Graduate Programs

Graduate Student Megan Cohn

The department offers outstanding graduate programs to students interested in Plant or Microbial Biology. We conduct one admission review per year, for the fall semester, and applications are due in early December. We do not admit students seeking a master's degree.

The Hake Lab at the Plant Gene Expression Center studies Maize Inflorescence Development

Students may only apply to one program at Berkeley at a time. Our department offers two Ph.D. degree programs in Plant Biology and Microbiology. If your research interests are in microbial ecology and evolution, fungal diversity or mycology, please apply to the Microbiology Ph.D. program.

The Fall 2016 graduate application will be available in September and the application deadline is December 1, 2015. For more information please visit the Graduate Admissions web site at  

We admit applicants to the program at large, not directly into a research lab. Applicants should be available to attend our prospective student interview weekend at UC Berkeley on January 21 - January 24, 2016 if selected for an on-campus interview. In most cases, the department covers the cost of the interview weekend, including transportation.

You can also check out our Graduate Program Video

Admissions Process, Requirements

The committee bases admissions recommendations on:

  • Associate Professor Britt Glaunsinger (Left) and Graduate Student Christopher Hann-Soden (Right)Grades and coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized examination scores
  • Written statements of academic and professional goals
  • Other documentation of research
  • Academic potential and accomplishment


For Plant Biology:

  • Gradaute Student Russell Scott (Right) working with Professor Steven Lindow (Left)A basic background in chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology, roughly equivalent to the Department's undergraduate program in Genetics and Plant Biology.

For Microbiology:

  • A basic background in chemistry, physics, mathematics and biology, roughly equivalent to the Department's undergraduate program in Microbial Biology.

For Both Plant and Microbiology Programs:

  • Completed online Graduate Application for Admissions and Fellowships. ​Applications for each academic year are available in early September. 
  • Transcripts from each college and graduate institution attended.
  • Resume.
  • Three letters of recommendation, at least two of which should be written by science faculty. All reviewers should be familiar with the student's scholarly abilities.
  • General Aptitude test scores of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). In addition to the General GRE test, the Department recommends but does not require the GRE subject test in biology (B24) or biochemistry, cell and molecular biology (B22). Take the exam(s) early enough so that scores will arrive by the application deadline. To have the scores sent to the Department, please note institution code 4833 (UC Berkeley) on the GRE order form and one of the following department codes: 0112 (Plant Sciences), 0205 (Botany/Plant Biology) or 0212 (Microbiological Sciences). 
  • The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score for applicants who have received undergraduate degrees from institutions where English is not the language of instruction. With few exceptions, UC Berkeley requires a TOEFL score of at least 570 on the paper and pencil test, or 230 on the computer-based test and 90 on the Internet-based TOEFL. Take the TOEFL by November. To have the scores sent to the department, please note institution code 4833 (UC Berkeley) on the TOEFL order form and one of the following department codes: 37 (Botany), 35 (Biology), or 07 (Microbiology). Please read the Graduate Division's Evidence of English Language Proficiency for more information.
  • If you have additional questions, please contact Graduate Student Advisor Rocío Sanchez at or call 510-642-5167.

For more information regarding the application process for Fall 2016 please refer to our 2016 Graduate Application Instructions

Graduate Studies Plan

Graduate Students: Sam Coradetti (Left) and Jason Liu (Right)Before the beginning of the fall semester, new students discuss their background and interests with the graduate advisors, who help plan academic programs. During the first semester, all new students enroll in a two-credit seminar in which faculty members summarize their current research programs. Each student also rotates through three research laboratories for ten weeks each in the first academic year. The rotations give students the opportunity to explore areas of interest as possibilities for Ph.D. research.

All students must take a two-semester core course comprised of six modules, which cover the following topics: plant developmental genetics, genomics and computational biology, plant diversity and evolution, plant cell biology, plant biochemistry and plant systems biology. All graduate students must enroll in two graduate-level seminar courses during their first two years. With their emphasis on student presentations and discussions, these courses further introduce faculty and students. At the end of the first year, each student will select a permanent Research Advisor (major professor) and will begin work on the thesis project.

Graduate Student Instruction

Each student serves as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for approximately 20 hours per week for two semesters. Students participate in the GSI training conference sponsored by the Graduate Division and the Graduate Assembly and enroll in a two-credit teaching workshop. Students are appointed as a GSI for a lower-division course before being a GSI for an upper-division course sponsored by the Department. International students educated in schools where English is not the language of instruction are required to pass the Test of Spoken English (TSE) before they serve as teaching assistants.

Graduate Student Adam SteinbrennerDuring the second year, students may take additional courses in preparation for the Ph.D. qualifying examination. This examination usually is taken by the end of the second year. The Qualifying Examination Committee, a four-member committee, including one Berkeley Academic Senate member from outside the Department, is appointed in consultation with the student. The goal of the examination is to assess the candidate's broad knowledge of plant biology as well as to determine in-depth knowledge in the proposed area of research. Each examination covers five of the following eight subject areas: physiology, biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, development, structure, and plant-microbe interactions. The Committee also discusses the student's research topic.

After passing the qualifying examination, the student selects a three- or four-member committee to serve as the student's Dissertation Committee. The chair of this committee is the student's Research Advisor. An adjunct faculty member can serve as co-chair with a regular departmental faculty member as the other co-chair. This committee meets on a regular basis to supervise and assist the student in the research that will be described in the Ph.D. dissertation. All members of the committee must approve the dissertation. The student is not subjected to a formal final examination. Rather, the results of the dissertation project are presented at a departmental colloquium.

Plant Biology Program

Plant BiologyThe department trains students in modern research areas of plant biology concentrating in molecular, cellular, genetic, biochemical, physiological, developmental, and structural biology; as well as plant microbe interactions. Each student's course of study is individually designed. The graduate program features an introductory seminar, a two-semester core course and additional special topic courses and seminars in areas of faculty specialties. 

For additional details on this program please see the Graduate Studies Plan (on this page) and a detailed outline of program requirements.

Microbiology Program

SalmonellaWe provide each student with a breadth of understanding of microbial biology from the molecular to the cellular levels of organization; and the interactions of microbes, beneficial and pathogenic, with other organisms.

The department administers the Graduate Group in Microbiology, an inter-disciplinary approach that reaches across the UC Berkeley campus in collaboration with experts in biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, genetics, cell biology, developmental biology, pathogenesis, ecology and evolution. We provide access to these diverse disciplines through an integrated program of study oriented toward each students special interests. We offer admision to the Ph.D. program only.

For a complete description of program details, including financial support, advising and requirements, please see the Graduate Group in Microbiology pages on this site.


Q: Where can I find information about faculty and program requirements?
Q: How many students are enrolled in the program? How many students are admitted each year?
A: As of Fall 2014, we have 40 students in our Ph.D. in Plant Biology program and 51 students in the Ph.D. in Microbiology program. The number of students we admit varies from year to year depending on funding. For the past several years, the admissions committee for each program has offered admission to 14-22 applicants.
Q: When is the deadline for admission for fall, 2016?
A:  The deadline for fall 2016 is December 1, 2015.

Q: Do you offer financial support for your students?
A: All of our admitted students receive 5 full years of funding contingent upon satisfactory academic progress: $32,500 each year. Please visit:
Q: Do you admit international students? How can international students increase their chances of being admitted?
A: We generally admit one international student per program, per year. Admissions competition is stiffer for international students. International students who have a fellowship from an outside agency that will offset their cost, such as the Fulbright, are included with domestic applicants. 

Q: I already have a Master's degree. May I transfer my coursework to UC Berkeley?
A: Although having your Master's degree may help you in the admissions process, we rarely excuse a student from any of our Ph.D. coursework for this reason. We have minimal coursework requirements, designed not only to prepare you for your qualifying exam, but also to help connect you with the other students in your cohort.

Q: I've already selected the faculty member with whom I want to work. Do I still have to do rotations, or will you admit me directly into a lab?
A: We do not admit students directly into a permanent lab. Each student must complete three required lab rotations during the first year before joining a lab.

Q: I am interested in several different programs at UC Berkeley. May I apply to all of them?
A: No. UC Berkeley allows students to apply to only one graduate program per year.
Q: Is there a minimum GRE (Graduate Record Examination) score that I need to receive in order to apply to your department? What is the average GRE score of your admitted students? 
A: We do not require a minimum GRE score to apply to our department. Your GRE scores make up only one part of your application. We view them in the context of the rest of your application materials.
Q: How do I know what materials you've already received for my file?
A: All required materials will be uploaded to the graduate application. Once you submit your application you will still be able to check for exam scores and recommendation letters via the "application status page" at
Q: May I submit more than three letters of recommendation?
A: Yes, you may submit additional letters of recommendation via the online application.

Q: I have submitted all my required materials and would like to update one of my transcripts. How may I do that?
A: In order to update application materials after submission, please email
Q: I would like to tour the department. Can I drop in on a few faculty members and research labs?
A: All visitors are welcome to take a Berkeley campus tour. You can also drop in or make an appointment to meet with the Graduate Affairs Advisor Rocío Sanchez. Regrettably, the department generally cannot accommodate the many prospective students who wish to drop in to visit faculty or research labs. Students who apply and are accepted to our "Interview Weekend" will meet with faculty and current graduate students, and tour labs and facilities at the department's expense in late January of the academic year.