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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 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).
  • Earn a minimum 3.0 GPA overall on graduate coursework at NC State.
  • Must be continuously enrolled and complete all degree requirements within ten (10) calendar years beginning with the date a student starts courses carrying graduate credit applicable to the degree program.
  • Complete and submit an annual report to the director of graduate programs (DGP) each year.
  • Pass the preliminary written and oral examinations.
  • Complete and defend a dissertation. The student works with their advisory committee to determine the scope of their dissertation 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.

Advisory Committee

Most Ph.D. students will be assigned to a graduate advisor. For those who are not, the DGP will serve as an initial advisor, and these students will work with the DGP to prepare a rotation schedule and identify a dissertation advisor (also known as a “major advisor”). All Ph.D. students must identify a graduate advisory committee prior to completing their first year.

The advisory committee consists of the student’s major advisor and at least three additional graduate faculty members, two from 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 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.

A students advisory committee will meet at least once a year throughout the student’s degree program. During committee meetings, students must give a presentation on their research project and progress. Students 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

For the first committee meeting, students will discuss their long-term goals and preliminary ideas concerning their 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. During the semester a Ph.D. student serves as a teaching assistant, they 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 Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW) are only required to teach in one section. Substitutions for the teaching requirement are subject to approval by the DGP.

Graduate Plan of Work

Student and their advisor will outline a Graduate Plan of Work (GPOW) as soon as possible. The GPOW includes all courses to be taken, an anticipated timetable for taking each course and a tentative dissertation title.

Students will submit their GPOW to their advisory committee for approval and then submit it to the Graduate School by the end of their 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, students will meet with their committee prior to submitting the annual report, where they will make an oral presentation and submit a written report on their laboratory research.

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

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 that conforms to the NC State Thesis and Dissertation Guide. The content and structure of the dissertation must be approved by the advisory committee. Additionally, 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

1Fall– 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 advisor and form committee
1Spring– 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 provides guidance for the preparation of a GPOW
– File GPOW; this will require a tentative dissertation title (can be revised later)
1Summer– No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
– By the end of first summer, student must have an idea for a dissertation topic
2Fall– Full-time registration (9-12 hours); ~6 hours formal courses
– Continue building research tools, expertise and background knowledge for dissertation research
2Spring– 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
2Summer– No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
Important: Make substantial research progress during the summer!
3Fall– Full-time registration (9-12 hours)
– Take written and oral preliminary exams
– Review research goals and progress, and begin forming plans for publication and presentation of research
3Spring– 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.
3Summer– 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
4Fall– Full-time registration (9-12 hours)*
– Dissertation research should be well-focused and well-established with substantial progress
4Spring– 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.
4Summer– No registration (GSSP does not pay summer school tuition)
– During the summer, plan to present research at a national meeting
5Fall– 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.
5Spring– 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 deadlinesSend dissertation to advising committeeSchedule your defense
– Final doctoral oral exam (defense)
5SummerIf 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 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).

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.