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Plant Sciences: Graduate Programs

Overview: 

For hundreds of years, scientists have chosen plants and their associated microbes to answer basic questions about the world around us.  Botanists and microbiologists shaped our fundamental understanding of genetics, cell structure, and evolution, and modern plant and microbial science continues to contribute to basic biological research.  The study of plants and their pathogens is central for solving current world problems such as food security and climate change and to meet energy needs.

The School of Plant Sciences has a long-standing commitment to excellence in graduate education, offering M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Plant Sciences and Plant Pathology.  The large faculty has diverse research interests ranging from horticulture to genomics and microbiology to evolution.  This diversity is translated into our graduate curriculum, where students gain a broad understanding of all aspects of plant science while retaining the ability to specialize.   An emphasis on developing research capabilities along with independent thinking and written and oral communication skills prepares students for a wide variety of 21st century careers in academia and beyond, including positions as university faculty, research scientists, plant breeders, consultants, science writers, teachers, or science lawyer/patent officers, among many others.

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

PLS/PLP Graduate Program Outcomes

  1. Describe the existing body of information and recognize key concepts and research questions underlying his/her general subject area (i.e. plant biology, microbial biology, genomics, plant pathology)
  2. Evaluate the scientific literature essential for his/her research area and articulate how his/her research fits into and/or advances the discipline
  3. Use multiple research approaches to collect scientific data related to his/her research area, and interpret, analyze and critique his/her data
  4. Communicate his/her research (importance, approaches taken and interpretation of results) effectively in writing and orally
  5. Express in lay terms the potential impact of his/her work on society

 

Assessment Activities: 

Regular or Recurring Activities

Provisional Advisory Committee (PAC) Meeting

All aspects of a student’s degree are overseen and approved initially by a Provisional Advisory Committee (PAC) and, once a Major Advisor is selected, by the student’s Major Advisor and an Advisory Committee.

The PAC will consist of a Major Advisor and two other faculty members selected by the major advisor. The PAC will serve as temporary advisors during the first semester for MS students and the first two semesters for Ph.D. students. Each student must meet with his or her PAC on arrival: preferably before classes begin, but at the latest before the conclusion of the first two weeks of their first semester in the program.

The first meeting between the student and PAC should focus on evaluating the student's background, assisting him/her in selecting courses, and, if appropriate, helping him/her outline potential rotation projects/mentors. The format of the PAC meeting is flexible, but generally includes evaluation of the student’s retention and synthesis of knowledge from previous coursework. Importantly, this is not an "exam" in the sense that a student will pass or fail, but rather a formal process to ensure that students receive guidance at the beginning of their graduate career.

In addition to evaluating the student's command of the subject matter in his/her field of study, the PAC may administer an assessment of writing to help the student gain competence in scientific and professional expression. For example, the student may be asked to write a mini-review of a selected research article or articles (2 to 4 pages). This should be entirely the student’s own effort and will be used by the PAC to evaluate whether the student needs to receive supplemental instruction on writing skills.

Finally, the PAC should advise the student on course selection including the options on minor fields of study, and should help orient the student to graduate education at the University of Arizona. Throughout, the student will have an opportunity to ask questions and seek constructive feedback from faculty who are invested in helping him/her commence graduate school with a sense of support, focus, and goal-oriented achievement.

The Graduate Program Assessment Rubric is used at this meeting to assess the level of competency in the five learning outcomes identified for the programs as well as other outcomes  being tracked by the School. All members present at the meeting fill out the rubric and send it to the coordinator for entry into the Assessment Summary spreadsheet.

 

Oral Comprehensive Exam for Ph.D. students

After completion of coursework (but no later than the third year), students studying for a Ph.D. degree will take both the written and the oral portions of the Comprehensive Exams covering both the major and minor fields of study. Both exams are evaluated by the student’s Advisory Committee and successful completion leads to promotion to “degree candidate” status.

In the written exam, the student develops and writes a research proposal. If the proposal covers the student’s research topic, an additional written test of general knowledge will also be administered. For the oral exam, the student will present a brief summary of the proposal, before answering questions based on the proposal and on fundamental knowledge of the major and minor fields of study.

The Graduate Program Assessment Rubric is used at this meeting to assess the level of competency in the five learning outcomes identified for the programs as well as other outcomes being tracked by the School. All members present at the meeting fill out the rubric and send it to the coordinator for entry into the Assessment Summary spreadsheet.

 

Thesis or Dissertation Defense

The culmination of a graduate degree is the submission and defense of a Master’s Thesis or Doctoral Dissertation. Although a student may begin writing this document in the last few months of the graduate program, the process of preparing a thesis or dissertation begins with the development of a research plan and continues with regular input from the Advisory Committee.

To complete the requirements for a Master’s or Ph.D. degree, students must present their research in an open seminar and defend their Thesis or Dissertation in a closed oral examination administered by the Advisory Committee. At the completion of the examination, the Advisory Committee votes to determine if the student is awarded the degree. Doctoral students must submit the Announcement of Final Oral Examination to the Graduate Degree Certification Office at least 7 days prior to the examination and bring appropriate documentation to the exam for committee signatures. See the Graduate College website for more information.

The Graduate Program Assessment Rubric is used at this meeting to assess the level of competency in the five learning outcomes identified for the programs as well as other outcomes being tracked by the School. All members present at the meeting fill out the rubric and send it to the coordinator for entry into the Assessment Summary spreadsheet.

 

 

 

Assessment Findings: 
Please see attachment for updated assessment data.
 
 
Learning outcome 1: Describe the existing body of information and recognize key concepts and research questions underlying his/her general subject area (i.e. plant biology, microbial biology, genomics, plant pathology).
 
Evaluation: The program attracts students of promise who have good proficiency on entering the program. Exiting-stage students are significantly more proficient than entering-stage students with regard to learning outcome 1.
 
Learning outcome 2: Evaluate the scientific literature essential for his/her research area and articulate how his/her research fits into and/or advances the discipline.
 
Evaluation: The program attracts students of promise who have good proficiency on entering the program. Exiting-stage students are significantly more proficient than entering-stage students with regard to learning outcome 2.
 
Learning outcome 3: Use multiple research approaches to collect scientific data related to his/her research area, and interpret, analyze and critique his/her data.
 
Evaluation: The program attracts students of promise who have good proficiency on entering the program. Exiting-stage students show a trend toward improved proficiency relative to entering-stage students with regard to learning outcome 3.
 
Learning outcome 4: Communicate his/her research (importance, approaches taken and interpretation of results) effectively in writing and orally.
 
Evaluation: The program attracts students of promise who have good proficiency on entering the program. Exiting-stage students are significantly more proficient than entering-stage students with regard to learning outcome 4.
 
Learning outcome 5: Express in lay terms the potential impact of his/her work on society.
 
Evaluation: The program attracts students of promise who have good proficiency on entering the program. Exiting-stage students are significantly more proficient than entering-stage students with regard to learning outcome 5.
 
Complementary Goals
 
Mentoring junior colleagues
Participating in collaborations
Published/submitted papers
Received external grants
 
Evaluation: In all cases, students attracted to the program already show promise in terms of mentorship activities, collaborations, publishing, and external funding. Also in all cases, goals are met with greater frequency at exit than at entrance
 
 
The attached document provides further details on  (1) changes in our assessment process, which were instituted in response to the APR and (2) outcomes of our assessment analyses.
 
Updated April 2014
Change in Response to Findings: 

Proposed action for Learning Outcome 1: Continue to encourage synthetic, rigorous training for all SPLS MS and PhD students through faculty involvement, excellent coursework, and professional training opportunities within/beyond SPLS.

Proposed action for Learning Outcome 2: Continue to encourage thorough training in literature evaluation through recently implemented school-wide journal clubs and support of faculty mentorship.

Proposed action for Learning Outcome 3: Consider new approaches to expand interdisciplinary collaboration and coursework for students to enhance scientific breadth, with the aim of demonstrating significant improvement over time.

Proposed action for Learning Outcome 4: Continue training activities, writing-intensive courses, and required presentations to assist students in developing excellent communication skills.

Proposed action for Learning Outcome 5: Continue to expand outreach opportunities and mentorship opportunities for graduate students to assist them in communicating their work for diverse audiences.

Proposed action for Complementary Goals: Continue to offer outstanding opportunities for students to mentor junior scientists, collaborate, publish, and apply for external funding, with the aim of increasing the percentage students who accomplished these goals to near 100% by graduation

Updated date: Fri, 06/30/2017 - 16:28