Plant Biology PhD Programs

Nov 22, 2018

Students who are interested in enrolling in a plant biology PhD program may need additional information about these programs before deciding to commit. This article covers common course and admission requirements.

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PhD programs in plant biology have a number of components, including classroom work, teaching assignments, and a research dissertation. This article will highlight some key details, like what types of courses are commonly found in the required curriculum, as well as admissions standards.

Common Courses for PhD Programs in Plant Biology

Students who enroll in PhD programs in plant biology can generally expect to complete around two years of coursework before becoming teaching assistants and beginning the research process for their dissertation. Below, we will look at five courses that are commonly required as part of the curriculum of a PhD program in plant biology.

Plant Evolution and Diversity

In such a course, students will learn about the history of different plant species and how they have evolved over time. Some topics this course may cover include plant structures, the fossil record of plants, how plants have adapted to different environments, and relationships among different types of plants.

Quantitative Methods and Statistics

This course covers various quantitative and statistical methods used in plant biology. It will focus on different types of modeling and statistical software. Topics that may be covered in this course include variance, regression, data analysis and sampling, experimental design, and hypothesis testing.

Plant Cell Biology

In this course, students will learn about different features of plant cells like cell walls and membranes, structures inside the cell, and cellular trafficking. In addition, this course will cover cellular processes like transport to and from the cell and cellular signaling.

Plant Community Ecology

In a course like this, students will learn about various types of plant communities and how they are organized. The processes by which communities become established are also explored as well as different plant community demographics. This course will likely involve using different types of numerical models to better understand plant communities.


These courses may cover topics like the analysis of genomes from a variety of different perspectives, DNA manipulation, RNA analysis, and DNA sequencing. In addition, this course may include a hands-on laboratory component in which students would learn about the principles of microdissection.

Teaching and Dissertation for PhD Programs in Plant Biology

Students pursuing a PhD in plant biology are often expected to teach roughly two semesters during their time of study. One of the experiences may be with a large lecture-type class while the second experience could be with a smaller lab-type group.

Sometime during the third year, PhD students usually begin working on their research. They'll often work with a faculty mentor who is conducting similar research and is supported by a dissertation committee. Students are expected to complete a research dissertation that can be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. They're usually required to defend their dissertation orally as well.

Students can expect to finish all of their PhD components in roughly five to six years.

Admission Standards for PhD Programs in Plant Biology

Students who are interested in applying for PhD programs in plant biology must fulfill some prerequisites in order to be considered for admission. Typically, one must have a bachelor's or master's degree in one of the natural sciences, though it is also important for students to have taken coursework in the physical sciences. When preparing an application file, students will need to complete an application form and compile a number of other documents that include a personal statement, letters of recommendation, transcripts of past undergraduate and graduate work if applicable, and GRE test results.

PhD programs in plant biology expose students to advanced coursework in the field. They also facilitate independent research so that doctoral students can write and defend an original dissertation.

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