Ph.D. in Plant Biology

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest degree we offer in the plant biology graduate program.

Our goal is to produce independent research scientists who will contribute fundamental knowledge to the world or who will become leaders in government and industry laboratories.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements

  • Seventy-two (72) semester hours (14-15 hours must be courses required of all plant biology students) [Plant Biology Graduate Degree Requirements]
  • One additional plant biology course at the 500-level or higher
  • Other courses must be approved on the Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW)
  • Pass the preliminary written and oral examinations
  • Complete and defend a dissertation
  • Earn a minimum 3.0 GPA overall on graduate coursework at NC State
  • Be continuously enrolled and complete all degree requirements within ten (10) calendar years beginning with the date he/she starts courses carrying graduate credit applicable to the degree program.
  • Enrolled in one (1) credit or more the semester he or she applies to graduate

Advisory Committee

Most Ph.D. students will be assigned to a graduate adviser. For those who are not, the DGP will serve as an initial adviser and the student will work with them to prepare a rotation schedule and consult with them to identify a major adviser (also known as a “thesis advisor” or “major professor”). Prior to completion of the first year, the student must identify a graduate advisory committee that will meet at least once a year throughout the student’s degree program. The advisory committee will consist of the student’s major professor and at least three additional graduate faculty members, two from the plant biology and one from an outside department. All required committee members must hold appointments within the NC State Graduate School.

Scientists who are not members of the Graduate School faculty (e.g., adjunct faculty, industry scientists) may be appointed as additional members of the advisory committee. Prior to the preliminary exam, the Graduate School will assign a representative to the student’s committee. See the Graduate School Handbook for details.

The student should provide each committee member with the following before each meeting:

  • 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 their dissertation research, and
  • be prepared to make a presentation on their research project

For the first committee meeting, the student will discuss his or her long-term goals and preliminary ideas concerning the dissertation research.

Teaching Requirement

Doctoral students must serve as a laboratory teaching assistant in at least two sections. The undergraduate coordinator creates these teaching assignments. In the semester a Ph.D. student serves as a teaching assistant, he or she should enroll in at least one hour of PB 895 (Doctoral Supervised Teaching).

Ph.D. students with prior master’s degrees that are included in their GPOW are required to teach in only one section. Substitutions for the teaching requirement are subject to approval by the DGP.

Graduate Plan of Work

The student and major professor will outline the plan of graduate study as soon as possible. The Graduate Plan of Study (GPOW) will include all courses, a tentative thesis title, and an anticipated timetable for taking each course.

The student will submit the GPOW to the advisory committee for approval and submit it to the Graduate School by the end of his or her second semester.

Annual Report

Students will submit annual reports upon request by the DGP. These reports are typically due late January to mid-February. Ideally, the student will meet with the committee prior submitting the annual report where he or she will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research.

The major professor and committee must determine if the student is making satisfactory research and academic progress for the student to be re-appointed to his or her assistantship and to remain in good status in the graduate program.

Transferring Between Degree Programs

Students who matriculate 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 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 requirements for the M.S. degree in Plant Biology at NC State. 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 and a specific recommendation submitted to the DGP.

Preliminary Exam, Dissertation and Defense

Preliminary Examination

Students must pass the written and oral preliminary examination (Prelim) to gain admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. See the Ph.D. Policies and Procedures for details.

Dissertation and Defense

All Ph.D. candidates must write a dissertation on their research and conform to the NC State Thesis and Dissertation Guide. The content and structure of the dissertation must be approved by the advisory committee, and all candidates must prepare their results for publication prior to program completion. Doctoral candidates who have completed their research and other degree requirements (72 credit hours) may enroll in PB 899 (Dissertation Preparation) while they are writing their dissertation. They must also present a seminar hosted by the plant biology graduate program as part of their final exam (defense). Upon the candidate’s satisfactory defense of the Ph.D. dissertation, the advisory committee will approve it for transmission to the Graduate School. See the Ph.D. Policies and Procedures for details.

Ph.D. Timeline

Year Term Goals
Year 1 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours); 6-7 hours formal courses
  • Start building necessary research tools, expertise, and background knowledge for dissertation research
  • Discuss advisory committee membership with major professor and form committee
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours); 6-8 hours of formal courses
  • Continue building research tools, expertise, and background knowledge for dissertation research
  • First committee meeting. Goal: review background and interests, and discuss research goals; committee to provide guidance for the preparation of a Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW)
  • File the Graduate Plan of Work; this will require a tentative dissertation title (can be revised later)
  • No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
  • By the end of first summer, student is to have an idea of a topic for dissertation research
Year 2 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours); ~6 hours formal courses
  • Continue building research tools, expertise, and background knowledge for dissertation research
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours); ~6 hours formal courses (This will likely be the last semester of formal courses)
  • Important: Arrange a committee meeting to review research progress and plan preliminary written and oral exams.
  • Meet with DGP to discuss progress in the Ph.D. program
  • No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
  • Important: Make substantial research progress during the summer!
Year 3 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • Take written and oral preliminary exams
  • Take stock of research goals and progress, and begin forming plans for publication and presentation of research
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
  • Important: Arrange a committee meeting to review research progress and make any modifications to research goals. Revise dissertation title in GPOW, if necessary.
  • No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition
  • Important: Make substantial research progress during the summer!
  • If your research has reached an appropriate stage, this is a good time to attend a national meeting to present your research
Year 4 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Dissertation research should be well-focused and well-established with substantial progress
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • This is a critical semester for a committee meeting. Plan on making a formal presentation of research results. Be prepared to discuss a tentative timeline for the completion of degree.
  • No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
  • During the summer, plan to present research at a national meeting
Year 5 Fall
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Significant progress being made toward bringing research to a conclusion.
  • Discuss with major professor the timeline for graduation. Review timelines with DGP.
  • It’s a good idea to have a committee meeting toward the end of the semester to discuss the graduation timeline.
  • Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
  • Significant progress made on your writing if you plan to graduate this semester.
  • Communicate with major professor and committee. Work closely with major professor on drafts and revisions.
  • Review all deliverables and their deadlines
  • Send dissertation to advising committee
  • Schedule your defense
  • Final doctoral oral exam (defense)
Summer If you plan to defend in the summer or to defend by the “no registration required” deadline for fall graduation, you must be registered for the summer.**

*Full-time registration is 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 six semesters, you would only need to register for 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 (dissertation defense) is in the summer, then you would need to register in the summer (but for just one hour).