Prospective Students


Graduate Study in Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University

Welcome to the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology (PLPM) at Iowa State University! We're proud that our department is among the top-tier Plant Pathology programs in the United States and we're glad that you are interested in graduate study with us. Please explore this and other pages to learn a little more about our department and how you can join. Let us know if you have any questions about coursework, degree requirements, or life in Ames, Iowa. 

Undergraduate Study in Microbiology

The Plant Pathology and Microbiology Department co-administers the Interdepartmental Undergraduate Program in Microbiology. Undergraduate students, please visit this page for more information.  

Current Graduate Students

Click here for more information


Plant pathology is an exciting field that combines knowledge from a variety of scientific disciplines to keep our plants healthy and productive. Visit the American Phytopathological Society to learn more about our field and its opportunities. The Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology at Iowa State University has a simple mission: We benefit society by protecting and enhancing plant health. Please visit our About page to learn more about our department and Iowa State University.

Research in our laboratories range from applied field-based programs to basic fundamental science endeavors.  

Organisms of interest: Bacteria, Fungi, Nematodes, & Viruses

Areas of study: Pest Management and DetectionModeling and EpidemiologyEcology and Organismal BiologyGenetics, Cell and Molecular Biology, & Plant-Microbe Interactions.

Please visit our Research page to learn about each faculty member's expertise. 

Application Procedures

How to Apply:
We suggest prospective graduate students contact a few faculty members that they would consider as their major professor/advisor before applying. This will help the student further understand the research interests of that faculty member, whether or not the faculty member has openings in their lab for a new student, and if the faculty member has funding to support a new student.

There are two routes students can take to join a laboratory in the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology. Students can directly apply to the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology for either a Masters of Science (M.S.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Plant Pathology OR students can apply for study with one of Iowa State’s interdepartmental graduate programs and choose to conduct their research in a plant pathology laboratory.

  • Certain research labs require a stronger background in genetics, cell biology, molecular biology, bioinformatics, for example, Therefore, these labs prefer students whose graduate degree program requires more of those courses.
  • Contact prospective faculty members before applying to determine which is the best course of study for you.

To apply for a degree in Plant Pathology, visit the Graduate College Plant Pathology Application page to get started. All applications for graduate study are handled by the Graduate College.

To learn more about Interdepartmental graduate programs and their application procedures, please visit their respective websites: Bioinformatics and Computational BiologyEcology and Evolutionary BiologyGeneticsMolecular, Cellular and Developmental BiologyPlant PhysiologyMicrobiologySustainable Agriculture and Toxicology.

Admission Requirements
Formal admission requirements are set by the Graduate College, and PLPM follows those minimum requirements.

Application Materials
All applications are processed through the Graduate College. Applications that meet the minimum requirements will then be forwarded to PLPM. 

  • Graduate College application form
  • Official academic transcripts
  • Statement of purpose - A letter describing the applicant's academic background, previous research experience, research interests, and career goals. 1-2 pages
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • GRE scores
  • TOEFL scores (international, non-native English speaking students only)

When to Apply
For full consideration of fellowship opportunities, we suggest students submit their application by the following dates:

  • Fall Admission - January 15th
  • Summer Admission - January 15th
  • Spring Admission - August 1st

If you have any questions please contact our Graduate Program Coordinator, Dai Nguyen

Financial Aid

Numerous fellowships exist for graduate study. The Department of Plant Pathology & Microbiology offers three fellowships to incoming and continuing students on a merit-basis: Leath Fellowship, Presidential Fellowship, and Esmail and Mary Zirakparvar Graduate Student Fellowships. Additional fellowships are available through the university and other funding agencies. Contact your future major advisor for more information. 

Most graduate students are funded through assistantships. Teaching Assistantships (TA) and Research Assistantships (RA) provide a monthly stipend for living expenses, heath insurance, and a tuition scholarship. TA positions for students in PLPM are available for a variety of undergraduate laboratory courses in biology and microbiology. Students on RA are expected to work for their advisors for a specified number of hours a week. Most students seeking a degree in Plant Pathology receive a 1/2-time C-based appointment with an annual stipend of $22,800 (FY 2016). Students in an interdepartmental degree program may be paid either the standard stipend of PLPM or the standard stipend of their major, at the discretion of their major professor. Visit the Graduate College assistantships page to learn more. 

Tuition Support
All qualifying Ph.D. students receive a scholarship that pays 100% of their tuition. All qualifying M.S. students are assessed at in-state resident tuition and receive a scholarship that pays, at minimum, 50% of their tuition. Faculty members, at their discretion, may cover a greater portion (in part or in full) of their students tuition. 

Travel Support
Attendance and presentation of research results at professional meetings are essential aspects of graduate student training. Funds for travel (to the extent possible) are provided by Graduate College and Graduate Student Senate travel grants as well as your major professor. Major conferences and professional meetings also offer numerous travel grants that supplement a large portion of travel expenses, PLPM students are highly encouraged to apply. The department offers our ouwn travel awards to PLPM students through the Charles J. Gould Travel Award

Program Requirements

Academic Requirements
Both the Graduate College and PLPM require students to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Graduate students must maintain full-time status to retain stipend and tuition support. Full-time status is at least 9 credits per semester and 1 credit during the summer. MS students must complete 30 credits in order to graduate, Ph.D students must complete 72 credits. Credits are earned through coursework and thesis/dissertation research.

Degree Coursework Requirements

Minor in Plant Pathology
For M.S. students: Two 500/600 level courses and 1 semester of Plant Pathology Seminar (PLP 698). For Ph.D. students: Three 500/600 level courses and 2 semesters of Plant Pathology Seminar (PLP 698). A minor must be approved by your committee and you must have a representative from PLPM on your committee. Yours minor must be tested during the preliminary exam (Ph.D) and final oral exam (M.S. and Ph.D.). 

Course Offerings
Select courses are offered in alternative years (even or odd numbered):

Year Semester Class Course Number Syllabus / Description Instructor
Odd Spring Laboratory Methods PLP 590X PLP 590 Syllabus - Research Methods.pdf XB Yang
Odd Spring Virology     Allen Miller
Odd Spring Plant Pathogen Interactions PLP 506   Steven Whitham
Odd Spring Integrated Management of Tropical Crops PLP 511   Mark Gleason
Odd Summer Nematology (and Lab) PLP 574 (L)   Felicitas Avendano
Odd Fall Epidemiology PLP 543   Forrest Nutter
Odd Fall Seed Pathology (with Lab) PLP 594 (L)   Gary Munkvold
Even Spring Plant Pathogenic Fungi PLP 512X   Mark Gleason
Even Spring Bacterial-Plant Interactions PLP 577   Gwyn Beattie
Even Spring Seed Health Management PLP 592   Gary Munkvold
Even Summer Field Pathology PLP 691 PLP 691 Syllabus - Field Plant Pathology.pdf XB Yang
Even Summer Extension Experience PLP 590X PLP 590 Syllabus - Extension Experience.pdf Alison Robertson and Daren Mueller
Even Fall Molecular Biology of Plant-Pathogen interactions PLP 692   Steven Whitham
Even Fall Principles of Integrated Disease Management PLP 540X PLP 540x Syllabus - Principles of Integrated Disease Management.pdf Forrest Nutter
Even Fall Ecologically Based Pest Management Strategies PLP 530   Mark Gleason
All Every Principles of Plant Pathology (cross-listed) PLP 508 (408)   Nick Peters
Varies Varies Colloquium in Plant Pathology PLP 694   Varies

A complete list of courses can be found in the ISU Course Catalog.

For more information please see the Plant Pathology Graduate Student Handbook and the Iowa State University Graduate Student Handbook.

Iowa State and Ames

Information about visiting Ames

Student life at Iowa State

Iowa State University Visitor's Guide

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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 departmental newsletter, The Dispersal Notes. We are also very active on social media. Interact with us on Facebook and Twitter @PlantPathISU.