Plant Sciences Major

The Plant Sciences major is designed for students who are interested in a scientific understanding of how plants grow and develop in managed agricultural ecosystems and how plant products are utilized for food, fiber and environmental enhancement. Advances in science and technology have provided new insights and options for using plants to address the issues associated with providing renewable food, fiber and energy resources for a growing global population while minimizing adverse impacts on the natural environment. Graduates in Plant Sciences are able to apply their skills and knowledge to a diverse range of agricultural and environmental goals or pursue advanced degrees in plant sciences.

The Program. The curriculum provides depth in the biological and physical sciences and a sound understanding of how plants obtain and utilize resources from their environment to sustain their growth and development. The influences of genetics, management systems and environmental inputs on crop development and productivity are emphasized along with the postharvest preservation and marketing of plant products. Students will develop an area of specialization with options in Crop Production, Plant Genetics and Breeding, or Postharvest Biology and Technology. An Individual option is also available to match specific subject matter or career goal interests in the plant sciences. All students gain practical experience through a combination of practical laboratory courses and internships. Students may also pursue an Honors thesis in their senior year.

Three specific options and one individualized option are offered in the Plant Sciences major. Each of these requires approximately 25-30 additional units of course work in the specified areas.

The Plant Breeding and Genetics Option prepares students for careers in crop improvement and breeding, genetic conservation, seed production and certification, and related industries. It also provides a solid genetics background for graduate study in breeding, genetics, genomics or biotechnology. UC Davis is internationally recognized for its research strength in this area which is experiencing strong demand from industry.

The Crop Production Option prepares students for professional positions in farm management, production of diverse crops, crop consulting, and agricultural service industries. It focuses on the resources required and constraints encountered during crop production and includes exposure to economics and business management concepts. It provides a strong scientific background for graduate study in crop sciences.

The Postharvest Biology and Technology Option prepares students for careers in industries engaged in the harvesting, handling, transportation and marketing of fresh produce. It is also appropriate preparation for graduate studies in plant sciences with emphasis in postharvest and phytonutrient biology. This is an area of historical research and extension strength at UC Davis that has high demand from the food industry for trained professionals.

The Plant Sciences Individual Option is designed to accommodate students who wish to obtain a broadly based education in plant sciences or who have specific interests not represented in the defined specializations. In addition to the Preparatory and Depth subject matter courses, students will develop a course of study in consultation with their advisors to develop a core competence in a selected area of applied plant sciences. Students planning to continue to graduate school may want to take additional courses in plant biochemistry or genomics. Students aiming for conservation or regulatory science could take additional environmental science courses. Students may also develop additional interdisciplinary expertise, as in pest management or food safety. The proposed courses must represent a coherent program of study resulting in expertise and competence in a sub-discipline of plant sciences.

Student Learning Outcomes

  1. Graduates will understand the fundamental principles of plant biology including plant cell biology, plant development and anatomy, plant physiology and plant genetics.
  2. Graduates will be able to apply the fundamental principles of plant biology to their area of specialization (crop production, plant breeding or postharvest technology).
  3. Graduates will have the ability to use modern library search tools to retrieve scientific information related to plant sciences and agriculture.
  4. Graduates will understand the scientific method and have the ability to design and perform field and/or laboratory experiments related to plant functions.
  5. Graduates will have the critical thinking skills to make decisions by drawing logical conclusions using scientific principles.
  6. Graduates will understand and be able to articulate how knowledge of plant sciences is applied in agriculture and the role of plant science in addressing challenges facing society.
  7. Graduates will be able to successfully pursue careers in agricultural industries, government or to pursue advanced degrees in plant sciences, agronomy, plant genetics or related disciplines.

Career Alternatives. Graduates from this program are prepared to pursue a wide range of careers, including various technical and management positions in agricultural and business enterprises, farming, or consulting; public, private, and non-profit agencies; Cooperative Extension; international development; teaching; or agricultural and environmental journalism and communication services. Graduates are qualified to pursue graduate studies in the natural and agricultural sciences, such as plant biology, genetics, breeding, horticulture, agronomy, biotechnology, ecology, environmental studies, pest management, education, or business management.

Plant Sciences Honors Thesis

The honors thesis in Plant Sciences can be an enriching experience during your undergrad program at UC Davis, as well as a competitive edge when applying for graduate schools, careers, and professional development trainings. Below is a listed sequence of courses for the Plant Sciences honors track, which should commence during Spring quarter of Junior year. Students who are already enrolled in the University Honors Program can also follow the sequence below during their 4th year of the program.

Plant Sciences Honors Thesis Course Sequence

  • PLS 188 (3 units), Spring Quarter, preferably Junior year - Undergraduate Research Proposal
    Lecture/discussion— Lecture/discussion—3 hours. Prerequisite: upper division standing. Preparation and review of a scientific proposal. Problem definition, identification of objectives, literature survey, hypothesis generation, design of experiments, data analysis planning, proposal outline and preparation.


  • PLS 189L (2-5 units), FWSp Quarters - Individual Research
    Laboratory—3-12 hours; discussion—1 hour. Prerequisite: course 188 and consent of instructor. Formulating experimental approaches to current questions in plant sciences; performance of proposed experiments.


  • PLS 194H (1-2 units), FWSpSu Quarters - Honors Thesis
    Independent Study—3-6 hours. Prerequisite: senior standing, over GPA of 3.250 or higher and consent of master adviser. Independent study of selected topics under the direction of a member or members of the staff. Completion will involve the writing of a senior thesis.

Major Advisor

Nancy Thurlow

Faculty Advisor

Dan Potter