GGD student and faculty at MBG Picnic 2017

Special Committee

Selection of your Special Committee is one of the most important decisions you will make as a graduate student at Cornell.  Your progress as a graduate student is guided and supervised by your Special Committee.  Your Committee consists of your Chair (also called thesis research supervisor, PI or major professor) and two faculty members, one of whom represents your minor subject (see below).  The DGS serves as your Chairperson and faculty adviser until you choose a Special Committee Chair at the end of your first year.

You should have chosen your Special Committee Chair by March 15 (or May 15 at the latest).  You should work with your chair to determine the rest of the membership of your committee as soon as possible in order to complete all the requirements (in terms of courses) as soon as possible.  The Graduate School requires that you have a full committee by the end of your third semester of registration (i.e. the end of the fall semester of your second year) but we encouraged you to begin seeking the advice of possible committee members before this, since much of the your coursework is taken during the first year.

Your Special Committee includes the Chairperson, a faculty member representing a minor subject and another faculty member from the Field of GGD. Students who are co-mentored (i.e. have a Chair and a co-Chair) must choose two (2) additional committee members of their committee for a total committee of 4.

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 of your potential committee members 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 you both understand each other’s expectations:  what courses will they require, what assistance they can provide for certain experiments, etc.

As your research develops, don’t panic if you realize that another faculty person might be more appropriate. Until your A-exam, you can request Committee formation and change on-line in your Student Information Center (  After that, if you want to change your Committee, you must request a paper copy of the Special Committee form and also submit a General Petition requesting permission from the Graduate School Dean to change your Special Committee after the A-exam.  All of your new Committee members must sign and avow, in writing, that they accept the results of your A-Exam.

Choosing a Minor

As a GGD student, you may choose to concentrate in either genetics or developmental biology. You are also required to choose at least one minor subject.  You are not limited to one minor; however, you cannot major and minor in the same subject (e.g., genetics) but are free to choose from the numerous graduate fields on campus for your minor(s). When you submit your full Special Committee request in your Student Center, you will be asked to identify the major and minor that each member of your committee represents.  These will appear on your transcript as part of your program plan.

A minor provides you with an opportunity to delve with greater breadth and depth into a specific area that may help you with your individual research project and goals.  The Graduate School publishes a list of major and minor subjects and concentrations for all graduate fields at Cornell  You can pick any areas of study listed as your minor.  

Most minors that are chosen by GGD graduate students require a couple of additional courses, which students are strongly encouraged to finish by the end of the second year.  Fields often have guidelines, rather than strict requirements, for the number of courses needed to satisfy a minor. It is up to the faculty member who represents the minor to decide, in consultation with the student, how many courses and which courses are to be taken.  You should discuss with potential committee members which courses they would want you to take, given your background and interests.  

Committee Meetings

You are required to meet with your full faculty at least once each year to discuss progress and plans.  This meeting should take place as soon as possible after your Wednesday seminar (within two weeks at the latest).  You are also encouraged to meet individually with members of your committee as questions or issues arise.  Regular communication with your Chair and the rest of your Special Committee will help keep your program on track and can help avoid potential misunderstandings regarding requirements and expectations that can lead to complications in progress toward your degree.

Annual Progress Reports

As a graduate students in your second year and beyond, you are required to meet with your entire committee at least once a year to discuss progress and plans for your research project and completion of your program.  You should arrange this meeting to take place immediately following your Wednesday seminar (or as soon after as possible thereafter).  It is the student’s responsibility to arrange this meeting and to provide faculty with the Student Progress Review (SPR) report.  Submission of the Student Progress Review (SPR) report is due within 30 days of your Monday seminar or by April 1 for students and May 31 for mentors, whichever comes first (see suggested process below).

The annual progress report supports communication between the student and their Special Committee, helps to gauge the progress being made toward graduation and is the basis of annual benchmarks toward graduation required by the Graduate School for federal reporting. It is used by the Field to monitor student progress, as well as such administrative purposes as award nominations and collection of assessment data for the Graduate School. The Progress Report is found on-line (see links on the GGD Current Student Forms page).

Regular meetings with the full committee (a minimum of once a year) will help keep your program on track.  You are also encouraged to meet with individual members of your committee along the way in order to get information and feedback on your program and research. Use your committee for guidance and feedback.  That is why they are there.

Process for completion of annual Student Progress Report:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your Special Committee that coincides with your Field seminar. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss your seminar as well as your portion of the Student Progress Review.
  2. Complete the Student Section of the online Student Progress Review, save and download a draft to distribute to your entire Special Committee at least seven (7) days prior to your seminar. If your seminar is scheduled for a date after April 1, you should complete and submit your section of the SPR before April 1 to avoid a registration hold.  If changes are needed after your committee meeting, your Chair can turn the form back to you for revisions. If you are not giving a seminar, distribute it seven (7) days prior to your annual Special Committee meeting or your B Exam.
  3. After your seminar, meet with Special Committee to discuss your progress and planning. This meeting should take place within two weeks of your seminar, if not immediately thereafter.  
  4. After your meeting, finalize the Student Section of the SPR and submit it.  Once you click submit, the document will be routed to your Chair so they can complete the Advisor section and submit it.  The rest of your committee can also view the form, however, only your Chair electronically signs and submits it.  (Note: Once you submit the SPR, you will be unable to edit it unless your Chair returns it to you.)
  5. Your Committee Chair should submit their portion of the online form within 30 days of your seminar or by May 31, whichever comes first.

SPR Requirements:  In the section of the SPR form that asks for “List activities in which you participated to develop your teaching, writing, speaking, analytic skills, creative abilities, leadership abilities, or other professional competencies (e.g., outreach, professional experiences, academic/professional associations, internships, workshops, mentorships, study groups, etc.)”

  • Confirm that you have completed the Individual Development Plan.
  • Confirm that you and your mentor have had an Expectations Dialog.
  • List the five favorite research seminars that you have attended over the course of the year.
  • Indicate attendance at RCR Symposium
  • Indicate attendance at Careers Workshop

All 5th year and beyond students must present a “final-year plan” to their committee, as part of the progress report.  This will be a part of Section 5: Field Questions.

Students are evaluated each year at the annual Field meeting held in early summer. Progress reports, teaching evaluations, rotation evaluations and progress towards degree completion are all considered. Results of the evaluation are communicated to all students by the DGS.

Links to the On-line Student Progress Report are provided on the GGD Current Student Forms page.