Skip to main content

M.S. in Plant Biology

The Master of Science in Plant Biology (M.S.) is a research degree in which students must complete and defend a thesis. The M.S. degree in plant biology can be an intermediary step between a B.S. and a Ph.D. for students who do not have substantial undergraduate research experience or who are changing fields.

M.S. research training and coursework prepares students for careers in academia, industry and government, with such positions as providing technical support, environmental consulting, and natural resource inventory and management.

M.S. Degree Requirements

  • Thirty (30) semester hours (14-15 hours must be from the 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 (many of which will be research hours).
  • Earn a minimum 3.0 GPA overall on 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.
  • Meet with the director of graduate programs (DGP) to discuss an appropriate advisor (if the student did not identify one during the admissions process).
  • Consult with their advisory committee to prepare a Graduate Plan of Work by the end of the first semester. The DGP must approve the plan.
  • Complete and submit an annual report to the DPG each year.
  • Complete and defend a thesis. The student works with their advisory committee to determine the scope of their thesis research. The committee will conduct a final oral exam (defense) of the thesis, which the student must pass to earn their degree.
  • Must be enrolled in one credit or more the semester the student applies to graduate.

M.S. Timeline

Year 1

  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • Develop thesis idea
  • Discuss advisory committee membership with advising professor and form committee
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • First committee meeting
  • File Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW)
  • No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
  • Make substantial research progress during the summer!

Year 2

  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Complete all of required courses by end of semester 
  • Have a committee meeting to review research progress to date and to discuss graduation timeline
  • Review graduation timeline with the DGP
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Final oral examination (thesis presentation and defense)
  • If defending in the summer, register for at least one credit hour in the summer
  • If opting for a “no registration required” fall graduation, register for one credit hour in the summer
*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 defend their thesis. Hence, if your thesis defense is in the summer, then you would need to register in the summer (but for just one hour).

Advisory Committee

Most students are assigned a graduate thesis advisor upon acceptance into our M.S. program. For those who are not, the DGP will serve as an initial advisor, and these students will work with the DGP to identify a graduate advisor before the end of the first semester.

Prior to completion of the first year of study, each student must identify a graduate advisory committee that will meet a minimum of once a year throughout the degree program. The committee must consist of a student’s thesis 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 members of the Graduate School faculty (e.g., adjunct faculty, industry scientists, etc.) may also be appointed to a committee, but will be in addition to the required members.

For the first advisory committee meeting, students should be prepared to discuss their long-term goals and preliminary thesis ideas so the committee can provide guidance on the student’s coursework and  thesis 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 on the thesis research; students will be expected to present their research project and its progress

Teaching Requirement

All M.S. students must serve as a laboratory teaching assistant in at least one section, whether or not they hold teaching assistant appointment, as partial fulfillment of requirements for the M.S. degree.

The undergraduate coordinator makes all teaching assignments. In the semester an M.S. 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 their advisory committee for any necessary amendments, otherwise, 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
  • A tentative thesis title
  • An anticipated timetable for taking each course

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. 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.

Thesis and Defense

M.S. students are required to complete and successfully defend a thesis. The thesis must conform to the regulations stated in the NC State Thesis and Dissertation Guide, and the graduate advisory committee will approve the content and structure of the thesis. All degree candidates are expected to prepare their research results for publication prior to completing the program.

Students are required to present a seminar on their research immediately prior to their thesis defense. They should register for MB 690 (Master’s Exam) in the semester they expect to defend.

Students must receive permission from the Graduate School to schedule their final oral exam (defense). To do this, they must submit a Request to Schedule a Master’s Oral Examination to their advisor at least 10 days prior to the proposed exam date. The advisor will forward it to the DPG, indicating the student received unanimous permission from their committee to proceed to their thesis defense.

Note: The student should not submit this form until the committee agrees that the student’s thesis is ready. Therefore, we recommend the student meet with their committee to discuss a schedule for review and approval.

Students must pass their thesis defense ( final oral examination) administered by their student’s advisory committee. The committee can ask questions about anything from the broad area of plant biology, but it tends to focus on the student’s thesis and the coursework featured in their GPOW. We encourage students to discuss how to prepare for the defense with their advisory committee.

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.

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

Upon a student’s satisfactory defense of their M.S. thesis, the advisory committee will approve it for transmittal to the Graduate School.

Transferring Between Degree Programs

Students in the M.S. program may wish to bypass the M.S. degree and transfer directly into the Ph.D. program. In these cases, a student’s advisory committee must receive sufficient evidence of the student’s research ability, such as published manuscripts or abstracts or other scientific presentations, to justify the transfer. The student must meet with their committee to present current research results and research objectives for the Ph.D. dissertation. Following the meeting, a letter signed by the advisor and endorsed by a majority of the advisory committee is forwarded to the DGP recommending transfer into the Ph.D. program.

Students may also wish to pursue admission to the Ph.D. program following completion of their M.S. degree. Similarly, a student may consider transferring from the Ph.D. program into the M.S. program after a year or more in the graduate program. In either instance, the student’s advisory committee will hold a meeting to address the student’s status. A letter signed by the thesis advisor and endorsed by a majority of the committee is submitted to the DGP with a recommendation. The student and their advisor will receive a letter notifying them of admission or change in program.

Any other transfers between degree programs must be approved by a student’s advisory committee with a specific recommendation and then submitted to the DGP.