2017-2018 Graduate Catalog 
    Sep 19, 2020  
2017-2018 Graduate Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences Major (PS), PhD

Crop Sciences Concentration
Horticulture Concentration
Plant Breeding Concentration
Plant Molecular Genetics Concentration
Weed Science Concentration

The Doctor of Philosophy with a major in plant, soil and environmental sciences and concentrations in crop sciences, horticulture, plant breeding, plant molecular genetics, and weed science is offered under a multi-departmental doctoral program. Two departments participate – Plant Sciences and the soils faculty in Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science. Another concentration within the plant, soil and environmental sciences major is environmental and soil sciences. Please see the Plant Sciences homepage for additional information, http://plantsciences.utk.edu, or contact a faculty member in the area of interest.

Students may select a formal concentration as a focus of study but this is not a requirement. We recognize that modern research approaches in plant sciences often overlap. Students may specialize in one or more approaches, including plant biotechnology, molecular biology, breeding, genetics, physiology, ecology, culture and management. Research approaches may be applied to model plant systems, public horticulture, turfgrass, weeds, or woody ornamental plants, as well as fruit, vegetable, cereal, grain, or fiber crops.


Applicants to the PhD program normally will have completed a M.S. degree with thesis before beginning the doctoral program. To the Office of Graduate Admissions submit an online application (with non-refundable application fee), official transcripts, and scores from the general portion of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and TOEFL or IELTS, if applicable. The online application procedure will direct the applicant to submit an updated resume or CV, a short statement of professional goals and reasons for applying to Plant Sciences, and contact information for three evaluators who will provide letters of reference. References should be capable of assessing the applicant’s suitability for graduate work in plant sciences. Final admission is contingent upon the applicant contacting and obtaining a commitment from a graduate research faculty member to serve as his/her graduate mentor (major professor).

Student Responsibilities and Retention Standards

Students must be fully committed to their graduate program, are expected to participate in departmental and professional activities, and assume full responsibility for knowledge and compliance with rules and regulations of the Graduate Council and Department. Retention is dependent on the student maintaining a 3.0 cumulative grade point average in graduate courses taken at UT and completing other milestones in a timely manner (e.g., forming a committee, completion of coursework, submitting a research proposal, making progress in project or research objectives, and dissertation preparation).


In addition to failure to meet UT Graduate School expectations leading to academic probation, other reasons for dismissal include failure to make adequate progress towards other degree requirements (e.g., research project, dissertation preparation), academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, falsification of data), or other forms of gross misconduct as identified by the Office of Equity and Diversity, Human Resources, Dean of Students’ Office, Hilltopics, or Graduate Council. Dismissal will be accomplished by written notice to the student with a copy to the Graduate School.


The program requires the student to write a dissertation based on original research and complete at least 24 credit hours of graduate coursework at the 500- and 600- level beyond the master’s degree, plus 24 credit hours of PLSC 600 - Doctoral Research and Dissertation . Candidates not having a master’s degree must complete a minimum of 48 hours of graduate course work beyond the baccalaureate degree. Coursework must also satisfy the following:

  • A minimum of 12 of the 24 credit hours, or 30 of the 48 credit hours, must be graded A-F.
  • At least 9 credit hours of the student’s course work must be from outside the chosen concentration in the Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences doctoral program,
  • A minimum of 6 credit hours of courses numbered 601 or higher must be taken at the University of Tennessee, excluding PLSC 602 .
  • If approved by the graduate student’s committee, graduate level courses taken at another institution may be used to meet specific coursework requirements.
  • An understanding of research ethics is also required. This departmentally-enforced requirement may be achieved through coursework (e.g., PLSC 525 /ANSC 525 /CEM 525 ; BCMB 614 ; PSYC 660 ) or via online (CITI RCR) training, as evidenced by presenting a valid CITI RCR certificate to the Graduate Director upon submission of the Application to Candidacy form. For research involving human subjects, CITI IRB certification may also be required.
  • A majority of coursework must be completed at the University of Tennessee

The remainder of coursework will be selected by the student in consultation with the major professor and committee, reflecting the student’s area of emphasis and professional objectives. The student’s advisory committee may require specific courses in addition to those required by the Plant Sciences graduate program. A majority of this coursework must be completed at the University of Tennessee. An approved program of study must be submitted by the end of the second semester of graduate study.

To fulfill all requirements for the PhD degree, the student must:

  • Prepare and defend, to the satisfaction of the student’s committee, a written dissertation proposal with oral presentation to the student’s committee. This task is to be completed during the first two semesters of graduate study and before enrollment in PLSC 600 .
  • Pass both written and oral sections of the comprehensive examination, in which candidates are tested on his/her knowledge of the proposed dissertation and related fields.
  • Prepare and defend, to the satisfaction of the student’s doctoral committee, a written dissertation as well as an oral presentation of the dissertation followed by its oral defense.

The major professor, a plant science faculty member at the rank of assistant professor or above and approved to direct doctoral research by the Graduate Council, is chair of the student’s doctoral committee. The student and major professor select the other signatory members of the doctoral committee, which should contain a minimum of three other faculty members at the rank of assistant professor or above, at least one of whom must be from outside the Department of Plant Sciences. The major professor and two committee members must be approved to direct doctoral research by the Graduate Council. If a minor degree is sought from another program, the student’s committee must include a faculty member from the minor department.  Members of the student’s advisory committee are expected to contribute expertise relevant to their academic discipline area, to assist in the planning of course work, aid in formulating an appropriate research project and will assess student achievement and performance toward accomplishing other degree requirements, including the comprehensive exam and dissertation defense.

The doctoral committee should be formalized by the end of the second semester of graduate study, by which time the student will also present proposed coursework and research plan to the committee. The student is expected to present a written research project proposal to the committee no later than the fourth semester of matriculation.