Prospective Students

Molecular, 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.

Prospective students are admitted by the MCDB program following receipt of a complete application and after review by the MCDB Admissions Committee.  Students are admitted in one of two ways: 1) via participation in research rotations with several faculty of interest before deciding on a major professor and laboratory, or 2) by direct admission into a specific lab and department.  Ph.D. students typically enter via rotation and M.S. students typically enter via a direct admit.  Current ISU graduate students may be admitted as a co-major or minor with MCDB.

After completing a balanced program of classroom study with a major body of independent research that contributes to significant new knowledge in the life sciences, the student is awarded a doctor of philosophy or master of science degree in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.


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.


Admission Requirements

Applicants are expected to have an undergraduate or advanced degree in one of the basic or applied life sciences.  Before entering the MCDB program, 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 MCDB Admissions Committee, any deficiency can be remedied by additional courses within the graduate program.

As this is a research-based graduate program, prior research experience is highly encouraged for any prospective student. 

The MCDB program also requires the submission of official GRE general exam scores showing both raw scores and percentiles for each of the three categories of the exam: verbal, quantitative and analytical writing.  GRE subject tests in biology or biochemistry are to the applicant's advantage, though not required. 

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


Graduate Admissions

The MCDB Graduate Program reviews prospective graduate students via an internal, pre-application process.  Anyone interested in being considered for admission into our program for a PhD or MS degree should follow the below application instructions. 

Prospective students should NOT apply via the Iowa State University Graduate Application!!!

How to Apply to MCDB

  1. Complete and submit the MCDB Program application online.  There is no application fee associated with this submission.
  2. In addition, please submit the following materials in ONE packet and mail to the address provided below.
    • Official academic records/transcripts from each previous institution attended, regardless of whether or not a degree was earned.  Official transcripts should be in sealed envelopes from the individual college or university.  Transcript data must be in English.  Iowa State transcripts will be provided at no cost.
    • Three letters of recommendation.  Letters should include the signature of the recommender and be provided in sealed envelopes with the recommender's signature across the seal.  The following confidential report form (pdf) needs to accompany each letter of recommendation.  You as the applicant need to complete parts 1-3 of this form and then provide this to each of your recommenders for their evaluation.  At this time we do NOT accept electronic letters of recommendation.
    • Examination Results.  Please include a photocopy of each examination result in your pre-application packet.  Exam results should include both raw scores and percentile information.  If an offer is made to you, official test scores will need to be sent directly from ETS to Iowa State, but only if an offer is made.  It is of note that photocopies are still requested even if you have sent official scores to ISU.  The exams required are:
      • Graduate Records Examination (GRE).  Subject tests are not required but can be submitted if desired.
      • English Proficiency Exam Scores for non-native English speakers only.  Acceptable exams include:
        • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or
        • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
    • Statement of Purpose, Goals, and Research Interests
    • Resume or Curriculum Vitae

Once complete, please mail your self-managed supplemental application materials and checklist in ONE ENVELOPE to:

    MCDB Interdepartmental Graduate Program
    2018 Molecular Biology Building
    2437 Pammel Drive
    Iowa State University
    Ames, IA 50011


Pre-application packets can be sent to the program at any time, but to be given priority consideration for financial assistance applications should be submitted on or before January 1.


Reviewing your Pre-Application Packet

The MCDB Admissions Committee will begin to review complete pre-application packets as they arrive.  A thorough review of all applicants will begin following January 1st.  From the review of the pre-application materials the committee makes their admission decisions.  Any offer of admission from the MCDB Graduate Program is contingent upon formal application and admission to the Iowa State University Graduate College.

The Admission Decision

  • In general, offers of admission will begin to be made in early to mid-February.
  • MCDB continues extending admissions offers until our assistantship positions are filled; this process usually concludes around early May. 
  • Offers of admission will be made via email to the email address provided on your online application.
  • As long as an applicant has not received a decline email they remain to be under the full consideration of the admissions committee.
  • When an applicant receives an offer of admission from the program, if he/she decides to accept the offer, they will receive additional information and instruction in applying to the Iowa State University Graduate College.  If the offer is declined, apart from notifying the program no further action is required.
  • The Graduate College application should be submitted only after being notified by the MCDB Program to do so.