New information following the change in COVID-19 alert levels.

Master of Science (Plant Biology)

Key facts

  • Available at Manawatū
  • Not all listed subject course options are on offer every year
  • Available for international students studying in NZ

Make a difference

From protecting our native biodiversity to identifying key traits to improve crop plants in an ever-changing climate, plant biology research can solve the world’s major global issues.

Find out more about the Master of Science parent structure.

What is it like?

Massey’s Master of Science (Plant Biology) will give you the knowledge and skills to understand and help solve some of the world’s most important current issues, such as the effects of climate change on our native species and crop plants, how to preserve native biodiversity, and understanding fundamental physiological aspects of plants.

You will build upon your undergraduate degree and conduct original, independent research under the guidance of a leading plant science academic.

Expertise in an area of your choice

The plant biology team at Massey have expertise in plant molecular biology, evolutionary biology, systematics and taxonomy, and plant physiology. During the course of your studies you can choose to further your knowledge and apply your learning on an exciting research project such as:

  • Evolution of plant genomes
  • Molecular development of plants
  • Population genetics and conservation genetics of native plants

Take advantage of our globally-renowned expertise

Let our experts help you develop your own expertise. You will learn from, and research with, highly-skilled internationally-recognised and active researchers in plant biology and related areas, with a huge depth of knowledge and experience. Postgraduate study and research in plant biology at Massey spans evolutionary biology to physiology. You will have the opportunity to learn about the fundamental aspects of plant growth and function, as well as the molecular evolution and classification (systematics) of plants. You might choose to conduct research focused on the native New Zealand flora or a model organism, like Arabidopsis thaliana, or even a crop species.

You will also be able to take advantage of Massey’s expertise across the sciences. We have a wide and relevant group of expertise within the university, from fundamental sciences like microbiology and biochemistry, to agriculture, engineering, horticulture and environmental management.

This means no matter what your research interest you will have access to a broad range of experts to assist you develop your own research.

Use world-leading equipment and facilities

As a plant biology student you will have access to our world-leading equipment and facilities such as the Dame Ella Campbell Herbarium, the Palynology Laboratory, Plant Growth Unit, Seed Testing Services, Massey Genome Service and the Manawatu Microscopy and Imaging Centre.

Relevant and topical

We work to ensure that our teaching fits with the changing environment, which means that you will emerge with a relevant qualification valued by potential employers.

Making industry connections for you

Massey has strong connections with the Crown Research Institutes in Palmerston North and across New Zealand, especially AgResearch, Landcare Research, Plant and Food Research, and Scion. Some of our students are able to conduct their projects at these organisations whilst undertaking their postgraduate study, benefiting their career and gaining real-word experience in the process.

Why postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study is hard work but hugely rewarding and empowering. The Master of Science will push you to produce your best creative, strategic and theoretical ideas. The workload replicates the high-pressure environment of senior workplace roles.

Not just more of the same

Postgraduate study is not just ‘more of the same’ undergraduate study. Our experts are there to guide but if you have come from undergraduate study, you will find that postgraduate study demands more in-depth and independent study. It takes you to a new level in knowledge and expertise especially in planning and undertaking research.

Complete in two years

Massey University’s Master of Science is primarily a 240 credit master qualification. This is made up of 120 credits of taught courses and a 120 credit research project.

Or if you have already completed the BSc (Hons) or PGDipSc you can conduct a 120 credit thesis to achieve your MSc qualification.

A good fit if you:

  • Have an undergraduate degree in plant biology or a related field
  • Are highly motivated to undertake independent research
  • Would like a career in the plant sciences that involves research
Matthew Denton-Giles
MSc Plant Biology
Graduated in 2006
Postdoctorate position at Curtin University's Centre for Crop Disease and Management

“The relationships I formed with mentors and scientists in this field of research were invaluable and are still relevant to my career today…”

I chose to continue on to a Master of Science in plant biology because I wanted to gain a higher qualification than the BSc. I was lucky to obtain a Technology in Industry Fellowship that supported me for two years.

For my research I characterized the ability of native New Zealand ferns to be used in hydroseeding. Hydroseeding is a technique used to quickly establish vegetation and prevent erosion. I had a lot of freedom in my research.

For this degree I was able to work closely with industry, which helped my research project, and my experience, to be more relevant. I learnt some key skills which have been invaluable in my research and career ever since. Things like managing myself and my research efficiently, including the establishment of nursery and field trials.

After a stint of travel and work I went back to study a PhD, which I also completed at Massey. Massey University was my choice because I wanted to work with Dr Paul Dijkwel, who is a world-leading plant biology scientist.

My study experience was very fulfilling. I felt well supported and that anything was possible (in terms of research). I enjoyed interacting with my funders as it gave me motivation to work harder.

My PhD looked at the characterisation of incompatible and compatible Camellia-Ciborinia camelliae plant-pathogen interactions. I discovered resistance to this disease in several Camellia species and identified fungal genes that may contribute to the development of this disease.

Today I have a postdoc position at Curtin University’s Centre for Crop Disease and Management in Western Australia where I am again studying a plant-pathogen interaction. The pathogen I study (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum) is closely related to Ciborinia camelliae but infects many different plants, including economically significant crop plants like canola (of which I am studying). So my PhD work is quite similar to my postdoc work except that I am now dealing with a much more complex and more devastating plant pathogen.


There is a steady demand for plant biologists. As a plant biology graduate, you will have a wide range of career opportunities, including both pure and applied research. Students often find employment at research institutes such as Plant & Food Research, AgResearch, Scion, and Landcare Research. Other graduates have found employment with the Department of Conservation and regional authorities.

You may also find employment in primary and secondary teaching, technical work, business, and in the media. Other possible careers include science management, administration, and science policy.

Earn more

A 2017 Ministry of Education publication The post-study earnings and destinations of young domestic graduates, found that in New Zealand:

  • Young master’s graduates earn more than one and a half times more than the national median (five years after study)
  • Earnings and employment rates increase with the level of qualification completed
  • Five years after completion, the median earnings of young master’s graduates are 15% higher than for those with a bachelor’s degree.

World-leading lecturers and supervisors

Massey’s plant biology staff are internationally renowned for their research and teaching and learning methods. You will be working with recognised specialists, for example:

Dr Jennifer Tate

Dr Tate’s research focuses on understanding the nature of plant speciation and diversification using a variety of approaches.  Her research group uses molecular phylogenetics to test ideas of species relationships, taxonomy, biogeography, and character evolution.  They also use morphological and molecular tools to understand different evolutionary processes affecting plant speciation, including hybridization and polyploidy (whole genome doubling) and plant mating systems.  Work by one of Dr Tate’s recent postgrad students showed that DNA methylation plays an important role in gene silencing in Tragopogon allopolyploid plants:

A recurrent theme of Dr Tate’s research is to assess and understand the repeatability of evolution and its effects on morphological and genomic level traits. Specific research interests include the evolution of dioecy, consequences of whole genome duplication and phylogenetic systematics. Dr Tate is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, which is dedicated to studying natural history of plants and animals around the world.

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