The Agricultural and Environmental Plant Science M.S. graduate program is a research-oriented degree requiring the successful completion of a research project and thesis. The completion of 30 credits, including at least 18 at the graduate level, is required.

The M.S. degree is oriented towards research and requires the successful completion of coursework as well as a research study and thesis. A student devoting half-time to graduate studies typically requires two years (six to seven semesters) of coursework and research to complete the M.S. degree. This degree program is designed for individuals expecting to terminate their formal education with the M.S. degree or to proceed to a Ph.D. degree program. The M.S. degree is the normal prerequisite for the AEPS Ph.D. program in the Department of Plant Science. Whether terminal or Ph.D.-oriented, the objectives of M.S. studies are to enhance the student's understanding of an area of plant science beyond the baccalaureate level and attain scientific research skills. Because most M.S. degree candidates are just beginning their research careers, they typically receive considerable guidance in choosing and executing their thesis research projects. However, upon completion of the M.S. degree, the students are expected to have developed the capacity for independent research.

The plan of study followed by a M.S. degree candidate is determined by the candidate's background and interests and is developed jointly by the student and the advisor, with the approval of the student's graduate committee. Department of Plant Science Graduate Faculty members strive to provide students with an academic environment that will foster scholarly and creative activities. Successful completion of a graduate program in AEPS requires demonstration of creativity and the ability to think independently. Students will have an opportunity to develop and display their individual abilities and talents through participation in courses, seminars, research activities, writing, and public speaking.

In addition to a thesis, the AEPS M.S. program requires completion of at least 30 course credits at the 400, 500, 600, or 800 level, with at least 18 credits at the graduate level (500 and 600, combined). A minimum of 12 credits in course work (400, 500, and 800 series) and at least 6 credits in thesis research (AEPS 600 or AEPS 610) must be included in the M.S. program. One credit of AEPS 602 'Supervised Experience in College Teaching' is required for completion of the program but does not count towards the 30-course credit requirement for the degree. At least 20 credits must be earned at the University Park Campus.

Applying for Admission to the AEPS Graduate Program

Applications for admission to the AEPS graduate program are accepted year-round.  However, because admission decisions are typically made in January and February, applications received in the fall have the best chance of being considered for the following year.  Also, to meet the annual nomination deadline for College of Agricultural Sciences and Graduate School special fellowships and awards applications must be completed by mid-December.

Before deciding to apply for admission to the AEPS graduate program and an assistantship, the AEPS Graduate Admissions Committee strongly suggests contacting Department faculty members with research programs that match your interests to determine if they may be interested in sponsoring you as graduate student.  You can review all Plant Science Department faculty and their research interests in our faculty directory.

This procedure is usually necessary because assistantships are awarded competitively to students accepted for mentorship by individual faculty and thus, these professors make the decision about who is eligible for their assistantships.  If you find that a faculty member that may be interested in supporting your graduate work, be sure to identify the faculty member in your statement of interests and goals in the application. 

How to Apply

All applications for admission to graduate programs at Penn State must be made through the Graduate School at Penn State.  The Graduate School has application information and instructions on application procedures at: Graduate School application for admission.  The application fee is currently $65.00. 

Detailed Requirements

A detailed outline of all requirements for successful completion of the M.S. in Agricultural and Environmental Plant Science can be found online in the Graduate Program in Agricultural and Environmental Plant Science (AEPS) Student Handbook. Below are a subset of requirements.

Degree Requirements

Required core courses

AEPS 502 Current Issues in Agricultural Innovation (2 credits)

AEPS 515 Professional Development for the Plant Sciences (3 credits)

AEPS 555 Effective Scientific Communications (3 credits)

AEPS 602 Supervised Experience in College Teaching* (1 credit)

AEPS 590 Colloquium (Final Semester) (1 credit)

*Even though one credit of AEPS 602 is required, it cannot be counted towards fulfilling the course credit requirement for the degree.

AEPS 502 'Current Issues in Agricultural Innovation' is taught in the fall in alternate years; thus, M.S. students should take this course during the first fall semester it is offered.

Electives: Choose appropriate courses in statistical methods (minimum of one 3 credit course) at 400-800 level by the end of the third semester.

Choose from 400-800 level courses in AGRO, AEPS, BIOL, ENT, FOR, HORT, INTAD, PLBIO, PPATH, PPEM, SOILS, STAT, TURF, or related areas with approval of advisory committee.

Research credits: AEPS 600 or AEPS 610 Course numbers 600 (on campus) and 610 (off campus) are available for credit in thesis or dissertation research. No other course numbers may be used for thesis research work. The bursar assesses charges for these courses at the current rate of tuition according to the student's status at the time of registration. A minimum of 6 thesis research credits (AEPS 600 or AEPS 610) must be included in the M.S. program and are typically assigned an "R" grade instead of a quality grade (A, B, or C). The Graduate Council has established limits on the total number of research credits that can be assigned quality grades in a student's program (i.e., A, B, C; other than R): 6 credits for M.S. candidates and 12 credits for Ph.D. candidates.

Teaching credits: AEPS 602 A teaching experience is required of all M.S. students in the Department. of Plant Science. This experience shall consist of one semester of classroom teaching assistance documented by at least one credit of AEPS 602. NOTE: Even though one credit of AEPS 602 is required, it cannot be counted towards fulfilling the credit requirement for the degree. Equivalent teaching experience completed outside of the Department may be substituted for this requirement. An example of equivalent experience could involve development of a Cooperative Extension program that involves clientele-oriented oral presentations and assistance with publications. Students may waive the formal classroom teaching requirement only by written concurrence of the thesis adviser, Graduate Program Director, and Department Head.

Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) training: SARI is a responsible conduct of research (RCR) education program for graduate students, postdocs, and faculty at Penn State. The SARI program is designed to create an awareness of ethical principles and established professional norms in the performance of all activities related to scholarship and research. The goal of this program is to foster trust among scholars and researchers and to increase the public's support for research.

All scholars confront ethical issues, and training can be beneficial to prepare graduate students to address ethical challenges that may arise in their work. Penn State requires RCR training for all graduate students to ensure the ethical conduct of research and scholarship at the University. In addition, funding agencies including NIH, NSF, and NIFA have requirements for RCR training for students, postdoctoral researchers, and other trainees.

Penn State's SARI program has two components:

  • Online Training: Completion of at least one online course in CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative): Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), Human Subjects Research (IRB), or Animal Research (IACUC). The RCR course is recommended for AEPS graduate students. Researchers funded by National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) must take the RCR course in CITI, as outlined in the terms and conditions of all NIFA grants. Note: The online CITI training is different from the CATS submission trainings, which do not count toward SARI credit.
  • Discussion-Based Education: Participation in a minimum of 5 hours of in-person, discussion-based educational activities that address topics related to the RCR is required by all AEPS graduate students before graduation. This is a one-time requirement that does not need to be fulfilled each year. A 2-hour workshop offered each spring by Department of Plant Science faculty, 1 hour is offered in AEPS 502, and 3 hours are offered in AEPS 515. Certain Rock Ethics events can also count for SARI credit. The Office of Research Protections (ORP) offers workshops for SARI credit in the Fall and Spring Semesters. Only 2 of the 5 hours required can be obtained from workshops outside of the Department.

AEPS Graduate students must complete both the online AND discussion-based SARI components. The ORP highly recommends the RCR course be taken in the first year of enrollment. SARI is tracked in LionPath by the AEPS Graduate Program Coordinator.

M.S. student advisory committee: The M.S. student advisory committee must consist of at least three members of the Graduate Faculty, including the student's faculty advisor and two additional members. At least one member must be outside of the AEPS program. At times it may be desirable to have two faculty serve as co-advisors. If a minor is selected, a faculty member representing the minor field will serve on the advisory committee. Selection of the committee shall be by the advisor and student, in consultation and agreement with faculty members asked to serve.

The M.S. advisory committee should be appointed during the first semester of enrollment. The advisor, in consultation with the committee, is responsible for selection and direction of the student's plan of study and for selection and supervision of thesis research. A plan of the proposed thesis research is to be submitted to the committee by the student by the end of the second semester. The committee will subsequently meet with the student to provide feedback.

Proposal meeting: The proposal meeting should take place by the end of the second semester of the student's M.S. program. This meeting involves presentation of the student's thesis research proposal to the advisory committee and approval of a course work plan. A written proposal (including hypothesis, objectives, and methods) should be delivered to each member of the committee at least one week before the proposal meeting. The AEPS Graduate Program Coordinator should be notified ahead of the meeting by completing the proposal meeting form.

In the meeting, the student will present the research plan at the meeting for discussion and recommendations by members of the committee. Changes agreed upon by the committee members, adviser, and student will be incorporated in a revised research plan. If a new draft is required, it will be completed within one month of the meeting. Subsequent revisions of the plan may be accomplished by consulting committee members individually. Copies of each revision will be distributed to committee members for their concurrence.

The advisory committee will consider the coursework plan in the context of the student's prior preparation, performance on the competency evaluation, and professional goals. The committee may approve the plan as presented or require additional courses.

Colloquium: Sometime during their final semester, M.S. degree candidates must present a scheduled public seminar of their thesis work. This involves taking 1 credit of AEPS 590 and presenting a seminar to the Department of Plant Science faculty and graduate students. The seminar requirement will have equivalent status to all other requirements for the M.S. degree and certification of graduation requirements will not be granted without evidence that the seminar has been given.

Minimum grade-point average: A minimum grade-point average of 3.0 (4.0 basis) for graduate work done at the University is required for graduation.

Final oral exam (thesis defense): Upon completion of the thesis, the student is required to pass an oral examination given by the student's M.S. advisory committee. The final oral exam will be based on the student's written thesis which shall be prepared in accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School and the AEPS graduate program.

As author of the thesis, the M.S. student is responsible for meeting all the Graduate School deadlines, format and signature requirements, as well as the thesis/dissertation fee. Students must first apply to graduate on LionPATH at the beginning of the semester they plan to defend the thesis. See the instructions for applying.

The completed M.S. thesis must be submitted to the advisory committee at least 10 days prior to the scheduled final oral exam. The thesis should be in a technical and grammatical form that is acceptable to the committee and conform to requirements in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide.

The advisory committee typically requests a presentation during the oral exam. A favorable vote of a two-thirds majority of the committee is required for passing. The student should be able to marshal a satisfactory defense of the methods, findings, and conclusions of the thesis, and be able to relate the findings to pertinent literature and demonstrate acceptable knowledge in the major and minor fields.

After passing the exam the advisory committee will sign the appropriate forms for completion of the M.S. degree. If a candidate fails the oral exam, the committee will determine whether another exam may be taken at a later date. Only one re-examination shall be offered.

After passing the oral exam the student makes edits suggested by the advisory committee members. Once all edits are completed and accepted by the committee, the student uploads a draft of the thesis for format review (pdf only) to the eTD website. All M.S. theses must be submitted electronically. When a thesis is submitted to the eTD website, it must meet the deadline requirement and formatting standards set forth in the Thesis and Dissertation Guide. Corrections and detailed instructions will be returned to the student by email. For more information on electronic theses and dissertations (eTDs), visit the eTD website.