Plant and Microbial Biology Graduate Program

The Plant and Microbial Biology graduate program is a program of the College of Biological Sciences and the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Impactful, Interdisciplinary Research

Students in PMB explore every aspect of plant and microbial life, from molecular biology to genomics to ecosystem science. By integrating expertise from premier faculty across diverse departments, PMB creates a remarkably interdisciplinary educational and richly collaborative research environment that empowers students to conduct groundbreaking original research and become true innovators in the cutting edge of modern-day biology.

Relevant Training and Networking

PMB prepares students to embark on careers in academia, industry, governmental and non-governmental organizations. Utilizing the University of Minnesota’s incredible facilities and resources, students attain not only the technical expertise needed for impactful research but also the intellectual skill sets and networking connections required for professional success and to engage in vital scientific discourse.

Twin Cities Location

The PMB experience seamlessly integrates rigorous academics and innovative research in a thriving scientific community found within an economically and culturally vibrant metropolitan area. Renowned for their high quality of life, affordability, and prosperous economies, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the surrounding neighborhoods offer a rich spectrum of cultures, cuisines, events, and nighttime activities, etc., not to mention our beloved parks, trails, lakes, rivers, forests, and prairies.

Prospective Students

PMB offers a world-renowned educational experience in the heart of a thriving metropolitan area. A typical PMB cohort consists of seven to ten students. At any given time, there are approximately 45 students in the program from all over the United States and around the world.

Degree Options

Doctor of Philosophy

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is the cornerstone of the PMB program. Most Ph.D. students earn their degree in five years by:

  • completing coursework during years one and two;
  • conducting original research during years two through five;
  • holding at least one teaching assistantship;
  • participating in professional development opportunities; and
  • attending ongoing seminars and colloquia.

Students in good academic standing are typically financially supported for up to five years:

  • All first-year students receive either a research or teaching assistantship ($25,760/year as of fall 2018).
  • All incoming students get access to a professional development fund to support participation in professional conferences, workshops, or other professional development opportunities.
  • For the remaining years, students may receive:
    • research assistantships from faculty advisors
    • training grants
    • fellowship stipends

Master of Science

PMB also offers a Master of Science (M.S.) degree, which involves two years of coursework (30 credits) and original research. (Please note: Students are admitted to the M.S. program only under special arrangement with a faculty advisor.)


PMB graduate program faculty members hold appointments in a variety of departments within the College of Biological Sciences (CBS), College of Food, Agriculture, and Nature Sciences (CFANS), and the United States Department of Agriculture. This creates a uniquely interdisciplinary and immersive experience. Students are empowered to grapple with the fundamentals of plant and fungal biology through a broad spectrum of ever-evolving research approaches and techniques.

Faculty research interests include:

  • Population Genetics & Molecular Evolution
  • Plant & Fungal Development
  • Systematics & Biodiversity
  • Genomics & Bioinformatics
  • Regulation of Gene Expression
  • Biochemical & Cellular Processes
  • Physiological Processes
  • Ecophysiology & Community Function

The PMB experience begins with a four-day orientation at the University of Minnesota Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories.

With the primary literature at the heart of the curriculum, PMB continually advances all of the skill sets essential to scientific discourse. Students employ critical reading and thinking skills to evaluate an expansive and growing body of published work. They develop competency in presenting not just the work of others, but also their own ideas and research findings—in both written and oral formats.

PMB students enjoy the rich opportunity to ask groundbreaking research questions. By working with faculty at the forefront of their fields, utilizing the University’s state-of-the-art facilities, and participating in ongoing seminars and colloquia, students make impactful contributions to the international plant an microbial science research community.



The PMB graduate student association, a.k.a. “Phytograds,” is a tight-knit group of students from all over the world. Join a thriving network of international scientists, get to know your peers, and have some fun while you’re at it.

Annual Retreat

The Phytograds plan and host an annual one-day retreat for the PMB graduate program. The entire PMB community is invited to attend:

  • graduate and post-doctoral research talks
  • faculty and administrator presentations
  • poster session
  • fun activities
PMB Mentor Program

PMB pairs each incoming student with a mentor-student in the program. Mentors help first-year students with moving and acclimating to the Twin Cities, along with any other challenges that arise during the first year of study.


PMB Colloquium

In order to help students and faculty keep pace with the rapid accumulation of new knowledge and techniques in modern biological research, a seminar series is held every semester on Tuesdays, from 3:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. in 105 Cargill Building. Two students serve on the PMB Colloquium Committee, choosing, inviting, and hosting speakers. All students are encouraged to meet with visiting scientists.

Student Seminars

First- and fifth-semester PMB students present at least one formal seminar on their own research plans. First-semester students take this as a for-credit course. All faculty and students are encouraged to attend each week’s seminar, creating accountability towards thesis research for the entire graduate community.

Journal Clubs

Weekly journal clubs provide critical in-depth explorations of recent scientific literature for both faculty and students. All students are expected to participate regularly in at least one journal club.

PMB Admissions

Application Deadline

The application deadline for fall admission is December 1. Most students start the program in the fall.

Admission Criteria

Prospective students must have earned a B.S., B.A., or equivalent undergraduate degree at an accredited institution of higher education. Required academic preparation includes coursework in biology (plant and animal), genetics, chemistry (organic and inorganic), calculus (differential and integral), and physics. For students with demonstrated academic abilities, coursework deficiencies can be filled during the first year of graduate study.

Competitive applications will have GPAs of 3.0 or better (on a 4.0 grading scale), GRE scores, and for international students, TOEFL scores of at least 79, with at least 21 on writing and 19 on reading. Students with M.S. degrees or prior research experience are given stronger consideration.

Required Materials

Applications cannot be reviewed until all of the following required materials are submitted successfully online:

  • Online application
  • Application fee (cannot be waived)
  • Personal statement
  • Transcripts (either official or unofficial accepted)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) general scores (Subject GRE test is not mandatory)
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores (International students only)
Application Process

Upload all application materials directly in the application system. Do NOT mail any paper documents to the Graduate School Admissions Office or to PMB.

Refer to the application checklist to ensure that you complete your application correctly and completely. Make sure all materials are included before you submit. You will NOT be able to add or change any materials after you have submitted. If you forget materials, email for assistance.

Application Timeline
  • December 1: application deadline
  • Mid-December: applications reviewed
  • Late-December to early January: invitations to on-campus interview sent out
  • Mid- to late February: on-campus interview visit
  • Early March: admissions offers made
Admission Decision

A decision on your application will be emailed to you after your application has been carefully reviewed by the admissions committee. Typically admission decisions are made by early March.

Financial Support

The Plant and Microbial Biology graduate program at the University of Minnesota seeks to support students from diverse backgrounds in pursuit of research and academic excellence.

Students in good academic standing are typically financially supported for up to five years:

  • All first-year students receive either a research or teaching assistantship ($25,760/year as of fall 2018).
  • All incoming students get access to a career development fund to support participation in professional conferences, workshops, or other professional development opportunities.
  • For the remaining years, students may receive:
    • Research assistantships from faculty advisors
    • Training grants
    • Fellowship stipends

Please note: While your assistantship or fellowship will cover your tuition and payment towards health insurance premiums, you will be responsible for paying student fees and any required course or laboratory fees. Course and laboratory fees are very uncommon.

PMB fellowships and awards

Bernard and Jean Phinney Graduate Fellowship in Plant Molecular Biology

The Phinney Fellowship is awarded periodically, as funds are available. The fellowship includes a stipend at the graduate assistantship level for the semester, plus tuition and health insurance coverage.

Plant and Microbial Biology Travel Awards

PMB travel funding is available to current PMB students who do not have a dedicated career development fund. These funds are to help support travel to professional meetings (to present a talk or poster) or workshops/training to develop new skills or learn new techniques.

CBS (College of Biological Sciences) Funding Opportunities

  • Philip C. Hamm Memorial Scholarship Program
  • Microbial & Plant Genomics Institute (MPGI) funding opportunities

University-wide Funding Opportunities

  • Graduate School Fellowship Office listings
    • of particular note:
      • Alexander & Lydia Anderson Fellowship
      • Carolyn M. Crosby Fellowship
      • Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship
      • Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship
  • Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change fellowships
  • Council of Graduate Students (COGS) grants (career development and conference travel)
External Funding Sources
  • American Association of University Women
  • Association for Women in Science
  • American Indian Graduate Center
  • American Museum of Natural History
  • The American Society for Microbiology (ASM)
  • American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • American Society of Plant Taxonomists (ASPT)
  • Department of Energy/Computation Science Graduate Fellowship
  • Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) Program
  • Environmental Leadership Program
  • Fulbright Program
  • Ford Foundation pre-doctoral scholarships
  • Future Leaders for Food and Agriculture fellowships
  • Gamma Sigma Delta
  • Gates Millennium Scholars
  • Garden Club of America scholarships
  • Glenn/AFAR Scholarships for Research in the Biology of Aging program
  • Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN)
  • Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellowships in Biological Sciences
  • Jack Kent Cook Foundation fellowships
  • Jacob K. Javits fellowships
  • Juran Fellowship Program
  • International Foundation for Ethical Research
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Dept of Energy (DOE)
  • Link Foundation fellowships
  • NASA fellowships and scholarships
  • National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM)
  • National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship
  • National Science Foundation Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities
  • National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes for U.S. Graduate Students
  • Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans
  • P.E.O. Sisterhood. International Peace Scholarship Fund
  • Resources for the Future Walter O. Spofford Jr. Memorial Internship
  • Schlumberger Foundation Faculty for the Future Fellowships
  • Sigma Delta Epsilon and Graduate Women in Science
  • Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research
  • Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships
  • Torske Klubben Fellowship for Minnesota Residents
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency research fellowships
  • Wood-Whelan Research Fellowship/International Union of Biochemistry
Program taught in:

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Last updated July 8, 2019
This course is Campus based
Start Date
Sep 2019
5 years
25,760 USD
All first-year students receive either a research or teaching assistantship ($25,760/year as of fall 2018).
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