Advisor/Committee Selection

Research Advisor and Special Committee

Each Ph.D. student has a special committee whose members guide and supervise the student’s research program. This committee is solely responsible for setting specific degree requirements, conducting and reporting on oral examinations, and approving the student’s doctoral dissertation. A student is recommended for a degree only when the special committee members agree that an appropriate level of scholarship has been achieved and that graduate faculty regulations regarding general examinations, residency, and dissertation requirements have been satisfied.

The student’s special committee is usually chaired by his/her research advisor, who must be a member of the Graduate Field of Materials Science and Engineering – some 40 faculty across campus – but not necessarily a member of the smaller MSE department. It is also possible to choose a research advisor who is not a member of the field, in which case the Director of Graduate Studies typically chairs the student’s special committee.

The relationship between the student and research advisor is the central one in our Ph.D. program. Students must affiliate with a research advisor within the first semester. The other members of the special committee are selected by the student and the committee chair and typically parallel the student’s research interests. Affiliation is a mutual decision and often involves several face-to-face meetings with prospective advisors and their current graduate students in order to determine if there is a suitable match. When a match is made, the advisor appoints the graduate student to a graduate research assistant position.

The other members (usually two) of the special committee are selected by the student and the committee chair and typically represent interests and topics that parallel the student’s Ph.D. research. At least one committee member must be from outside the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Selection of suitable minor members of the Special Committee is usually accomplished by the end of the third semester of graduate study. Changes in the membership of the Special Committee are made by petition to the Cornell Graduate School.

Typical Timeline

  • Upon arrival on campus: select courses for first semester.
  • First semester: choose research advisor and begin research.
  • Second semester: prepare for Q exam, which is given at the end of May.
  • Third and fourth semesters: add minor members by the end of the 3rd semester, focus on research, complete coursework, serve as teaching assistant.
  • Fifth semester: prepare for and take A Exam for admission to Ph.D. candidacy, receive M.S. degree, focus on research.
  • Sixth-eighth semesters: focus on research.
  • Eighth semester (approximate): begin writing Ph.D. dissertation.
  • Ninth semester (approximate): take B Exam (Ph.D. dissertation defense), submit Ph.D. dissertation to Cornell Graduate School.