SIPS MS/PhD Graduate Fields

Graduate study in Cornell's School of Integrative Plant Science is organized into five Graduate Fields: Horticulture, Plant Biology, Plant Breeding, Plant Pathology & Plant Microbe Biology, and Soil & Crop Sciences.  Together they provide unparalleled opportunities to connect disciplines, creatively solve problems, and integrate complex systems, preparing graduates for diverse careers and futures as professional and social leaders.

Scroll down for a list of frequently asked questions and contacts for each of the five fields.

Man and woman with laptop

The Field of Horticulture includes the study of fruits, vegetables and landscape plants to sustain the environment, the economy, and our quality of life.

Man and woman in lab coats with plants

The Field of Plant Biology encompasses molecular biology, genomics, systematics, and ecosystem-level studies, with a particular emphasis on finding answer to fundamental biological questions.

man standing with arm raised in a field of maize

The Field of Plant Breeding is dedicated to the genetic improvement of crop plants for the benefit of society. Our programs range from the molecular/bioinformatic study of crop plant genomes to field evaluations in diverse locations.

two men interacting in a greenhouse

This Field focuses on plant diseases and the biology of plant-microbe interactions from molecular to ecosystem levels of organization. This Field is also the home for studying the biology, genetics and evolution of fungi and oomycetes.

two people lookig at a petri plate

The Field of Soil and Crop Science brings together faculty with expertise in the highly integrated disciplines of production agriculture, crop biotechnology, seed science, soil science and environmental information sciences.

greenhouse with plants inside

The Plant Science MPS is a specialized, one-year, course-based master's degree program. Areas of study include controlled environment agriculture, geospatial applications, soil science, agronomy, hemp science, public garden leadership, or an interdisciplinary approach.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences degree 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. Learn more about the MPS degree program . 

MS/PhD degrees typically take 2-5 years and involve a combination of coursework and original research. A written thesis based on original research is an important element of MS/PhD degree programs.

At Cornell, graduate study leading to an Masters or Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is organized using a field structure.  Fields are composed of faculty members from a number of departments or sections (in the case of SIPS) who come together around a shared intellectual interest, and may draw from different campuses or colleges.  Graduate students are admitted to fields of study.  Within each field, they select major and minor subjects, which are research interests or concentrations.

Fields span departments and even disciplines.  It’s possible for a student in the field of economics to include faculty on his or special committee from industrial labor and economics, civil and environmental engineering, and sociology along with the more traditional economics and management.

The concentrations listed under each field and topics of recent MS/PhD theses can help you decide which Field is a good fit for you.

Go to the complete list of SIPS faculty. The short profiles list the Graduate Fields of which they are a member.  Note that many faculty are members of more than one field.

Correspondence is welcomed from potential applicants who have a well-informed interest. Be sure to briefly describe your experience and your interests and how they relate to the research program of the faculty you contact. Inquire about the recruiting goals of those faculty for the coming year. Faculty input about individual applicants is extremely important to the decisions of our admissions committee.

No. Also, admitted M.S. students can later petition to change to the Ph.D. program, and vice-versa

Many criteria are considered when evaluating a student for acceptance. A strong background in life sciences is important; as evidenced by grades, coursework, and research projects undertaken. A high motivation for graduate study is essential. We look carefully at the student's statement of purpose and experiences related to their areas of interest for graduate study; the more in-depth the experiences, the better. Applications from non-traditional students are welcome as are applications from students coming directly from their undergraduate degrees. Letters of recommendation are also extremely important. We are interested in getting all the information we can about the students' motivation and aptitude for graduate research.

See Application pages for individual fields for more testing requirements and other specific criteria for evaluation.

The Graduate School requires that all doctoral students have a full special committee no later than the end of the 3rd semester and all masters students no later than the end of the 2nd semester.

What Constitutes a Special Committee?

A minimum of three members of the graduate faculty for a doctoral student and a minimum of two members for a master's student constitute a special committee.

  1. One member, the chair of the committee (major advisor), represents the major field and concentration.
  2. One member must represent a minor outside the student's major field.
  3. The third member can either represent another minor outside of the field or be in the major field but represent a different concentration from the major one.

Please note that most faculty members are members of several fields. A student can add additional members and ad hoc members depending on the circumstances (an additional member would be another member of the Cornell Graduate Faculty; an ad hoc member is generally someone from another institution such as a collaborator on a project who is not a member of Cornell's faculty).

The Philosophy

The selection of the special committee is up to the student in consultation with his/her major advisor. Theoretically, minor/s can be in any field (Russian Literature, anyone?); however, in practical terms, students will want to select faculty who will, in some way, contribute to or support their research goals.

The Power of the Special Committee

The faculty member who represents a particular subject/concentration on the committee determines the specific requirements for that student (e.g. coursework needed). The committee, as a whole, evaluates the student at the time of exams and determines whether they have met the appropriate standards for original research contributing to the knowledge base of the field (approving the thesis or dissertation). Students are encouraged to meet with their full committee at least once a year to ascertain that everyone is in agreement regarding progress toward degree completion.

Acceptable Committee Formations

Chair, Minor, Minor
Chair, Minor, Additional Member
Chair, Minor, Field Appointed Minor Member
Chair, Co-Chair, Minor Member

Nomination Process

Committee members are nominated through student center (link in advisor box to 11Special Committee"). The GFA is the first approver so if the distribution among fields/concentrations is not correct, the GFA should not approve the committee nomination.

Graduate Field Contacts

Director of Graduate Studies and Graduate Field Assistants for each of our Graduate Fields can answer your questions about graduate study in SIPS

group of students smiling

Field of Horticulture Contacts

Director of Graduate Studies
Thomas Björkman
tnb1 [at]

Graduate Field Coordinator
Josh Balles
jeb527 [at]

Field of Plant Biology Contacts

Director of Graduate Studies
Michael Scanlon
mjs298 [at]

Graduate Field Coordinator
Karin Jantz
kpg2 [at]

Field of Plant Breeding Contacts

Director of Graduate Studies
Jean-Luc Jannink
jj332 [at]

Graduate Field Coordinator
Alicia Caswell
amd33 [at]

Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology

Director of Graduate Studies
Adam Bogdanove
ajb7 [at]

Graduate Field Coordinator
Josh Balles
jeb527 [at]

Field of Soil & Crop Sciences Contacts

Director of Graduate Studies
Olena Vatamaniuk
okv2 [at]

Graduate Field Coordinator
Alicia Caswell
amd33 [at]

Plant Science MPS program contacts.

Tara Reed
Plant Science MPS Program Coordinator
Phone: (607) 255-2131
Email: tln2 [at]

Marvin Pritts

Plant Science MPS Program Director
Phone: (607) 255-1778
Email: mpp3 [at]

Learn more about Plant Science MPS programs.

SIPS in the News

A false color satellite image.


$1M NASA grant to improve carbon monitoring in East Africa
The East Africa study area – including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda – has experienced deforestation and also contains many large-scale land restoration and land-based climate mitigation programs, but lacks systems for quantifying...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Soil and Crop Sciences Section
  • Environment
A cassava flower held by two fingers


A tropical root-crop that is a daily staple food to hundreds of millions of people in Africa and increasingly being used by small-holder farmers in commercial production, cassava has historically been difficult for plant breeders to improve in...
  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
Basil leaves with orange between veins, symptomatic of basil downy mildew


Nothing spells disappointment more during pesto-making season than visiting your basil patch only to find your carefully tended crop ravaged. But that is exactly what happened to Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist based at Cornell’s Long Island...
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Horticulture Section
  • Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section
A group examines a harvest of pearl millet outside in a field


The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Crop Improvement works with smallholder farmers and rural populations in West Africa to develop sustainable crop innovations that address climate change and other social challenges.
  • Department of Global Development
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section
Man holds a fresh salmon.


Breeding Insight, a new program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through Cornell University, will share latest tools with breeders in the U.S.
  • School of Integrative Plant Science
  • Plant Biology Section
  • Plant Breeding and Genetics Section