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Exams & Special Committee

Click here to view the Research Doctoral/PhD Milestone Table

A Exam

To qualify as a Ph.D. candidate, each graduate student must pass an “Admission to Candidacy” exam (or A-exam) before the start of the seventh semester. The purpose of the exam is to test the student’s level of knowledge and ability to design research strategies and to be sure you are ready to proceed into the dissertation phase of your degree program.

B Exam

The B exam is an oral defense of your dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum registration unit requirements. At least two registration units must be earned between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

The necessary forms for each exam can be found here.

Special Committee

You are required to select your Special Committee chair within three weeks of registering with the Grad School. Because you will be doing lab rotations for your first year you will select your field's Director of Graduate Studies as your temporary committee chair. You are required to have a full committee by the end of your third semester. This will consist, at the minimum, a dissertation research chair (major subject) and two minor members (a faculty member representing the minor subject and second faculty member from the field of Computational Biology). This online process takes place in the Advisor section of your Student Center and will require approval of all your committee members, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA).
Note that you cannot major and minor in the same subject. For a listing of subject/concentrations go here.

Understanding Majors and Minors

At Cornell, students are accepted into fields of study.  Within each field are major subjects and areas of concentration.  A major, like its undergraduate cousin, is a focused subject area where a student will conduct his or her research or scholarship.  Concentrations are a subset within the major subject. Minor subjects are secondary areas of research. 

Determining Your Major and Minor Subject Requirements
Master's degree student choose one major and one minor subject. Doctoral candidates choose one major and two minor subjects of study, although some fields have permission from the General Committee to require only one major and one minor subject. Faculty members are picked from these approved subjects to form a "Special Committee."