Guidelines for Visiting Scholars, Visiting Fellows, Research Interns and Non-degree Graduate Students

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)


Mutual benefits may accrue when scientists from other countries with advanced degrees are able to visit Cornell/CALS to collaborate with faculty and students. 

  • Those who are clearly not students elsewhere and are paid a Cornell salary* may be appropriately appointed as visiting scholars.
  • Those who are clearly not students elsewhere and are not paid a Cornell salary may be appropriately appointed as visiting fellows.
  • Those who are students elsewhere may be appropriately appointed as research interns, non-degree graduate students, or in exceptional cases, visiting scholars/fellows. 

Please see the categories and criteria below. If a unit has questions regarding which circumstance applies, the unit chair or director should consult with HR or, if appropriate, their senior associate dean (SrAD). 

The initial request to approve appointments of visiting scholars, visiting fellows, research interns, or non-degree graduate students should be sent from the faculty member to their chair/director. The chair/director has the authority to review and work with HR (or the graduate school for non-degree graduate students) regarding appointment protocols, including the selection of an appropriate title. When considering requests for visitor appointments, the chair/director should consider the capacity of the unit, including the physical and staff resource implications, the availability of specific faculty members to mentor or supervise the visitors and the impacts of such appointments on opportunities for regular Cornell staff and degree students. 

Visiting scholars, visiting fellows, research interns and non-degree graduate students are required to have health insurance coverage while at Cornell.

Invitation Letters

Requests are often received for an invitation letter (sometimes called a 'support' or 'acceptance' letter) to be sent with fellowship applications when individuals are trying to obtain funding for a Cornell visit. These letters are sent by the departments/units and do not require SrAD or HR approval. Invitation letters should include the following statement: "Your formal appointment is contingent on approval of the Dean, external funding, visa eligibility, and a successful visual compliance screening to be performed by the Cornell CALS human resources office." Please use the template provided below.

Invitation Letter Template

These letters are signed by the sponsoring faculty member and copied to the unit head's office.

Visiting Scholars and Visiting Fellows

A visiting scholar at CALS draws a Cornell salary; a visiting fellow at CALS draws no Cornell salary*. These titles allow visitors to be affiliated with and to participate in a Cornell research program. According to the Cornell Faculty Handbook, these titles ordinarily hold advanced degrees and are well established in their disciplines. Visiting scholars/fellows are not permitted to enroll in classes or to receive course credit. All visiting scholars and visiting fellows are subject to the Visiting Scholar and Fellow Fee Policy,

The unit works with HR to establish the appointment. A proposed visitor who holds an advanced degree (i.e., Ph.D. or terminal master’s degree), is not a graduate student elsewhere and will not draw a Cornell salary should be appointed as visiting fellow; if the credentials are the same but Cornell salary is required, the visiting scholar title should be used. Units work directly with HR to process these appointments; the SrAD office is not involved.

Sometimes units want to offer visiting academic titles to individuals who are currently enrolled in degree programs. Cornell graduate students cannot be appointed to any visiting academic title unless all degree requirements have been met. An international student already in the United States on a student visa sponsored by another university cannot be appointed as a visiting scholar/fellow at Cornell unless all degree requirements have been completed and the visa has been extended for “practical training.” Generally, the appropriate title for a student in an external graduate program is research intern (see next section). However, the university policy empowers the college to authorize the appointment of an exceptional external graduate student to the visiting scholar/fellow titles. To do so, the faculty member should consult with their chair/director. If the chair/director endorses the exception, they can request permission from the SrAD to move forward with an appointment. The chair/director’s request must:

  • include the individual’s CV;
  • make a strong case that the student will contribute to, rather than take from, the unit’s academic program, i.e., has expertise that will directly benefit the lab, per the university policy; and
  • demonstrate that the proposed visitor has passed the equivalent of an A-exam, has completed at least two years post-baccalaureate study, or holds a master’s degree.

Visiting academics who have already earned their terminal degrees and are not currently pursuing an external degree may be appointed for up to three, one-year terms.

An external student who is appointed as a visiting scholar/fellow in CALS may be appointed for up to two, one-year terms. The initial appointment requires SrAD approval; at the end of the first year the chair/director may request reappointment approval from the SrAD not to exceed another twelve continuous months. Unlike visitors with full credentials, students may not hold a visiting academic appointment longer than 2 years, because their primary responsibility is to their external degree program.

The International Students and Scholars Office may sponsor visiting scholars/fellows for a J-1 research scholar visa. Please see the ISSO website for requirements.

Research Interns

The appropriate title for a student in an external graduate program is research intern.Per university policy, “internship programs are designed to allow qualified individuals to explore potential career interests, conduct research and learn through activities that “call upon and enhance their studies and/or relevant experiences.” The research intern position can be paid or unpaid and must meet the following criteria.

  • The individual benefits from the learning/experience gained through the internship.
  • The individual does not displace regular employees, but works under the close observation of a regular employee.
  • The individual is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
  • If unpaid, the employer and the individual understand that the individual is not entitled to wages for the time spent as an intern.

Units should work directly with CALS HR to appoint research interns; the SrAD office is not involved with appointments to this title. Research interns do not pay a visitor fee. To appoint a research intern, the following documentation must be submitted to the HR generalist assigned to the unit:

CALS-HR will work with ISSO as appropriate.  The International Students and Scholars Office may sponsor research interns for a J-1 research scholar visa if the above criteria are met.

Research interns may be appointed for a maximum of one year with no extensions possible.  Research interns have the same Cornell ID card and library privileges as visiting fellow/scholars and graduate students.

Non-degree Graduate Students

Non-degree graduate students are currently enrolled in a graduate program at another institution and wish to come to Cornell to pursue opportunities in a faculty member’s program. These external students have no intention of obtaining a Cornell degree. CALS HR is not involved in these appointments; they are done through the graduate school. According to the Cornell University Graduate School policy, non-degree status is limited to one year (two semesters). Prospective visiting non-degree graduate students must complete a Cornell Graduate School Non-degree Application form which the unit’s graduate field assistant will be able to provide, and must meet TOEFL requirements. International non-degree graduate students must demonstrate to the graduate school that they have sufficient funds to cover living expenses for themselves and any dependents for the duration of their stay, and may receive an F1 visa through the graduate school. If full tuition will be paid by or for the non-degree graduate student, the appointment may be handled by the unit without SrAD involvement.

Faculty who wish to sponsor a non-degree graduate student may request tuition support from CALS through their chair/director who will discuss the request with the SrAD. CALS will not permit students who receive such support to enroll in classes or to receive course credit. The request for tuition support should confirm that the non-degree graduate student will be automatically enrolled in SHIP and specify: the duration of the visit (maximum one year), the hosting professor, and, if the tuition support is being requested for two semesters, the appropriate account number to cover the administrative charge for the second semester (the administrative charge for the first semester is covered by CALS). 

Links to university policies related to these titles:


*established practice in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Updated 11/30/2017