Frequently Asked Questions about our Graduate Program


What are the main differences between a MS and Ph.D?

 It varies a lot from one field to another and one graduate program to another. So I suggest you look at some online descriptions of the requirements for masters programs and PhD program in the field that interests you.

In very general terms, in technical fields, a masters program is often 3 or 4 semesters long, and is designed for the students to take a lot of advanced courses in their specific area of interest, with the goal of becoming a highly skilled practitioner in that area, able to apply the latest techniques and tools to problems. Book-learning is often not enough to get you up to speed, so most masters programs also include some sort of  supervised project in which you get some practice and expert feedback on what you are doing.

A PhD program is typically 4 or more years, of which the first two may be similar to the masters program described above -- that is, a lot of courses focused mostly on your chosen area.  However, the overall goal is to educate you to be a researcher -- someone able to develop tools and techniques that are new, or to acquire new knowledge, and not just to apply known tools and techniques (though you had better know about those as well).  And most programs try to provide additional skills that researchers will need, whether in academia or industry, such as communication skills (writing and giving talks) and a good exposure to what else is going on in the field and where, and who is funding what kind of work.

Research may begin early, while you are still taking lots of course, but in any case the later years will be mostly focused on research, leading up to the completion of a thesis, which is supposed to be a substantial contribution to our knowledge of the field.  Theses may range in size from a journal article to a book, but generally they represent a couple of years' worth of highly focused work.

The idea is that when the degree is finally granted, you will be one of the world's experts in the area of your thesis (which may be pretty narrow, but it should be something new and of interest to others). So again, it's a chance to practice doing what you will be doing in a research career, but with expert supervision from your research advisor(s).
Source: Quora

What are typical timelines for each degree program?

  • Ph.D. - 4-6 years
  • MS - 2-3 years

Recommended scores for GRE/TOEFL?

Graduate College Requirements

What happens after I apply?

  • After your application has been processed through the Graduate College it will be distributed to faculty members in the department. Faculty members will review each application and make recommendations for consideration. Applicants who are under consideration may be asked to come for an in person interview (optional, nationally based applicants) or may be interviewed via teleconference (optional, international applicants). If applying for fall admission, applicants may be invited for their interview to coincide with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Recruitment Weekend. After interviews faculty will make final decisions on admissions. Applicants will be notified through the Graduate College of their admission decision

When are admission decisions made?

Usually in March or April for Fall admission

What should I do if I get accepted into multiple schools?

What happens if an applicant receives offers from multiple professors in the same department?

Keep in discussion with each professor to learn more about the proposed research project, their expectations, and how the research aligns with your interests. At some point you will need to decide which is the best fit.

Can a TA stipend be added to a RA stipend?

No, the graduate student stipend remains the same whether the student is a TA or RA. If a student with an RA adds a TA, the stipend will not change. 

Are there opportunities for rotations in PLPM labs?

Students who are admitted into the Plant Pathology degree program enter directly into their research lab at the start of their studies. Students who are admitted into an interdepartmental degree program will complete 3 lab rotations (between multiple departments), then choose a permanent lab based on research interests and funding availability. 

What opportunities are available to prepare me to become a professor?

Work with your professor to participate and present at extension events, become a TA, apply to the Preparing Future Faculty program

What exactly is Extension?

Born from the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, the Cooperative Extension System (CES) is a partnership between agricultural colleges/ land-grant universities and the USDA to support agricultural extension work. The CES is a non-formal education program that brings university research knowledge into the community.  Today extension work in plant pathology provides science-based, unbiased information to the agricultural community to help improve farming systems. For more information visit ISU Extension and Outreach ( or discuss opportunities with prospective major advisors.

What are some career paths with a degree in plant pathology?

Are there any professional organizations related to plant pathology?

There are numerous professional organizations/societies to which our departmental members belong. Participating in professional organizations is a pivotal means for us to share our research, keep up to date with current trends, and network with others. Listed are a few of the most common organizations for our department:

What's it like in PLPM?

  • We are an active department that host numerous events throughout the year with our members. To get a monthly view of what we do, check out our Monthly Departmental Newsletter. We are also very active on social media. Interact with us on Facebook and Twitter @PlantPathISU.