Ph.D. Requirements

Application requirements:

The application deadline for the BME Ph.D. program (fall semester) is January 2nd. Please note that all materials should be received by this date to receive full consideration.

For an application fee waiver, please send an email to Belinda Whisman, for more information.

The application process is entirely online via the Cornell University Graduate School.

Student background and qualification: Most students entering the Graduate Field of Biomedical Engineering have had formal training in a recognized discipline of engineering. Students with a science degree that includes appropriate mathematics and physics are also eligible.

Degree requirements:

To promote an individualized program optimized for each student’s needs and interest, the specific requirements for the Ph.D. degree are minimal. The fundamental requirement is to form a thesis committee of at least three Cornell faculty members. The chair of the committee is your thesis advisor. The two required additional members represent your minor programs, one in engineering and one in life science. The content of your program is determined jointly with your committee, with a small number of required core courses complemented by graduate level classes in chosen areas of specialization.

To earn the BME Ph.D. degree, a student must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Pass the comprehensive Admission to Candidacy examination ("A Exam") with the Special Committee before the beginning of the seventh semester of study
  • Successfully complete the course work required by his/her Special Committee and the BME Ph.D. program
  • Conduct original research that will have lasting value, and write a dissertation recording that work
  • Pass the final examination ("B exam") defending the dissertation with the Special Committee
  • Have a minimum of six academic terms of full-time study

A student is recommended for the Ph.D. degree when his/her Special Committee members agree that the appropriate level of scholarly achievement has been reached and that the Graduate School's requirements for assessment have been satisfied. 

Special Committee

Each student's progress towards the Ph.D. degree is supervised by a Special Committee composed of Cornell graduate field faculty members chosen by the student. The supervision of a student's Ph.D. program by the Special Committee allows for individualized programs tailored to each student's specific interests that can seamlessly merge traditional disciplines. 

For Ph.D. degree candidates, the Special Committee is composed of at least three faculty members: The PhD thesis advisor and two members who represent the two minors selected by the student. The Ph.D. thesis advisor, who must be a BME graduate field member, serves as the chair of the Special Committee. 

Ph.D. students select one minor in the life sciences (i.e., biology, biophysics, biomedical science, etc.) and one minor in a traditional engineering discipline (outside BME), often the area of undergraduate specialization. Study in the engineering minor is expected to be equivalent to the core course sequence of Ph.D. students majoring in that field. This combination provides breadth in general approach and depth in at least one specific engineering discipline.


The goals of the coursework are to provide students with both breadth across a wide range of BME and depth in a particular specialization within BME. The extent of required coursework depends on each student's previous preparation and goals.

The first-year core curriculum includes BME 7010 Seminar for First-Year Biomedical Engineering PhD Students in the fall, BME 7130 Core Concepts in Disease in the spring, and BME 7160 Immersion Experience in Medical Research and Clinical Practice in the summer. Students further participate in the departmental seminar (BME 7900 Biomedical Engineering Graduate Colloquium) and present their ongoing research as part of a work-in-progress seminar (BME 7020 Biomedical Engineering Research Seminar).

All students in the BME Ph.D. program must complete the following courses:

BME 7010: Seminar for First-Year Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Students (Fall of 1st year). This course provides an introduction to the Cornell BME Ph.D. program, resources and opportunities available at Cornell, and help and guidance in preparing fellowship application. 

BME 7020: Biomedical Engineering Research Seminar (total of 6 semesters). These seminar features work-in-progress presentations by current BME Ph.D. students. The goal of the BME 7020 seminar is to provide students with an opportunity to present their research to a broad audience, to collect feedback from faculty and their peers, and to stimulate intra-departmental collaborations and interactions in the BME field and beyond.

BME 7130: Core Concepts in Disease (Spring of 1st year). This course exposes students to fundamental disease processes, including infection, inflammation, neoplasia, genetic mutation, protein misfolding, and metabolic dysregulation, to identify common pathways and mechanisms in pathobiologies. This course also provides disease background prior to the Immersion experience. 

BME 7160: Immersion Experience in Medical Research and Clinical Practice (Summer of 1st year). The clinical immersion term provides first-year Ph.D. students with the opportunity to experience actual clinical practice in a hospital setting and to participate in clinical research. 

BME 7900: Biomedical Engineering Graduate Colloquium (total of 6 semesters). This weekly colloquium features talks by invited seminar speakers to provide exposure to a broad range of research topics. 

Course selection beyond the required courses is up to each student in consultation with the Special Committee. The Special Committee is responsible for approving classes chosen by the student to fulfill the minor requirements. Students are encouraged to select additional courses of interest.