The development of the human skeleton is an important consideration in biomedical research, forensics, and a range of other fields. Pursuing graduate study in this area can lead to various career options.
Those who wish to study skeletal biology have several options for graduate study in different areas of biological sciences. Earning a master's or doctoral degree in a range of fields can lead to opportunities in research or practice.
Master of Arts in Physical Anthropology
One master's degree option focused upon skeletal biology is the Master of Arts (M.A.) in physical anthropology. This degree can typically be completed in two years of full-time study. In an M.A. program, students may learn to apply the techniques of physical anthropology to a range of practice settings, including forensic anthropology and medical anthropology. The M.A. is also good preparation for those who intend to seek a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) upon completion of their master's level studies. Typically, students must complete core and elective courses, field internships, and a written master's thesis or research paper. Study in statistics or foreign language may be required. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, recommendations, a personal statement, and writing sample. Depending on the program, GRE results may be required.
Master of Science in Anatomy
A second option for those interested in skeletal biology is to earn the Master of Science (M.S.) in Anatomy. In addition to courses, students must complete a thesis or capstone project. Those who earn an M.S. in Anatomy can be prepared for careers in laboratory research or for continued studies in medicine or other allied health fields. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, GRE or GMAT scores, a personal statement, recommendations, and a resume. An interview may be required; and undergraduate preparation in biology, chemistry and statistics may be preferred, if not required.
Ph.D. in Biomedical Science
For students interested in conducting high-level biomedical research in skeletal and bone health, a Ph.D. in Biomedical Science may provide appropriate graduate training. Students may be required to complete coursework, laboratory rotations, and a general or qualifying exam. Completing a dissertation of independent research and defending the dissertation may be a program requirement as well. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, a personal statement, references, and GRE score results. Prior experience in research will support the application.
Program Information and Courses
Successful completion of a graduate-level program in skeletal biology will require some specific courses in evolution, research design, and other areas of interest. Read on for some descriptions of applicable courses.
A course in human osteology may combine the study of the human skeleton and the different techniques employed in skeletal research. The anatomy of the skeleton, including musculature and bone development, could be reviewed. The use of the skeleton in forensics and bioarcheology may also be a topic of consideration.
Human Population Ecology
The study of human population ecology considers the variables involved in human evolution, behavior, and culture. Specific topics may include reproductive ecology, cooperation and conflict, and biocultural variables. These topics may also lead to a consideration of sustainability of human populations with an eye towards environmental and natural considerations.
This course may examine the cultural considerations that impact health, illness, and healing practices. Specific issues considered may be population growth, aging, and morbidity and mortality patterns. The transition from traditional to modern care practices both in a historical capacity and in developing nations may be examined.
Human Evolutionary Biology
The study of human evolutionary biology examines the fossil record to begin to understand the fossil evidence that supports claims of human evolution. The ecology and behavior of modern apes as it relates to human evolution may be considered. Students may also understand research practices, both in terms of methodology, field techniques, and molecular studies.
This course provides graduate students with a background in the creation of independent research. Students may learn steps for conducting appropriate research, including identifying a project, stating the problem, searching current literature, and implementing the project design. Considerations necessary for publication may be introduced. Students may also become familiar with the role of the institutional research board (IRB).
This course may be a study of the development of vertebrates. Major body systems may be explored within the range of vertebrate groups. Laboratory study or dissection may promote hands-on learning of anatomic systems.
This course considers the growth of the head and factors that affect its development, both prenatally and after birth. The possible biochemical and genetic factors that may lead to oral disorders are considered. Current research design in craniofacial biology may be examined.
Students who pursue graduate education in skeletal biology can develop knowledge of the anthropological or anatomical physical systems in the body. Both coursework and independent research may be required for degree completion.