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M.R. in Plant Biology

The non-thesis Master of Plant Biology (M.R.) degree is attractive to individuals who want to expand their subject-matter knowledge in plant biology and do not desire to pursue research training.

Interested in a research-intensive program? We encourage you to apply to the M.S. or Ph.D. degree programs.

M.R. Degree Requirements

  • Thirty-six (36) semester hours (14-15 hours must be from required courses for all plant biology students).
  • One (1) additional plant biology course at the 500-level or higher. Other courses must be approved on the Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW). The Graduate School requires that a GPOW for an M.R. degree has at least 18 graded credit hours.
  • Earn a minimum 3.0 GPA on all graduate coursework at NC State.
  • Must be continuously enrolled and complete all degree requirements within six (6) calendar years beginning with the date a student starts courses carrying graduate credit applicable to the degree program.
  • Complete a project. This is not a thesis, but should be a substantial piece of work. The student will determine the nature of the project in consultation with their advisory committee.
  • Submit an annual report to the director of graduate programs (DPG) each year.
  • Must be enrolled in one credit or more the semester the student applies to graduate.
  • Pass a comprehensive final oral exam.

Upon entering the M.R. program, students will meet with the DGP and select a faculty advisor. They will also select an advisory committee, which must include the advisor and at least three members of the plant biology graduate faculty. Early in the first semester, the student should consult with their advisory committee to prepare a Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW). The DGP must approve the GPOW.

M.R. Timeline

If a student is focusing solely on coursework, the optimal timeframe for completion of the M.R. degree is 3-4 semesters.

Year 1

  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • Develop project idea
  • Discuss advisory committee membership with major professor and form committee
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • First committee meeting
  • Receive committee approval of project topic, the deliverable, and how it will be evaluated
  • File Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW)
SummerRegistration for summer is not required for full-time status or continuous enrollment, but students may wish to register for hours to fast-track their timeline

Year 2

  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Meet with committee to finalize graduation timeline
  • Review graduation timeline with DGP
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Final oral exam
*Full-time registration required for assistantships and for the GSSP. Minimum registration required for full-time status is 9 hours; however, it can be less than 9 if the number of hours required to reach the total required for the degree is less than 9, but always has to be at least 3 credit hours. For example, if you registered for 12 hours in your first two semesters, you would only need to register for 6 in your third semester to be full-time and for only 3 in subsequent semesters to be full-time.

Students must be enrolled in every semester until they graduate. This can be just one credit hour (but that would not qualify them for an assistantship). Students must also be enrolled in the semester in which they take their final exam. Hence, if your final oral exam (thesis defense) is in the summer, then you would need to register in the summer (but for just one hour).


Although research is not the focus of the M.R. degree, students are required to complete a project.

The student should discuss the project’s topic, the expected deliverable and the evaluation with their committee. The committee may require an oral presentation to just the committee or to the entire department. There are no specific departmental expectations for the project, although the Graduate School does require a report.

Advisory Committee

The DGP serves as an initial advisor for all graduate students. Students work with the DGP to identify a permanent graduate advisor (who may be the DGP) by the end of the first semester.

Prior to completion of the first year of study, students are required to identify a graduate advisory committee that will meet no less than once a year throughout the degree program. The advisory committee must consist of a student’s primary advisor and at least two additional faculty members from the plant biology graduate faculty. All required committee members must hold appointments within the Graduate School. Scientists who are not faculty members of the Graduate School (e.g., adjunct faculty, industry scientists, etc.) may also be appointed as additional committee members.

For the first advisory committee meeting, students should be prepared to discuss their long-term goals. The committee will advise the student on their coursework and project.

Before every committee meeting, the student must provide each committee member with the following:

  • An updated CV
  • A list of courses taken (with grades earned) and planned to be taken
  • A copy of their most recent annual report
  • A written progress report if the student has started work on the project; students will be expected to present a description of their project and its progress

Teaching Requirement

All M.R. students must serve as a laboratory teaching assistant in at least one section, whether or not they hold a teaching assistant appointment. The undergraduate coordinator makes all teaching assignments. In the semester an M.R. student serves as a teaching assistant, they should enroll in at least one hour of PB 695 (Masters Supervised Teaching). The DPG must approve any substitutions for the teaching requirement.

Graduate Plan of Work

Students will outline the plan of graduate study (AKA: the Graduate Plan of Work or GPOW) with their faculty advisor, preferably by the end of the first semester. The student will then submit the GPOW to the advisory committee for any necessary amendments, then they will submit the GPOW to the Graduate School no later than the end of the student’s second semester. The GPOW will include:

  • All courses
  • An anticipated timetable for taking each course
  • A tentative project title

Annual Report

Students submit an annual report to the DGP every year. Students will receive notification of the deadlines for their annual reports at the end of the fall semester (for late January) and early in the spring semester (for mid-February). The report period is for the calendar year.

We recommend students hold a committee meeting prior to submitting their annual report, during which they will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research or project. Their graduate advisor and committee will determine whether the student is making satisfactory research and academic progress to re-appoint them to the assistantship and remain in good status in the graduate program.

Final Oral Examination

All M.R. students must pass a final comprehensive oral examination administered by the student’s advisory committee.

The examination can include anything from the broad area of plant biology, but tends to focus on the student’s project and the coursework featured in their GPOW. We encourage students to discuss how to prepare for the exam with their advisory committee.

Students must receive permission from the Graduate School to take the final oral exam. After consultation with their committee on an appropriate date for the exam, students must complete the “Request to Schedule Master’s Oral Examination” and submit it to their advisor at least 10 days prior to the proposed exam date. The DPG will then forward the request to the Graduate School.

After the examination, the student will receive one of the following outcomes:

  1. Unconditional pass
  2. Conditional pass – in which case there must be a clear written statement of what must be done to satisfy the conditions for the M.R. degree and the date by which that must be done
  3. Failure with a recommendation of a re-examination
  4. Failure with a recommendation that the student no longer participate in the graduate program

Outcomes 2-4 must involve the DGP, who will review the appeal and grievance process with the student.