Frequently asked questions

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.

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

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.

Information about courses

If you are a teaching assistant, you must sign up for NS 6170 Teaching Seminar (required for your first semester as a TA) and NS 6180 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 7030 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 one additional semester of NS 7030 - both attendance and presentation.  PhD students must attend four additional semesters of NS 7030, and make three presentations (total 5 attendances and 3 presentations).  Doctoral students have the option of replacing one presentation and one semester of attendance in NS 7030 with the successful completion of NS 7040, the Division of Nutritional Sciences’ grant writing course. 

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

  • NS 6190  Field of Nutrition Seminar
  • NS 6050 Nutritional Biochemistry Colloquium
  • NS 6440 Community Nutrition Seminar
  • NS 6980 International Nutrition Seminar
  • NS 7020 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Minor fields of study

Ph.D. students in the Graduate Field of Nutrition choose two minor fields of study for their degree. Current students have selected minors in over 30 different graduate fields ranging from education to soil science to biophysics.

The most commonly chosen minors are:

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.

The Graduate School requires that Ph.D. 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.

Ph.D. 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.

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

Ph.D. students admitted into the Graduate Field of Nutrition are guaranteed financial support from the Division of Nutritional Sciences (DNS) for 4.5 years (nine academic year semesters and four summers) on the condition that they maintain good academic standing, have a DNS faculty member serve as their Special Committee chair, and meet expectations in conducting their teaching and research responsibilities. The support consists of a twelve-month stipend, full academic year tuition, and coverage for the individual health insurance plan. Financial support may be in the form of teaching assistantships, graduate research assistantship, Cornell and DNS fellowships, external fellowships, traineeships, or other Cornell funding and may vary each semester. All graduate students in the Graduate Field of Nutrition are expected to serve as a teaching assistant for at least one semester. 

The university is committed to an equitable, supportive, and professional environment for graduate education. Assistantships help students develop academic rigor and creativity, independent judgment, intellectual honesty, and the ability to communicate their knowledge, while providing financial support.”

                                                                -Cornell University Graduate Student Assistantships Policy

Teaching assistants (TA) are appointed to support teaching of a course and may assist in teaching a section, leading discussions and/or laboratory sections, and preparing and grading exams, among other responsibilities. Because students funded through assistantships are expected to make progress towards their research degrees, assistantship hours for TA appointments are limited to 15 to 20 hours per week, averaging no more than 15 hours per week. Cornell is committed to helping students have a successful teaching experience and provides many exceptional teaching resources, workshops, and training programs.

When appointed on a graduate research assistantship (GRA), students focus on thesis or other degree-related research of a type that is required from all candidates for the degree. Because a student devotes considerable time to dissertation research, the time spent on research connected with the project is expected to be significant.  GRAs are typically supported by grants obtained by their chair. Fellowships obtained by a student’s chair or by the student also support students in pursuing their graduate studies and research. More information regarding assistantships can be found in Cornell’s Graduate Student Assistantships policy.

Additional Funding Opportunities

Cornell University also provides additional competitive funding opportunities to support graduate students. You can explore Cornell and external fellowships for new and continuing graduate students here. The Graduate Field of Nutrition nominates incoming students for Cornell and Diversity fellowships.

Our students also successfully compete for a variety of Cornell-funded research awards, such as those from the Office of Engagement Initiatives, the Genomics Scholars Program, Atkinson Center, and the Society for the Humanities, to name a few.  Students are also highly successful in receiving national and international research fellowships.

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.

Learn more about services, facilities and shared division equipment on the Graduate Studies homepage

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, is the Administrative Assistant for the Field of Nutrition.

Contact us at
Laura Bellows, Director of Graduate Studies
DoraLee Knuppenburg, Graduate Field Assistant

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.

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.

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 M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, respectively. Research, library and computing facilities are located on campus. Courses are not typically taught by distance learning.

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.

The Field of Nutrition includes about 75 full-time graduate students, most of whom are Ph.D. 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.

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 non-government 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.

Yes! We do have recent faculty hires and will be searching for more in the coming months. Visit our faculty profiles page to learn about our faculty.

Cornell offers several types of housing for singles and domestic groups. Information, rates and floor plans can be found at:  Housing - Graduate School

A good source of information about off-campus housing is: Cornell Off-Campus Housing

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

Cornell University Health Services (Gannett) is located on campus and serves the Cornell student population. Additional information is available at the Gannett website

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.

More info can be found at Cornell's Parking & Transportation

Travel to Ithaca by air, choosing among four regional airports; bus with multiple daily travel options, or car. Take an excursion to or visit research colleagues in New York City on Cornell’s Campus to Campus (C2C) bus when the pandemic allows services to resume. 

Students can ride for free on some days/times, and may purchase an unlimited ride pass for others for the Tompkins Area Consolidated Transit (TCAT) buses.

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.

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

Ithaca is a city located at the tip of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of central New York. Ithaca is known for its abundance of parks, gorges, waterfalls, trails, and other beautiful and functional outdoor spaces and the many recreational and social activities they support. Performance arts, sports, festivals, wine tastings, and family friendly events are just a few of the rich and varied activities that our students enjoy. Dining options abound and Ithaca after hours provides a variety of nighttime entertainment, music, and social gatherings.

Check out the hundreds of attractions and things to do in Ithaca including the farmer’s market, museums, restaurants, galleries, performing arts centers, wineries, festivals, fruit picking, parks, and more!

Check out these websites:

Combined Ph.D. - R.D. Applications - December 10th & January 2nd

Applications must be submitted by December 10th to the Graduate Field of Nutrition at the Graduate School, (see Admissions) and by January 2nd online through DICAS.

  • Dietetic internship application requirements are the same as for applicants to only the DI.
  • The GRE is required.
  • Additional coursework is helpful for molecular nutrition (molecular/cell biology, genetics, etc.) and community nutrition (statistics, social sciences, etc.); significant experience in a developing country is required for international nutrition.
  • Prior research experience is advantageous for all specializations.
  • Admission by both the Internship and Graduate Field of Nutrition Admissions committees and funding (providing a stipend and tuition waiver) are decided by early February before the dietetic internship match.
  • Applicants not selected for the Ph.D./R.D. option may be considered for dietetic internship openings through the match process.

Dietetic internship Prerequisite

To be eligible for the internship, applicants must have completed or be completing (by the start of the internship) an ACEND-accredited DPD program and have received or be receiving (by the start of the internship) at least a Bachelor's degree from a US regionally-accredited college or university. For applicants from foreign institutions, documentation must be provided that their academic degree has been validated as equivalent to the bachelor's or master's degree conferred by a US regionally-accredited college or university. Applicants from foreign institutions should visit the ACEND site for more information including links to independent foreign degree evaluation agencies.

Application Deadline

  • Pre-select - January 2 (midnight) only for Cornell DPD students and Combined PhD/RD applicants.
  • Computer-matching - February 1 (midnight).

Apply online  at DICAS.

Begin your application well in advance of the deadline to ensure that the three references you list submit their recommendations electronically prior to the deadline. Completed applications must include:

  • Three references with email contact.
  • Personal statement of your goals and how our internship facilitates you achieving your goals.
  • DPD verification or declaration of intent statement.
  • Official transcripts from all schools sent to DICAS - Transcript Dept., PO Box 9118, Watertown, MA 02472.
  • $35 non-refundable application fee payable to Cornell University and mailed to our contact address.

Computer-matching applicants will rank internships online with D&D Digital by February 15. Serious candidates should list Cornell as their priority to increase their placement chances. Note that the application due date for the Cornell Dietetic Internship is earlier that the D&D matching due date. Applicants applying through pre-select and offered acceptance do not go through computer matching. If not offered acceptance through pre-select, applicants may be considered for openings through the computer match process.

Selection is based on the following, in order of importance:

  • Telephone interview
  • Quality of references
  • Relevance of paid or volunteer work experience in at least one dietetics practice setting
  • Quality of personal statement and 'fit' of goals with Cornell Dietetic Internship
  • Learning ability as evidenced by academic record (average GPA of 3.65 of 4.0 with range 3.0 (minimum acceptable) to 4.0)

Learn more by visiting our Dietetic Internship page or by contacting the program at