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Program Overview


The Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB) Program at Iowa State University is an interdepartmental graduate major offering outstanding opportunities for graduate study. 100 nationally and internationally known faculty take part in the BCB program including biologists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists and statisticians – all who participate in a wide range of collaborative research projects.

The BCB Training Program

BCB students are trained to develop an independent and creative approach to science through an integrated curriculum and interdisciplinary research projects in all major research areas of computational molecular biology, including genomics, metagenomics, structural genomics, functional genomics, phylogenetics, and computational systems biology, with access to some of the most modern experimental platforms.

First-year students receive graduate research assistantships and participate in research rotations in three or more laboratories to gain experience in both "wet" and "dry" lab environments and to find the laboratory in which they will do their PhD research. More fellowships are available via various sources.

In the second year, students initiate a thesis research project under the guidance of two faculty mentors, the major and co-major professor, one from the biological sciences and one from the quantitative/computational sciences.

Program of Study (POSC) Committee

After choosing the major and co-major professor, students begin planning a suitable program for the completion of the BCB graduate coursework. Before the end of the first year, students determine the remainder of their Program of Study (POS) Committee members through discussions with their major and co-major professors.

Among the committee’s duties are:

  • reviewing periodically the progress of the student;
  • advising a student during the development of the thesis, or the dissertation;
  • considering and approving the student’s program of study as well as changes in the program of study;
  • reading the thesis, or dissertation; and
  • conducting the preliminary oral examination (for Ph.D. candidates) and the final oral examination (for master’s and Ph.D. candidates).

One form will be filed electronically with the Graduate College to form the POS Committee and to report the courses the student will take to complete their graduate coursework for their POS.  More information on the POS Committee is here.

Research Expectations

Advanced degrees in BCB require that a student's research project be interdisciplinary, including both novel biological and quantitative/computational components. The POS committee is responsible for determining whether a student's research project meets this condition.

Research expectations in the BCB Graduate Program continue to grow.  BCB is a dynamic discipline and advances in knowledge are dramatic. As a maturing discipline, students and faculty should discuss both the novel computational components of the research being pursued as well as the novel biological components and report on this dual aspect of research progress at the annual program of study meetings with the student and POS committee.  

You are the Expert: A PhD Dissertation

In BCB, the Ph.D. thesis is generally written in an alternate journal format which includes approximately three published or publishable original manuscripts.

According to the Graduate College Handbook 7.1.5:

"A doctoral dissertation must demonstrate conclusively the ability of the author to conceive, design, conduct, and interpret independent, original, and creative research. It must attempt to describe significant original contributions to the advancement of knowledge and must demonstrate the ability to organize, analyze, and interpret data. In most instances, a dissertation includes a statement of purpose, a review of pertinent literature, a presentation of methodology and results obtained, and a critical interpretation of conclusions in relation to the findings of others. When appropriate, it involves a defense of objectives, design, and analytical procedures. Dissertation research should be worthy of publication and should appear in appropriate professional journals or in book form."

"A master’s thesis is a scholarly composition that demonstrates the ability of the author to do independent and creative work. It explores in some depth a problem or issue related to the major field of study. Although considerable variations in format and style are acceptable, precise expression, logical construction, and meticulous attention to detail are essential. A thesis is required in all fields in which a master’s degree is awarded, except where specific provision is made for a nonthesis degree program. A minimum of three research credits is required on every program of study for a thesis master’s degree."

"Since satisfactory completion of the dissertation or thesis can constitute one of the most gratifying experiences in graduate study, the document should reflect the highest standards of scholarship, serving as a measure of quality for the student, major professor, the program, and Iowa State University."

"Responsibility for writing and editing of the dissertation or thesis rests with the student, under the supervision of the major professor, and not with the Graduate College. The Graduate College does not permit joint authorship of dissertations or theses. It is the responsibility of the major professor to supervise the preparation of preliminary and final drafts of the dissertation or thesis, so as to assure the highest level of quality when the student presents the dissertation or thesis to the committee for final approval. Please refer to the Graduate College Dissertation/Thesis website ( for requirements, fees, and other pertinent information."

Degree Requirements for the BCB Program

Comprehensive information on how to progress through the BCB degree program at Iowa State University can be found throughout this website and here.