Graduate students entering the Field of Horticulture for a Masters or Doctorate degree are expected to have completed the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in biology, horticulture, or agriculture. If they do not have such a background, they are expected to make up any deficiencies with appropriate undergraduate courses, as determined by the student's special committee. Students who are seeking a Masters of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) may be admitted from many undergraduate disciplines.

Each student has a Special Committee, which consists of the major advisor and representatives of the minor subjects. One minor subject is required for M.S. students, and two minor subjects are required for Ph.D. candidates. The committee provides advice about recommended courses and research activities and administers the required exams. Ph.D. candidates must pass the oral “A-exam,” usually taken after coursework is completed. Both M.S. and Ph.D. candidates must defend their theses at the “B-exam” and give a public seminar describing their work.

Requirement Details

Master of Science (M.S.) requirements

  • Students select a Special Committee composed of one professor representing the major field and at least one professor representing a minor field.
  • The student's Special Committee determines coursework and credits for the M.S. degree.
  • Committee members advise students in the selection and conduct of research problems for the thesis.
  • Candidates must submit an acceptable hypothesis-driven thesis based on a research project and pass a final oral exam.
  • Teaching experience is required and can be satisfied by assisting a faculty member in teaching a course.
  • Fulfill a minimum of 2 registration units (two semesters). Candidates are expected to complete degree requirements in two years, but have up to 4 years to complete requirements.

Students for the Master of Science degree majoring in horticulture are expected to demonstrate competence in the three core areas of Horticultural Biology, Horticultural Production and Management, and Horticultural Methods.

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

  • It is generally expected that students will complete a Masters degree before beginning a Ph.D. in Horticulture. However the Graduate Field can also admit students with strong preparation directly to a Ph.D. program without a Masters, or enroll students in an M.S./Ph.D. program.  
  • Students admitted directly to the Ph.D. program without an M.S. should have demonstrated research capabilities in the form of honors degrees, published papers, and overall academic excellence.
  • Students who desire a Ph.D. but do not possess a Masters and have not demonstrated research capabilities may be admitted to an M.S./Ph.D. program. The student will begin a Masters program.  After no less than 1 year or more than 3 years, the student should give a presentation at the grad field review, departmental seminar or professional conference and pass a Qualifying Conference (Q exam) with his or her committee where a summary of work to date and proposal for Ph.D. research should be discussed. No separate Masters theses would be necessary for such students. After the presentation and 'Q' Conference, the student would be eligible to change his or her program to a Ph.D. by filing an R1 Student Program Change form with the graduate school.  Without a presentation and successful 'Q' conference by the end of a 3-year period, the student will be advised to complete a Masters degree only. The time to complete an M.S./Ph.D. program is approximately 4-6 years.  
  • Students select a Special Committee composed of one professor representing the major field and at least two other professors from different graduate fields. This approach permits the student to work with those faculty members who can best direct the student's graduate study, regardless of college, department, or field affiliation.
  • The student's Special Committee determines coursework and registration credits for the Ph.D. degree.
  • Committee members advise students in the selection and conduct of dissertation research.
  • Candidates must submit an acceptable dissertation based on a research project.
  • Pass the "Q" conference—an oral qualifying conference that includes critical examination of proposed research and an evaluation of qualifications, scheduled early in the residency.
  • Pass the "A" exam—an oral exam reviewing the student's mastery of subject matter related to his/her thesis topic and the course work taken. Candidates must earn two additional semester registration units before taking the final "B" examination.
  • Pass the "B" exam, or final examination on the subject of their dissertation.
  • Teaching experience is required and can be satisfied by assisting a faculty member in teaching one or more courses.
  • Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete degree requirements in 4-5.years, but may be allowed up to 7 years to complete their degree.
  • A minimum of 6 registration units (6 semesters) are required for the Ph.D.  For students completing an M.S./Ph.D., registration units beyond the 2 units required for the M.S. may be put towards the 6 registration units required for the Ph.D.

Doctoral students majoring in the Field of Horticulture are expected to develop broad competence in each of three core areas: Horticulture Biology, Horticultural Production and Management, and Horticultural Methods during their course of study or show evidence of having attained that competence previously.

The large number of courses suggested for each concentration will allow students, working with their special committee, to tailor to individual needs. It is expected that all graduate students attend the weekly Horticulture seminar (Hort 6000).

The Graduate School has no course requirements for obtaining an advanced degree. Your course program is developed with the advice and direction of your special committee. Specific courses may be required by members of the committee and are usually suggested as a means to obtain essential training to save students from having to spend more time and effort in mastering the subject independently. Students should use their own judgment, along with the advice of the committee, in deciding which courses will provide the best training for future needs.

It is assumed that graduate students entering the Field of Horticulture will have completed the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in biology, horticulture or agriculture. If they do not have such a background, it is expected that they make up any deficiencies with appropriate undergraduate courses, as determined by the student’s special committee.

Doctoral students majoring in the Field of Horticulture are expected to develop broad competence in each of three core areas: Horticulture Biology, Horticultural Production and Management, and Horticultural Methods. Doctoral students are expected to select a minimum of 3 credits in Horticulture from Horticulture Biology and Horticultural Production and Management; and 1 course in Horticultural Methods during their course of study, or show evidence of having attained that competence previously. The large number of courses suggested for each concentration will allow students, working with their special committee, to tailor to individual needs. It is expected that all doctoral students will take 4 semesters of the horticulture seminar (Hort 6000: Seminar in Horticulture).

Students for the Master’s Degree majoring in horticulture will be expected to demonstrate competence in the three core areas. All Masters students will enroll in at least two semesters of Hort 6000: Seminar in Horticulture. All Masters candidates are expected, if possible, to show competence in teaching, by having prior teaching experience, by serving as a teaching assistant in a course for one semester, or by enrolling in a course on college-level teaching.

Semi-Annual Graduate Review

Each semester graduate students present a brief oral summary of their research to the entire Graduate Field. Each student presents once a year. Students who are presenting full seminars for the Department are exempt from presenting at the graduate field reviews for that year. Sharing research progress with faculty and other graduate students encourages the exchange of ideas and the possibility of modifying research directions. Students who have not started thesis research present a research plan. Students are encouraged to share their accomplishments, goals, frustrations, and projected completion dates. Students presenting submit an abstract and review form in advance so that a report can be printed before the review. Reports are distributed to faculty and students at the review. Faculty meet for a short time after the presentations to discuss concerns or unusual circumstances related to each student’s progress. Reviews are scheduled in August and January, just before classes start.


All members of the graduate faculty are notified of examinations and all are welcome to attend. Students are responsible for notifying the graduate field assistant at least two weeks in advance to reserve a room and send a notice to graduate faculty. Students must submit a Schedule of Exam form for all exams (except Ph.D. qualifying) to the Graduate School at least one week in advance otherwise the exam results are not valid. All exams must be held on the Ithaca campus and all members of your committee must be present. Extensive information on Exams, Doctoral Dissertation and Master’s Thesis production can and should be obtained from the Graduate School. Note: All research degree candidates (M.S. and PhD) must apply for graduation using the Graduation Manager (Online) system during the semester prior to their anticipated conferral date. Even if your degree does not require a thesis or dissertation you must still apply for graduation. Students in professional degree programs may apply for graduation through their field or affiliated college. Ask your GFA for clarification if you are unsure. After each examination, a Results of Examination form must be filled out and submitted to the Graduate School within three business days and a copy to the graduate field assistant.


The Graduate Faculty in the Field of Horticulture have decided to re-name what was formerly known as the Q-Exam to the Qualifying Conference or Q-Conference. This was done to more accurately reflect the nature and purpose of this meeting. Contact the GFA for specifics and meeting room reservation.

While the Q-conference is not required by the Graduate School, it is a requirement of the Field of Horticulture for PhD candidates. This should take place before the beginning of the third semester but no later than the end of the third semester of the PhD.
The purpose of the Q-conference (qualifying exam):

  • To convene the committee members and the student to discuss and evaluate the student’s proposed research plan. Students should schedule the Q-conference when they have a clear focus on what they are going to work on and have had a chance to put together a written outline or research proposal on the topic. The expectation is for the student to have read much of the literature directly relating to his/her research project and be prepared to answer questions justifying his/her approach to the research. This should take place before the beginning of the third semester of the Ph.D.
  • To determine what courses still need to be taken or discuss ways the student can gain the necessary background to accomplish their research program. Students should bring a list of courses they have taken at Cornell and relevant course work from their MS or undergraduate days. They should write down their goals for the research work and any other academic goals they might have (e.g. getting teaching credentials, getting extension experience, writing for various audiences, etc.).

An outline of the proposed research or research proposal, list of relevant classes, and academic goals should be given to each of the committee members at least one week before the Q-conference. This will provide a clear focus and discussion on the proposed research project. Is it well thought-out? What have others done in this area? Is it doable in the time frame given? Are there adequate facilities and support to carry it out? Is the student ready to take on this project? Does his/her background allow for critical thinking in this subject area? Are there courses that are missing and should be added?

The Q-conference is a way to officially launch the Ph.D. work, with the agreement of the committee as to how the research will be pursued. It is also a good way to encourage the student to organize their thinking. It should be a positive experience. A minimum of 2-hours should be scheduled for this.

The student must notify the GFA at least two weeks in advance of the Q-conference so that other faculty members of the graduate field can be notified should they wish to attend or contribute. A Q-conference form will be given to the student for all committee members to sign at the end and the form should be returned to the Graduate Field Assistant.

In rare instances, if the Q-conference results are unsatisfactory, the committee chair shall write a detailed evaluation and counsel the student with his/her options.

A Exam

Exam for Admission to Doctoral Candidacy for PhD students

A comprehensive exam given by the student’s committee to test his/her general knowledge in the areas of plant sciences and related fields relevant to the student’s PhD program in Horticulture. It is designed to determine your ability to begin research. It is not to discuss your specific research topic or research results although it may enter the discussion. Although questions of specific factual nature are common, emphasis is also placed on your ability to utilize and synthesize your knowledge to address more complex problems. A minimum of 3-hours should be scheduled; although there is no time limit, some have gone more than 4-hours. It is typically an oral exam and some written questions are allowed if a faculty member so chooses. It is appropriate and useful to discuss examination expectations with your committee members well in advance of the exam. Other faculty members in the Field are invited to participate, are allowed to ask questions, and typically do not ask many questions. Each exam is unique. Therefore others’ experiences only represent what can happen, not what will happen.

The student generally provides a list of courses s/he has taken as a graduate student. Questions relating to these classes as well as background information relating to the student’s current research are fair game. You are encouraged to chat with each of the committee members to get a sense of topics that the committee member may ask about.

By Graduate School rules, this exam must be taken a minimum of 1 year before the thesis defense exam.

B Exam

Final Defense for PhD or Thesis Defense Exam for MS. PhD students must have earned at least 2 registration units (RU) between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

See Thesis and Dissertation for detailed instructions and procedures including resource list of typists, editors, and couriers.

This oral exam will discuss the student’s research and dissertation or thesis manuscript. It is expected that at the start of the exam the student will prepare and give a brief 10-15 minutes oral presentation of the main methods and results of the project to set the stage for the discussion and to demonstrate the ability to present their work. Questions may address the scientific background of the research and hypotheses, the general approaches and specific methods used, the results, and the interpretation of the results. At least 3-hours should be scheduled for the PhD and 2-hours for the MS thesis defense. Normally, there are some changes required in the dissertation or thesis after the exam and may require from a few days to a few weeks to complete.

A suggestion: In general it is extremely difficult to re-write thesis chapters for journal publications after a student has left to assume new duties elsewhere. It is recommended that the thesis be written in the “manuscript” format where the publishable chapters are in the complete form of a manuscript for submission to a scientific journal. The publisher will then require only minor editorial revisions and it can be submitted quickly.

Field Appointed Committee Member

The Director of Graduate Studies may assign an additional member of the Field of Horticulture to participate in your A/B exams and/or final exam. This person would be recorded on your Special Committee as: Field Appointment Member for Exam.

Thesis - Dissertation

Thesis or Dissertation Deadlines (Code VI.G.4) Guide to Graduate Study:

You must submit a complete draft to all members of your Special committee at least six (6) weeks before the final masters or B exam; however, your Special Committee may modify this requirement. At least five (5) days before the exam, you must provide all members of your Special committee with a complete, formatted, and editorially acceptable copy of the thesis or dissertation for final approval but keep in mind, your examining committee may still require modifications. Final Examinations may not be scheduled until this requirement has been met.

When you have a finished an approved manuscript:

MPS Ag: You need to provide one bound copy to the MPS Ag Program Assistant in Roberts Hall with your completed Attestation Form and Checklist. Provide one bound copy to the Graduate Field Assistant, and provide copies to your committee.
The Grad School encourages all students to submit their final, approved thesis on-line using Graduation Manager at the Graduate School website. This requires you to convert your document to PDF format. The approved digital document is automatically forwarded to a local printer. Any charges, including printing, will appear on your bursar bill.

MS: Submit the thesis electronically through the Graduate School website Graduation Manager. Follow the directions via Graduation manager re: University requirements when ordering your thesis copies. Note that one copy (regular paper, not archival-quality) for the Field of Horticulture library in 22 Plant Science should be sent to the Graduate Field Assistant; your chair and committee members may also require their own printed copy.

PhD: Submit the thesis electronically through the Graduate School website Graduation Manager. Follow the directions via Graduation manager re: University requirements when ordering your thesis copies. Note that one copy (regular paper, not archival-quality) for the Field of Horticulture library in 22 Plant Science should be sent to the Graduate Field Assistant; your chair and committee members may also require their own printed copy.

Complete details for thesis and dissertation submission requirements can be found at the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation.

Note: Our Director of Graduate Studies will not sign off your name on the provisional degree list until the field has received a copy of your thesis.

Publishing Your Research Work

Students are encouraged to publish their research results in professional journals so their work can be widely disseminated. This is easily accomplished if the thesis is organized and written with this intent. Professional journal articles are a source of pride for the student, enhances career opportunities, and reflects well on the reputation of the Department. Few academicians read theses from other institutions, so the only practical way of sharing scientific contributions is through professional journals. If you expect to publish part, or all, of your thesis, you will be required to sign a License to Use Copyrighted Material form with the Thesis Advisor at the Graduate School.


Information on degree conferral dates, commencement and diploma distribution can be obtained from the Thesis Advisor at the Graduate School, 350 Caldwell Hall, 255-5810, or Office of Commencement Events.

Graduate TAships


The faculty in the graduate Field of Horticulture believes that it is important for graduate students to participate in activities that support the department, while simultaneously gaining experiences that will be useful in a career. Graduate students are expected to contribute to the department/field in meaningful ways, particularly if support is coming from a department assistantship. A major way that graduate students contribute is by serving as a teaching assistant. Nearly all graduates will eventually be in a position where they have to teach others. In order to have a well-rounded education, we expect all students to have substantive and meaningful experience teaching. Serving as a teaching assistant (TA) or, in exceptional circumstances, playing a major teaching role in extension/outreach programs, can satisfy this expectation.

All graduate students supported by the Field of Horticulture are expected to contribute to departmental teaching, research and outreach efforts, in accordance with their interests and abilities, and the needs of the Field and Departments. In turn, the Field and Sections will strive to allocate TA responsibilities and other Section assignments equitably and fairly among all graduate students.

In addition, when a student’s limited proficiency in English prevents them from serving as a TA in the classroom, or a suitable TA experience cannot be found, the student may be required to take a course aimed at developing his or her English proficiency and teaching skills in order to teach in the future; or they may be asked to help out with Section activities such as web site development, curriculum or outreach program development and delivery, to satisfy the obligations of accepting Section assistantship support.


  • All MS and PhD students regardless of funding source are required to serve as TAs, or provide some equivalent service in curricular activities; at least once for a MS, and twice for a PhD, during their time at Cornell.
  • MPS students are encouraged to TA if they are interested in doing so, but are not required to do so unless they receive tuition and stipend support from the Field of Horticulture.
  • MS and PhD students funded on an assistantship or endowment from the Horticulture Section may be required to TA during each semester. Such expectations will be spelled out in their acceptance letter. Faculty members shall accommodate the need for their graduate students to TA, and alter research and coursework expectations accordingly. Every effort will be made to ensure that teaching or departmental curriculum assignments are distributed fairly and that any special circumstances of individual graduate students are considered. Students with previous coursework and expertise in a particular area may be required to TA courses in that area, and that expectation may be stipulated as a condition of their financial support by the Field of Horticulture when they are accepted into the graduate program. Faculty will advise students if they need to take or audit a course in order to gain more expertise in an area where they will be TA-ing.
  • Students who are supported by private funds or grants, national or international fellowships, SUNY minority fellowships, Biology teaching assistantships or Horticultural Sciences (Geneva) assistantships will be required to meet the Field teaching requirement of at least one semester.
  • Students supported by a Graduate School Fellowship shall not be required to serve as a TA during their fellowship year.
  • If an extension/outreach teaching experience is substituted for classroom TA-ing, the student’s major professor, DGS, and committee will have to approve the substitution. This should include a plan that helps the student achieve the equivalent educational goals of classroom teaching.
  • No extra Horticultural Field funding is allocated for students who TA.
  • All graduate students should enroll in HORT 7000: Graduate Teaching Experience for the number of credits equal to that of any course they are TA-ing. This may be taken for a letter or S/U grade. The instructor in the TA’s course will complete the grade sheets for that semester.
  • Students will keep the Graduate Field Assistant, Carol Grove, informed of their TA or equivalent experiences so accurate records can be kept.
  • All instructors should meet with and discuss what is expected of the TA prior to the beginning of class. Students should also discuss what they want to gain during the TA experience with the instructor.
  • Any dispute regarding the assignment of TA’s may be addressed to the student’s major advisor in consultation with the DGS team: W. Miller (Chair), T. Björkman, L. Cheng, J. Kao-Kniffin, and C. Watkins.

Procedure for assigning TA’s:

  • Graduate students in Horticulture will not be required to serve as TAs during their first semester in residence at Cornell, unless they are supported by a non-Departmental Cornell Biological Science program assistantship or the equivalent.
  • Each April, the DGS will canvass the faculty and ask for TA requests for the next 2 academic years, both Fall and Spring semesters.
  • TA opportunities for the next academic year will then be circulated to all the graduate students. Some courses may require TA’s who have taken the course previously or have some background in the subject matter. On certain occasions, a student may be asked to take or audit a specific course early in their program, so they will be prepared to TA that course in the future. Other courses simply require that a student has an interest in the subject matter. These distinctions will be noted on the course TA requests when they are circulated to graduate students.
  • At the same time, a list of eligible graduate students who haven’t TA-ed yet and those on departmental assistantships and endowments will also be given to faculty members.
  • Students who haven’t had a TA experience will have the first opportunity to ask particular instructors if they may TA for their courses. All students should be proactive in thinking about what courses they would like to TA and discuss this with their committee members. In some cases, courses will have to be taken or audited in advance before students will be qualified to TA.
  • Faculty members should also take the opportunity to recruit graduate students.
  • If no TA has been found to assist with a course by August 1st, the DGS, in consultation with the instructor, will assign a suitable TA to that course.

See also: SIPS TA procedures and policies


Most graduate students in the Horticulture Section are assigned on a half-time basis as Teaching Assistants (TA), Graduate Assistants (GA), Research Assistants (RA), or Extension Assistants (EA). Their assignment time may be distributed throughout the year in various ways, depending on the requirements of the project. Graduate Assistants generally work more than half time (15 -20 hours a week) during the growing season and have more than enough time for their studies during the academic year.

There is likely to be an occasional demand on the student’s time. Assistantship assignments should not be so engrossing that graduate work is neglected, nor should the opposite occur. Time management is extremely important and will reflect recommendations for future positions and after graduation.

    Fellowships & Other Funding Sources

    Fellowship information is available from the Graduate School, 143 Caldwell Hall, or www.gradschool.cornell.edu. Additional information is usually forwarded via e-mail to the graduate student list in the department when it becomes available.

    Graduate students are encouraged to attend and participate in industry oriented conferences/meetings such as those organized by the New York State Vegetable Growers Association and the New York State Horticultural Society. Attendance is also encouraged at national and regional scientific meetings such as the American Society for Horticultural Sciences annual conference. In the course of a student’s research, the major advisor may agree to reimburse a portion of the expenses for attending a scientific meeting. It will be up to the advisor to decide if funds are available. Additional assistance may be obtained by applying in advance to the Graduate School for a special travel grant, which pays for transportation costs but only when presenting a paper/poster. You may also apply for a travel grant from the department’s Homan Fund. These applications must be submitted by March 1st for travel through September 30th and October 1st for travel through February 28th. For application forms see the graduate field assistant.

    Prior to your trip, give your advisor the following information: destination, departure and arrival time, date, purpose of trip. You must file a “Notice of Proposed Travel” for insurance purposes, and also if you need a travel advance. In order to get reimbursed, you must submit all original receipts and complete an expense report upon your return.

    Graduate School Travel Funding Grants

    Forms for Committees and Advisors, Courses, Changes to a Degree Program, Funding and Financial Aid, and more can be found on the Cornell Graduate School site