Plant Breeding M.S./Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Plant Breeding

Program Description

The field of plant breeding encourages applications from students interested in crop improvement in the context of global agriculture. Faculty research areas include not only applied breeding of major crops such as cereals, forages, potato, and diverse fruits and vegetables but also molecular genetics and genomics of crop plants.

The applied breeding program deals with development of plant materials for greater yield, disease resistance, adaptability, quality, etc. and with studies of breeding methods and principles. Molecular and biochemical studies to identify and isolate agriculturally important genes seek to relate information from model species to crop plant genomes, to compare crop genomes, to assess genetic diversity, and to develop bioinformatic tools relevant to crop improvement. Conservation and evolutionary genetics of crop plants and their wild relatives is an additional topic of research. Many faculty members include both applied breeding and molecular study in their programs.

Faculty are located in the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics, Boyce Thompson Institute, USDA Robert W. Holley Center (all in Ithaca) and in the Department of Horticultural Sciences (Geneva). Extensive greenhouse and field facilities are available. The molecular programs benefit from well equipped laboratories, the many plant-oriented programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and collaborative activities with other areas of life sciences at Cornell.

Course work available ranges from plant breeding methods to molecular breeding to intellectual property issues. Special opportunities are available for students interested in international experience. Graduate students receive a broad education preparing them for careers in many areas of plant biology and agriculture.

Prospective applicants may wish to correspond with faculty members in their area of interest. The list below gives general topics of research and/or crops studied for each field member. Additional information, including more detailed descriptions of faculty research and courses, is available on the Plant Breeding website or from the graduate field office.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-3267

231 Emerson Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • plant breeding
  • plant genetics


Visit the Graduate School's Tuition Rates page.

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Most successful applicants to the field of Plant Breeding apply for fall admission to the Ph.D. program. Applicants may be considered for the M.S. degree or for spring admission, but only with prior approval and encouragement from a faculty member in the field. 

Requirements Summary:

Please note: the GRE general test is not required.

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes for the field of plant breeding are broad as they are intended to encompass the shared core competencies that all students must have to succeed in their graduate work and future careers.

When students complete the M.S. they should be able to:

  • Demonstrate broad understanding of plant breeding methods and the genetics relevant to them.
  • Be skilled in procedures to implement one or more facets of plant breeding from identifying breeding goals to field studies to laboratory genetics to data analysis.
  • Communicate effectively with professional and lay audiences about their research.

When students complete the Ph.D., they should be able to:

  • Possess a comprehensive knowledge of plant genetics relevant to breeding including an understanding of areas where knowledge is deficient.
  • Have in depth expertise in a study system, be that a specific crop or a technical domain such as gene editing or bioinformatics.
  • Understand how to develop an experimental program to test scientific hypotheses in plant breeding/genetics and their chosen minor fields.
  • Be comfortable with the entire process of writing and publishing scientific research in plant breeding/genetics and their chosen minor fields.
  • Have experienced persuasive grant writing for the purpose of bringing resources to fulfill plant breeding/genetic objectives.
  • Communicate effectively with professional and lay audiences about their research and current issues in the discipline.
  • Have developed the beginnings of a professional network beyond Cornell.