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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

BioRenewable Systems (BRS)

Program Home Page

PAUL H. HEINEMANN, Head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
250 Agricultural Engineering Building


Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.S.


The Graduate Faculty


The Program

Biorenewable Systems are the structures and processes that create and support biologically-based products capable of being continuously replaced through sound technology and management. The BioRenewable Systems (BRS) degree is offered as a resident instruction, research-based M.S. and Ph.D. program. The degree requires a thesis at both levels. BRS is positioned to be a world-renowned graduate program in renewable biologically-based materials, products, and processes that fully integrates scientific research with the principles of systems technology, business, management, marketing, leadership development, and entrepreneurship for biorenewable systems. Toward that end, the academic requirements for BRS are closely related to the disciplinary focus of agricultural and biological sciences, technological innovation and application, and business, management, and leadership within the continually evolving biobased sectors. This makes BRS unique from other fields of science and management. To promote and fulfill this uniqueness, continuation of courses in science, business, management, and technology at the graduate level is encouraged and expected. Excellent facilities, including equipment and instrumentation, are available for research in the designated areas. Collaborative arrangements allow access to a large variety of other resources: Materials Research Institute; Penn State Institutes of the Energy and Environment; Housing Research Center; USDA Pasture Systems and Watershed Management Research Lab; a mushroom research and demonstration facility and a 1,500-acre agricultural research center for cooperative work with agronomic and horticultural production systems as well as animal production systems.

Admission Requirements

Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

In general, for admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE). All students must submit GRE general aptitude test scores (i.e., verbal, quantitative, and analytical) to be considered for admission.

To qualify for admission, all international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, 213 for the computer-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the internet-based test. The minimum composite score for the IELTS is 6.5.

International applicants exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement include those who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.

All applicants must provide the official transcripts of all their previous course work, a statement of purpose written by the applicant, and at least three letters of recommendation. Admission into the BRS Graduate. Program is based upon a thorough review of all applicant qualifications, and the best-qualified applicants will be accepted up to the number of students for which program resources are available.

Entrance to Master of Science Program

Completion of a relevant undergraduate Bachelor degree program is required for admission to the M.S. degree program; relevant programs span a diverse set of academic disciplines, including but not limited to: Agricultural Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Business, Engineering, and Environmental Sciences. Students with junior-senior GPA of at least 3.00 (4.00 base) will be competitive in the admission process.

Entrance to Doctor of Philosophy Program

The program requirement for acceptance to graduate study toward a Ph.D. degree in BRS is typically an M.S. degree with research thesis in BRS or related discipline such as Agricultural Sciences, Biology, Chemistry, Business, Engineering, and Environmental Sciences, or with a B.S. degree in Agricultural Systems Management (ASM) or BRS or equivalent. Outstanding students interested in direct admission from a B.S., B.A., or M.B.A. program to the Ph.D. Program should contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for further clarification and details. Direct admission will be based on critical evaluation of the student’s: potential to conduct publishable research, academic record, an additional language (other than the student’s mother tongue), performance on standardized tests, statement of purpose, and reference letters.

Students who apply directly to the Ph.D. program with a B.S. degree and are deemed by the admissions committee not to meet the standards for admission to the Ph.D. program may be considered either for admission into the M.S. program or for admission to the Ph.D. program on a provisional basis. The student will remain in provisional status in the Ph.D. program until completing the following specific courses: BRS 500 (3 credits), BRS 501 (3 credits), BRS 502 (1 credit), BRS 550 (3 credits), BRS 511 (3 credits), BRS 551 (2 credits), and ABE 559 (3 credits), with a minimum grade-point average of 3.00. For provisional status to change, the specific courses must be completed within the first two semesters of study.

Master's Degree Requirements

All candidates for the M.S. degree must prepare and complete a thesis, complete a minimum of 30 credits at the 400-level or higher (including a minimum of 18 credits at 500-level or higher and a minimum of 6 credits of research), and obtain a minimum grade-point average of 3.00. Only courses in which grades of C or better are earned may be counted toward the requirements of the master’s degree. Each program must include BRS 500 Research Methods, BRS 501 Biobased Polymers, and BRS 502 Human Behavior in Management and Technology, two courses from the list of electives in graduate syllabus and at least one statistics course. A total of at least 18 credits must be from 500-level or above courses. All requirements for a master of science degree, whether satisfied at Penn State or elsewhere, must be met within eight years from the first semester of graduate study.

Additional program details are contained in a graduate syllabus, available from the department.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Official entrance into a Ph.D. program occurs upon successful completion of the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination. Ph.D. degree requirements include successful completion of the following: approved graduate course work, Ph.D. language and communication requirements, a comprehensive examination, and defense, approval, and submission of a dissertation.

No University-level (Graduate Council) minimum number of courses completed or credits earned are specified for the Ph.D.; the student’s doctoral advisory committee will recommend the minimum requirements as appropriate for each individual student’s program of study and dissertation research. Unless previously taken for the M.S., each Ph.D. student must complete BRS 500 Research Methods, BRS 501 Biobased Polymers, BRS 502 Human Behavior in Management and Technology, and at least 1 credit of BRS 602 Supervised College Teaching. In addition, the candidate must complete 6 credits of BRS 5XX (excluding BRS 500 and 590-596) or select from the list in graduate syllabus. The candidate is expected to develop a program of study and submit it to the appointed doctoral committee for consideration and approval. All requirements for a Ph.D. degree, whether satisfied on this campus or elsewhere, must be completed within eight years after passing the candidacy examination.

CANDIDACY EXAMINATION -- The Ph.D. Candidacy Examination Committee will administer the Candidacy Examination. This committee will consist of four BRS graduate faculty members, including the Adviser, the ABE Department Head (or annually appointed designee), the BRS Graduate Program Coordinator, and one faculty member selected by the student. In cases where a member serves two roles on the committee, an additional member will be appointed by the Graduate Program Coordinator. The Candidacy Examination will consist of developing a Ph.D. research proposal following the completion of BRS 500 Research Methods, presenting the proposal, and defending/discussing the proposed research with the Committee. The Candidacy Examination will be completed by the student soon after s/he has completed at least 18 credits but before the end of the third semester. Successful completion of the Candidacy Examination does not mean that the student's Ph.D. research proposal is approved. Rather, final approval of the candidate's research proposal will be the responsibility of the Doctoral Committee.

DOCTORAL COMMITTEE -- At least one regular member of the Doctoral Committee must represent a field outside the candidate’s major field of study in order to provide a broader range of disciplinary perspectives and expertise. This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Field Member.” In cases where the candidate is also pursuing a dual-title field of study, the dual-title representative to the committee may serve as the Outside Field Member.

Additionally, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest, the primary appointment of at least one regular member of the Doctoral Committee must be in an administrative unit that is outside the unit in which the dissertation adviser's primary appointment is held (i.e., the adviser's administrative home; in the case of tenure-line faculty, this is the individual's tenure home). This committee member is referred to as the “Outside Unit Member.” In the case of co-advisers, the Outside Unit Member must be from outside the administrative home(s) of both co-advisers. In some cases, an individual may have a primary appointment outside the administrative home of the student’s dissertation adviser and also represent a field outside the student’s major field of study; in such cases, the same individual may serve as both the Outside Field Member and the Outside Unit Member.

Consistent with the two preceding paragraphs, a Doctoral Committee must consist of four or more members of the Graduate Faculty and (1) the chairperson and at least one other member must be BRS Graduate Faculty members, (2) at least one member must be from a department other than ABE and s/he should be a graduate faculty member of a program other than BRS, (3) at least one member must represent any minor department(s) if the student selects a minor(s), and (4) the Advisory Committee can be appointed only after the Candidacy Examination has been passed.

PH.D. LANGUAGE AND COMMUNICATION REQUIREMENT--The purpose of the communication requirement is to strengthen the student's professional communication skills. The candidate must take a minimum of one three-credit course and receive a grade of B or better. Course selections must be approved by the academic adviser prior to registration. Courses used to satisfy this requirement must include the substantial practice of writing and/or speaking.

COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATION -- When a Ph.D. candidate has substantially completed the coursework, including the communication requirements, s/he is required to take a Comprehensive Examination covering the major, minor, and related areas of study. The Comprehensive Examination will be both written and oral. The nature and details of the Comprehensive Examination will be determined by the student’s Advisory Committee. In general, the student will be required to demonstrate ability to synthesize information acquired through formal coursework and to use technical literature to find information required for solving biorenewable systems problems. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee is required for passing. If a candidate fails, the committee will determine whether another examination may be taken.

FINAL ORAL EXAMINATION -- Upon recommendation of the Adviser, a Ph.D. candidate who has satisfied all other requirements for the degree will be scheduled by the Dean of the Graduate School to take a Final Oral Examination. The student must be a registered full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the Final Oral Examination is taken. This examination is open to the public and the student should notify all departmental faculty and graduate students. The examination is related largely to the dissertation, but may cover the candidate’s entire field of study without regard to courses that have been taken either at Penn State University or elsewhere. The defense of the dissertation should be well-prepared including any appropriate visual aids. One of the aims of the preparation should be to synthesize the important conclusions in a time-efficient presentation, leaving ample time for questions and discussion. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee is required for passing. If a candidate fails, the committee will determine whether another examination may be taken.

Other Relevant Information

Continuous fall and spring registration is required for all graduate students until the thesis is approved.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 699 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.

Last Revised by the Department: Fall Semester 2013

Review Date: 1/14/14

Faculty linked: 6/5/14


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