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Program Overview

The Master of Professional Studies in Agriculture and Life Sciences (MPS) with a specialization in Plant Protection features coursework designed to equip students with knowledge and tools to develop and implement targeted pest management strategies that are safe and cost-effective.

The skills developed can be applied to numerous applications and careers including consulting and direct management of plant pests in systems such as:

  • Field crops such as corn, soybean, and alfalfa
  • Fruits and vegetables including both organic and conventional methods
  • Public spaces such as parks and playgrounds
  • Private spaces including lawns and gardens
  • Interior spaces such as homes and offices
  • Interior plant production in greenhouses
  • Plant product inspection at border crossings
  • Government or corporate research and development facilities

The increasing demand for agricultural products is driving both an increased value of agricultural products and value of protecting those products from pests.  These trends are creating an increasing demand for trained pest management professionals to work in long-term positions with corporations or government agencies and to work as shorter term consultants.

Plant Protection encompasses strategies and tactics for managing the three major groups of plant pests: insects, weeds, and plant pathogens.  The framework for this broad scope of pests, disciplines and tactics is termed integrated pest management or IPM.  Students in the Plant Protection MPS specialization will take courses with IPM experts from each of the three types of pests.  In addition, students will master the application of applied concepts from allied fields such as economics, ecology, and toxicology.  While the curriculum is broad, all aspects will reflect three central principles:

  • Tools not Prescriptions: Every plant and pest interaction is unique.  Pest management parameters are in constant flux with a changing suite of pests (e.g. invasive species), shifting effectiveness and availability of management options (e.g. resistance, regulation), and evolving market preferences (e.g. organic production).  Learning a specific strategy for one set of conditions will have limited value but a set of tools and skills to tailor a strategy for any set of conditions is adaptable, scalable and portable.
  • Management not Control:  Action should be taken to control a pest population only when the benefits outweigh the costs.  This is the distinction that separates pest management from pest control that seeks to keep plants free from all pests at all times regardless of the cost.  Evaluating costs and benefits is not trivial as there are often factors that extend beyond one field or one growing season, but considering both costs and benefits is a core principle of plant protection.
  • Prevention before Control.  Pesticides can be provide extremely effective pest management often at a very low cost.  Designing plant production systems that are less likely to be colonized or exploited by pests can be even more effective and less costly.  Also, preventive methods are the only option for many pests, including almost all plant pathogens, for which there are no effective pesticides.  The most effective and resilient plant protection programs incorporate system design to minimize the frequency and severity of pest attack with effective use of reactive tactics when preventive tactics are overcome.

The MPS specialization in Plant Protection is fairly new but Cornell has a very long history in plant protection research and instruction including establishment of the first Entomology Department in the United States.  While many doctoral students have gone on to academic careers, students with bachelor's and master's degrees in plant protection fields have gone on to positions including:

  • Border inspection specialists with USDA-APHIS
  • Research/outreach with non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • Pest control product development and testing
  • Pest survey and management positions with federal, state, and local units (e.g. NYSIPM)

MPS Program Structure

The Master of Professional Studies is an accredited, one-year, course-based master’s degree program that prepares individuals for the 21st-century workplace through knowledge development and career skillset refinement. The specialized, course-based instruction led by world-class faculty broadens expertise and expands versatility.

The CALS MPS degree program in has two main components:

  1. Coursework: Students work with a faculty advisor to customize their course of study based on their area(s) of interest.  While the majority of the courses (20 of the required 30 credits) will be in CALS, students have the flexibility to take additional coursework across Cornell. The suggested MPS curriculum includes a balance of courses to build both professional and disciplinary competencies.
  2. Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, MPS candidates undertake an applied capstone project to fulfill the MPS degree requirements. The MPS project offers the opportunity to apply newly-acquired problem solving tools to real world issues, providing valuable insights as students embark on their post-graduation careers.

MPS students are part of a cohort of CALS professional master’s students specializing in diverse fields of study. The program is fast-paced and rigorous. Professional master’s students have a dedicated support organization, offering career guidance and professional skill development.

Read the MPS degree requirements

Plant Protection Sample Curriculum


Course title
PLSCS 5010 Biology and Management of Plant Diseases
PLSCS 5150 Weed Biology and Management
BTRY 6010 Statistical Methods
ALS 5211 Career Readiness for CALS Professional Master's Students
PLSCI 5900 MPS Project


PLSCS 4440 Integrated Pest Management
PLPPM 4010 Microbial Pathogens vs. Plants 
LEAD 5100 Leadership Skills for CALS Professional Master's Students
PLSCI 5940 Skills for Public Engagement
PLSCI 5900 MPS Project

Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Antonio DiTommaso is Professor and Department Chair for the graduate field of Soil and Crop Studies. Dr. DiTommaso's research focuses on gaining a more in-depth understanding of the basic biological/ecological principles governing agricultural and environmental weed population dynamics that ultimately lead to the development and implementation of safe, effective, sustainable and economically viable weed management strategies. 

Admissions Requirements

The ideal candidate will demonstrate a passion for the importance gathering and analyzing data to make strategic decisions, competency in undergraduate science coursework, and interest in applying knowledge gained in a professional career. Admission requirements include:

  • Common undergraduate courses taken: Biology, Physics, Math, Chemistry, Ecology, Environmental Sciences
  • Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores are not required but may be submitted to strengthen candidacy
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL for non-native English speakers

Connect with us to discuss the admissions process.

Learn more about the other Master of Professional Studies specializations offered through the School of Integrative Plant Science