlining the plans for the externship. The project must be approved by the student’s GAC, based on a short (10-page) paper submitted by the student. This paper will include background on the project, including a review of the literature, the purpose, specific aims and rationale of the project, a statement about the specific hypothesis to be investigated, and proposed methods and statistical analyses. Research projects will be based on ongoing research in the laboratories of the participating external advisers. Students in the program may perform research on a broad range of subjects, from molecules to ecosystems, encompassing the field of bioinformatics.

In the semester following the externship experience, M.Bin. students shall prepare written papers describing the completed research performed during their externships following the format of the Graduate School’s Thesis and Dissertation Manual. An oral defense, consisting of a public presentation of the paper and a committee meeting to discuss the results, under the direction of the GAC but open to all faculty members and the adviser of the externship, shall be scheduled to examine the student’s underlying fundamental knowledge of the disciplines encompassed by the student’s research. Announcement of the oral defense, including the candidate’s name, project title, and the day, place and time of the defense, shall be made at least 10 working days in advance of the defense.

Curriculum requirements

Courses Credit hours
Core 22
BNFO 501 Introduction to Physical Implementation of Databases 1
BNFO/BIOL 540 Fundamentals of Molecular Genetics 3
BNFO 600 Basic Scripting Languages 2
BNFO/BIOL 601 Integrated Bioinformatics 3
BNFO 620 Bioinformatics Practicum 3
BNFO 621 Business and Entrepreneurship Essentials for Life Scientists 3
BNFO 690 Seminars in Bioinformatics 1
BNFO 700 Externship in Bioinformatics 2
CMSC 508 Database Theory 3
OVPR 601 Scientific Integrity 1
Recommended electives 12
BIOS 567 Statistical Methods for High-throughput Genomics Data I 3
BNFO/BIOL 541 Laboratory in Molecular Genetics 2
BNFO 591 Special Topics in Bioinformatics variable
BNFO 592 Independent Study variable
BNFO 637 Networks Biology 3
BNFO/MICR 653 Advanced Molecular Genetics: Bioinformatics 3
BNFO 691 Special Topics in Bioinformatics variable
BNFO 691 Special Topics in Bioinformatics (Genomics and Phylogenetics) 3
BNFO 692 Independent Study variable
CLSE 562 Advanced Systems Biology Engineering 3
CMSC 501 Advanced Algorithms 3
MATH 580 Methods of Applied Mathematics for the Life Sciences: Discrete 3
MATH 581 Methods of Applied Mathematics for the Life Sciences: ODE 3
MATH 582 Methods of Applied Mathematics for the Life Sciences: PDE 3
PHYS 591 Topics in Physics (modeling, computing and biocomplexity) 3
Total graduate credit hours required (minimum) 34

Degree candidacy requirements

A graduate student admitted to a program or concentration requiring a final research project, work of art, thesis or dissertation, must qualify for continuing master’s or doctoral status according to the degree candidacy requirements of the student’s graduate program. Admission to degree candidacy, if applicable, is a formal statement by the graduate student’s faculty regarding the student’s academic achievements and the student’s readiness to proceed to the final research phase of the degree program.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following degree candidacy policy as published in the VCU Graduate Bulletin for complete information and instructions.

Degree candidacy requirements

Graduation requirements

As graduate students approach the end of their academic programs and the final semester of matriculation, they must make formal application to graduate. No degrees will be conferred until the application to graduate has been finalized.

Graduate students and program directors should refer to the following graduation requirements as published in the Graduate Bulletin for a complete list of instructions and a graduation checklist.

Graduation requirements



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