Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence

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Graduate Programs

Graduate Student Megan Cohn


The department offers outstanding graduate programs to students interested in a Ph.D. in Plant or Microbial Biology. We conduct one admission review per year for admission to the fall semester. The application submission deadline is December 1, 2020, 11:59:59 Eastern Time (ET). We do not admit students seeking a master's degree.

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

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, 2021 if selected for an on-campus interview. The department covers the major costs of the interview weekend, including transportation, lodging and meals.

The information on this page applies to both of our graduate programs. For specific information on each program, please visit:

Plant Program Details
Micro Program Details

Check out our Graduate Program Video
Or download our Graduate Program Brochure

Admissions Process, Requirements

Gradaute Student Russell Scott (Right) working with Professor Steven Lindow (Left)

The committee bases admissions recommendations on:

• Grades and coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels
• Letters of recommendation
• Written statements of academic and professional goals
• Other documentation of research
• Academic potential and accomplishment


For Plant Biology:

• 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. ​The deadline to apply for Fall 2021 is December 1, 2020, 11:59:59 Eastern Time (ET). 

• 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.

• 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. Note on the TOEFL order form the institution code 4833 (UC Berkeley) and the department code 37 (botany). Please read the Graduate Division's Evidence of English Language Proficiency for more information.

• Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are not required for the graduate application. 

• If you have additional questions, please contact Graduate Student Advisor Lyn Rivera at pmbgrad@berkeley.edu.

• Please refer to our 2021 Graduate Application Instructions when completing the online graduate application for admission. Tips on Writing the Statement of Purpose and Personal Statement are found on the Graduate Division website.

Applying to Berkeley for grad school requires an application fee of $120 if you are a US citizen or US permanent resident, and $140 otherwise. US citizens, US permanent residents, and AB540 students can apply to waive this application fee if (i) they demonstrate financial need or (ii) they have taken part in specific programs that qualify for a fee waiver. Financial need is determined by either (i) Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) on your Student Aid Report; or (ii) by the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on your tax return. For full details, please see the Graduate Division website


Interdisciplinary Research, Superb Facilities

Shauna Somerville and grad student

• Research topics include: Ecology and Evolution, Genetics and Development, Host-Microbe Interactions, Genomics, Physiology and Biochemistry, Biophysics and Computational Biology.

• Our students have the freedom to experiment, explore diverse research interests and decide on a faculty adviser through the rotation program.

• Students can perform lab rotations with any faculty member in PMB or the GGM.

• Our students can perform research under the joint mentorship of two faculty members.

• There is ready access to important research technologies, including the Computational Genomics Resource Lab, mass spectrometry facility, light and electron microscopy centers, nucleic acid and protein sequencing facilities and nuclear magnetic resonance facilities.

• The $200 million Li Ka Shing Biomedical and Health Sciences Building opened in 2012. 

• The $140 million Energy Biosciences Building opened in 2012 to house the $500 million Energy Biosciences Institute, which is dedicated to bringing green solutions to the energy sector. Its director is a PMB faculty member.

• Extensive greenhouse facilities and staff to support plant research and field space for agricultural research.


Teaching, Public Service

We are dedicated to providing professional training: opportunities to practice presentation skills, writing, coaching for NSF fellowship applications (very successful record), teaching.

• Our graduate students make broader impacts on campus and in the community via diverse organizations and programs, such as Bay-Area Scientists in Schools, BeAScientist program, Expanding Your Horizons, Oakland Math & Science Outreach, Beyond Academia, the Society for the Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Cal Day and many more.

• Berkeley is a national leader in preparing graduate students for teaching. Professional development opportunities include a teaching conference, online ethics courses, workshops, a discipline-specific pedagogy course, and a teaching certificate program.

• Our graduate students bring talent, enthusiasm and excellence to teaching Berkeley’s undergraduate students in a variety of biology courses.


Q: Where can I find information about PMB faculty and graduate program requirements?

A:  Please visit these links:

Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
Plant Biology Program Page
Plant and Microbial Biology Faculty Page
Microbiology Program Page
Graduate Group in Microbiology Faculty Page
Graduate Admissions Brochure

Q: How many students are enrolled in the program? How many students are admitted each year?
A: As of Fall 2020, we have 39 students in our Ph.D. in Plant Biology program and 66 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 10-20 applicants.

Q: When is the deadline for admission?

A:  The application submission deadline is December 1, 2020, 11:59:59 Eastern Time (ET).

Q: Do you offer financial support for your students?
A:  All of our admitted students receive ​five​ full years of funding contingent upon satisfactory academic progress. The annual stipend for 2019-2020 is $37,080.


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 term.

Q: How do I know what materials you've already received for my file?

A: All required materials are to be uploaded to the online 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 grad.berkeley.edu

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 pmbgrad@berkeley.edu

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 Student 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 for admission and are invited to our annual interview weekend in late January will meet with faculty and current graduate students, and tour our labs and facilities.

Student Groups

The department supports Graduate Student Groups in both Plant and Microbial Biology. The student groups recently combined and together elect officers for the academic year.

• Student groups are very involved in the department, including:

• Representation on hiring committees

• Representation at faculty meetings

• Coordination of Seminar Speaker lunches

• Coordination of a speaker program for grad students and postdocs

• An annual microbiology symposium each year, held during Spring Semester

• Input to the Graduate Student selection process

• A major role in the planning of department events, including recruitment of graduate students, outreach and scientific retreats


Rankings and other measures of excellence

National Research Council

The National Research Council (NRC) has found that Berkeley continues to be one of the nation’s most preeminent universities for doctoral studies. In the latest study, Berkeley had the highest number of top-ranked doctoral programs in the nation, based on a regression analysis involving 20 criteria from more than 5,000 programs at 212 institutions.

Plant Biology ranked #1 in this recent research, and Microbiology was in the top three.

Number of programs ranked within a range that extends into the top ten

RankUniversityNumber of Programs
1University of California, Berkeley48 of 52
2Harvard47 of 52
3Stanford40 of 47

Number of programs ranked within a range that extends into the top five

RankUniversityNumber of Programs
1University of California, Berkeley43

Number of programs assigned an upper range of first place

RankUniversityNumber of Programs
2University of California, Berkeley16

U.S. News and World Report

Berkeley’s placement in the latest USNWR graduate school rankings.

1stChemistry, Computer Science, English, History, Public Policy, and Sociology
2ndPsychology, Statistics, and Physics
3rdEngineering, Earth Sciences, and Math
4thBiological Sciences
6thPolitical Science and Public Affairs
7thBusiness and Social Welfare
9thPublic Health

Academic Rankings of World Universities

The 2014 Academic Ranking of World Universities, compiled by the Institute of Higher Education at Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China, rates UC Berkeley number four in the world (after Harvard, Stanford, and MIT). Berkeley was the top-ranked public university. The ranking compared 500 higher education institutions worldwide, public and private.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships (cumulative 2004-2013)

1University of California, Berkeley1,298
2Massachusetts Institute of Technology1,133
3Stanford University1,052
4Harvard University751
5University of Michigan510
6University of Washington410
7Cornell University361
8Princeton University301
9Georgia Institute of Technology271
10California Institute of Technology265

Counts represent the number of NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) award offers to students who indicated each institution as their first choice for graduate school during the period 2004-2013, from the total 13,587 awards made during the 10-year period. The metric shows the choices of the nation’s top science and engineering graduate students, reflecting which institutions they believe offer them the best graduate research opportunities.

Ford Foundation

Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships (cumulative 1986-2014)

University of California, Berkeley127
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor83
University of California, Los Angeles76
Harvard University62
University of Texas, Austin50
Stanford University48
Yale University47

Graduate Alumni Accomplishments

Nobel Prize winners20
MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipients39
National Medal of Science recipients30

Graduate Alumni Satisfaction

Berkeley doctoral alumni, surveyed 5 to 45 years after graduation, report very high level of satisfaction with their graduate education and the value of their Ph.D.s:

  • 90% overall (and 85% of those who pursued non-academic careers) say they were well prepared for their careers by Berkeley
  • 95% overall (and 93% of those who pursued non-academic careers) would pursue a doctoral degree again
  • 86% would select the same field of study
  • 95% would choose graduate study at Berkeley if they could start again

The Berkeley Graduate Profile is produced by the Institutional Research and External Relations units in the Graduate Division (grad.berkeley.edu).

Additional Resources:

Berkeley and the Bay Area

Campanile photo (Tom Holdford Photo)• Berkeley is a vibrant, urban community surrounded by parks and open space.

• Berkeley has a wide variety of restaurants, delis, cafes, bakeries and breweries serving up some of the best food and drinks in the Bay Area.

• Berkeley is minutes away from many Bay Area points of interest including: 20 minutes from San Francisco; two hours from Monterey Bay; and one hour from Napa.

• Berkeley provides easy access to the Sierra Nevada, beaches, Wine County, hiking trails, Point Reyes National Seashore and more.


Peer Advising

Current graduate students maintain and manage an active peer advising programwith a mission of creating a comfortable community to discuss and address concerns of first and second year PMB graduate students.

Peer advisors provide ongoing advice as students navigate common and unique issues faced in the transition to graduate school. They also facilitate connections with senior PMB graduate students and provide access to the myriad of campus and community resources to help new students face and resolve their concerns in a confidential and personalized manner.

For a detailed explanation of the program please visit: pmb.berkeley.edu/peer-advising