Ph.D. FAQs

Below you will find a list and links to external to BME Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). If you have any additional questions not listed here, contact Graduate Student Services Coordinator Belinda Floyd.

Cornell BME Ph.D. FAQs

How does the COVID-19 pandemic affect my application?

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Recognizing the serious challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic for student learning, faculty teaching, & academic performance assessment, the Graduate School at Cornell University asserts principles for admissions review that consider COVID-19 disruptions.

Does Cornell BME have a qualifying exam?

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No. We only have a thesis proposal (A-exam) and thesis defense (B-exam).

When do students select their PhD faculty advisor?

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Students have the fall semester to select an advisor. We encourage students to take time to explore multiple labs to get to know both the research topic and the work environment. Most students decide on their advisor by mid-October to mid-December. There is no formal matching process. Once both student and advisor agree that they want to work together, the selection process is complete.

What is the ‘Special Committee’?

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The Special Committee advises PhD students on their research, course work, and administers the A- and B-exams. At least three members are included, led by the PhD advisor, and two minor members. Students work with their advisor to select the two minor members of their committee. One will represent the Engineering (not BME) fields and the second minor member will represent the Life Science fields.

When do students have to select their full committees?

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The selection of the full committee has to be completed by the end of the third semester, but students can still change their committee at a later time, including adding and/or replacing committee members.

Can I join the laboratory of a Cornell faculty member who is not in the BME graduate field?

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Your Special Committee Chair must be a BME graduate field member. BME field members are qualified in training and research to advise biomedical engineering graduate degrees. If the faculty member the student would like to work with is not a field member, the individual may be able to apply to become a BME graduate field member. For faculty whose research and background are considered BME-like (e.g., a faculty member in another engineering discipline with applications in BME), this process is relatively straightforward. In this case, the student often joins the laboratory while the BME graduate field application is still in process. If the faculty member is not conducting obvious BME-like research or does not have an appropriate technical background,  e.g. for faculty members working purely in biological or clinical settings, this route may not be available. In this case, the student can work in the faculty member’s laboratory with a BME co-advisor who serves as the Special Committee Chair to fulfill the graduate school requirement.

What classes are required for the Cornell BME PhD?

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Cornell has only a minimum of 3 required courses. These include the Seminar for First-Year Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Students (BME 7010) in the fall of the 1st year; Core Concepts in Disease (BME 7130) in the spring of the 1st year; and the Immersion Experience in Medical Research and Clinical Practice (BME 7160) in the summer of the 1st year. We believe that rather than mandating a large number of required courses, it is better to allow the student, under the guidance of their Special Committee, to select the courses most appropriate for their research and career development. You can find additional information in the Cornell BME Ph.D. Student Handbook.

Can students take courses outside of the department and across Cornell?

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Yes, students can take any of the courses offered at Cornell, including courses to complete the Entrepreneurship Minor for Engineering Ph.D. Students or the Stem Cell Minor for PhD students as part of the Cornell University Stem Cell Project.

How many semesters of TAing does the department require?

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One semester of teaching experience is required.

What is the average time to completion for the PhD program?

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The average time to completion for the PhD in BME is 5.4 years. Our completion rate is >90%.

Is it necessary to have a car/personal vehicle to get around campus and Ithaca?

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It is not necessary, as many apartments are in walking/biking distance, and Cornell/Ithaca offers an excellent bus system to and from campus. In addition, ride-share systems are available. Nonetheless, a car may be recommended for students who live further outside (e.g., in Dryden or Lansing), as bus services may be more limited there. Note that while on-campus parking permits are expensive, most on-campus parking lots are open (free of charge) after 5pm on weekdays, and all-day on weekends.

Can students select a PhD advisor outside of the BME department?

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Yes, students are able to select an advisor outside the department as long as the faculty member is a BME graduate field faculty. That’s the beauty of the Cornell graduate field system. You have over 60 faculty to choose from! Please note that it is much easier for faculty to join additional graduate fields than for students to switch graduate fields. Almost every year we have some students select an advisor who is not yet part of the BME graduate field, and the advisor then joins the BME graduate field. Thus, if you are interested in a particular lab that is not (yet) part of the BME graduate field, please let us know.

What is the process for selecting a PhD advisor based in New York City?

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Students interested in working with a BME graduate field member at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City (NYC) may consider spending time in New York over the summer prior to their start in Ithaca to rotate in one or more of the labs there, without making any firm commitment to a specific lab. Students who decide to join a lab in NYC will spend the first 9 months of their PhD in Ithaca, then move to New York for the Immersion term in June and stay in NYC afterwards.

Are students able to complete an internship while pursuing their PhD?

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The BME graduate field strongly supports the desire of students to pursue internships during their PhD. We have had several students who have recently completed internships, with the internship leading to job opportunities and other positive outcomes. We encourage students to discuss their interest in internships with their PhD advisor to determine feasibility and timing of any internship.

How many new PhD students enter the program each year?

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On average, 15-20 students enter the PhD each year. This number is expected to increase as the BME department is continuing to grow.

Frequently Asked Questions - Cornell Graduate School

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