Degree Requirements

Masters Requirements (PDF File)

Master’s Degree  -  Non-thesis
33 credit hours, including 1 hour seminar
3, but not more than 6 credits of special problems
GRAD 612 required

Master’s Degree - Thesis
Minimum Requirement

            Course Credits             24 (must include 1 hr. seminar and GRAD 612)
            Research Credits           6
            Total Credits               30

30 credit hours required (24 course hours and at least 6 research hours)

PhD Requirements (effective Spring 2011) (PDF File)

Current students who do not have an approved plan of study by the Graduate School will have the option to follow the current requirements or be included in the new plan.  Students who have an approved plan of study by the Graduate School do not qualify for this option.  Students entering in January 2011 can only follow the new credit hour requirement.


·         Total of 36 credit hours for Ph.D. 

o   27 course credits*, plus the required 9 departmental core credits = 36 credit hours.


*Six credit hours may be independent study, but not with the student’s major professor.  Students must have prior approval by Agronomy Graduate Committee for independent study credits - provide objectives, syllabus and deliverables.

·         Departmental Core of 9 credit hours include:

                        Statistics (STAT 503 or 511, or equivalent)               3 credits
                        Statistics 512 (encouraged) or 514                          3 credits
                        Ethics                                                                   1 credit
                        Seminar                                                                2 credits

 ·         Preliminary Exam structure would remain the same as currently used.  No qualifying exam required.  (Note:  this preliminary exam structure will be reviewed in the future by Agronomy faculty.)


·         Students may take more than 36 credits as directed by their discipline or major professor.                         

Exception:  Plant Breeding and Genetics Core Course Requirements and Preliminary Exam Structure

 ·         Plant Breeding and Genetics Core Course Requirements – minimum of 24 course credits (includes the 9 departmental core requirements plus minimum of 15 credits in plant breeding and genetics), with a competency-based preliminary exam at the end of the fifth semester.  Details of this program stated in the attached curriculum and preliminary structure document.

·         Current students who have not filed a plan of study by August 2010, will have the option to follow the current requirements or be included in the new plan.  Students entering on or after January 2011 will follow the new Ph.D. credit hour requirements initiated in this memo.

Core course requirements and preliminary exam structure for PhD students in the Agronomy Department area of specialization:    Plant Genetics and Breeding (PGB)                                                               Track II

Faculty in PGB have the option to follow an alternate departmental path for graduate student training. Track II has reduced course requirements and an accelerated, competency-based preliminary exam to be taken by the end of the fifth semester.

I. Course Work

Minimum of 15 credits Core Courses in Plant Genetics and Breeding (in addition to nine credits of Department Core Requirements). Minimum of 24 course credits overall

Advanced Genetics and Breeding

AGRY605, Advanced Plant Breeding                                                                 3                

AGRY530, Advanced Genetics                                                                         3

Plant Molecular and Cell Biology (at least one from the list below)             3

Plant Cell biology, AGRY 598
Plant Growth and Development, BTNY 552
Molecular Plant Phys, HORT 551
Plant Molecular Biology, BIOL 550


Quantitative Genetics and Genomics (at least one from the list below)         3


Genomics, AGRY 600
Quant. Genetics, AGRY (M. Tuinstra)
Population Genetics, (B. Muir, AGRY 511)
QTL Analyses, (R. Doerge)
Others to be added.

Elective (at least one)                                                                                      3

Any 500+ level course, within or outside an area of concentration
Note: 300 and 400 level courses will not count toward the 24 credit hours required for the PhD. Course credits taken at other institutions for the MS degree, must be advanced graduate level courses to be accepted toward the 24 credit hours.

Areas of concentration in the PGB area

Competency areas:

  1. Statistics (mandatory for all Ph.D. students in the Department): ANOV (STAT 503/511 or equivalent) AND Regression (STAT 512 or equivalent) OR Experimental Design (STAT 514 or equivalent).
  2. Plant Breeding  AGRY 605, or equivalent.  Plant breeding methods and their applications, selection and experimentation with plant populations in field, greenhouse and controlled chamber conditions, analysis of qualitative and quantitative traits, integration of phenotyping and genotyping with molecular technologies, genetic mapping, genetic linkage, heritability, analysis of genetic gain from selection, heritability, analytic breeding, interspecific gene transfer and utilization. Demonstrate ability to develop, in form of research proposals, crop improvement and genetic research objectives and research plans.
  3. Plant Genetics AGRY 530 – to be renumbered as 630, STAT 512 or STAT 598 and BIOL598Z, or equivalents.  Strong fundamentals in both Mendelian, non-Mendelian inheritance, and molecular genetics. Students should have a full understanding of modern molecular genetics and have the ability to analyze mutants and genetic interactions. Knowledge of gene mapping through the construction and use of recombinant inbred lines and recombination-based mapping using molecular markers.  Know experimental techniques to determine cell autonomous vs. non-cell autonomous functions. Knowledge about plant reproduction, genetic imprinting, and epigenetic phenomenon.
  4. Genomics and Quantitative Genetics: (competency in subject areas similar to the content in AGRY 600 and Bioinformatics – STAT598B, BIOL595B, CHM599A).  Emphasis on genome structure and analysis, molecular methods for large-scale mapping of genes and genetic markers, and systems-level evaluation of phenotype and gene function.
  5. Quantitative Genetics ANSC/AGRY/FNR 511, ANSC/AGRY 611, or equivalents.  Quantitative genetics methods and tools, and their applications to breeding, genetics and evolution of plants--specifically in the analysis of changes in allele/gene frequencies in populations due to genetic drift, selection and mutation. Demonstrate ability to use, integrate and develop quantitative methodology in the development and analysis of complex genetic data sets.
  6. Plant Molecular and Cell Biology: Course work in modern plant molecular and developmental biology. Plant Growth and Development BTNY 520?, Plant Molecular Biology BIOL 550. Integration of molecular genetics to basic problems in plant growth and development. Additional courses in this area focus on plant science at the level of cellular compartmentalization of functions, protein trafficking, cell wall biogenesis, signal transduction (Plant Cell biology AGRY 598). Cell biology questions that scale to the physiology of tissues and organs are the topic of Molecular Plant Phys HORT 551.


The advisory committee for respective PhD students could (and likely will, in the interest of helping the student pass the Prelim Exam) require additional courses, depending on the student’s primary area of interest (i.e., plant breeding, genetics, genomics), thesis research area, and prior courses taken.

II. Preliminary exam: a competency based exam that is used as the basis to admit a student into candidacy for a Ph.D.

Students must take their preliminary exam by the end of their 5th semester. Students who do not pass will have one additional attempt.  Students must have passed the preliminary exam by the end of the 6th semester or they will be removed from the program.

  1. Preliminary exam structure: A faculty representative of the PGB group will act as the exam coordinator. This individual will match student exam content with the appropriate faculty. The exam committee will be comprised of four individuals. Up to 2 can be from the student’s advisory committee, 2 will be from outside of the students advisory committee. All four will be content experts in areas of concentration that are suited to a particular student’s topic area. The student’s major professor can attend the preliminary exam, but only as a non-participating observer.
  2. Preliminary exam content: The exam will have a written and oral component. The exam will be centered on a research proposal that is distinct from the student’s thesis research in that the central hypothesis and specific aims of the proposal are not identical to the thesis project or any grant proposal to which the student has been given access. The preliminary exam coordinator will get written confirmation of this from the student’s major professor.

The proposal will have a background section, a well-defined knowledge gap, a central hypothesis, and specific aims that test the central hypothesis. The written exam will test the student’s ability to command key, current knowledge and develop a problem solving strategy to answer new questions. The exam coordinator and the exam committee will review an outline of the proposal addressing the points above, prior to holding the exam and, typically, before the student writes the proposal. If the proposal is deemed as not defendable the student will get feedback from the exam chair and then have a second and last attempt to submit a proposal.

The oral exam will test depth and breadth of knowledge in areas of concentration that are central to the PGB discipline area. Specific details of the proposal will also be examined during the oral session. Upon passing the preliminary exam the student will be admitted to candidacy. 

Core Science Requirements for the PhD (PDF File)

The Agronomy Department has a long-standing requirement for all students earning a Ph.D. in the department, to have a minimum level of coursework in each of the four basic areas of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus.  This requirement is based in part on the belief that for a person to earn a doctorate in a scientific field such as ours, they should have a basic understanding of all the basic sciences.  The current requirements are also similar to what we require of our strong science majors (B.S. level) in our department.  These requirements help ensure that our students are well-grounded and well-rounded in science. 

The following core science and mathematics courses, or their equivalent, are required of all Ph.D. candidates.  Students deficient in these courses will be required to take them during their degree program.  These remedial courses may be taken for a letter grade (A, B, C, …) or Pass/No Pass.


Subject                                    Requirement                            Purdue Equivalent

CHEMISTRY                         General Chem., plus one         CHM 111/112

(3-9 credits)                             semester of: Organic

                                                Inorganic, Analytical,

                                                Physical or Biochemistry


PHYSICS                               General                                    PHYS 220/221

(3-6 credits)


MATHEMATICS                   Calculus                                  MA 223/224

(3-6 credits)


BIOLOGY                             General                                    BIOL 110/111

(3-6 credits)


In essence, this allows students to have only one semester of coursework in each of two areas that are less directly related to their work.  For example, students coming from plant biology might take only one semester each of physics and calculus, while those coming from engineering might take one semester of biology and two semesters of chemistry.

·         Minimum of 1 semester (3 credits) in each of the 4 areas: biology, chemistry, physics and math

·         Minimum of 7 semesters total in the 4 areas.


Note—there has always been the option to petition for a substitution or exemption under exceptional circumstances, and the Graduate Committee reaffirms that option.  A more advanced math class (linear algebra, for ex.) might be able to substitute for a second semester of calculus.  A written petition to the Graduate Committee, explaining the request and the rationale, will be reviewed and a decision made on a case by case basis.  In the case of a course that the petitioner claims is equivalent to the requirement (most often with some international students), an explanation of that equivalency, consisting of a course syllabus or detailed description of course content, should be included.