Program Requirements

The graduate program in the Field of Genetics. Genomics and Development accepts students for the Ph.D. degree only. We have assembled a flexible program that includes lecture and laboratory courses and teaching experiences, combined with research training that uses the latest technology and equipment in well-funded laboratories. The faculty takes the challenge of graduate education very seriously; we believe that genetics/genomics is at the forefront of modern biology, and that collaborative research is crucial for a student’s success.

The program of study is flexible and is adjusted to the needs of individual students. What follows is a “typical” student's graduate career.

Getting Started

New students are formally introduced to the Field at a picnic in August, and become familiar with the research in GG&D through a series of short talks given by faculty early in the fall semester. Each student chooses three laboratories for a sequence of "research rotation" projects that occur between mid-October and late May of their first year. The student then joins a lab to conduct his/her thesis research.

Special Committees

The progress of each graduate student at Cornell is guided and supervised by his or her "Special Committee" which consists of the thesis research supervisor and two other faculty members. One of the additional faculty members represents the "minor subject" chosen by the student; the other is a member of the GG&D Field. Each student assembles a Special Committee at the end of his or her first year. Students meet annually with their Special Committee to discuss the progress of their research and graduate training. The Special Committee system offers flexibility since neither the Graduate School nor the Field of Genetics, Genomics and Development demand a fixed course of study.


The Field of Genetics, Genomics and Development requires graduate students to take BioMG7810, Problems in Genetics and Development (an intensive paper-analysis course), BioMG8340, Quantitative Biology for Molecular Biology and Genetics, and one course for each of three breadth-subjects from four areas: (a) biochemistry, molecular, and cellular biology, (b) genetics, (c) population genetics and evolution (d) development. Students are also required to take three semesters of BioMG7800, Current topics in Genetics and Development (one on grant proposal writing, one on a specific topic, and the third one centered around a seminar series of invited speakers), a course on ethical issues in biological research, and coursework required for their graduate minor-subject (usually ~6 credits). Our coursework is designed to give students a broad appreciation for research in genetics and developmental biology using diverse approaches and model systems.


Throughout the academic year, well-known scientists are invited to Cornell by GG&D Field members to give formal seminars on their research. Graduate students attend these weekly seminars (“The MBG seminar series”) and invite and host 1-2 speakers per year. After each seminar there is a reception that allows students to meet informally with the invited speaker. GG&D graduate students also can attend other seminar series of interest including those offered in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Biophysics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Biomedical Sciences, Reproductive Biology, Molecular Medicine, Nutrition, Neurobiology and Behavior, Vertebrate Genomics, Entomology and many more

An important feature of graduate education in the Field of GG&D is the yearly presentation. Students present 30-minute research seminars in their second year, and hour-long seminars in subsequent years. Students receive valuable feedback from peers and faculty in the form of questions during the seminar, and in a Special Committee meeting that follows.


As part of the Ph.D. training program, and as a valuable contribution to our teaching effort, every graduate student serves at least one semester as a Teaching Assistant. Teaching assignments are based on student preference, with some faculty input. Teaching requirements are usually met during the second year of study but students have the option to teach in subsequent years to gain additional experience.


Graduate students are required to pass two sets of examinations. The “A” exam, or entrance to Ph.D. candidacy exam, must be taken before the 5th semester of study. This exam is based on the oral defense of an original research proposal, written independently by the student in the style of a grant proposal. The subsequent thesis, or “B” exam, is in two parts. First, the student presents his/her thesis work in a seminar to the entire field. Next, the student defends the written thesis before the Special Committee. By this time, students have accomplished solid and original research work, usually resulting in several publications in major journals.