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Prospective Graduate Students

The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials offers three graduate degrees:  
  • Master of Science (M.S.)
  • Master of Forestry (M.F.) 
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

The Master of Science is a thesis-based degree, and the Master of Forestry is a professional course-work-based non-thesis degree.  Graduates at the M.S., M.F., and Ph.D. levels are successful in securing careers in public and private research organizations and universities, and large sectors of the business world including forest products industries, packaging industries, bioenergy and energy engineering sector, and supply sector.   

Areas of degree specialization within our graduate program include the following:
Green Building Design Life Cycle Assessment of Renewable Materials Circular Economy
Packaging Systems and Design Pallet and container design Plant Anatomy
Forest Industry Management & Products Marketing Lumber Drying & Processing Sustainable Chemistry & Plastics
Wood Composites Timber Engineering Polymer Science
Lean Manufacturing
Human Dimensions of Natural Resources Non-Timber Forest Products

We are very glad you are interested in graduate study with us at Virginia Tech. We welcome applications from students with diverse academic backgrounds. Prior study or a degree in bioproducts, wood science, packaging, forest products, chemistry, engineering, business, forestry, material science, biological systems engineering, architecture, or other areas of study are welcome.

Students can focus their degree program in specialized areas of study by selecting coursework and thesis or dissertation research problems in specialized subject areas. Matching your area of degree interest with a faculty member working in that area is a sure way to gain skills and knowledge in the particular subject under the umbrella of the general degree requirements.

Our department is one of the leading North American programs. We have a diverse faculty with a variety of research and instructional interests. Please see here for more information about the faculty. We have a long history of graduate education, completing more than 100 Ph.Ds and many more M.S. degree candidates since formal establishment of the department more than 25 years ago. Graduates of our program are in high demand by universities, public and private research organizations, industry, trade agencies, non-profit organizations, and products suppliers. Also have a look here for more information. 

The Department of Sustainable Biomaterials is one of four departments within the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech). Faculty and staff have appointments in the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE), the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station (VAES), and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). We provide instructional and research opportunities in the areas of sustainable biomaterials, packaging, wood science, nanomaterials, polymer science, and forest products, spanning the range from nanotechnology and the basic materials science, through processing, design, manufacturing, marketing, management, and competitiveness aspects of the various industry segments. Some of the research is done in concert with our research centers.

Excellent laboratory and classroom resources are available for education, research, and outreach in Blacksburg, Virginia, and other locations across Virginia. Currently, faculty, staff, and student researchers have access to research laboratories in several locations, principally Cheatham Hall and Kelly Hall on the main campus in Blacksburg and the Brooks Forest Products Center located approximately 1.5 miles from the main campus in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center.

Cheatham Hall has space for research, education, and application short courses plus forestry research laboratories and college-wide computing facilities. Our laboratories have capabilities for liquid and gas chromatographic separation of wood components, thermal analysis of cellulose materials, molecular weight determination, nuclear magnetic resonance, dynamic mechanical analysis, FT-IR and UV-VIS spectroscopy, contact angle analysis, light and electron microscopic study of structure and properties, and wide-angle X-ray diffraction for crystallinity and microfibril angle analysis. Visit here for information about our facilities.

The Brooks Center has classrooms, offices, and laboratories for the manufacture of pressed panels, several engineering testing machines, wood and metal working shops, pallet and container research facilities, packaging research equipment, and other wood and fiber-based composite testing instrumentation.

Our graduate program is part of a joint degree program offered by the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials and the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. Three degrees are offered in this joint program:

  • Master of Science in Forestry and Forest Products (M.S.)
  • Master of Forestry (M.F.) non-thesis option
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Forestry and Forest Products (Ph.D.)

The Master of Science is thesis-based and the Master of Forestry is non-thesis.Students electing to pursue the non-thesis option are required to take more classes than the thesis option requirements and write a report on a problem of their choosing, as well as attend and present seminars. The M.F. program requires no original research or thesis, and is considered a terminal, professional degree. The vast majority of graduate students in our program elect the M.S. thesis option.

All applicants must meet the requirements for admission to the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. Details about the Graduate School, the online application process, transcripts and letters of recommendation, TOEFL and GRE requirements, deadlines, and other areas are available at https://graduateschool.vt.edu/admissions.html.

Admission is contingent upon receipt of a bachelor of science degree or bachelor of arts degree from an accredited college or university and the presentation of evidence of potential to pursue graduate work. Major factors considered in the evaluation are scholastic record, professional experience, three letters of recommendation, and scores on standardized tests. Admission categories and graduate status classifications are shown in the Graduate School’s Graduate Catalog https://secure.graduateschool.vt.edu/graduate_catalog/

Files of applicants who do not meet Graduate School requirements will be notified by the Graduate School directly of the decision to reject the application. The department has no authority to overrule requirements of the Graduate School.

The applicant is responsible for providing all supporting documents and payment of the required application fee. Degree-seeking applicants must pay an application fee. The applicant should indicate the “curriculum abbreviation,” which is FPR for the program in the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials.

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test is required by the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials for all applicants. In addition, all applicants whose undergraduate degrees were obtained from an institution where English is not the primary language of instruction must provide the Graduate School with the score of the Test of English as Foreign Language (TOEFL). TOEFL scores are not required of U.S. permanent residents and U.S.naturalized citizens. Official test scores should be sent to the Virginia Tech Graduate School, institution code 5859. Do not enter a department code.

When an application is complete, the Graduate School moves the application to the Department Review bin in the Slate system.  The department then circulates the application among selected faculty to obtain input into the final decision. After all faculty members have had a chance to rate the application, the department head makes a recommendation to the Dean of the Graduate School to admit or reject the application. The Dean of the Graduate School informs the applicant regarding the outcome of the application. Please allow six to eight weeks for a decision to be made.

If an applicant is admitted, they should then contact the faculty member(s) in their area of interest regarding financial support and specifics about availability of research areas, course requirements and other pertinent information as soon as possible.

Financial support from the Department of Sustainable Biomaterials is limited to the number of available Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA) and Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA). These stipends (a form of payment or salary) are granted for a specified period of time provided that the recipient's progress toward their degree is satisfactory. Each year a decision based on the results of the annual performance review is made regarding continuation of the stipend. At the end of each academic year, the stipend is discontinued if the student's overall grade point average (GPA) falls below a 3.00. Discontinuance may also be considered at the end of an academic semester on the basis of the student's performance in research.

The department has a limited number of assistantships available each year. The majority of our graduate students are supported on research projects being directed by our faculty. Because of this, early contact with individual faculty members in your area of interest is crucial to explore funding opportunities for your graduate study. Please click here for further information on our faculty. 

Financial assistance is not normally provided for students enrolled in the M.F. program.

Assistantships

One of the most common sources of funding is the graduate assistantship. Assistantships can be in support of general administrative duties, teaching assignments, or research projects.

We routinely evaluate graduate admission applications for the possibility that the student can fill an available assistantship position. Current students in search of funding should check with us to discuss the availability of assistantships and assistantship eligibility requirements. The Graduate School also keeps a list of students in need of tuition or an assistantship.

a) Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA)

Graduate research assistants are graduate students conducting academically significant research under the direction of a faculty member, who is generally a principal investigator on an external grant or contract. Graduate Research Assistantships are awarded by departments and professors who are engaged in research projects. Research assistantships offer exciting opportunities to participate in our department's research program.

b) Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTA)

Graduate teaching assistants provide academic program support under the supervision of a faculty member. GTAs may assist faculty in the department in teaching undergraduate courses, including laboratory teaching assignments, or in providing other appropriate professional assistance, including grading examinations, problem sets, and/or lab assignments, setting up displays for lectures and laboratory sections, and preparing or maintaining equipment used in laboratory sections.

c) Assistantship Agreement Contract

Students offered an assistantship must sign a Graduate Assistantship Agreement form (aka, Grad Agreement), which is a contract between the student and department. The agreement will stipulate the beginning and ending dates of the contract, the type of appointment, the amount of the monthly stipend, whether the student is expected to work during school breaks, and any other special conditions. The agreement also indicates whether a tuition scholarship, academic fee, and engineering fee will be paid by the department, and whether or not the out-of-state portion of the tuition will be waived.

d) Academic Eligibility to Hold a Graduate Assistantship

Assistantships may be offered to degree seeking graduate students admitted to Regular (GPA of 3.0 or greater). To continue to be eligible for an assistantship, a student must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher and be making satisfactory progress toward achievement of a graduate degree. The Graduate School may allow a student one semester on probationary status to remedy grade deficiencies while holding an assistantship. Students on assistantship must be enrolled for a minimum of 12 credit hours per academic year semester. Audited courses do not qualify in satisfying this minimum.

e) Graduate Assistantship Workshop

All graduate research and teaching assistants in the Department are required to attend and be enrolled in the GTA Workshop (GRAD 5004, 1 cr., P/F) in the semester of their teaching appointment. Other students who hope to qualify for an open assistantship in the future should take the workshop in their first semester. The workshop is managed by the graduate school and is held the week prior to the start of classes.  Visit this site for more information.

Fees and Taxes

Comprehensive/Technology/Capital Fees: Students are responsible for comprehensive fees, each semester. Out-of-state students must also pay a Capital Fee. See the Bursar's web page for a description of fees. The Capital Fee requirement cannot be waived and is not part of the tuition charges.

Taxes: Federal and state taxes, if applicable, are withheld from the assistantship stipend check, which is issued semi-monthly at approximately the first and sixteenth of each month. Students on summer assistantships who are not enrolled will be taxed at a higher, non-student rate.

Because of the possibility of serious illness or injury requiring treatment beyond the services of the Schiffert Health Center , students are encouraged to purchase medical insurance for themselves and their families.

Graduate assistants who maintain at least a 50% assistantship (10 hours per week), may be eligible for health insurance benefits. Visit the Graduate School's insurance benefits web page for additional information.

At Virginia Tech, domestic students are encouraged, but not required, to have personal health insurance.  International students are required to have health insurance either through the school Student Health Insurance Plan or a comparable plan.  Eligible Graduate Assistants wishing to use the health care subsidy must enroll in the Virginia Tech Student Health Insurance Plan.

It should be realized that graduate research and teaching assistants are funded by research grants and contracts and university funds and are therefore considered half-time employees. The major professor will determine the work to be performed. Usually, the student willbe expected to work a minimumof 20 hours a week. The time spent on meeting other academic requirements IS NOT considered part of the 20 hours.

Students on assistantship are expected to observe office hours established by the Graduate School, with exception for class attendance and pursuit of scholarly activities. Students not employed by the University should make their schedule known to the major professor and be available for cooperative work on research and teaching projects. Holidays are established and published annually by the University Registrar. Students observe the same holidays as other University personnel.

As part-time employees, students are not eligible for benefits such as accrual of annual vacation and sick leave. As a result, no right to vacation is associated with a GRA or GTA. Graduate students should schedule anticipated absences with their major professor to ensure that this will not conflict with their research and teaching activities. If a student wishes to take a vacation or leave of absence, the student must make arrangements with the major professor in advance. It is expected that any time lost during such a break will be made up prior to or after return from work.

Students entering a graduate program should understand that there might be occasions when extended working hours will be required for completion of academic and research responsibilities. Research and teaching preparation and data collection may require extended hours during the week, some weekends, and occasional holidays during periods of greatest activity.

The Graduate School has created several virtual tour videos of the Virginia Tech Blacksburg Campus at this link: https://graduateschool.vt.edu/admissions/visit-us.html.  

If you need course adaptations or accommodations because of a documented disability, please contact the Services for Students with Disabilities office located in the Kent Square building, 250 S. Main Street, Suite 300 https://ssd.vt.edu/.