PhD Program

In collaboration with the Chicago Botanic Garden, Northwestern University offers a PhD in Plant Biology and Conservation. The program aims to foster an academic and research environment that allows students to gain experience, skills, and knowledge to become scholars, leaders, or practitioners in plant biology and conservation. Graduates of the program will have a strong theoretical and methodological foundation within the field, together with the in-depth knowledge required to be able to identify and articulate the frontiers of scholarship and applied science within their area of specialization. As global environmental issues are complex and necessitate interdisciplinary expertise, the curriculum emphasizes a complex systems approach with the integration of multiple disciplines, and a breadth of approaches to basic and applied research as well as on local, national, and global issues.

PhD Requirements

In addition to the Graduate School requirements, the departmental requirements for the PhD in Plant Biology and Conservation will include the following. 

  1. Three core courses
    A) Field and lab methods in plant biology and conservation (PBC 450)
    B) Quantitative methods in ecology and conservation (PBC 435)

    C) Fundamentals of plant biology and conservation (PBC 451)

  1. Nine elective courses for graduate credit at the 300- or 400- level chosen from PBC and other departmental courses (i.e. Anthropology, Chemistry, Biological Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Political Science). These electives must include at least one course in each of the following areas: ecology, evolution, and genetics.
  1. Independent Research (PBC 590), Units of Independent Research (PBC 590), will be taken to fill out your full time registration during your first 8 quarters (including summer). These may be with your major advisor.
  2. Zero credit Ethics course for one quarter;
  3. Zero credit Student Research Seminar for Fall–Spring quarters starting the second year. Each student will give an annual presentation of independent research as part of this seminar. This will give students experience and feedback on public speaking and keep other students and faculty updated on student progress.
  4. The Qualifying exam to advance to PhD candidacy should be completed by the fall of the student’s third year. Students should discuss the timing of their exam with their advisor and work with their committee to schedule the exam. Once the date is scheduled, the PBC program assistant must be notified so the PhD Qualifying Exam form can be submitted online. Read more about the process in the Graduate Student Handbook.
  5. Oral defense of a written dissertation under the direction of a faculty member and approved by a dissertation committee. Read more about the process in the Graduate Student Handbook.
  6. Teaching Requirements, Teaching experience is a crucial aspect of graduate student training and will be required of all PhD students in Plant Biology and Conservation. Students will serve as graduate assistants and will be expected to lead discussion or lab sections and grade homework and exams for at least two quarters (this will most likely take place during their second and third years in the program). Teaching is an essential element of the education and training experience of PhD students at Northwestern. The Graduate School requires that all PhD students serve in some instructional capacity for at least one academic quarter during their graduate education at Northwestern. This teaching requirement is unique to American higher education, and is an integral aspect of professional development. TGS expects students teaching work to be comparable to other students within their program, and strives to ensure teaching demands are as similar as possible across academic programs.
  7. Satisfactory Academic Progress must be maintained by students. A student will not be in good academic standing if he/she has an overall grade average below B (3.0 GPA), has more than three incomplete grades, fails to pass the qualifying exam by the end of his/her third year, or fails to make satisfactory progress with research as determined by the student’s thesis committee.


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Chicago Botanic Garden
Explore the research and opportunities at the Plant Science Center at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

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February 27, 2015