M.S. Requirements

The following academic requirements, policies, and procedures are also available for download in PDF format: PB Requirements 2015

  1. Introduction
  2. Requirements for the Master of Science degree
  3. Guidance Committee
  4. Thesis Advisor
  5. Thesis Committee
  6. Thesis Outline and Thesis
  7. Examination of M.S. candidates
  8. Period of Study
  9. Statute of Limitations


The Master of Science degree program in Plant Biology is designed to accommodate students of diverse academic backgrounds and career plans. All students enrolled in the Master's program are required to perform independent research and prepare a thesis. The PB Program does not offer a non-thesis option, except for the Fifth Year Master's Program open only to Five College undergraduates.

Requirements for the Master of Science Degree

A. A minimum of thirty graduate credits obtained as follows:

  1. Completion of at least three 600-level Plant Biology program-related courses (see course listings for the PhD)
  2. Six (minimum) to ten (maximum) credits of Master's Thesis (BIOLOGY 699)
  3. Four or more credits from PB journal clubs (1-2 cr. per semester - see pg. 3) PLSOIL 791A (Seminar Preparation and Presentation) can be taken one semester in lieu of a journal club.
  4. Four credits from Plant Biology seminars and discussions (1 credit per semester - see pg. 3)
  5. The remaining graduate credits are elective.

In addition, students need to attend at least one OPD event each fall semester and one in each spring semester. Click here for a list of OPD events.

B. Terms and Conditions

Graduate credit is normally given for classes at the 500 level or higher. Graduate credit may be awarded for courses at the 400 level if approved by the Guidance/Thesis Committee. No course may be taken on a Pass/Fail basis except for Master's Thesis (BIOLOGY 699). In the courses that a student is offering to satisfy degree requirements, a minimum standard for satisfactory work is a 3.0 average. A student who in any two semesters, consecutive or otherwise, has semester averages of below 2.8 is subject to academic dismissal. No more than six credits of Independent Study can be applied towards the M.S. degree. All coursework is subject to approval by the Guidance/Thesis Committee.

Guidance Committee

The Guidance Committee of entering students (both PhD and MS) will be the Graduate Operations Committee (GOC). The Guidance Committee's role will be to help the student with potential course offerings, potential rotation mentors, and anything else relating to academics. The GOC will be constituted to reflect the balance of disciplinary interests of the Plant Biology Program and will serve as an advisory committee for the student until a Dissertation Committee has been assembled. Each student will meet with his/her Guidance Committee at least once each semester to review progress. All students should submit an annual PB Graduate Student Progress Report by August 31st for review by the GOC.

Thesis Advisor

  1. It is the primary responsibility of the M.S. candidate to select a Thesis Advisor. The selection of the Thesis Advisor should be made by the end of the first semester. A student who wishes to have a particular faculty member serve as his/her Thesis Advisor should inform the Graduate Program Director as to his/her preference. If the candidate desires, (s)he can state his/her choice on the graduate school application.
  2. B. The candidate's selection for Thesis Advisor must be approved by the Graduate Operations Committee. All individuals serving as Thesis Advisors must be members of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (which includes five college faculty), and members of the PB Program.
  3. C. Should a candidate's educational objectives change, that individual may make a written request to the Graduate Operations Committee for reassignment to another Thesis Advisor

Thesis Committee

  1. Purpose. The Thesis Committee 1) approves the student's choice of courses, 2) evaluates and approves the thesis outline, 3) guides and monitors progress of the thesis project, and 4) conducts the Defense of Thesis Examination.
  2. Membership. The Thesis Committee will consist of the Thesis Advisor, who serves as the Chair, and two additional members. One of the latter must be from the PB Program, while the other member may be either a member of the Program, or a Graduate Faculty member in another program or department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, or an expert from outside the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Membership of the committee must be approved by the Graduate Operations Committee and the Graduate School.
  3. Timetable. Within two semesters of initiation of the Master's degree program, the Graduate Program Director, upon recommendation of the Thesis Advisor, shall recommend to the Dean of The Graduate School the appointment of the Thesis Committee. It is the responsibility of the Thesis Advisor to ensure that the Thesis Committee meets at least once per semester as long as the student is enrolled in the M.S. program. Following each meeting, the student must prepare a summary of the decisions made, have his/her Thesis Advisor sign it, and submit it to the Graduate Program Director for placement in his/her file.

Thesis Outline and Thesis

  1. At the beginning of the third semester of study, the candidate shall prepare a Thesis outline and obtain approval of the outline from the Thesis Committee. The Thesis Advisor will inform the Graduate Program Director when the thesis outline has been approved. The thesis outline, signed by all the members of the thesis committee (see Sample Cover Sheet/Signature Page in the Graduate School Handbook), must be submitted to the Graduate Records Office at least four months prior to the Defense of Thesis Examination. A copy of the outline must be placed in the student's file in the PB office.
  2. It is expected that the thesis will be of sufficient quality, originality, and substance as to warrant its publication in one or more peer-reviewed scientific journals. A Master's Thesis must be typed in a particular style and format (Refer to the Master's Degree Requirements and Thesis Information on the UMass Graduate School website) or may be in the form of published (or ready-to-publish) papers with an expanded literature review and section for literature citations. In the latter case, pertinent data not included in the body of the thesis should be incorporated into one or more appendices. The Thesis Committee will determine the exact format of the thesis.

Examination of M.S. Candidates

  1. The candidate is expected to provide members of his/her Thesis Committee with a copy of the final draft of the thesis at least two weeks before the Defense of Thesis Examination. The Thesis Advisor shall notify all PB faculty of the date, time, and place of the Final Examination at least one week in advance of the event.
  2. The Defense of Thesis Examination will be held in two parts. The candidate will present an open seminar on his/her research results followed by questioning by the Thesis Committee. The seminar and questioning by the committee can, if desired, take place on the same day. The candidate should discuss expectations with each Thesis Committee member prior to the examination. The examination is open to all faculty.
  3. Once the faculty have examined the candidate, the Thesis Committee will adjourn and vote on the candidate's performance. Only members of the Thesis Committee are eligible to vote. The recommendation of a majority of the Thesis Committee shall be required to pass the examination. Upon successful completion of the Defense of Thesis Examination and approval of the thesis by the Thesis Committee (approval is denoted by signatures), the Graduate Program Director will submit the result of the Examination and a Master's Graduation Eligibility Form (Thesis Option) to the Graduate School. The Thesis Advisor and candidate must provide the Graduate Program Director with the copies of the materials to complete the certification.

Period of Study

It is expected that students will complete the M.S. degree within two years. Master's students accepted into the Program are not guaranteed funding and are not eligible for teaching assistantships. Students should discuss the possibility of funding through their advisor's lab prior to applying.

Statute of Limitations

The Graduate School has established a three-year Statute of Limitations for the M.S. degree.