Graduate Programs

We are a working lab that produces real results for real clients. Here, students have a unique opportunity to get hands on training while developing and applying critical thinking and client interaction skills that will be invaluable to take into the work force.

The Sensory Service Center provides a supportive environment in which to develop and grow, but the full experience is only achieved when complemented with your self-motivation, accountability and goal-directed behavior.


The North Carolina State University Sensory Service Center operates under the direction of Dr. MaryAnne Drake, Professor of Sensory Analysis and Flavor Chemistry and an internationally recognized dairy foods expert. Dr. Drake serves as the primary adviser for graduate programs undertaken in the Sensory Service Center lab.

Because we are a working lab, Dr. Drake is always around the lab to advise and support her graduate students, giving you the opportunity to learn directly from an industry leader.

Research Tracks

Our lab offers three research tracks: sensory, analytical, and pilot plant. This gives you essential experience working in cross-functional teams and allows for comprehensive research projects simply not possible in any other lab.

Although working in our lab will give you exposure to all three areas, generally MS students focus mainly on one track while PhD students focus mainly on two tracks.


We are apart of the North Carolina State University’s Food, Bioprocessing, & Nutrition Sciences department. Course requirements and offerings for Master’s and Ph.D degrees can be viewed on the Department website.


Our lab is located in Schaub Hall on the NC State university main campus in Raleigh, NC.

The Raleigh-Durham area is a rapidly growing region of the country. Hiking trails, national parks, mountains, rivers, and beaches are all located within 1-2 hours of campus. While the city’s bustling downtown area is located less than 15 minutes from the campus, the campus itself has a more Suburban feel. Most students live in apartments and townhomes around the campus and either drive or bike to school.

Contract Work

Our contract work is the heart of the Sensory Service Center graduate student experience. We work as a team to complete projects and produce real results for clients. To achieve this, our normal operating hours are 8am-5pm Monday through Friday, and graduate students are on-site during this time as industry employees would be.


Most of our new graduate students work a paid internship in the lab for 3-6 months before the start of their program. During this time, you will familiarize yourself with our research methods and contract work requirements, setting you up for success when your classes start.


Students in our lab typically travel to 1-2 fully funded conferences and workshops a year in order to network and present research. Conferences attended will depend on your research track and typically include Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting (IFT), American Dairy Science Association annual meeting (ADSA), Society of Sensory Professionals annual meeting (SSP), the Pangborn Sensory Science Symposium, and the American Chemical Society national meeting (ACS).

Masters or PhD?

Most applicants to our lab have a Bachelor’s degree and work to earn their MS, although in rare cases we may accept MS students with significant industry experience interested in obtaining a PhD. As you progress towards your MS degree, you may apply to continue your studies with a PhD. We do not offer any direct Bachelor’s to PhD programs, although the total time required for a MS+PhD in our lab is similar to the total time required for a Bachelor’s+PhD program at other universities.

So how can you tell if staying for a PhD is in your best interest? Dr. Drake, your advisor, is always available for consult throughout your time here. She will work with you to make the best plan to accommodate your specific career goals, from selecting the most helpful courses to deciding whether to stay on for a second degree.

In our lab, MS students work from a project that has been planned with a defined approach to work through to resolution. PhD students are expected to take full responsibility for developing their projects. They take charge of each step, from planning how to approach the problem through executing the final plan.


As part of the Food Science Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences department, our students have access to the wide variety of food science scholarships and graduate fellowships.

Graduate school financial aid is available through Federal Unsubsidized Direct Loans and for Federal Work-Study employment. Qualified graduate students pursuing masters or doctoral degrees may also apply for research assistantships and other awards offered through the lab and the graduate school. Many graduate students in our lab have full research assistantships with stipends.

NC State’s Graduate Student Support Plan (GSSP) provides further support for full-time graduate students receiving stipends. Under this plan, you will receive full tuition support as well as health insurance.

During the interview process, you will be informed what assistantships and stipends are available. You may also contact the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid for guidance and assistance.