M.S. PSE/Horticulture Guidelines

(Revised February, 2022)

I.  Student Responsibility

Students are expected to assume full responsibility for knowing and following the regulations of the Graduate School and the School of Food and Agriculture, as described in the current issue of the Graduate School Bulletin and these Guidelines. The information in this document applies to all graduate students whose committee chairpersons are faculty in the School of Food and Agriculture.  This document defines the requirements for both the M.S. degree in Horticulture and the M.S. degree in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences.  Graduate students in other degree programs must also fulfill degree requirements specific to their particular programs.

II.  Introduction to Graduate Education

Graduate programs in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences are an integral part of the School’s mission of teaching, research, and public service.  Substantial physical, financial, and human resources are devoted to the graduate program.  In addition, the School strives to maintain an intellectual environment conducive to effective learning.

Upon entering graduate school the student assumes responsibility for maximum personal development through personal learning efforts.  Formal learning situations such as class work and thesis project development are important but in themselves do not provide the intellectual maturity needed for degree completion and post-degree responsibilities.  Students are expected to develop more fully on their own initiative through study and thought, interaction with other students and faculty, and by taking advantage of other learning opportunities (such as seminars) that are a continuing part of a scholarly environment.

Although certain requirements must be satisfied, a wide range of programs can be developed to fit the interests and needs of individuals.  Programs can emphasize training in a broad range of plant, soil, and environmental sciences focusing on ecosystem processes ranging from a chemical or cellular to an ecosystem or global scale.  Graduate programs in the School include emphasis on agricultural, forest, horticultural and wetland ecosystems.

It is important that the student makes early and thoughtful decisions with regard to total program content.  The decisions are guided and approved by the student’s Graduate Advisory Committee.  Though program changes may be required at a later date, it is important that the overall direction of the student’s program, including research, be developed early in their program.  Appropriate research areas include the applied fields as well as problems with theoretical or methodological focus.  In many cases a combination of these approaches will emerge as desirable.

Appeals concerning interpretation of this document may be referred to the School Chair for resolution.  Under unusual circumstances a major professor, with approval of the Advisory Committee may petition the Graduate Faculty for modification of the regulations relating to a specific student.

III.  General Information

A.  Admission to graduate study in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences

Students who have, or shall soon earn, a bachelor’s degree are eligible to apply for admission to the M.S. graduate programs in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences and Horticulture.  Students who are admitted under Conditional or Provisional status (see section lll B for definitions) must fulfill certain requirements before obtaining Regular admission status.  Students under Provisional status must make up course work deficiencies (specific courses required to be determined by their graduate committee members) with a grade of B or better. Graduate credit is only granted for courses at the 400 level or above that have been approved by the Graduate Advisory Committee.

For students admitted under Conditional status to either the M.S. in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences or M.S. in Horticulture programs, the advisor and committee (if applicable) will select the courses the student has to take from the following list.    Students will be required to earn 12 credits with a grade of B or higher in courses (or their equivalent) listed below.   Equivalency of substituted courses will be determined by the Graduate Coordinator and the PSE Admissions Committee.

  • BIO 310               4 credits    Plant Biology
  • BIO 319               3 credits    General Ecology
  • BIO 326               4 credits    General Entomology
  • BIO 327               4 credits    Introductory Applied Entomology
  • BIO 445               3 credits    Plant Genetics
  • BIO 452               3 credits    Plant Physiology
  • BMB 207/209     4 credits    Fundamentals of Chemistry/Laboratory
  • BMB 208/210     4 credits    Elementary Physiological Chemistry/Laboratory
  • BMB 221/222     4 credits    Organic Chemistry/Laboratory
  • FES 407              3 credits    Forest Ecology
  • FTY 457               3 credits    Forest Watershed Management
  • ERS 109              3 credits    Geology of Maine
  • ERS 441              3 credits    Principles of Glacial Geology

The core science courses listed are intended to provide a basic foundation of scientific knowledge upon which to base a graduate program for all incoming graduate students entering Plant, Soil & Environmental Sciences.  These guidelines ensure that incoming students have the necessary background to succeed in our graduate programs, to compete for internal and external funding opportunities, and to meet the expectations of future employers for students with advanced degrees from our school.

B.  M.S. degrees

M.S. degrees are offered in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Horticulture, Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences, and Resource Utilization.  Some faculty also hold cooperating appointments in other programs and departments, and their advisees may be admitted to other programs, such as Forestry or Microbiology.  Such students are still considered graduate students in the School of Food and Agriculture in Plant, Soil and Environmental Sciences.

Admission status of students initiating graduate study will fall into the following categories:

1.   Regular:  Those with at least a 2.75 overall quality point average (on the 4 point system) in undergraduate courses and 3.00 in major field.  Foreign students for whom English is a second language should achieve a TOEFL score of 550 or above (or an equivalent score on computer- or internet-based versions of the TOEFL).  This is required for all admission categories.

2.   Provisional:  Those with above the minimum quality point average, but with specific deficiencies or the lack of certain prerequisites for graduate study.  Deficiencies must be completed with a grade of B or better in each course.

3.   Conditional:  Those with at least a 2.50 overall average in undergraduate courses and 2.75 quality point average in major field.  Conditional students must complete 12 credit hours with a grade of not less than B in each course during their first semester. For this purpose, grades in courses used to satisfy the conditional admission requirement may not be improved by repeating the course.  Students admitted under Conditional status are not eligible to hold a School of Food and Agriculture assistantship until they have obtained Regular status.

C.  Ph.D. degree

This School participates in the Biological Sciences, Ecology and Environmental Sciences,  Forest Resources, Microbiology, Plant Science, and Individualized Ph.D. programs.  Specific program admission requirements can be obtained from the current Graduate School Bulletin or from the Graduate School.

D.  Financial support

Graduate assistantship awards are designed to help provide the financial means for a student to complete an advanced degree.  Qualified graduate assistants are expected to register for at least one credit hour of Graduate Thesis (PSE 699) during the summer.

School assistantships are awarded on the basis of available funds, qualifications of the student, and program needs of the School.  Reasonable progress through the graduate program, as determined by the School Chair in consultation with the Graduate Coordinator and the Advisory Committee, is required to retain financial support.  Assistantships are normally awarded for a minimum of two years for a M.S. and three years for a Ph.D.  Part of the compensation of a school graduate assistantship appointment includes payment of tuition for up to nine credit hours of approved course work per regular semester and one for the summer.  Registration costs for credits over nine credits per semester, electives, pass/fail, or audit courses are the responsibility of the student.

Graduate students may also be supported on an assistantship funded by extramural grants and contracts.  These funding sources are typically developed by individuals or groups of faculty to carry out specific research, although some opportunities exist for students to solicit their own extramural funding.  If the student is approved for graduate study by the School of Food and Agriculture and Graduate School, and a faculty member has agreed to serve as the major advisor for the student, then the expectations for this student with respect to the assistantship are strongly governed by the obligations of the extramurally supported grant or contract.  In addition, specific regulations from the granting agency regarding graduate student support and activities may exist which would also play a role in student responsibilities.  The tenure of the assistantship is variable.  Depending upon the source of funding, tuition waivers may or may not be given to the student on extramurally funded assistantships.  The level of support for an extramurally funded assistantship can not be less than the school assistantships.  However, the stipend and coverage of the tuition may vary for each situation.  University funded graduate assistantships are administered the same as extramurally funded assistantships.

Students on assistantships are expected to contribute to their advisor’s research program at times for projects that are not specifically their own thesis research.  It is typical that time for class preparation, project responsibilities, and a significant amount of the student’s research will require additional time commitments beyond  a 40 hour work week.  The actual requirements for assistantships will vary among major professors, and consideration will be given to the scope and nature of the thesis problem, the source of funding, the degree candidate’s competence in the School’s disciplinary areas.

General expectations of the advisor for both research and teaching should be discussed with the student before they begin their program.  If any issues arise concerning the faculty and student’s obligations in this regard, the School Chair and the Graduate Coordinator should serve as resources to address the situation.

Responsibilities of students on School assistantships

Students on a school assistantship are obligated to provide support to the major professor’s research, which is expected to include their own thesis research.  Additionally, students are expected to provide teaching support to the school teaching programs above and beyond the academic requirement of a teaching experience.  A range of expectations may exist depending on the specific students, advisor, and program.

IV.  Advisory committee

Each graduate student in consultation with his/her faculty advisor will establish an advisory committee soon after arrival.  The Chair of the committee generally will be the staff member who has immediate supervision of the thesis problem, referred to as the major advisor  The M.S. degree requires a minimum of two additional advisory committee members (for a total of at least three).  These may be chosen from within or from outside the school, as appropriate for the program they are enrolled in.  The Ph.D. requires at least four additional committee members (for a total of at least five) and that at least one member be from outside the School.

A Program of Study and Research will be developed and must be submitted to the Graduate School on approved forms by the end of the second semester of enrollment for students in M.S. programs and by the end of the second semester of enrollment for students in Ph.D. programs.  General guidance of a Master’s candidate resides with the Chair of the Advisory Committee, but the student must meet with each member of the Committee for advice and approval for the Program of Study and Research by the end of their second semester of graduate work.

A written thesis proposal is required of all graduate students by the end of their second semester and ideally is done in conjunction with the development of their Program of Study.  The content and the format required of the thesis proposal are determined by the major advisor.  A cover page form for approval signature from the advisor and the advisory committee can be downloaded from the school website.  Upon completion and acceptance, a copy is to be forwarded to the graduate coordinator.

A suggested format for the written thesis proposal is as follows.

A.  Format

Introduction – statement of problem area and research question, rationale for importance of proposed research, study objectives and hypothesis.

Literature review – summarize examples of relevant literature on research topic.

Methods – summarize the basic experimental design, the proposed sampling and analysis scheme, study sites, and any statistical methods to be used.

Results – indicate the expected results or output of the proposed research.

Literature cited – a reference list of covered materials.

B.  Recommended length – 7 to 15 pages

C.  Role of major advisor and graduate committee

The thesis proposal should be prepared in consultation with the major advisor and committee members.  The major advisor should show new students examples of successful research proposals from former students.

D.  Importance of the thesis research proposal

The thesis research proposal is the roadmap for a successful research investigation.  The research proposal should ideally be prepared prior to the initiation of the research investigation.

Frequent meetings with the committee thereafter are encouraged. The advisory committee will evaluate the student’s progress each year.  It is recommended that an annual meeting of the Committee be held to discuss the student’s progress and any problems pertaining to the completion of the project.  Prior to the meeting, the student will prepare a draft of the Student Annual Progress Report form, which is then discussed with the major professor.  The next step is to present the draft report to the rest of the Committee members at the annual meeting.  This provides the group with a document to respond to and promotes discussion of progress.  From the results of that meeting, a final version of the report, that takes into account the discussion in the Committee meeting, will be produced and signed by all members and the student.  Signing the form will be interpreted as approval of the content.  If there are concerns about the student’s progress or other related matters, they should be discussed and resolved during the course of the meeting and the resolution of those concerns should be reflected in the content of the final report.

In signing the form, Committee members are indicating their satisfaction with either the progress of the student or with the steps outlined to resolve the problems.  The student’s signature is interpreted as acknowledgment of any concerns expressed in the meeting and reported on the form, and as agreeing with the process of problem resolution included in the final form of the report.  Revision of the final report to include the necessary changes decided in the meeting (if any), obtaining the required signatures, and submitting the form to the Graduate Coordinator by January 31 are the responsibilities of the student.

The Student Annual Progress Report form can be obtained from the Graduate Coordinator on December 1 of each year.  The signed form must be forwarded to the Graduate Coordinator by January 31 of each year.

V.  Grades

Any one of five quality grades (A, B, C, D, E) may be given a graduate student for course work.  The grade point equivalents are 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0 respectively.  At the 400, 500 and 600 levels, grades of A and B automatically receive graduate credit.  A grade of C will not carry graduate credit unless a student’s committee recommends to the Dean that such credit is allowed.  No student will be allowed to accumulate more than 6 hours of C grades on a program of study for a M.S. degree nor more than 12 hours towards satisfying the requirements for the Ph.D. Grades of D and E are considered failing for graduate students.

VI.  Thesis

A written outline of the thesis problem shall be presented by the student to his or her committee not later than one semester after program initiation.  To be acceptable, the thesis must be of sufficient substance as to warrant publication in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal.  The thesis may be in the form of published, or ready to publish, paper(s), with the approval of the Committee.  Such a thesis shall include an expanded literature review, comparable to that produced for regular theses.

It is the student’s responsibility to provide the Committee members with adequate time to review and correct preliminary and final drafts.  Normally, a given draft will not be held by a committee member more than one week before returning it to the student.  The candidate is expected to provide members of the Committee with a copy of the final draft of the thesis at least two weeks before the final examination.  Failure of the student to do so is sufficient grounds for the committee to postpone the examination.

Students are expected to provide, at their own expense, a copy of the final thesis to the Graduate School and Library.  The major professor pays for a personal copy and the School pays for the copy deposited in the School file.  Information regarding thesis regulations shall be obtained from the Graduate School.

VII.  Residency requirements

A.   M.S. degree

At least 12 credit hours of work, submitted towards fulfilling the requirements of the M.S. degree, must be taken as a full-time graduate student on the Orono campus.

Full-time registration is considered to be six credit hours each of the regular semesters.

B.   Ph.D. degree

The minimum residency requirement for doctoral programs is met by registering for a full program of study and research for two consecutive academic years beyond the baccalaureate degree.  Students entering doctoral programs with an M.S. degree must register for at least one academic year of study at Orono.  Part time residency and summer school registration may not be used to fulfill this requirement.

Full-time registration is considered to be six credit hours each of the regular semesters.

C.   General

Graduate assistants are considered full-time students.  Students who are registered solely for thesis  credits during the period they are fulfilling the residency requirement, and not on leave of absence, must maintain a continuous registration during the academic year.  This requirement is met by enrollment for six semester credit hours per regular semester.  The Graduate School pays for up to nine credit hours of approved course registration per semester.  One credit hour of Graduate Thesis (PSE 699) in the summer is normally covered as well.  Approved courses are defined as those on the Program of Study and those that directly contribute to the strength of student’s research.

VIII.  Courses and credit hours

A.  M.S. degree

1.   Deficiencies, if any, should be removed as soon as possible.

2.   Typically an M.S. program consists of 24 hours of non-thesis credits and 6 hours of thesis credits.  A minimum of 30 semester hours, including credit given for the thesis, is required, with the following limitations:

(a)     The minimum amount of credit given for the thesis is 6 hours and in no case may it exceed 15 hours.

(b)      A minimum of 12 hours (exclusive of thesis) of 500 and 600 level course work is required.  Additional courses and requirements shall be determined by the student’s committee.

(d)     A minimum grade point average of 3.0 in courses on the Program of Study is required for graduation.  No courses on the Program of Study may be taken on P/F basis.  Registration fees for courses taken on a P/F or Audit basis will not be covered by the Graduate School.

B.  Ph.D. degree

Because requirements differ among the different programs available, refer to requirements of specific programs as found in the Graduate School Bulletin.

IX.  Examinations

A.  M.S. degree

This examination is considered to be a comprehensive examination of the candidate’s qualifications for the M.S. degree.  It must be at least in part oral, and, at the discretion of the Advisory Committee, part of this examination may also be written.  The examination will attempt to determine if the candidate has achieved:

1.  a satisfactory level of competence in appropriate areas of horticulture, plant science, soil science and/or environmental science, and

2.  a comprehensive knowledge of the major area of specialization.

The examination shall encompass both the Program of Study and defense of thesis.

B.  Ph.D. degree

Refer to the specific program requirements in the Graduate School Bulletin.

C.   General

The Chair of the Graduate Advisory Committee will notify the Graduate School when the student is ready to schedule the comprehensive or final examination.  Results of these examinations will be reported to the Director of the Graduate School.  The examining committee shall have the authority to require the M.S. candidate to repeat the oral examination in whole or in part.  The committee vote must be unanimous for the candidate to pass.  The committee vote need not be unanimous for a doctoral candidate to pass the final oral examination; however, only one negative vote will be permitted.

X.  Seminar Requirements

All graduate students in Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences are expected to attend school seminars including those given by fellow graduate students.  Two degree credits for seminar must be earned by an M.S. candidate.  Three degree credits for seminar must be earned by a Ph.D. candidate.  It is recommended that the first seminar of M.S. candidates be devoted to the thesis proposal.  Both M.S. and Ph.D. candidates will give public seminars in their final semesters as a part of their thesis defense.  This public seminar will not be used to satisfy the above requirement.  The candidate will not be expected to give a second seminar during the final semester.

XI.  Teaching Experience Requirement

The faculty believes that the opportunity to be involved in the teaching process is an important component of a graduate student’s academic experience.  Therefore, each graduate student advised by a faculty member in the School is required to participate in at least one teaching experience during the student’s tenure.  Appropriate teaching experiences might include teaching laboratory section(s), providing office hours, preparing laboratories, grading, or guest lecturing.  In addition, developing and maintaining teaching material would be appropriate.  There would be a minimum contribution from those students who are part-time or not on an assistantship.  The maximum expectations would be for those students who are on a school assistantship.

The Graduate Coordinator, in consultation with the School Chair will have the responsibility of facilitating the system of assigning teaching experiences to the graduate students.  The Graduate Coordinator will assess faculty needs and notify students and faculty of potential assignments at the beginning of the academic year, to allow for planning.

XII.  MAFES Abstract

The Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station publishes annually a compilation of abstracts of student theses and dissertations.  The format for this document may be obtained from either the major advisor or Graduate Coordinator.  The student must prepare this document before their program can be considered complete.

XIII.  MS PSE Program Learning Goals

The Program Learning Goals for the MS PSE degree program can be found here.