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. An M.S. degree in plant biology can be an intermediary step between the B.S. and the 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 positions in academia, industry, and government providing technical support, environmental consulting, and natural resource inventory and management.

M.S. Degree Requirements

  • Thirty (30) semester hours are required to earn the M.S. degree. Of those, 14-15 hours must be from the required courses for all plant biology students. One additional plant biology course at the 500-level or higher is also required. Other courses must be approved on the Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW). The Graduate School requires that an M.S. GPOW have at least 18 graded credit hours (many of which will be research hours).
  • Complete and defend a thesis. The student works with his/her advisory committee to determine the scope of the thesis research. The committee conducts a final oral exam (defense) of the thesis, which the student must pass to earn his/her degree.
  • Earn a minimum 3.0 GPA overall on graduate coursework at NC State.
  • Enrolled in one credit or more the semester he/she applies to graduate.
  • Must be continuously enrolled, and complete all degree requirements within six calendar years beginning with the date he/she starts courses carrying graduate credit applicable to the degree program.
  • Meet with the DGP to discuss an appropriate advisor (if the student did not identify one during the admissions process).
  • Consult with his/her advisory committee to prepare a Graduate Plan of Work by the end of the first semester. (DGP must approve the plan)
  • Complete and submit an annual report to the DGP.

Advisory Committee

Most students are assigned a graduate thesis advisor upon acceptance into the M.S. program. For those who are not, the DGP will serve as an initial advisor, and the student will work with the DGP to identify an 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 will consist of the student’s thesis advisor and at least two 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) may be appointed to the committee, but will be in addition to the required members.

For the first committee meeting, the student should be prepared to discuss his/her 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 should 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, and
  • a written progress report on the thesis research; the student will be expected to present a his/her research project and its progress.

Teaching Requirement

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, he/she 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

The student and major professor will outline the plan of graduate study (AKA: the Graduate Plan of Work or GPOW), preferably by the end of the first semester. The student will submit the GPOW to the advisory committee for amendments if necessary, otherwise, he or she 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, and
  • an anticipated timetable for taking each course.

Annual Report

Students submit annual reports to the DGP. Students receive notification of the deadlines for the 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 to hold a committee meeting prior to submitting their annual report. They will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research. The major professor and committee will determine whether the student is making satisfactory research and academic support to re-appoint him or her to the assistantship and remain in good status in the graduate program.

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. The 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 the advisory committee to present current research results and research objectives for the Ph.D. dissertation. Following the meeting, a letter signed by the major professor (and endorsed by a majority of the advisory committee) is forwarded to the director of graduate programs recommending transfer into the Ph.D. program.

Students may also wish to pursue admission to the Ph.D. program following completion of the the 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 advisory committee) is submitted to the DGP with a recommendation. The student and his or advisor will receive a letter notification of admission or change in program.

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

Thesis and Defense

The M.S. degree requires the student to complete and successfully defend a thesis. The thesis must conform to the regulations stated in the NC State Thesis and Dissertation Guide. The graduate advisory committee will approve the content and structure of the thesis, and 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.

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

The student must receive permission from the Graduate School to schedule their final oral exam (defense). To do this, they will submit a Request to Schedule a Master’s Oral Examination to the major professor (who will forward to the DPG) indicating received the unanimous permission of the committee to proceed to the final oral exam.

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

A student 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 it 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.

The student must receive permission from the Graduate School to take the final oral exam. After consultation with the committee on an appropriate date for the exam, the student must complete the “Request to Schedule Master’s Oral Examination” and submit it to his or her major professor 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 and the date by which that must be done);

(3) failure with a recommendation of a re-examination; and

(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.

M.S. Timeline

Year Term Goals
Year 1 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • Develop thesis idea
  • Discuss advisory committee membership with major 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 Fall
  • 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.

**You must be enrolled in every semester until you graduate. This can be just one credit hour (but that would not qualify you for an assistantship). You must also be enrolled in the semester in which you take your 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).