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Future Students

CampanileMolecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) is an interdisciplinary major that allows graduate students to explore and discover the mechanisms of life processes.  We offer a wide range of graduate research opportunities in plant, animal, and microbial systems at the cellular and molecular levels.  The collaborative research efforts of over 70 (and growing) faculty, in fifteen cooperating departments, provides an outstanding environment for graduate education and intellectual development.

Students are typically admitted into the Ph.D. program via participation in research rotations with several faculty of interest before deciding on a major professor and laboratory for their dissertation research.  Less frequently students enter by direct admission into a specific lab and department.  Current ISU graduate students may be admitted as a co-major or minor with MCDB.

Admissions Outlook

The MCDB Graduate Program welcomes applications from enthusiastic and ambitious candidates who have interest in leading-edge research and are seeking a challenging Ph.D. program in preparation for a career in research, industry, teaching, or public service. MCDB seeks students with the intellectual aptitude, independence, and motivation to pursue rigorous and challenging scientific research. Toward this goal we utilize a holistic evaluation that includes a candidate’s overall trajectory, research or professional experience, and motivation/dedication for a career in science.

We understand that diversity enriches creative discovery and society overall, thus MCDB is intent on training a diverse population of future scientific leaders. We particularly encourage those from underserved, underrepresented and/or disadvantaged backgrounds to apply. Application fee waivers may be available to individuals from groups shown by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to be underrepresented in health-related sciences and to those with disabilities or from disadvantaged backgrounds (data and reports from NSF).

Career Opportunities

Graduates of the MCDB program are highly qualified researchers with a solid foundation in molecular, cellular and developmental biological sciences.  Moreover, they have the ability to think and perform research independently.  This breadth and depth of training provides graduates with a wide field of post-graduate career opportunities.  Many of our doctoral graduates choose research and/or teaching careers at major universities, medical schools, or small colleges.  Other graduates choose positions in agricultural or pharmaceutical companies, or government laboratories.

Entrance Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college, preferably in a biological science, chemistry, physics or engineering. Prospective students should have a strong background in the biological sciences, typically including:
    • Biological Sciences, two years
    • Organic Chemistry, one year
    • Physics, one year
    • Mathematics, through one year of calculus
  • Applicants may be admitted without one or more of the above requirements if, in the judgment of the Admissions Committee, any deficiency can be remedied by additional courses within the graduate program
  • There is no strict GPA requirement. A candidate’s prior GPA is viewed as one component of their overall application.
  • Prior research experience beyond basic class-associated lab courses is preferred (although not required).
  • Three (3) letters of recommendation are required. These letters are a very important part of your application. The most insightful letters will come from faculty who served as mentors during research experiences (or equivalent positions in industry). Professors of your science-related courses, or who served as your academic advisor can also be good choices. In general, we suggest that you refrain from seeking letters from research technicians, postdocs, graduate students, or members of the community as their overall perspective on life sciences Ph.D. training is typically limited.
  • Personal Statement (2 pages maximum). Your statement should provide information you think is important to the Admissions Committee’s decision. 
    • It should describe any previous research experience and how it prepared you, both professionally and personally, for Ph.D. training. Topics regarding research experiences include the questions you were addressing, what approach were you using (and why!), and what you learned from the experience.
    • Your statement should communicate why you want to pursue a Ph.D. degree, how, from your own perspective and experiences you are certain of that, and why the MCDB program at ISU appeals to you.
    • Your statement should include a brief discussion of your broad research interests and potentially include the names of MCDB faculty whose research areas most interest you.
    • If there are extenuating circumstances related to your application or credentials you may choose to describe them in this statement (Alternatively, one of your letter writers may be appropriately positioned to address such an issue in their letter).

Application Deadline

December 15 (full application) for fall admission – Final deadline for both domestic and international students. MCDB receives a relatively large number of applications from well-qualified candidates and admissions is competitive. Multiple factors are used in making admissions decisions, including the strength of recommendation letters, previous research experience, grades, and the congruency between our educational program and a candidate’s career goals. Applicants will be informed of admission decisions in the first few months of the calendar year. Decisions are finalized by April 15, and newly admitted students begin study in the fall semester.

The TOEFL or IELTS exam is required of non-native English speakers that have not obtained a degree from a United States college or university.  The English proficiency minimum for these exams are as follows:

TOEFL Paper (PBT) 580
TOEFL Internet (iBT) 85

Financing Your Graduate Education


MCDB students receive a stipend to help cover living expenses.  Depending on the degree track, and provided that the student remains in good academic standing, the assistantship provides partial or full tuition scholarship.  Graduate students receiving an assistantship will also receive paid single coverage health insurance.  Additional information about student health insurance can be found on the Students & Scholar Health Insurance Program (SSHIP) website


Current MCDB graduate students are supported by graduate assistantships.  Graduate assistantships can be research, teaching or a combination of the two.  Annual stipend rates typically range from $22,800 to $25,000 depending on the assistantship or fellowship received.  MCDB first year, PhD students who enter via rotation receive their first eight months of support from the program.  The current rotation assistantship provides a stipend of $2,122 per month.  It is expected that rotation students will choose a Major Professor who will pick up their financial assistantship by the end of their initial graduate assistantship award.  Thereafter financial support continues through the research grant(s) of the Major Professor and may vary in amount from that during rotations.  MS students or PhD students who are admitted directly are supported by their Major Professor from the start.  When choosing rotations and a major professor it is important to discuss available funding.  


Tuition and the accompanying fees are charged each term (Fall, Spring, & Summer).  Graduate students who are receiving a graduate assistantship (research, teaching, or both), and who remain in good academic standing, receive a tuition scholarship.  PhD students on a 1/2 time appointment receive 100% tuition scholarship.  MS students on a 1/2 time appointment receive 50% tuition scholarship.  The fees assessed once each semester are the responsibility of the student.  It is of note that for students supported by a graduate assistantship, tuition is assessed at an in-state rate.  For current and detailed information, please refer to the following tuition & fees website hosted by the Office of the Registrar.