Graduate Program Policies

Department of Agronomy

We are happy to have you as a graduate student in the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy in one of five graduate majors or as a member of an interdepartmental major. The mission of the Department of Agronomy is to provide continued excellence in agronomic teaching, research, and outreach. The department achieves this by serving Iowa, the nation, and the world in ways that:

  • expand knowledge in crop, soil, and atmospheric sciences
  • identify, develop, and deliver appropriate information and technologies for agronomic practice
  • prepare students for successful careers and continued education in agronomic and related sciences
  • improve crop production and soil management practices, while enhancing environmental quality and sustainability, through interdisciplinary cooperation
  • anticipate and respond to societal needs relative to food, feed, fiber, and fuel production
  • promote, through education, harmony among the diverse clientele served by agronomy.

Graduate students in the Department of Agronomy can anticipate many challenges as they work toward their M.S. or Ph.D. degrees, but there also is a strong support system to help students along the way. The department’s goal is to educate the future leaders in their fields. Students build upon their previous education and go deeper into the sciences of their discipline.

Graduate education is distinctly different from undergraduate education; the students are more active participants in graduate programs. Students explore their chosen area of study in greater depth to allow the addressing of larger intellectual issues. Graduate study should be a great time in student lives (but also a busy and challenging time). Students need to understand the resources available to assist them in being successful and where to get information to answer questions and concerns.

The major professor is often the first place to go for answers, but based on the questions or concerns, the Department Graduate Programs Assistant, the major Director of Graduate Education (DOGE), the Department Associate Chair for Academics, Department Chair, or the Dean of the Graduate College also may be consulted.

The general expectations of the Department of Agronomy are below and expectations for individual majors are found at: 
Agricultural Meteorology 
Agronomy (distance learning) 
Crop Production and Physiology 
Plant Breeding 
Soil Science

Programs administrated by the Department of Agronomy adhere to the policies and procedures outlined in the ISU Graduate College Handbook, whose policies and procedures will not be repeated here but should be reviewed and understood by the student.
ISU Graduate College Handbook

Objectives and outcomes for graduate student learning may be found here: Graduate Student Learning Objectives/Assessment 

Admission to the Department

Admission to the department involves the following steps.

  • Visit with Potential Major Professor: Although not required, the department encourages prospective students first to visit with a potential major professor in the department (e-mail, phone, or in person) in the research area of your interests before formally applying for admission to graduate school. Potential Major Professor Search (Personnel Page)
  • Acceptance: Acceptance into a major in the department is contingent on meeting departmental requirements. In addition, a major professor (or group of professors) must agree to work with the student.
  • GREs and TOEFL: GREs are required in Plant Breeding and Agricultural Meteorology and encouraged, but not required, in other departmental majors. The student may be more competitive for an opening and may be eligible for more scholarships if GRE scores are provided. A TOEFL or IELTS score is required for international students whose native language is not English, and who have received a degree from an institution whose curriculum is not in English.
  • Denials: Admission is competitive and failure to be accepted by the department does not necessarily reflect negatively on the student. Individual laboratories may not have space to accommodate new students or may not have funding to support assistantships.
  • New Student Check-In: When you first arrive on campus, please check in with your major professor and with the Department Graduate Student Program Assistant, in Student Services, 1126 Agronomy Hall. Based on whether you are a national or international student, you will learn what is required of you as a new student. Email Department graduate programs with questions or for more information.


Departmental Expectations

The following are expectations the department has for its graduate students. If you have questions or don’t understand departmental or university policies, please visit with your major professor, the Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, Department Associate Chair for Academics, or the Department Chair.

  • University Policies: The student must be aware of departmental and university policies and expectations. During the first semester in residence, students should read this policy website: Graduate Student Policies.

    Additionally, students should review and be familiar, in general, with the information in the ISU Graduate College Handbook: ISU Graduate College Handbook. Students are expected specifically to read the sections in Chapter 6 dealing with student responsibilities, major professor responsibilities, and Program of Study Committee (POSC) responsibilities.
  • Program of Study Committee (POSC): 
    • Timing — The student should select his/her POSC members and have the POSC courses submitted online in AccessPlus by the end of the second semester in residence. The major professor will help identify suitable POSC members. AccessPlus Login Page
    • Committee Members — The Department of Agronomy follows the Graduate College requirements of having at minimum three faculty members serving on the POSC for M.S. degrees and at minimum five faculty members serving on POSC for Ph.D. degrees. Being more restrictive than Graduate College requirements, the Department of Agronomy also requires at minimum two faculty members to serve on the POSC of M.S. students writing creative components (with the DOGE or DOGE appointee breaking ties in case of disagreements).
  • Courses, Class Registration, and Academic Standing:
    • Required Courses — Majors vary in the courses required in their curricula. Check with your major professor and major homepages: 
      Agricultural Meteorology 
      Agronomy (distance learning) 
      Crop Production and Physiology 
      Plant Breeding 
      Soil Science

      Courses beyond the curriculum requirements of each major are agreed to by the student, major professor, POSC, and DOGE.
    • AGRON 500
      International students must take AGRON 500, orientation seminar, the first fall semester they enroll for classes.
    • AGRON 601
      Each student taking graduate work in a departmental major must successfully complete AGRON 601.
    • Full-time Status
      International students and students on assistantships are expected by the university to be registered as full-time students. For ISSO guidelines, the department considers nine or more credits to be a fulltime load for a graduate student: 
      International Students and Scholars Office
    • Progress Toward Degree
      To remain in good standing, students must make progress (grades, research, and timeliness) toward their advanced degrees. A student may be recommended for dismissal from a program by the major professor, POSC, department, or Graduate College. A student may challenge dismissal based on procedures outlined in the ISU Graduate College Handbook.
    • Annual Report
      The department will evaluate graduate student progress annually. Graduate students will be asked to submit an Annual Report of Student Activities by February 1. Reports are to be signed by the major professor (and co-major professor if this is your case) and submitted to the Department Graduate Student Program Assistant (Student Services in 1126 Agronomy Hall) by the date indicated. More details of the review process are indicated on the form. 
    • GPA
      The department expects its graduate students to maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 3.2 or above. If the GPA drops below a 3.2, the student and those working with the student should be concerned because the Graduate College has a requirement that students who do not maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 (excluding research) may be placed on academic probation until they bring their GPA up to 3.0. If on academic probation, the major professor must submit a memorandum to the Graduate College stating why the student should be allowed to register for the next semester and list the academic improvements of the student. The DOGE must concur before processing the memorandum to the Graduate College. If the student does not improve academically, the student may be informed that he/she is recommended not to continue graduate study in the department. If on an assistantship and the GPA goes below 3.0, graduate students do not qualify to receive the tuition scholarship benefit the next term and until a 3.0 GPA is reached.


  • Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Obligations:
    • Student Rights
      Graduate students have certain rights in the university system such as free expression in the classroom and freedom from prejudiced evaluations. The Board of Regents Uniform Rules of Personal Conduct and the university general rules govern the rights and responsibilities of all graduate students. These are printed in the ISU General Catalog, as well as the ISU Graduate Student Handbook.
      Board of Regents Uniform Rules of Personal Conduct 
      Graduate College Handbook 
      ISU Graduate Student Handbook 
    • Plagiarism
      Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty in a scientific community are serious offenses. Plagiarism is the use of information, ideas, or phrasing of other writers without acknowledgement. Be sure to read carefully in the ISU General Catalog and the ISU Graduate Student Handbook on what constitutes plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty. If in doubt, ask your major professor for clarification.
    • Grievances: A student may have difficulty or a grievance with another student, major professor, POSC member, instructor, faculty or staff member, or administrator. It usually is best to talk directly with the individual to resolve the difficulty. Based on the nature of the grievance, however, this may not be possible. The student’s major professor, Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, Department Associate Chair for Academics, Department Chair, or Dean of the Graduate College may offer counsel. Procedures to file a formal grievance or appeal are outlined in the:
      ISU Graduate College Handbook
    • Discrimination and Harassment
      The department strives to provide a working environment free from discrimination. The department requires graduate students to go through the web-based training available in AccessPlus on discrimination and harassment. Students shall be familiar with and follow university policies on racial, ethnic, and sexual harassment. Students who think they have been harassed or discriminated against should see the Department Chair, and all complaints, informal and formal, will be resolved according to university policy.
    • Safe Working Environment
      Providing a safe working environment is the responsibility of all members of the department. If students see unsafe conditions or acts in the building, on campus, in the greenhouses, or in the field, they should report them to a faculty member or administrator. If the student is unsure of equipment use, chemical use, or general working procedures, ask for help or assistance. The major professor usually serves as first contact.


  • Working Toward your Degree:
    • Professional Skills
      The department expects graduates of its graduate programs to have developed the professional skills required for success in the academic/business world. The department feels it is the responsibility of each student, the major professor, and the POSC to ensure that these professional skills are obtained.
      Professional Development Resource Page
    • Teaching/Extension Experience – AGRON 698
      The Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University recognizes the importance of teaching/extension experiences in the professional development of M.S. and Ph.D. candidates. Therefore, an opportunity is provided for all students to participate in a teaching and/or extension activity in their degree program. The Agricultural Meteorology curriculum requires this experience. More details at:
      Teaching Practicum Policy
    • Support Staff
      The departmental support staff is available for assistance, but please realize they serve many faculty, staff, and students. If you need help in a specific area, please visit with a staff member and they will tell you who to contact. Many of the departmental forms may be found on the departmental templates homepage.
      Departmental Forms and Templates
    • Time to Earn Degree
      The time required to earn the degree depends on the student and program. The Department of Agronomy normally expects a student working full time on a degree to graduate within three years on an M.S. degree and four years for someone working on a Ph.D. degree who already has completed a master’s degree. The actual time to graduate is best determined by the major professor and POSC.
    • Exit Seminar
      Each student is expected to present a public exit seminar where the results of the research or creative component are given.
    • Exit Interview
      During the last semester in residence, the student is expected to make an appointment with the Department Chair for an exit interview. This is the student’s opportunity to inform the Department Chair about experiences during his/her time in the department and about future plans. Please schedule this exit interview through the Main Office (2104 Agronomy Hall). These interviews are very useful to the department to improve graduate programs.

Major Professor

  • First Contact
    Your major professor is a key individual in your success at Iowa State University. Your major professor should be your first contact for most questions. It is important for you to develop a good working relationship with your major professor.
  • Change
    Although rare, students may wish to have a different faculty member become their major professor once accepted into a degree program. This may be complicated if the student is funded by an assistantship that the original major professor is providing through grant funds intended to do specific work. The department cannot guarantee that a change to a different major professor can be made or if different assistantship funds will be available, and the student should first try to discuss difficulties and possible solutions with the current major professor. The Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, Department Associate Chair for Academics, or Department Chair is available for counsel. If difficulties cannot be resolved, the change must be thoroughly explored with the potential new major professor. If the new major professor concurs, then the student should give the reasons for change in a memorandum to the Department Chair with copy to the Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, and Department Associate Chair for Academics. The new major professor should sign it to indicate concurrence; the current major professor should sign it to indicate release of the student. The change also requires the approval of the department. If the POSC has already been constituted, the Graduate College must also be informed.


Expectations for Those on Assistantships:

  • Job Responsibilities
    Some graduate students are offered teaching, administrative, or research assistantships and departmental expectations vary with type of appointment. Assistantship responsibilities are assigned by the supervisor (often the major professor). The hours per week of expected service to the department, length of appointment, the general responsibilities of the assistantship, and the monthly stipend are indicated in the Letter of Intent. Students who have questions on what is expected with the assistantship should visit with the supervisor before signing the Letter of Intent. If conflicts arise later, first visit with the immediate supervisor. If conflicts remain unresolved, visit with the Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, Department Associate Chair for Academics, or Department Chair. Although students have specific obligations when committed to an assistantship, the intent of the department is to maintain a collegial but professional working environment. 
    Teaching, administrative, or research assistantships 
    Departmental expectations
  • Credit Registration
    During fall and spring semesters, graduate students on ½-time C-base appointments (normal research and teaching assistantships) must be registered for at least 1 and at most 6 credits. Since there is no difference in tuition between 9 and 12 credits, it is in the best interest of both the student and the department for these students to register for the full 12 credits each fall and spring semester. Consequently these students should register for the appropriate number of research credits that when added to the credits associated with courses equal 12. During the summer, graduate students on ½-time C-base appointments must be registered for at least 2 credits and at most 6 credits. 

    In summer, there is a difference in tuition among credit levels, so C-base students who are only conducting research during the summer should register for just one credit (C-base students must inform the Department Graduate Programs Assistant and the Departmental Accountant and Financial Manager if they plan to take more than one credit during the summer). The university requires students to take at least one credit the semester they graduate (GR ST 681B if no coursework is needed). More information is found in the Graduate College Handbook. Please contact the Department Graduate Programs Assistant, the Departmental Accountant and Financial Manager, or your major professor if you have questions. 
    Contact Department Graduate Student Program Assistant
    Contact Debra Hop, Department Accountant and Financial Manager
  • Reappointment
    Assistantships are subject to annual reappointment. The satisfactory completion of one appointment, plus satisfactory academic performance, will ordinarily make a student eligible for reappointment depending upon availability of funding. After a maximum period of three years of full-time study for the master’s degree or five years for the doctorate degree, the student may be continued on an assistantship only with prior approval of the Graduate Dean.
  • Leave of Absence
    Arrangements for a leave of absence are made between the graduate assistant and his/her supervisor. When a graduate student on assistantship needs to be absent either for personal reasons or illness, the student should visit with the supervisor, who should accommodate reasonable needs. At the same time, the graduate student on assistantship should attempt to plan personal leave so that it does not interfere with or cause neglect of the duties associated with his/her employment. The department normally grants two weeks annual leave plus University Holidays for those on assistantships. The annual leave cannot be carried over to the following year. Accrued vacation not taken before graduation will be forfeited. For other types of leave (such as adoption, catastrophic illness or injury, emergency, family and medical leave, jury duty, military, pregnancy, etc.), the department will follow, in general, the policies and procedures for faculty. Visit with your major professor, Department Graduate Programs Assistant, DOGE, Department Associate Chair for Academics, or Department Chair. For longer absences, the department and major professor will work together to determine the funding source.
    Policies and Procedures for Leave of Absence