Bachelor of Science in Molecular Life Sciences

The Molecular Life Sciences degree within the College of Arts and Sciences fills the gap between traditional Biology and Chemistry with a modern curriculum that helps students understand the molecular basis for advances in the life sciences. Many of its faculty members are nationally or internationally known, and research-active faculty teach classes in their area of expertise. The participating faculty comprises a diverse, interdisciplinary cohort dedicated to fostering the scholarship and success of students in the program.

The Molecular Life Sciences degree is a cooperative effort between the Biology and the Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry departments. While the Life Sciences are broadly defined as the study of living organisms, we focus on understanding the molecular basis for life in complex organisms.

The best preparation for the major is rigorous course work in science and math at the high school level, especially in Chemistry and Biology. The B.S. degree in Molecular Life Sciences is designed to train students for a wide range of careers based in the life sciences. They may pursue post-graduate training in medical or dental school, in specialized degree programs such as pharmacy or pharmacology, or in graduate school in fields such as Biology and Biochemistry. Graduates may directly enter industrial settings such as the pharmaceutical industry or companies that produce biologics. Students who earn the Molecular Life Sciences B.S. degree possess a strong foundational training to enter any field dependent on the principles of life sciences.



Getting started

Your starting point for a degree in Molecular Life Sciences is to take the following courses:

  • CHEM-C 117 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I
  • CHEM-C 127 Principles of Chemistry and Biochemistry I Laboratory
  • MATH-M 211 Calculus I or MATH-M 119 Brief Survey of Calculus I

Majors typically take BIOL-L 112 Foundations of Biology: Biological Mechanisms in their second semester. In addition, students are encouraged to take CHEM-C 341 Organic Chemistry 1 Lectures.

Tracks and concentrations

The Molecular Life Sciences major offers two degree concentrations: the Molecular and Structural Biology track and the Developmental and Cellular Biology track. On one track, students study molecular aspects of cellular function and development of complex structures. On the other track, students build a molecular and structural foundation for processes such as DNA replication and repair, signal transduction, and protein metabolism. Each track develops a modern, molecular understanding of living systems from a distinct perspective.

Our Molecular and Structural Biology concentration helps you develop a contemporary, mechanistic understanding of living systems. In this concentration, you'll build a strong foundation in cell biology, molecular biology, and biochemistry. You will apply molecular and structural approaches to understand protein metabolism, learn about nucleic acid metabolism and epigenetic regulation, and explore bioinformatic approaches to characterizing biomolecules. Advanced course topics like signal transduction, which is concerned with how information flows in cells, will further your understanding of the field.

Our Developmental and Cellular Biology concentration is designed for students who are interested in exciting topics in cell biology, developmental biology, genetics, and molecular biology. You will be exposed to breakthrough advances that have been made using a variety of experimental systems including bacteria, yeast, nematodes, fruit flies, frogs, mice, and plants (just to name a few). Basic principles of cell and developmental biology that have been uncovered with these model systems are coupled with an understanding of how deviations in normal function lead to human disease. Molecular mechanisms of human disorders and diseases will be an important element of the Developmental and Cellular Biology concentration.

An MLS minor is available; it is grounded in coursework drawn from either track.

Upper level coursework

This degree is designed for students pursuing a life sciences degree curriculum that is highly focused on cellular and molecular mechanisms. Advanced courses will provide an emphasis on how alterations in cellular processes may lead to disease states. The B.S. in Molecular Life Sciences (MLS) is designed for students planning on continuing their education beyond a B.S. degree, in the pursuit of an advanced M.S. or Ph.D. degree in the life sciences or professional degrees in medicine, veterinary sciences, or dentistry. Students with a B.S. in MLS are also highly employable in biotechnology or pharmaceutical industries.

All MLS majors will complete the following two courses:

  • MLS-M 420 Genome Duplication and Maintenance: This course provides molecular details of DNA chromosomes with an emphasis on DNA replication machinery, mechanisms used to control the timing of DNA replication, and molecular mechanisms used by cells for DNA repair.
  • MLS-M 430 Advanced Gene Regulation: This course focuses on current understandings of how cells control gene expression, with an emphasis on protein machinery that is involved in the expression of genes. The role of chromosome epigenetic modification in regulating gene expression will also be covered in detail.

Depending on their area of concentration, MLS majors may choose from the following electives:

  • MSL-M 388 Digital Biology: Bioinformatics and Functional Genomics
  • MLS-M 410 Protein Metabolism
  • MLS-M 440 Membranes and Signal Transduction
  • MLS-M 450 Molecular Mechanisms of Cancer

The Molecular Life Sciences B.S. requires upper-level coursework in biochemistry, biology, organic chemistry, psychology, and neuroscience. If you choose, your studies may culminate with an undergraduate research project and an honors thesis.

Work with your academic advisor to choose upper-level elective courses that match your academic and career interests.

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

With the help of your academic advisor, you may be able to combine several areas of interest with additional majors, minors, or certificates. For example, you might pursue a second degree in Neuroscience, Psychology, BiologyMathematics, Human Biology, or Spanish.

Common minors for MLS students include psychology, biology, medical humanities, medical sciences, biotechnology, scientific skills and research integrity, and Spanish (or another language). The Explore Programs tool can help you find majors, minors, and certificate programs that fit you and your goals by allowing you to filter by interest area. Other majors, minors, and certificates can be excellent opportunities to build upon and broaden your interests. Check your bulletin for more information about these opportunities.

Enhance your major

Working with faculty

When pursuing a degree in Molecular Life Sciences, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with your instructors about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals.

The Molecular Life Sciences program provides directed research opportunities for undergraduates in faculty research laboratories, giving you experience with cutting-edge methodologies, instrumentation, and approaches in the molecular life sciences. Indiana University is renowned for having state-of-the-art scientific research facilities. As an MLS student, you will receive training from faculty and graduate students in many of our labs. Once trained, you’ll have the opportunity to assist their research or undertake your own experiments.

MLS majors undertaking independent research projects have access to equipment in individual faculty laboratories, as well as to numerous department-affiliated core research facilities that constitute a large investment in life sciences infrastructure on the IU Bloomington campus.

Talk with the academic advisors about your research options.


An honors program is offered to exceptional students that wish to obtain a more detailed molecular understanding of life sciences. This program is geared to students that have a clear desire to go on to graduate or professional schools.

Participants are expected to fulfill the degree requirements for the B.S. in MLS and urged to enroll in special honors courses and attend seminars offered by the Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry and Biology Departments. Honors students are also required to participate in an undergraduate research project within a faculty research group for at least one full academic year and to write an honors research thesis. Students in this program must maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.300 in the major and 3.300 overall.

High-achieving students may be recognized for Academic Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, or be eligible for admission to the Hutton Honors College.Your academic advisor can tell you more about the honors opportunity.

Undergraduate scholarships and awards

The following programs and scholarships are available to incoming first-year students who are interested in research:

Students can also apply for a Hutton Honors College research grant.

For a list of other scholarships and awards that are available, see the Office of Scholarships website.


Internships offer you a chance to develop both technical and transferable skills while making vital professional contacts with others in the field. Many students begin exploring internship opportunities, including overseas study programs with internships, as early as their first year.

Students with majors in various life sciences have found internship opportunities with the following organizations:

Learn more about internships, including the possibility of receiving credit, through the Walter Center for Career Achievement, where you'll find many resources for both domestic and international internships. It may be possible to earn academic credit for an internship by enrolling in ASCS-X 373. You may also considering scheduling a 1:1 appointment with the career coaches at the Walter Center to learn about internship search strategies.

Foreign language study

As one of the premier institutions in the U.S. for the study of languages, IU Bloomington offers courses and resources in over 60 languages.

Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington:

Overseas study

Studying abroad is an important part of undergraduate education in our increasingly interconnected world. MLS students often pursue language study and other coursework through the following exchange programs:

The College of Arts + Sciences also directly hosts a variety of study abroad programs, some even featuring IU faculty, that might be right for you. Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with MLS faculty, with your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.

Due to the sequential nature of the Molecular Life Sciences curriculum, with each course building on previous course work, leaving IU for a semester or more must be planned carefully in order to ensure that required courses are finished in a timely fashion. Summer Overseas Study programs provide a viable alternative. Your planning should be coordinated with a Molecular Life Sciences academic advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies as early as possible.

Student groups

Getting involved in a student group related to the molecular life sciences will help expose you to new material and is also a great pursuit to showcase on a resume. Molecular Life Sciences B.S. students may find enrichment in one of the following organizations:

Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.

Residential Programs and Services at IU offers a variety of learning communities, which allow students to choose to live among peers with a common interest. Some of the following learning communities may be of interest to Molecular Life Sciences students:

For a complete list of Living Learning Centers and Thematic Communities, visit the Residential Programs and Services website.

Volunteer opportunities

There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement, allowing you to give back to the local community while developing useful job skills. The organizations below can help you connect with others from the university and beyond:

Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.

Professional organizations

Professional organizations are a fantastic way to start networking in the career fields that interest you. Many professional associations offer mentoring programs in addition to annual regional and national conferences with low student rates.

Use the Indiana University Library system to search Associations Unlimited, an online directory of associations, professional societies, nonprofit organizations, and much more.

Build your skills

Through the major

The Molecular Life Sciences B.S. degree provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:

  • Acquire knowledge of foundational molecular life science concepts
  • Apply the scientific process to address molecular and cellular problems using hypothesis-driven inquiry and experimentation
  • Learn modern lab techniques
  • Design experiments, collect data, and use quantitative reasoning to analyze, interpret, and present data
  • Participate in collaborative interactions to analyze data and solve problems
  • Find and critically evaluate information on molecular life science questions and communicate that information to diverse audiences in both written and oral form
  • Situate biological studies within the greater context of prior published work and identify current gaps in knowledge
  • Develop expertise in a particular area of molecular life science study

Through a College of Arts and Sciences degree

Your coursework provides many opportunities to develop the following five foundational skills that will serve you well in every career path:  

  • Question critically
  • Think logically
  • Communicate clearly
  • Act creatively
  • Live ethically

These foundational skills will aid you in landing your first job and advancing professionally throughout your working life. Not only are these the skills that employers say they value most in the workplace, they provide the best preparation for lifelong success in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and change.

Skills desired by employers

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers asks employers what key skills and qualities they are looking for in recent college graduates.

The following are some of the most commonly desired attributes across many employment sectors:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Analytical and quantitative skills
  • Ability to take initiative
  • Being detail oriented
  • Demonstrating adaptability
  • Technical skills relevant to the field
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer skills
  • Organizational ability

 As you explore various career fields, pay attention to specific job descriptions and requirements. If there are areas where your skills or knowledge are lacking, talk with your academic advisor and career coach about how you can develop in those areas while you are at Indiana University.

Your academic advisor and career coach can also help you find ways to strengthen and deepen the knowledge you already have, becoming more prepared for whatever path you select after college. 

Launch your career

Plan your search

A good starting point for exploring your career options is an appointment with your career coach.

The Walter Center for Career Achievement offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with social media networking through professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume, ask for letters of recommendation from faculty and workplace supervisors, and prepare for job interviews, too.

Explore and enroll in Career Communities to learn more about industries relevant to your interests. These offer unique information about each field, including alumni spotlights, opportunities and resources, and in-person events. The Career Communities most closely aligned with the interests and skills associated with the Molecular Life Sciences major are the Healthcare and Wellness, Technology, Data and Analytics, and Science and Research communities.

You might want to take a career course to help you maximize your career preparation at IU. College of Arts and Sciences students should consider taking ASCS-Q 296 College to Career II: Navigate Your Arts and Sciences Experience. This course teaches the strategies and tools necessary successfully to market the qualifications gained from your Arts and Sciences education, achieve career-related goals, and plan for lifelong career development.

The job market

The employment outlook for students with the Molecular Life Sciences degree is very bright, due to the versatility of the degree and the multitude of options for career paths. With increased focus on job growth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields, there are many job opportunities for students with analytical, critical thinking, and research skills.

Molecular Life Sciences B.S. students can take their education in many directions. The skills developed through the major, including lab techniques, designing experiments, and analyzing data, can prepare you especially well for a research-intensive career or graduate program.

Initial and long-term destinations for graduates include positions in many job sectors, such as careers as biomedical scientists, biotechnologists, biochemists, microbiologists, clinical research associates, and industrial pharmacists. The upper-level coursework in biology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, psychology, and neuroscience required for the Molecular Life Sciences B.S. degree allows students to develop advanced skills that will prepare them for a variety of careers within the sciences. This degree will also provide a strong foundation for those who desire to pursue a professional degree or an M.S. or Ph.D. degree in the life sciences.

Want to see where your fellow majors go right after graduating from IU? Check out the Walter Center’s First Destinations survey!

Need more ideas? The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career information about hundreds of occupations.

Talk with Molecular Life Sciences faculty, your academic advisor, your career coach, and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates with this degree.

Post-graduate short-term experiences

After graduation, a short-term experience or internship can help you make connections, gain life skills, and assess your interest in future careers. Talk with your career coach and research organizations such as those listed here, to find opportunities that are a good fit with your educational experience and career goals:

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Fellowships are temporary opportunities to conduct research, work in a field, or fund your education. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profits, and government organizations.

Good resources for finding fellowship opportunities include:

Graduate and professional study

When applying to graduate or professional schools, you’ll need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Make a practice of attending office hours early in your academic career, to get to know your professors and discuss your options for advanced study in the field.

A Molecular Life Sciences B.S. degree will prepare you for entry into graduate programs in a wide variety of fields, such as research, medicine, healthcare, biotechnology, and chemistry. If you are interested in graduate school, start thinking about your options early. To develop the skills you need for graduate study, it is important to make connections and build relationships with faculty and advisors. 

With careful planning, and in consultation with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center, you could also prepare to enter law school, medical school, or other professional programs.

Students who pursue graduate studies in Molecular Life Sciences have gone into careers with top academic and research institutions, medicine and healthcare, business and entrepreneurship, and government organizations.

Here are examples of graduate programs offered at IU:

Alumni connections

The IU College of Arts and Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the IU College Luminaries program, which connects students with the College's most influential, successful, and inspiring alumni.

Join the Walter Center Success Network to remain in touch, network directly with College of Arts +Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.

Is it for you?

The Molecular Life Sciences program attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. Molecular Life Sciences students typically possess a passion for understanding how living systems function at the molecular level. They may be interested in building a medical foundation to understand the basis for disease, or for creating next-generation drugs tailored to patients based on an individual's genome or lifestyle. Our students strive to understand the precise molecular mechanism of critical biological processes and want to apply their knowledge to solving problems in health-related settings. Here are some of the areas that typically interest Molecular Life Sciences students:

  • Human health and medicine
  • The relationship between DNA metabolism and cancer
  • Stem cell development and function
  • Bioinformatic approaches to understanding molecular function
  • Applications for whole genome sequencing
  • Connecting cellular architecture to disease
  • Applying RNA sequencing to understanding cellular dysregulation
  • Biological model systems to understand human physiology and disease
  • Protein translation, folding, and degradation
  • Basic research to understand complex biological processes
  • Precision medicine

Learn more

Contact the Molecular Life Sciences academic advisors and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the requirements of the major can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Department website
Advisor email address