Program Overview

The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences focus area in Plant Protection encompasses strategies and tactics for managing insect pests, weeds, and plant pathogens. Students in this focus area take courses with Integrated Pest Management experts and master the application of applied concepts from allied fields such as economics, ecology, and toxicology. 

The increasing demand for agricultural products is driving both an increased value of agricultural products and value of protecting those products from pests.  These trends are creating an increasing demand for trained pest management professionals to work in long-term positions with corporations or government agencies and to work as shorter term consultants.

Focus Area details

The skills developed can be applied to numerous applications and careers including consulting and direct management of plant pests in systems such as:

  • Field crops such as corn, soybean, and alfalfa
  • Fruits and vegetables including both organic and conventional methods
  • Public spaces such as parks and playgrounds
  • Private spaces including lawns and gardens
  • Interior spaces such as homes and offices
  • Interior plant production in greenhouses
  • Plant product inspection at border crossings
  • Government or corporate research and development facilities

The MPS Plant Protection Focus Area is fairly new but Cornell has a very long history in plant protection research and instruction including establishment of the first Entomology Department in the United States.  While many doctoral students have gone on to academic careers, students with bachelor's and master's degrees in plant protection fields have gone on to positions including:

  • Border inspection specialists with USDA-APHIS
  • Research/outreach with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Pest control product development and testing
  • Pest survey and management positions with federal, state, and local units (e.g. NYSIPM)

To learn more about these courses,  visit the Courses of Study website.

Coursework is specifically designed to meet the needs of each student. A minimum of 30 credit hours related to the candidate's professional interest is required to graduate.  The student and their faculty advisor decide on a plan of study. Here are some of the classes that are available; there are several more from which to choose:

Integrative Plant Science Core:

Required:

  • PLSCI 5500 Let Your Life Speak: Selfhood, Community, Change
  • ALS 5900 Master of Professional Studies Project Development
  • ALS 5910 Master of Professional Studies Project Completion

Recommended:

  • ALS 5211 Career Readiness: Engaged Learning for CALS Professional Master’s Students
  • LEAD 5100 Leadership Skills for Graduate Students

Plant Protection Courses (recommended):

  • PLSCI 5940 Skills for Public Engagement
  • PLPPM 5010 Biology and Management of Plant Diseases
  • PLSCS 5150 Weed Biology and Management
  • PLPPM 6010 Molecular Biology of Plant-Microbe Interactions
  • BTRY 6010 Statistical Methods I
  • PLSCS 6440 Integrated Pest Management

While the curriculum is broad, all aspects will reflect three central principles:

  • Tools not Prescriptions: Every plant and pest interaction is unique.  Pest management parameters are in constant flux with a changing suite of pests (e.g. invasive species), shifting effectiveness and availability of management options (e.g. resistance, regulation), and evolving market preferences (e.g. organic production).  Learning a specific strategy for one set of conditions will have limited value but a set of tools and skills to tailor a strategy for any set of conditions is adaptable, scalable and portable.
  • Management not Control:  Action should be taken to control a pest population only when the benefits outweigh the costs.  This is the distinction that separates pest management from pest control that seeks to keep plants free from all pests at all times regardless of the cost.  Evaluating costs and benefits is not trivial as there are often factors that extend beyond one field or one growing season, but considering both costs and benefits is a core principle of plant protection.
  • Prevention before Control.  Pesticides can be provide extremely effective pest management often at a very low cost.  Designing plant production systems that are less likely to be colonized or exploited by pests can be even more effective and less costly.  Also, preventive methods are the only option for many pests, including almost all plant pathogens, for which there are no effective pesticides.  The most effective and resilient plant protection programs incorporate system design to minimize the frequency and severity of pest attack with effective use of reactive tactics when preventive tactics are overcome.

The ideal candidate will demonstrate a passion for working with plants, competency in undergraduate science coursework, and interest in applying knowledge gained in a professional career. Admission requirements include:

  • Online application through Cornell Graduate School
  • Bachelor’s degree in scientific field
  • For non-science background, at least 15 credit hours of introductory college-level science courses, including general chemistry, general biology, and corresponding labs
  • Current résumé or CV
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL/IELTS for international applicants, per Graduate School guidelines

CALS MPS program details

Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program is an accredited, course-based, one-year Master’s degree program that emphasizes professional development and intellectual investigation in the areas of agriculture, life sciences and global development.

Though similar to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in its academic rigor, the MPS degree differs from a traditional M.S. degree in its structure and focus. An M.S. is research-based, with students building a thesis over the course of two or three years. In contrast, the MPS degree is a one-year, course-based program where students study the intricacies and in-depth questions of their field of study. Instead of a thesis or research project, MPS students complete a capstone project during their final semester. To understand this difference in greater detail, please visit our FAQ page.

MPS students are part of a community of diverse students and faculty who share common goals, connecting research and practice to solve complex problems. 

 

The Master of Professional Studies program has two main components:

  • Coursework: Students work with a faculty advisor to map out their individualized course of study based on their areas of interest. The majority of courses (20 credits) will be within CALS; however, students have the opportunity to take courses across Cornell.
  • Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem.
  • Satisfactory completion of a minimum of 30 credit hours related to the candidate's professional interest, as agreed upon with the faculty advisor.
    (a)   Twenty credit hours must be taken within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and at least 24 credits must be in courses numbered 5000 or higher. 
    (b)   A maximum of 6 of the required 30 credit hours may be earned through the student's problem-solving project (see third bullet).
    (c)   A maximum of 6 credit hours earned outside the program, at Cornell University or elsewhere, may be counted toward these requirements at the discretion of the student's faculty advisor. These credits must be appropriate to the subject of study and completed not more than five years before admission.
  • Completion of a minimum of two semesters. One semester must be earned by carrying a minimum of 12 credit hours. In certain circumstances, the second semester credit may be earned by accumulating the remaining credit hours in the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell University or through transfer of credit (see item c above).
  • Satisfactory completion of a problem-solving project under the supervision of the faculty advisor. This project may be an action program, the development of a plan to address a pertinent problem, the development of materials or methodology suited to the student's situation, or the development and execution of research appropriate to the profession. A formal project report must be submitted to and approved by the candidate's faculty advisor. 
  • A minimum grade point average of 2.5 (minimum of 18 credit hours with letter grades at Cornell).
  • Completion of the degree within four years of admission. Some fields of study may have special requirements, so students should check with the field's director of graduate studies for specific details.

Students work with top-ranked faculty who are leaders in their field on an experiential project that fosters professional skill development through the creation of solutions to real-world problems.

Next steps

Fall application deadline: February 1 (priority), March 15 (general)

Graduate student working with diseased plants in growth chamber

plant protection faculty spotlight

Antonio DiTommaso

Toni's research focuses on gaining a more in-depth understanding of the basic biological/ecological principles governing agricultural and environmental weed population dynamics that ultimately lead to the development and implementation of safe, effective, sustainable and economically viable weed management strategies.  He is also Section Chair and Director of Graduate Studies in Soil and Crop Sciences.

Toni DiTommaso outside Bradfield Hall

Meet some of our Plant Protection Focus Area faculty

A man stands smiling in a fruit orchard
Kerik Cox

Associate Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section

Cornell AgriTech

Kerik Cox
Orchard fungal ecology
Fungicide resistance
Pesticide stewardship, fruit pathology
Antonio DiTommaso
Toni DiTommaso

Professor and Chair

School of Integrative Plant Science

Soil and Crop Sciences Section

Toni DiTommaso
Weed ecology
Invasive species
Biological weed management
Michelle Heck
Michelle Heck

Adjunct Associate Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section

Michelle Heck
  • mlc68 [at] cornell.edu
Molecular interactions among plant pathogens, insect vectors, and plant hosts
Louis Longchamps
Louis Longchamps

Assistant Professor

Soil and Crop Sciences Section

School of Integrative Plant Science

Louis Longchamps
  • ll928 [at] cornell.edu
Precision agriculture
Site-specific weed management and variable rate nitrogen management
On-farm research
Rebecca Nelson
Rebecca Nelson

Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section

Plant Breeding and Genetics Section

Professor

Department of Global Development

Rebecca Nelson
Genetics of quantitative disease resistance in plants
International agriculture and rural development
Mycotoxin management
Chris Smart
Christine Smart

Director

School of Integrative Plant Science

Professor

School of Integrative Plant Science

Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section

Christine Smart
Biology and management of vegetable diseases
Host-pathogen interactions
John Losey

Professor

Department of Entomology

John Losey