The Weill Cornell Graduate School awards Cornell University PhD degrees to students in seven programs of study. Much of the academic structure by which a student progresses through WCGS is set by his/her program of study. Details of program requirements and procedures may be found directly within each program description.
WCGS expects students to complete their PhD degree requirements within six years. In all programs, students take courses in the first year of graduate school. After year one, coursework is required or elective, depending on the program. Also in year one, students begin research rotations in faculty members' laboratories. The rotations help the student define his/her thesis research and determine faculty he/she wants to work with in pursuing the PhD.
By the end of the second year, the student takes the Admission for Candidacy Exam (ACE)—a combined written and oral exam with content and format determined by the program of study, and administered by a faculty committee. Upon the successful completion of the ACE, a student is considered a PhD candidate.
The progress of the PhD candidate is closely guided by a major sponsor (thesis advisor) and a Special Committee. Each program has its own process for selection of the sponsor and the committee, with a focus on developing the student as an independent scholar and scientist.
The student selects a sponsor from among Graduate School faculty and typically conducts all or nearly all of his/her thesis research in the major sponsor's laboratory. The Special Committee, including the major sponsor, meets at least annually with the student to evaluate the student's progress toward the degree.
In year three and thereafter, the WCGS PhD candidate conducts laboratory work focused on his/her approved thesis project.
Typically in the sixth year, the student completes the final examination (the thesis "defense") and has met all requirements for the PhD. The committee approves the student's thesis, the student's defense of the thesis (in the final exam), and ultimately certifies that the student has met all requirements for the degree.