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Graduate Field of Plant Breeding

Plant genetics and breeding for the benefit of humankind

The Field of Plant Breeding at Cornell University offers degrees in plant breeding and plant genetics, using molecular approaches to crop improvement and creation of superior agricultural, horticultural, and ornamental varieties. Graduates with degrees from these programs are poised with the knowledge and experience to direct plant breeding research at private companies or public institutions.

Graduate student research is supervised by faculty located either in Ithaca or at the Cornell AgriTech at Geneva, New York. Students interested in vegetable, fruit, or ornamental crops may also consider admission to the Field of Horticulture.


The Field of Plant Breeding welcomes applications from U.S. and international students with an interest in modern crop breeding and genetics. Department faculty provide training that links applied crop improvement with the latest discoveries in plant genomics and bioinformatics. Some students begin their graduate studies immediately after earning B.S. or M.S. degrees, while others return to school after working for some time.

A strong background in biology is preferable, but occasionally, students are admitted with other types of experience.


Master of Science (M.S.)

Graduate students may choose either Plant Breeding or Plant Genetics as a concentration within the Field of Plant Breeding. In general, students are required to complete appropriate course work, conduct high quality research, and submit an M.S. thesis presenting their research.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or M.S./Ph.D.

Graduate students may choose either Plant Breeding or Plant Genetics as a concentration within the Field of Plant Breeding. In general, students are required to complete appropriate course work, conduct high quality research, and submit an M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation presenting their research.

Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences

The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences degree offered through the School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS) is a one-year, course-based master's degree, ideal for individuals who are interested in in-depth study of the issues and advancements in plant and soil sciences. The MPS degree program prepares students for the 21st century workplace through knowledge development and career skill set refinement.

Program Description

The program has two main components: specialized, course-based instruction led by world-class faculty and a capstone project aimed at solving a real-world problem:

  1. Coursework: Students work with a faculty advisor to map out their individualized course of study based on their area(s) of interest. While the majority of courses (20 credits) will be in CALS, students have the flexibility to take courses across Cornell.
  2. Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem.

The mix of coursework and capstone project equips students with the skill set and knowledge necessary for careers in industry, government, or non-profit agencies. Some students may decide to continue in research. As part of a cohort with other professional master’s students in SIPS, students are able to take courses aimed at developing career potential.

Possible MPS Specializations

Close up photo of a plant.

Controlled Environment Agriculture

One of the fastest growing areas of agriculture, is an advanced and intensive form of hydroponically-based agriculture. Plants are grown within a controlled environment so that horticultural practices can be optimized. This specialization emphasizes specific skills to understand lighting, hydroponic production, pest control, and horticultural aspects of production will be part of the program.

Hemp Science

Focused on the development of specific skills to understand plant breeding and genetics; hydroponic and field crop production; processing; food, fiber and medicinal applications; and product development. Students will also have a broad-based understanding of the industry from seed to sales, exploring the legal and regulatory environment and challenges facing the cannabis industry today and in the future.

Public Garden Leadership

Focused on the management of public gardens and requires a mix of academic training and practical experience. This specialization emphasizes leadership, strategic decision making, and business management, preparing students for managerial and leadership roles in the public garden field.


Viticulture is the science, production and study of grapes. This specialization emphasizes knowledge development and hands-on experience. With Cornell’s ideal location in the Finger Lakes region – home to nearly 10,000 acres of vineyards – students will be exposed to every aspect of grape growing and wine making.

Plant Protection

Plant Protection encompasses strategies and tactics for managing the three major groups of plant pests: insects, weeds, and plant pathogens.  The framework for this broad scope of pests, disciplines and tactics is termed integrated pest management or IPM.  Students in the Plant Protection MPS specialization will take courses with IPM experts from each of the three types of pests.

Plant Biotechnology

Plant Biotechnology is a set of methods used to adapt plants for specific needs or opportunities. Gene editing is one of these technologies and is becoming widely used in agribusiness research and development. This specialization provides skills not only in plant gene editing, but also plant propagation, and molecular tools needed for jobs in this area.

Geospatial Applications

Geospatial Applications is the use of modern tools to geographically map and analyze the Earth and human societies. This specialization provides education in the geospatial application, including GIS, to develop data management and decision-making skills for a wide range of geographical data.

Other Specializations

In addition, SIPS also offers the following specializations:

  • Breeding of Horticultural Crops
  • Horticultural Crop Management Systems
  • Physiology and Ecology of Horticultural Crops
  • Human-Plant Interactions
  • Agronomy
  • Field Crop Science
  • Soil Science
  • Environmental Information Systems
  • Environmental Management

and the potential to create your own curriculum.