One of the most important decisions made by a graduate student at Cornell involves the selection of the Special Committee. The progress of each graduate student is guided and supervised by the Special Committee, which consists of the thesis research supervisor, also called major professor (Chair of the committee), and two faculty members, one of whom represents the minor subject chosen by the student (see below). Students should assemble a Special Committee early in their 3rd semester, but are encouraged to begin seeking the advice of possible committee members before this, since much of the student’s coursework is taken during the first year. To provide students with adequate advice and to discuss coursework to be taken during the first year, the DGS is assigned as a temporary faculty adviser for each incoming student.
Graduate students in the Field of Genetics, Genomics and Development may choose
as their concentration either genetics or development. In addition, each
student must choose one minor subject. The minor is often biochemistry or
plant molecular biology. Other possibilities are genetics, development, microbiology,
evolutionary biology, cell biology, plant biology, plant molecular and cell
biology, neurobiology and behavior, biometry (computational biology concentration),
or a number of other possible subjects. You are not limited to one minor.
Note, however, that you can not major and minor in the same subject (e.g.,
genetics). Each year the Graduate School publishes a list of major and minor
subjects and concentrations for all graduate fields at Cornell. This list
can be obtained from the Graduate School in Caldwell Hall, the Graduate Field
Office (107 Biotech), or can be viewed on the Graduate School web site at
The Special Committee system offers great flexibility to the Ph.D. program
since it permits tailoring of the program to your specific interests.
We encourage you to talk to other graduate students and faculty and to
seek as much information as possible before selecting your committee members.
Make an appointment to meet with each potential committee member and bring
relevant materials to the meeting (e.g., curriculum vitae, course records,
and summary of research plans if possible). Be prepared to discuss why he
or she would be an appropriate committee member. It is important that both
understand each other’s expectations:
What courses will they require, can they help with certain experiments, etc.
Once your committee has been selected, don’t panic if you realize as your research program develops that someone else might be more appropriate. Remember, you are responsible for putting together a committee that best suits your needs. A “Special Committee Selection and Change” request is submitted online (http://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/forms). Please note that no changes may be made in your special committee after passing the A Exam, except with the Dean’s approval.
You are required to meet with your entire committee at least once a year
to discuss progress and plans. It is the student’s responsibility to
arrange the meeting. Meeting soon after your Wednesday Field Seminar
is a particularly good time. Remember to notify your committee of such seminars.
The Field distributes your yearly progress report to your committee to help
keep them abreast of your progress, problems, plans and successes. Regular
meetings with the full committee (a minimum of once a year) will help keep
your program on track and can help avoid those awful moments at your defense
when a committee member asks why you did not do this control or that experiment.
You can also meet with them individually along the way. Use your committee
for guidance and feedback. That’s why they are there.
It is strongly recommended
that senior students present a "final-year
plan" to their committee. This does not need to be a formal document,
but should include a short outline of experiments that they still plan
to do as well as a proposed time-frame for graduation.