How to Apply

The Plant Biology Graduate Group (PBGG) is designed for students who wish to pursue advanced degrees in plant biology. It is a respected program that prides itself in rigor, interdisciplinary training and a high degree of faculty-student interaction. Our students go on to successful careers in academia, industry, government agencies and non-governmental organizations. As a PBGG student, you will make scholarly contributions to the field of plant biology and after completing the program, be prepared and competitive for the diverse opportunities in a career in plant biology.

Entering into graduate studies is a big commitment financially, socially and emotionally. This website is developed to help students better understand the application process.

Disclaimer: The content provided here is for informational purposes only; this is not an official guide.

Application Deadline

The Plant Biology Graduate Group (PBGG) accepts applications for fall quarter admission only. PBGG accepts applications for both the M.S. and Ph.D. programs. Program application deadline is December 1.

  • Apply early! Don't wait until the last day. Once the deadline passes and the application closes, it can't be reopened.
  • Program application deadline is midnight December 1 (PST). All supporting materials (transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, etc) must be received by this date.  Incomplete applications as of this date will not be considered.
  • PBGG strongly recommends that prospective students contact faculty members whose research interests them before beginning the application process.

Apply here

How do I begin?

Plant Biology is a large and diverse field, ranging from genomic science and developmental biology to fundamental questions about food security and environmental sustainability.

What interests you? Fascination with a particular topic may occur in the classroom, a childhood experience, an assigned project, and inspirational seminar or Professor. You may be subject-, technology- or career-driven to attend graduate school. The most important decision you will make is in the selection of your potential mentor.

The PBGG offers you the opportunity to rotate through 4 different labs in your first year to ‘try out’ potential Advisors and labs.  Finding a good match is made easier because of the large number of plant biologists on campus. Joint supervision bridging different disciplines is also a possibility.

  •  Peruse the PBGG webpage to see the scope of research conducted within the group. Most students have a few areas of interest and identifying 3 or more professors is desirable.
  • Get to know the research of the faculty. For faculty that interest you, read one or two of their papers on the topic that you find interesting. Which of the faculty best fits with your interests and career goals?
  • Think about questions you would ask the faculty that intrigue you. What is their mentoring philosophy? What is the culture of their lab? The possible career options ahead? These are questions you can ask directly once you have interacted with them.
  • Contact the Professor. Most professors like to hear from enthusiastic students who are interested in their field of study! But also be aware faculty tend to be very busy so be direct and concise with your communications. If you choose to email them, it should be professional, simple, and honest, and convey your passion and ideals. It should also be pragmatic – what can you do for the Faculty member?

Introduce yourself. State why you are interested in their lab. Highlight areas of overlap between the science in the faculty member’s lab and research you are conducting or interested in. Mention papers you have read and what you found interesting about them. Conclude by asking if they are currently taking students and by saying that you would like to discuss the possibility of working in their lab by telephone, skype etc. What next? Some Faculty members may take a long time to reply due to multiple commitments. Follow up with another email after a week elapses.

The PBGG website lists Professors who are interested in taking new students. For a variety of reasons, some may indicate that they are not. If you believe you would be an asset to that lab, contact them anyway. Strong students who could potentially transform a research program are always considered.

Admission Prerequisites

This is for informational purposes only. Completion of these prerequisites will not determine admission to the program.

Applicants for admission should complete most of the following courses before enrolling at UC Davis. Admitted students will work with a faculty advisor to plan to complete any remaining prerequisites; no more than two remaining is recommended.

The courses should be substantively equivalent to courses offered at UCD. The chart below lists required courses generally, followed by their UCD equivalents. To view the course descriptions for the UCD courses to compare to other institutions, please see the UCD General Catalog.

Note: Courses numbered 1-99 are lower division and may be taken at community college while courses 100-199 are upper division and should be taken at a four-year institution.

  • Biology: One year of General Biology or equivalent content (Biological Sciences: BIS 2A, B and C )
  • Biochemistry: Introductory Biochemistry, two quarters, one semester, or equivalent content (Biological Sciences: BIS 102 and 103)
  • Inorganic Chemistry: One year Inorganic Chemistry or equivalent content (Chemistry: CHE 2A, B and C)
  • Organic Chemistry: Two quarters, two semesters, or equivalent content (Chemistry: CHE 8A and 8B)
  • Physics: Introductory Physics, two quarters, two semesters, or equivalent content (Physics: PHY 7A and 7B)
  • Mathematics: Calculus, two quarters, one semester, or equivalent content (Mathematics: MAT 16A and 16B)
  • Statistics: Introduction to Statistics one quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Statistics: STA 100; or Plant Sciences: PLS 120)
  • Genetics: One quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Biological Sciences: BIS 101)
  • Intro. Plant Physiology: One quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Plant Biology: PLB 111 or 112)
  • Cell and Molecular Biology: One quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Plant Biology: PLB 113; or Biological Sciences: BIS 104)
  • Ecol. Systematics & Evolution: One quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Evolution and Ecology: EVE 100, 140 or 141; or Plant Biology: PLB 108 or 117)
  • Plant Development and Structure: One quarter, one semester, or equivalent content (Plant Biology: PLB 105)


  • Why prerequisites?
  • Applicants for admission to the Plant Biology Graduate Group must present evidence of high intellectual achievement and possess the potential for successful graduate study. A level of scholastic achievement equivalent to that of a Bachelor's degree in biological sciences from a recognized college or university is required. An applicant must have a minimum 3.0 GPA to be considered for admission. The applicant must submit one official transcript for each school attended and three letters of recommendation. The GRE exam is not required.

    TOEFL or IELTS scores are also required if the applicant's native language is not English or if prior instruction has not been in English; applicants must meet the minimum scores required by the Office of Graduate Studies. More information can be found on here.

    Though students do not need to take all of these courses in order to be admitted to the Plant Biology Graduate Group, the PBI highly recommends that students complete as many of these courses as possible before matriculating at UC Davis. Limited deficiencies can be made up after admission to the graduate program, generally during the student's first year. Admitted students work with their Graduate Advisers to identify any deficiencies and the courses necessary to fulfill these deficiencies. Early completion of these courses allows students to focus on their graduate studies and to expedite the completion of their graduate degrees.

Admission Elements

  • Application Fee
  • A non-refundable application fee ($135 for domestic applicants, $155 for international applicants, or possible fee waiver for participants in approved Graduate Preparatory Programs).
  • Official Transcripts
  • UC Davis requires academic records from each college-level institution you have attended.  You will be instructed to upload scanned copies of your transcripts after you have submitted your online application. For more details visit
  • TOEFL, IELTS, or Duolingo English Test
  • Applicants must submit TOEFL/IELTS/Duolingo scores unless they have earned or will be earning a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree from either a regionally accredited or foreign college/university which provides instruction solely in English. See the English Language Requirement section for details. 
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • Seek these out early. Give your letter writer at least 6 week’s notice (no later than mid-October) and follow up 3, 2 and 1 week before the deadline. Your letter writer should be familiar with you academically, and should be able to speak to your ability to complete a Ph.D. Cultivate a relationship with potential referees early in your career.

    Aim to have all of your letters written by scientists willing to write strong letters; failing that, at least 2 of them should be. Ask him/her if they need pointers for the letter i.e. for your professors: dates you interacted, quarter and year of the class you took, and your grade. For your internship advisor you may include the specific dates you worked, duties, and accomplishments.

  • Personal History and Statement of Purpose
  • Each section of your SOP and personal history should be seamlessly interconnected to form a continuous narrative. Invest a significant amount of time writing each, developing it through several iterations. Ask your professors for feedback on your writing. Some elements of the SOP may overlap with the personal history; for example, both may include obstacles to academic progress such as illness, working full-time, etc.

    Two important pieces of advice: (i) Be honest: do not try to reinvent yourself or inflate the importance of your accomplishments. (ii) Be specific: avoid platitudes and give examples. Show how you have turned a negative into a positive or how it now becomes a driving force for you to be a scientist.

    Drafting your Statement of Purpose

    This allows you to tell the Admissions Committee directly, why you should be admitted to the program. It should be concise (500-1000 words; max 4000 characters), informative and well-organized, and present yourself as someone who can successfully complete the graduate program. Give yourself ample time to write your SOP. The Admissions committee can easily spot hurried and poorly thought out writing and this will have a negative effect on your evaluation. Secondly, your statement should be specific to BMCDB. Generic letters used to apply to multiple institutions where faculty or school names are simply interchanged can be detected. There are several online resources available to help you, but here are few tips:

    • Be clear on why are you applying to the BMCDB Graduate Group
    • Provide a context for your personal motivation i.e. state how you became interested in a particular topic and why you wish to pursue this question in the BMCDB Graduate Group. This should be brief but well thought-through.
    • Describe your past academic and research experiences
    • State succinctly, the importance of the research question, the specific objective of your project, your general approach, and the significance of your results.
    • Discuss your current research interests
    • Describe how your classwork and research experience (described above) converge to make you a good candidate for your field of study in BMCDB. Some students wish to continue in the same research vein, while others, may wish to switch fields, or approaches. It is suggested that you identify multiple faculty members you would like to work with including a clear justification for such. In this segment, the Admissions Committee will be able to assess your depth of understanding of the field.
    • Map out your potential career plan
    • Where do you see yourself as a Researcher in the next 5 – 10 years? There should be a logical flow of your past and current experiences and how the expertise within BMCDB and UC Davis would permit you to continue your development as a scientist
    Drafting Your Personal History and Diversity Statement

    This should provide the reader with a clear perspective of the circumstances that shaped you, how it is interconnected with your academic pursuits, and how it prepares you for success in the BMCDB Graduate Group. It is a chance for self-introspection: what are the specific driving forces or the single transformative event that propelled you to this point, where pursuing graduate studies in the BMCDB Graduate Group is the next logical step in your development as a scientist. More information on this statement can be found on the Office of Graduate Studies website. 

    The personal history section can be used to:

    • Fill in the gaps about inconsistencies in your application, such as low grades.
    • Highlight how you were able to persevere and excel academically in spite of any economic or social challenges you have faced.
    • Give examples of leadership, service, teaching and tutoring during your academic career.
    • List any successes you achieved and what you learned from them.

Application Review

You application will be evaluated by a committee of faculty from the PBGG. Here are a few things that the Admissions Committee consider when assessing your application:

  • Your Undergraduate and Graduate GPA. Rarely will you be accepted into the PBGG with a GPA of less than 3.0, and the average is higher than this. Good grades in upper division courses and subjects related to the graduate program of interest are more important than those in other subjects. Extenuating circumstances that affected your overall GPA can be outlined in your Personal History.
  • Research experience. Most applicants have laboratory experience prior to applying to Graduate school. Working independently on a discrete research question is ideal. You should be knowledgeable about the research you conducted, the hypothesis tested and the rationale for the approach taken. This is better than simply being familiar with lab techniques.
  • Recommendations made by your References. Seek individuals who can comment on your research such as a Research supervisor (preferred) and academic ability e.g. a course Professor, in the letter of recommendation (LOR). 
  • Evidence of publication and presentation of your research data.  This would enhance your application but will not be decisive factor in acceptance. If you are currently in the final year of your undergraduate degree look for all opportunities to present and publish your work.
  • Your academic and professional goals. This can sometimes indicate if you have the ‘right’ motivation for graduate school, are realistic in what can be accomplished, and if the PBGG is the right fit for you.
  • Evidence of active participation in lab meetings and graduate level seminar courses. This may be highlighted in your statement of purpose, or by your Professor in one of the LORs.
  • Your ability to write. Your statement of purpose and personal history may convey this, but comments from your Recommender may also be helpful.

Please note: this is not a checklist that determines acceptance. The factors controlling admissibility are complex and do not follow a strict formula.

Good academic grades and solid research experience are important, as they may indicate your scholastic aptitude and potential for scientific research, but the PBGG Admissions Committee will consider all the parts of your application in making a decision.

Scores on standardized tests are not definitive: do not obsess over your grades. Your personal statement and the letters of recommendations are extremely important to the Admissions Committee, as they communicate who you are as a potential student, so pay attention to these.

In exceptional cases, lower grades and scores may be offset with extensive research experience especially in an area that a faculty member may value. Still, research experience is not an automatic substitute for poor grades.  The PBGG program of study is broad and rigorous. We need evidence that you will be able to thrive in that environment.

If there are weaknesses in your undergraduate preparation or you have concerns about the commitment required for a Ph.D., it may be wise to apply for a Master’s program and use that as a launchpad for a Ph.D. later. If you have questions please contact Diane M Beckles

International Students

For International students, being the recipient of a fellowship or full scholarship from your home country can indicate that you are a good candidate. You will also need to be proficient in the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). A score of 550 for the paper test and 80 for the internet-based test is required. For the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), a score of 7 or higher is essential.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions

The PBGG welcomes applications from academically strong individuals who are first generation college students, are underrepresented minorities, or who belong to socially or economically disadvantaged groups. Students trained through the McNair’s, BUSP, UC LEADS, MURALS are especially welcomed. If you are a sophomore who is just beginning to think about graduate school, we recommend determining your eligibility for these programs. They provide a high intensity immersion into research and year-long training on how to successfully enter and navigate graduate school.