Skip Navigation
search: People | Departments | Penn State | Web
Penn State mark
Penn State mark
University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Plant Biology (PLBIO)

Program Home Page (Opens New Window)

TEH-HUI KAO, Head of the Graduate Program in Plant Biology
Plant Biology Program Office
101 Life Sciences Building


Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.S.


The Graduate Faculty


The Program

The Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Plant Biology includes faculty from nine departments in the College of Agricultural Sciences, College of Engineering, and Eberly College of Science. Each student becomes associated with the adviser's department, which may provide financial support, research facilities, and office space. Applicants are encouraged to explore opportunities by contacting faculty who may be prospective advisers.

The objective of this program is to educate and train plant biologists using the most modern techniques available today. Graduates from this program have gone on to a diverse range of careers, including positions in colleges and universities, research institutes, industry, and government. Research interests of the program faculty span the breadth of scientific areas ranging from molecular, cell, and evolutionary biology, biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, and functional genomics to whole-plant physiology and ecology. Student training includes a comprehensive set of team-taught courses that reflect this breadth of scientific approaches.

Admission Requirements

Scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Aptitude Test (verbal, quantitative, analytical) are required for admission. At the discretion of the graduate program officers, a student may be admitted provisionally for graduate study in a program without these scores. Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Students with a 3.00 junior/senior grade-point average (on a 4.00 scale) and with appropriate course background will be considered for admission. The best-qualified applicants will be accepted up to the number of spaces available for new students. Students entering this program should have had a strong foundation in the biological sciences, including biochemistry, general physics, and college mathematics through calculus. Students with limited deficiencies may be admitted but must make up their deficiencies concurrently with their graduate studies. B.S.-level applicants with good academic records who have had strong training in plant biology and related courses, including research experience, are generally admitted directly into the Ph.D. program and bypass the M.S. degree.

Master's Degree Requirements

Candidates for the M.S. must take a written diagnostic examination during the first academic year in the program. The functions of this test are to (1) determine the areas of expertise and deficiency in the student's academic preparation and (2) serve as an early screening system to eliminate students with too great an academic deficiency to continue in the program.

As part of the core courses for any degree in the Plant Biology program, all students must enroll in the two tutorial courses, PLBIO 512 and PLBIO 513, and an ethics course, IBIOS 591. Students are presented with advanced lectures in various areas of plant biology and must prepare approximately three written solutions to problems per semester. This dossier of papers constitutes the written diagnostic examination for the M.S. degree and is also used for evaluation of English writing competency. At the end of the respective semesters, the faculty coordinator will present a summary and evaluation of the student's progress to the Candidacy Examination Committee. The committee will then decide if the student has passed the written diagnostic examination and satisfied English writing competency.

All M.S. degree candidates will be required to complete 30 credits of course work. In addition to the courses mentioned previously, students must include two biochemistry courses, 1 credit of colloquium (PLBIO 590), and at least 6 credits of thesis research (PLBIO 600 or PLBIO 610) in their program and they must complete a thesis. Upon recommendation of the advisory committee, equivalent courses taken at another university may be substituted for the above requirements.

Doctoral Degree Requirements

Students in the Ph.D. program must successfully pass the candidacy, comprehensive, and final examinations required by the Graduate School. One of the main goals of the candidacy examination is to determine the potential of a student to successfully obtain a Ph.D. degree and is intended to be a vigorous test of a student's abilities, prior to the major investment in time and effort necessary to pass the comprehensive examination.

As in the M.S. program, students enrolled in the Ph.D. program must pass a written English competency evaluation based on the dossier of papers written for PLBIO 512 and PLBIO 513. This evaluation is done at the end of the student's first year. The oral candidacy examination is based on two of the papers, jointly chosen by the student and the Candidacy Examination Committee, and must be passed by the end of the student's third semester.

Ph.D. candidates must complete the core courses required for the M.S. plus three 2-credit courses dealing with theory and techniques of plant ecophysiology, plant cell biology, and plant molecular biology (PLBIO 514, PLBIO 515, PLBIO 516) and 2 credits of colloquium (PLBIO 590). Upon recommendation of the candidacy committee, equivalent courses taken at another university may be substituted for some of the above requirements. Based on the results of the candidacy examinations, the major professor and the student's advisory committee will determine other course requirements.

Other Relevant Information

The following courses are some of the courses available for Plant Biology majors, in addition to the required courses. Their descriptions may be found under the offerings of several departments: AGRO 517, AGRO 518; BIOL 407, BIOL 431, BIOL 441, BIOL 448, BIOL 510, BIOL 513; BMMB 514, BMMB 520, BMMB 525; HORT 402W, HORT 407, HORT 412W, HORT 420, HORT 440W, HORT 444, HORT 445, HORT 517, HORT 520; PPATH 405, PPATH 516, PPATH 543; any course offered by the Plant Biology program.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships available to students in this program and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin. In most participating departments, Plant Biology applicants are eligible for departmental teaching or research assistantships, and other assistantships supported by grant funds of individual faculty who make these award decisions.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 599 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 2006

Blue Sheet Item #: 34-07-476

Review Date: 6/13/06

Date last reviewed by Graduate School: 5/24/04

Faculty linked: 6/27/14


Look up course abbreviations

Course descriptions are stored in LionPATH, the University-wide student information system. Please visit the LionPATH Course Catalog to access current course descriptions. At that point, you will be leaving the University Bulletin website.

Skip Popular Searches
  1. Graduate Course Descriptions
  2. Graduate Programs
  3. Doctoral Degree Requirements
  4. Master's Degree Requirements
  5. Application and Admission Procedures
  6. Credit Certificate Programs
  7. General Information
  8. Tuition and Cost
  9. Intercollege
  10. Academic Information and Procedures