Plant Biology

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The School of Biological Sciences offers graduate programs leading to a Master of Science in Plant Biology, Master of Science in Biological Sciences, Master of Science in Education in the Biological Sciences, and the Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Biology. The first master’s degree was granted in 1948, and the first Ph.D. degree in 1965.

An advisory committee of faculty members from plant biology as well as other programs helps design individualized programs to meet the specific educational goals and career aspirations of each student. The broadly diversified faculty of the program provide research emphases in ecology and environmental science, systematics and biodiversity, and molecular biology and physiology. Graduate degrees in plant biology will be awarded to students in recognition of their ability to do independent research as evidenced by the acceptance of a thesis or dissertation and the demonstration of competent scholastic ability.

The Plant Biology graduate program is housed in various major teaching and research facilities on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) including Life Science II and Life Science III. Faculty members provide research and laboratory facilities for students. The program supplies centralized facilities including laboratories for basic specialized computing, a core facility for nutrient analyses, and molecular biology, as well as herbaria, growth chambers, field sites and greenhouses. Excellent cooperative research arrangements are available for activities including electron microscopy, chemical analyses and research photography. Southern Illinois University Carbondale is strategically located in the transition zones of several North American biomes and is within a one hour drive to spectacular natural areas including Pine Hills Research Natural Area, Cypress Creek Bioreserve, Garden of the Gods, and Little Grand Canyon.

Admission

Applications should be completed online, addressed to the Director of Graduate Studies of the program, and must include a completed application form, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts of all institutions of higher learning attended, official GRE scores including the verbal, quantitative and analytical portions of the examination and grade point average. Students must meet both Graduate School and program admission requirements. Financial assistance is available on a competitive basis. To be considered for financial support a financial assistance form must also be submitted. Acceptance to the program is contingent on availability of faculty to advise the student, research space and facilities, and satisfactory evidence of funding to complete the degree program (e.g., teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or fellowship). International students whose native language is not English must have a minimum of 550 or the equivalent electronic score on the TOEFL test.

This program requires a nonrefundable $65 application fee that must be submitted with the application for Admissions to Graduate Study in Plant Biology. Applicants must pay this fee by credit card.

Applicants must have a Bachelor’s Degree (or equivalent) in a life science. A student who does not meet these requirements may petition for admission to the program, or register as a regular nondeclared graduate student. Either prior to admission or during their programs, students must complete a course in each of the following categories: 1) plant systematics or plant diversity; 2) plant physiology, cell biology or molecular biology; and 3) plant ecology or environmental science. A course in plant morphology or plant anatomy is strongly recommended. A student who does not meet these requirements may petition for admission to the program. All deficiencies, as determined by the student’s advisory committee, must be removed during the first year by taking appropriate courses (graduate or undergraduate) with grades of B or better in each course. Criteria for admission include GPA (3.25 or higher), GRE scores, letters of recommendation, transcripts and availability of faculty, space and facilities. To be admitted into the program, at least one faculty member must be willing to serve as major advisor or co-advisor if the student desires to work in the Forestry or Plant, Soil and Agricultural Systems programs. Students desiring financial assistance for Fall semester admission should consult the Plant Biology website for the deadline. Application forms are available from the Director of Graduate Studies of Plant Biology or the Plant Biology website.

Accelerated Entry into the Doctoral Program

A student who enters a master’s program in plant biology may, if deemed capable, be permitted to apply to be accelerated into a program leading directly to a Ph.D. in Plant Biology degree, subject to the following conditions and specifications. In order to qualify for consideration, each endorsed student must: (a) have been in the SIUC plant biology graduate program no less than one or more than two academic terms when proposed; (b) have a graduate grade point average of 3.75 or better; (c) have no grade in any course (conditional or otherwise) in his/her graduate record of less than B; and (d) be deemed by the Evaluation and Awards Committee as having superior capabilities.

Once advanced into the doctoral program by the Graduate School, the student shall be eligible to qualify for graduate assistance totaling no more than 60 months. Once in the doctoral program, the student is subject to all of the academic, retention, and exit requirements for a regular doctoral program.

If for any reason, a student who has been admitted into the accelerated entry program fails to complete the doctoral program successfully that student shall not automatically be re-admitted into the master’s program. Instead, the student may (if so desired) make formal application for admission into the M.S. in Plant Biology program.

Advisement

Following admission to the program and before registration for course work, the student must consult a staff member representing the field of major interest or, if this is unknown, the Director of Graduate Studies of the program, for assistance in planning the first registration. At registration, deficiencies and specific program requirements must be considered first.

Within the first semester of the program, the student must select a faculty member who is willing to serve as the major adviser. The major adviser in consultation with the student will then select appropriate faculty members to comprise the advisory committee. For the M.S. in Plant Biology degree program, a minimum of three people shall make up the advisory committee, two of whom must be voting members of the Plant Biology program. The advisory committee for the Ph.D. in Plant Biology degree program will be composed of at least five people, three of whom must be voting members of the plant biology faculty and one who must be from outside the program. The Director of Graduate Studies is an ex-officio member of each graduate advisory committee. The duties of the advisory committee are to:

  1. plan, approve and file with the Director of Graduate Studies the program of study, and advise the student on his/her research program especially during the first semester of the student’s program;
  2. read, evaluate and file with the Director of Graduate Studies the student’s research prospectus by the end of the second semester of the student’s program;
  3. monitor the student’s progress and make any necessary changes in the program, while providing advice and direction on the student’s research problem;
  4. annually assess the student’s progress and file recommendations as to retention or dismissal from the program with the Evaluation and Awards Committee;
  5. participate in and grade the written and oral preliminary examinations for the Ph.D. in Plant Biology degree;
  6. read and evaluate the student’s thesis or dissertation and make suggestions for improvement; and
  7. administer the defense and final examination of the thesis or dissertation.

In either degree program, following establishment of the advisory committee and before advance registration for the second term, the student must meet with the advisory committee to discuss the program of courses for the degree and plans for research. In this regard, the committee is empowered to require work in areas with which the student’s interests are allied. The advisory committee will advise the student on the selection of readings on general and historical topics of importance that may not be encountered in formal courses. Copies of the approved program of courses and the plans for research must be placed in the program files by the beginning of the second semester of study. An approved research prospectus must be completed and filed with the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the second semester.

Research and Training Assignments

Research is required of each student in the program. In addition, each term the student must be engaged in a training assignment which supplements formal course work through professional activities such as research or teaching. The assignment varies according to the needs, professional goals, and competencies of the student, and increases in responsibility as the student progresses. The assignments require from 10 to twenty hours of service per week.

Academic Retention

The general regulations of the Graduate School with respect to academic retention shall be followed. In addition, no course in which the grade is below C shall count toward the degree or fulfillment of any requirement, but the grade will be included in the grade point average. No more than five credit hours of C work in graduate courses will count toward the degree.

All students are subject to regular review by the department’s Evaluation and Awards committee. Those not attaining the minimum acceptable academic standards or who in any way fail to meet any other scheduled requirements or standards may be dropped from the program.

Appeals

Appeals for variations from the graduate program must be presented in writing to the plant biology graduate faculty meeting as a committee of the whole. Appeals must receive approval from a majority of the total plant biology graduate faculty.

Appeals for changes in the student’s graduate advisory committee or changes in the original program must be approved in the following order: (1) approval from advisor; (2) approval from the remaining members of the student’s advisory committee. Student appeals for change of major advisor must be presented in writing to the plant biology graduate faculty meeting as a committee of the whole. Appeals must receive approval from the Evaluation and Awards Committee.      

Master of Science (M.S.) in Plant Biology

A minimum of 30 hours of graduate credit is required beyond the bachelor’s degree. Fifty percent of courses counted towards the degree must be at the 500-level. Those 30 credit hours should include:

  1. a minimum of 22 hours of graded credit hours in Plant Biology or related disciplines (nine of these 22 credit hours may be graded individualized instruction courses)
  2. seminars as specified below (generally four credit hours)
  3. at least four (maximum six) credit hours of thesis (PLB 599)

All M.S. in Plant Biology degree students must earn a minimum of two credit hours in graduate seminars during each year of residence. Students may take any seminar course approved by their committee, with the following constraints:

  1. student must take PLB 590 their first fall term
  2. student must take PLB 580 each spring semester of residency.

A graduate minor of at least 10 graduate credit hours may or may not be required; this is to be determined by the student and the advisory committee. 

As noted in the admission requirements, students will take, either prior to or during their program, at least one course in each of the following categories:

  1. plant systematics
  2. plant physiology, cell biology, or plant molecular biology
  3. ecology or environmental science

Courses in plant anatomy and genetics are strongly recommended also if they have not been taken prior to the program.

A program of study must be approved by the student’s advisory committee and be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the first semester of the students program. Changes made after the first semester of the student’s program must be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

At the time of completion of the thesis, the student must schedule a public seminar presentation of the thesis material and a comprehensive examination over the thesis and related subject matter.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Plant Biology

Course work for the Ph.D. in Plant Biology degree shall include:

  1. a minimum of 20 graded credit hours in plant biology or related disciplines
  2. minimum of two tools courses (generally 6 to 12 graded credit hours)
  3. seminar credits as specified below (generally 8 to 10)
  4. minimum of 30 credit hours of dissertation research (PLB 600)

All Ph.D. in Plant Biology students must earn a minimum of two credit hours in graduate seminars each year until they advance to candidacy. Students may take any seminar course approved by their committee, with the following constraints:

  1. student must take PLB 590 their first fall term
  2. student must take PLB 580 each spring semester until they advance to candidacy

As noted in the admission requirements, students will take, either prior to or during their program, courses in all of the following categories:

  1. plant systematics
  2. plant physiology; cell biology or plant molecular biology
  3. ecology or environmental science

Courses in plant anatomy and genetics are strongly recommended if they have not been taken prior to starting the program.

A program of study must be approved by the student’s advisory committee and be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the first semester of the student’s program. Changes made after the first semester of the student’s program must be approved by the student’s advisory committee.

Tools

The Ph.D. in Plant Biology student shall demonstrate knowledge in two research tools approved by the student’s advisory committee. A tool is defined as training in laboratory (or field) methods, instrumentation, technology, or communication skills including languages that are integral to the pursuance of research. Specific tool requirements will be determined by the student’s advisory committee. Courses used to satisfy tools requirements shall not be applied toward the total number of credit hours required for the degree. A foreign language tool can be met by earning a grade of B or better in appropriate 400-level course (Latin, French, German, Spanish or Russian). The tool can also be met by passing an Educational Testing Service (ETS) examination in French, German, Spanish or Russian. The ETS passing level for French and German is 465 and for Russian and Spanish it is 440. A statistical tool requirement can be satisfied by earning a B or better in one or more graduate level statistics courses. Course recommendations for statistical tools include Ecological Analysis of Communities (PLB 444), Biostatistics (PLB 557), Advanced Biostatistics (PLB 558). Other courses can be used to satisfy a statistical tool requirement if deemed acceptable by the student’s advisory committee. Tool requirements other than language or statistics may be completed by earning a B or better in courses approved by the student’s advisory committee, including courses from outside the program.

Concentration in Ecology

Students opting to declare ecology as a concentration shall follow the same program as students in the Ph.D. in Plant Biology degree program that do not declare a concentration, subject to the following courses: Course work for the concentration in ecology shall consist of a minimum of 20 credit hours at the seminar, readings, research, dissertation, and research tool requirements. The Seminar in Plant Biology Ecology (PLB 589A) or equivalent must be taken every Fall and Spring semester until student achieves candidacy. The student’s advisory committee shall consist of at least five members with a majority from Plant Biology and at least two members from outside of Plant Biology. For the preliminary examination, the field of expertise shall be ecology. One of the two research tools will be statistics, and the other should demonstrate knowledge defined as training in laboratory (or field) methods, instrumentation, technology, or communication skills including language that is integral to the pursuance of ecological research.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination will consist of two parts: a written examination and an oral examination. The written and oral examinations shall emphasize competence in:

  1. One of the fields of expertise within the Program: plant systematics and plan diversity; plant physiology, cell biology and molecular biology; or ecology.
  2. The student’s designated area of specialization (as determined by the advisory committee), and
  3. The student’s research tools (see above) and a basic, general knowledge of Plant Biology (as defined by the PLB Faculty).

These three components of the written examination will be administered as separate entities. Subject matter covered in the two specialization examinations may be excluded from the general component at the discretion of the advisory committee.

The student, with the approval of his/her graduate advisory committee, will register with the Director of Graduate Studies to take the examination. The Director of Graduate Studies will then appoint a faculty member who is not on the student’s advisory committee to chair the examination committee (EC) and administer both the written and oral examinations. The Chair of the examination committee will solicit questions from the student’s advisory committee and from the faculty at large. Upon receipt of these questions, the Chair of the examination committee will call the committee together to construct and plan the written part of the examination. The student will be allocated one eight-hour block of time to complete each of the three components of the examination. The student may request additional time.

The student must pass all parts of the written examination to proceed to the oral examination. Pass means that the student has demonstrated through clear written statements a clear understanding of the topics presented in the written examination. A vote of the EC to pass or fail must be taken immediately following the grading of the written examination. Passing of the written examination will be determined by simple majority vote of the EC. If the student fails one or more of the three components of the examination, he/she must be reexamined on the failed components. If the student fails any part(s) of the general examination, he or she must be reexamined on the failed part(s). In consultation with the advisory committee, the EC chair will schedule and administer the reexamination. The reexamination may not be taken during the same academic term. The student must pass the written examination by the second attempt to continue in the program.

Following passage of the written portion of the examination, the EC chair will schedule and administer the oral portion of the examination. The oral examination must be scheduled not sooner than 10 working days nor more than 30 working days from the completion date of the written examination. The EC chair will not participate in the questioning of the student and does not have a vote regarding the proceedings. The oral preliminary examination must be announced at least 10 working days before the examination is to be given. The examination may only be scheduled when classes are in session, including finals week. The examination shall last at least two hours and not more than four hours and should be scheduled to allow attendance of a maximum number of faculty members from the student’s program and all of the preliminary examination committee members. The student’s answers to the written examination will be made available to the graduate faculty (upon request) before the oral part of the preliminary examination. All attending graduate faculty members will be given the opportunity to express their opinion on the examination. A vote on performance in the oral examination must be taken immediately following completion of the examination. A pass requires a vote with no more than one dissenting member of the preliminary examination committee, and may have conditions. If the vote is pass, then two levels may be recognized: Pass and Pass with Distinction. A student will be allowed two attempts to pass the oral preliminary examination. Should a student fail a second attempt to pass the preliminary examination, he/she will be dropped from the program. Doctoral students entering the program with a master’s degree must take the preliminary exam by the end of 30 months and must pass the preliminary examination and be admitted to candidacy by the end of 36 calendar months after first registering in the doctoral program.

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense)

The final examination will be oral. It must be preceded during that semester by a public seminar on the student’s research findings. The student’s advisory committee will notify the Director of Graduate Studies of its recommendation for the date of the final examination at least two weeks prior to the seminar. The seminar and examination must be announced at least 10 working days before the seminar and examination. The seminar and examination must be held when classes are in session, including finals week. The final examination shall last for no more than three hours. It is to cover the dissertation and related subject matter. Passage of the final oral examination should be construed to mean there shall be no more than one dissenting vote of the advisory committee. Should a student fail a second attempt to pass the final examination, they will be dropped from the program.