Nutritional Sciences Graduate Program: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is the Graduate Field of Nutrition the same as the Division of Nutritional Sciences?

  2. What is a Special Committee?

  3. What coursework is required for my degree?

  4. How and when do I enroll for classes?

  5. How many credits do I need to complete per semester? What is a typical credit hour load?

  6. How do I select my major professor/advisor/research mentor?

  7. How do I select my special committee? My minor members? My field-appointed member?

  8. What are the most common minor areas of study chosen by students in nutrition?

  9. How long should I expect it to take to complete the Ph.D. degree?

  10. What are the A exam and B exam? When do they need to be taken?

  11. How will I be funded during my graduate studies?

  12. Will I have financial aid for the duration of my studies?

  13. What on-campus office and computing facilities will be available to me as a graduate student?

  14. Who is the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the Field of Nutrition?

  15. What do graduate students do during the summer period?

  16. Can I take summers off during my graduate studies?

  17. Can I study for my graduate degree via distance learning?

  18. Can I work full-time while I study for my graduate degree?

  19. What is the make-up of the graduate student population in the Field of Nutrition?

  20. What do most Nutrition graduates do after getting their degree?

  21. Have new faculty members been recruited recently?

  22. Where do most graduate students live?

  23. What about health insurance? Health care?

  24. Is owning a car necessary or practical?

  25. What forms of public transportation are available in Ithaca?

  26. What social activities exist for graduate students?

  27. What recreational, cultural, shopping opportunities exist in Ithaca?

1. Is the Graduate Field of Nutrition the same as the Division of Nutritional Sciences?

At Cornell, the Graduate School is made up of a number of Fields, each of which may include faculty from various departmental units. In contrast, undergraduate study is organized within traditional departments (for example, the Division of Nutritional Sciences). Most funding comes through the traditional departmental structure.

The Graduate Field of Nutrition is made up of faculty members who have been elected to this Graduate Field. Most of them are faculty within the Division of Nutritional Sciences but faculty from other units, such as Animal Sciences and Molecular Medicine, are also members.

Also, individual faculty within the Division of Nutritional Sciences belong to other graduate fields, including Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Epidemiology, Statistics, Psychology, Neurobiology, Anthropology, Economics, and Sociology. Graduate students from these fields who work with these faculty members in the Division of Nutritional Sciences are housed in the Division of Nutritional Sciences buildings (Savage/Kinzelberg Hall and MVR Hall) and may be your laboratory or office mates.

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2. What is a Special Committee?

Each graduate student in the Ph.D. Program is required to form a Special Committee. This committee is responsible for guiding your study and thesis work. The committee determines requirements, whether you are making satisfactory progress, and when you have completed your degree work. The Special Committee includes your (1) Major Professor or Chair; (2) 1 (MS) or 2 (PhD) minor members representing your minor subjects; and (3) a Field-appointed member representing the Field of Nutrition.

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3. What coursework is required for my degree?

The Graduate Field of Nutrition has few coursework requirements for students in the Ph.D. Program. Our students choose from a wide variety of courses offered by the Division of Nutritional Sciences Faculty and other units on campus. Coursework requirements are negotiated between you and your Special Committee. You will be required to complete coursework in your major and minor concentrations.

You can find information about courses at http://courses.cornell.edu/.

If you are a teaching assistant, you must sign up for NS 617 Teaching Seminar (required for your first semester as a TA) and NS 618 Teaching Experience (each semester you are a TA - check with faculty supervisor about number of credits)

All incoming graduate students are required to take NS 703 Seminar in Nutritional Sciences (attendance only, you do not present a seminar your first term). In addition to this first semester, MS students must complete two additional semesters of NS 703 - both attendance and presentation; MS/PhD or PhD students must complete four additional semesters of NS 703 - both attendance and presentation. Students are encouraged to meet the final presentation requirement by presenting a research seminar for the Field of Nutrition seminar series instead of an NS703 class seminar.

There are several seminar series which may simply be attended or for which you may enroll:

  • NS 619 Field of Nutrition Seminar

  • NS 605 Nutritional Biochemistry Colloquium

  • NS 644 Community Nutrition Seminar

  • NS 698 International Nutrition Seminar

  • NS 702 Seminar in Nutritional Toxicology

You may sign up for thesis research credits any semester. Number of credits is variable.

  • NS 8990 Masters Thesis

  • NS 9990 PhD Thesis

It may be important for you to take certain courses this semester, so talk with your temporary advisor, as well as other faculty and graduate students, about your schedule.

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4. How and when do I enroll for classes?

Ph.D. students are initially assigned a Temporary Advisor or Chair who helps them choose courses for their first semester. The temporary chair is a TEMPORARY assignment - until students choose the Chairperson of their Special Committee.

During the first few weeks of the semester, you may attend classes without having registered for them - unless permission of the instructor is required or space is limited (e.g., laboratory courses).

Enrolling for your classes is done electronically during announced pre-enrollment and beginning-of-term enrollment periods. You can also make grade option or credit number changes during this time. After the add deadline, you can no longer add or change grade options but you may drop a course up until the later drop deadline. Go to Student Center at http://studentcenter.cornell.edu.

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5. How many credits do I need to complete per semester? What is a typical credit hour load?

Neither the Graduate School nor the Field of Nutrition has a registration credit requirement for Ph.D. students. International students on student visas also have no registration credit requirement. (The 12-credit requirement for full-time status only applies to undergraduates.) If you enroll for 12 credits and then drop a class, you are still okay (as long as this is okay with your chair/committee). Your status is assessed solely by your committee; your chair person is asked to report how many registration units you have earned after the end of each semester. Generally, students are given 1.0 registration unit per semester, which indicates satisfactory progress toward your graduate degree.

Typical enrollment is 12-15 credits including seminars and research. We usually encourage students to use thesis research credits to bring the total number of credits up to ~15 - once you have chosen your chair.

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6. How do I select my major professor/advisor/research mentor?

Choosing your research mentor or Chair is an important step for a Ph.D. student. It should be done within your first semester or two, but this is an important choice that should be made very carefully. We encourage you to consider doing rotations in several laboratories or programs, visit several research groups at their weekly meetings, talk with several faculty and current graduate students, and spend some time in individual research group environments before you make up your mind. Some students come to Cornell because they desire to work with a particular group and these students may want to get involved quickly with that group. Remember, you can always make a change - and the sooner the better - if you have doubts that your first choice wasn't a great one for you personally.

[Cautions: Funding may be tied to a specific program (i.e., GRA on a professor's grant) or funding may not be committed for sufficient additional years if a change is made after the first year. If your funds come from DNS, you must work with a Field of Nutrition faculty member in DNS in order to continue to receive these funds. If you wish to work with a Field of Nutrition faculty member whose primary appointment is not in DNS, you must discuss funding possibilities with them.]

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7. How do I select my special committee? My minor members? My field-appointed member?

Once a Ph.D. student has chosen the major professor and research area, you will choose your minor subjects and additional committee members in conjunction with advice from your major professor. The Field of Nutrition encourages all students to have their complete committees chosen by the end of their second semester. The Graduate School requires that your full permanent Committee be established by the end of your third semester of study. You can make changes to your committee after it is established; it is important to establish your committee early because it is your Special Committee who guides your graduate work and makes decisions about its acceptability.

You will need to see the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) when you have most of your committee selected to talk about the appointment of someone to serve as your field-appointed member to represent the Field of Nutrition. This faculty member should be someone who can take a broad view of the discipline of nutrition - not someone who has interests very close to those of other members of your committee. Typically, students come up with two or three faculty in the Field of Nutrition who are mutually acceptable to the student and the DGS, and then the DGS then appoints one of them to serve in this capacity.

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8. What are the most common minor areas of study chosen by students in nutrition?

Current Ph.D. students have minors in over 30 different areas of study ranging from education to soil science to biophysics. The most commonly chosen minors are Epidemiology, Genetics & Development, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Human Development, Pharmacology, Communications, Education, Food Science, Sociology, Economics, and Biostatistics.

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9. How long should I expect it to take to complete the Ph.D. degree?

The Graduate School requires six full-time semesters for the Ph.D. program. Each satisfactory full-time semester of study yields one registration unit. Based on students who have recently finished our program, the minimum time to obtain a Ph.D. degree is 4 years. Most students require 5 or 6 years to complete their PhD work. The length of time to degree completion is usually the same for students choosing the Ph.D. route unless they change research areas.

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10. What are the A exam and B exam? When do they need to be taken?

The Graduate School requires that PhD candidates take the A or qualifying exam by the end of their 6th semester of study. (You must petition if you wish to postpone it to a later semester.) This exam is a subject matter exam and may include presentation of a proposal for the student's thesis research. The A exam is an oral exam, but the committee may request a thesis proposal or written responses to questions as well. It is normally taken near the time you are completing all required coursework and prior to engagement in any extended field research. You should discuss the nature of the A exam with your Special Committee members.

PhD students take the B exam or oral thesis defense at the end of their graduate study prior to turning in their thesis. Separate forms must be signed by the Special Committee for approval of the thesis and for passing the B exam.

MS students have one oral examination at the end of their period of study. This includes both the thesis defense and general subject matter exam.

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11. How will I be funded during my graduate studies?

Graduate students in the Ph.D. program are mainly funded by teaching assistantships, graduate research assistantships, fellowships, and training grants. With a few exceptions, we only accept Ph.D. students to whom we commit funding. Three years of funding from the Division of Nutritional Sciences is committed to incoming Ph.D. students who work with faculty in the Division of Nutritional Sciences. We encourage faculty to seek grant support for GRAs for their Ph.D. students who are beyond their 3rd year of study. We also encourage Ph.D. students to seek their own external funds. The Director of Graduate Studies and your faculty advisor can help you identify potential sources of funding. As long as Ph.D. students are making satisfactory progress and completing their degree work within a reasonable time period, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure funding until successful completion of their degrees.

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12. Will I have financial aid for the duration of my studies?

As long as Ph.D. students are making satisfactory progress and completing their degree work within a reasonable time period, we are committed to doing everything we can to ensure funding until successful completion of their Ph.D. degree. The Division also expects faculty mentors and individual students to make reasonable efforts to apply for any appropriate sources of external funding.

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13. What on-campus office and computing facilities will be available to me as a graduate student?

All Ph.D. students in the Field of Nutrition are assigned office space in the same building as their faculty research advisors. Typically Ph.D. graduate students share an office with 3 other graduate students, but each student has a desk and some storage space. Work or laboratory space is provided to all research groups and, of course, computing stations are available in workspaces. The Division of Nutritional Sciences has a computer facility in Savage Hall for use by graduate students; this facility has a number of work stations, all kinds of software, and high quality printers. Access to the computing facility is via ID card. A graduate student lounge/reading room is also available in Savage Hall; this lounge has a computer which is convenient for checking email.

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14. Who is the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the Field of Nutrition?

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the Field of Nutrition is elected by faculty who are members of the Field of Nutrition. The DGS is normally elected for a 3-year term. DoraLee Knuppenburg, B19 Savage Hall, is the Administrative Assistant for the Field of Nutrition.

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15. What do graduate students do during the summer period?

Ph.D. students typically work full-time on their research during the summer period. Many Ph.D. students are on-campus but others are involved in field-based research during the summer. Most Ph.D. students receive a summer stipend. There is no tuition charge for the summer for Ph.D. students.

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16. Can I take summers off during my graduate studies?

Summers are an important time for working on your Ph.D. dissertation research. Students occasionally choose to spend a summer receiving some special training or doing an internship. Most off-campus housing in Ithaca is available only with a 12-month lease.

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17. Can I study for my graduate degree via distance learning?

Like most research-based graduate programs, interaction with faculty and other students is a critical part of our program. The Graduate School requires 2 and 6 semesters of full-time study on campus for the MS and PhD degrees, respectively. Research, library and computing facilities are located on campus. Courses are not taught by distance learning.

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18. Can I work full-time while I study for my graduate degree?

Cornell offers an employee-degree program that allows Cornell employees to work and study at the same time. A minimum number of semesters of full-time study and/or reduced work hours is required.

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19. What is the make-up of the graduate student population in the Field of Nutrition?

The Field of Nutrition includes about 75 full-time graduate students, most of whom are PhD students. The make-up of our student body is very diverse. About 2/3 of our students are female; 1/3 male. International students make up nearly half of our graduate student population. Of our U.S. students, about 25% come from minority groups or under-represented ethnic groups.

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20. What do most Nutrition graduates do after getting their Ph.D. degree?

Our Ph.D. program graduates pursue a variety of career paths after graduation. Many students choose to obtain further education and experience via post-doctoral research positions or internships. Some graduates move directly into faculty positions at the assistant professor level. In addition to academic positions, many students take staff positions at private research institutes, consulting firms, or food and drug companies. Other students choose to work for international agencies (such as UNICEF or WHO) or work for nongovernment organizations. A number of students go on to work for government agencies such as NIH or FDA. Several of our graduates have accepted Epidemiology Intelligence Service fellowships and gone on to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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21. Have new faculty members been recruited recently?

Our most recent hires have been in the areas of nutritional disparities, epigenetics, and international food economics. We are currently interviewing for a position in global health and nutrition.

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22. Where do most graduate students live?

Cornell offers several types of housing for singles and domestic groups. Information, rates and floor plans can be found at:  http://www.campuslife.cornell.edu/campuslife/housing/gradhousing.cfm

A good source of information about off-campus housing is: http://www.dos.cornell.edu/ocho/

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23. What about health insurance? Health care?

Full health insurance (individual) is provided as part of all funding packages for Ph.D. students. Students may purchase family coverage for an additional fee. Information about graduate student health insurance is available at: www.studentinsurance.cornell.edu

Cornell University Health Services (Gannett) is located on campus and serves the Cornell student population. Additional information is available at their website: www.gannett.cornell.edu

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24. Is owning a car necessary or practical?

If you live near campus, you can easily manage without a car. Nevertheless, many students do have cars. Parking is usually available, but there may be an additional fee for parking at campus and some close-to-campus housing locations. Nevertheless, parking fees are small compared to what they are in any large city.

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25. What forms of public transportation are available in Ithaca?

TCAT buses provide transportation to Ithaca and surrounding areas to and from campus. Schedules can be found at: http://tcat.nextinsight.com/allroutes.php Many students use this bus service.

See http://www.cornell.edu/about/ithaca.cfm for information about travel to Ithaca by bus or plane or to Syracuse by train.

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26. What social activities exist for graduate students?

The Big Red Barn is operated by the Graduate and Professional Student Center as a location of many social activities for Cornell graduate and professional students. Their website is: http://gradschool.cornell.edu/life-cornell/big-red-barn.

The Nutrition Graduate Students have their own Organization (NGSO), which sponsors a variety of events and service projects.

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27. What recreational, cultural, shopping opportunities exist in Ithaca?

For a small city, Ithaca offers a tremendous variety of restaurants and cultural events. Many of these are held on the Cornell or Ithaca College campuses. Ithaca is located in the scenic Fingerlakes Region of upstate New York -- a place to explore the lakes, vineyards and wineries, and many beautiful state parks with beautiful waterfalls, gorges, swimming, and hiking trails. Many shopping facilities are available including the Shops at Ithaca Mall, a number of smaller malls or shopping complexes, large chain stores, and many unique boutique stores on the downtown Ithaca Commons. Check out these websites:

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