Prospective Graduate Students

The Department of Integrative Biology provides a wide variety of opportunities to students interested in graduate study in biology. Following are some issues you may want to consider in deciding whether these opportunities match your interests and goals.


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) 

This is a research-intensive degree leading to a dissertation based on high-quality, original research. Average time to completion is between five and six years.

Master of Science (M.S.) Plan A

This is a research-intensive degree leading to a thesis based on high-quality, original research that is more restricted in scope than a Ph.D.

Master of Science (M.S.) Plan B

This is a coursework intensive degree that does not require a thesis but does require a one-semester independent project involving original scholarship.


The department only admits applicants who have been formally sponsored by a member of the faculty. Most faculty members scrutinize applicants' files to see if there is anyone they would like to sponsor. To assure consideration of your file, you must contact those faculty members whose interests match your own. Do this before you apply. You can find out about faculty members' research programs through the departmental directories, which list research faculty alphabetically, or view a list of faculty actively recruiting graduate students.

Feel free to contact more than one member of the faculty, either by e-mail or by phone. Be prepared to send a curriculum vitae and a statement of your research interests and career goals. Ask the faculty member whether he or she is planning to accept new students for the coming year. Most of us have a limit to how many students we can advise at the same time, and so it may not be possible for a given individual to sponsor a new student even if that applicant is very accomplished. However, you do have an opportunity to convince that faculty member why you would be a good addition to his or her lab.


Nora Lewin

The Integrative Biology Department is well positioned to help students prepare for careers in the increasingly interdisciplinary world of modern biological science. Most faculty members have a strong interdisciplinary component to their research programs and maintain collaborations with scientists in other MSU departments. In addition, most Ph.D. and M.S. students working with Integrative Biology faculty complete the requirements of one or more of the interdisciplinary graduate programs (see affiliated units and programs list). Depending upon the program, this may lead to a stand-alone degree or to a joint degree in addition to the Integrative Biology degree.


Most Integrative Biology graduate students receive some form of support to cover living expenses and tuition during their studies. Ph.D. students are guaranteed five years of support. Plan A M.S. students are guaranteed three years of support. Plan B M.S. students are not guaranteed any financial support, but are eligible for assistantships if available. Refer to the Department of Integrative Biology Financial Support for Graduate Study for an explanation of the various kinds of support available.

In addition to support for living expenses and tuition, you will need funds to cover research costs. These are often available from faculty research grants, but students are also encouraged to apply for funding to support their research once they have begun their programs. A small amount of money is available from the Integrative Biology Department or from budgets of interdisciplinary programs; other sources of funds are available from the MSU Graduate School, and from organizations outside the university. You should discuss these options with your prospective advisor.

Juli Turner pictured with a hyena


Prospective students are advised that the following undergraduate preparation in mathematics, chemistry, and physics is required:

  • Mathematics through the first-semester calculus plus either a second calculus class or a statistics course
  • Chemistry through the first-semester organic chemistry plus either second-semester organic chemistry or biochemistry
  • One semester of college physics

Should a student matriculate at Michigan State University without this preparation, it will be necessary to correct shortcomings while here. Be advised that courses taken to correct shortcomings might of necessity be at the undergraduate level and not earn graduate credit. Every effort should be made to be completely prepared prior to matriculation.


Below are the steps you should follow to prepare for your application to graduate program in Integrative Biology.

  • Study the list of faculty interests and contact individuals whom you think you would like to work with and ask them if they will be accepting new students for the next year. Only those applicants who have been sponsored by an Integrative Biology faculty member can be considered for admission (August-November).

  • Take the GRE exam; only the General Test is required.

  • Consider the options for interdisciplinary programs, and consult with your prospective advisor about whether you should apply to one of these programs (October-November) as well as to Integrative Biology.

  • Download relevant application materials and submit application(s) by the appropriate deadline(s) (1st of December for Integrative Biology).

  • Line up strong letters of support and prepare strong essays.

  • Consider making a visit to campus in the Fall to meet with your prospective advisor and other members of the department.