Program Details

Computational Biology (CB) at Cornell is an interdisciplinary program that links the computational and mathematical sciences with the life sciences.

Quantitative prediction and interpretation are becoming increasingly essential components of biology and other fields. Complex patterns, structures and interactions raise fundamental and fascinating questions that can only be addressed using formal mathematical, statistical, and computational methods. The wealth of data being acquired to address these questions requires new and substantive quantitative approaches to make possible appropriate analysis and interpretation. The unprecedented level of computational power now available to researchers provides the means for increasingly sophisticated analyses of highly complex systems arising in the biological sciences.

Many biologists are faced with the task of analyzing and modeling data collected in the lab, in the field, or in silico that requires sophisticated mathematical and computational analysis. Traditional statistical methods are limited in their scope and are proving inadequate for the complex models and massive data sets that are now becoming commonplace. The solutions to these large-scale problems often lie at the interface of mathematics, computer science and statistics and a new type of scientist and academic who can work and communicate across the inter-disciplinary barriers is needed.

The Computational Biology faculty come from 16 departments in a spectrum of endowed and contract colleges, including the Weill Cornell Medical College. As might be expected, these faculty also represent the related fields such as Computer Science, Biophysics, Applied Mathematics, Genetics, Genomics, and Development, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Biometry.

PhD Program in Computational Biology Timeline


  • Dec 1: Student Application deadline
  • Early-Jan: Interview invitations sent
  • ~February: Selected applicants are interviewed during Open House
  • ~March: Acceptance notifications sent
  • April 15: Students accept offers of admission 


  • April-August: Student follows Graduate School "to do" guidelines
  • April-July: Student begin reaching out to faculty to setup your first semester lab rotations

First semester; Year 01

  • Aug 21-Jan 6Fall semester/Lab Rotation(s)Student
  • Mid-AugCourse enrollmentStudent
  • Mid-AugCB OrientationStudent
  • Early-SeptSubmit DGS as temporary Special Committee chair (by 3rd week of classesStudent
  • ~NovPre-enrollment for spring coursesStudent

Policies & Requirements

The Code of Legislation sets forth the rules governing graduate education as established by the graduate faculty of Cornell University.

All graduate students in the Field of CB are required to participate in teaching. The minimum requirement is for each student to be a teaching assistant (TA) for one semester. Many CB students prefer to do two rather than only one semester of TAing, either because they would like more teaching experience or because student costs are then paid by the department who offers the TA position. Most students will TA for a BTRY course, but TA positions from other departments will equally fulfill the TA requirement of CB.

The University requires international students to have an interview by the International TA Development Program (ITADP) to assess competency in English prior to TA’ing. (Only students who receive a 28 or above on the Speaking portion of the TOEFL are exempt from assessment.).  In some cases, students from non-English speaking countries are required to take an additional course, given by the ITADP, during their second year to improve teaching skills. Occasionally, students may also be required by the ITADP to take an English-as-second language course.

Teaching offers an opportunity both to extend one's knowledge and to develop communication skills. The teaching performance of each student will be evaluated by the instructor in charge of the course and copies of that evaluation will be sent to the student, the DGS, and the student's research supervisor. In addition, students are urged to provide a written critique of their teaching experience, and of the course in which they served, written with the intention of helping to improve the course.

The integrity of research conducted at Cornell University is of the utmost importance to the institution as well as to our research sponsors. Cornell is committed to promoting and supporting the ethical and responsible conduct of research across all disciplines so that our researchers are provided an environment in which they may continue to conduct preeminent research, maintain the public's trust in the excellence of our research, and prepare current and future generations to similarly contribute to research discoveries that will address and advance national and global needs. As a result, all students are required to take the on-line RCR training in their first year of studies.

All students are required to take this or a comparable course in scientific ethics, e.g., BIOMG 7510 Ethical Issues and Professional Responsibilities. BioMG7510 is offered in the Fall semester.  The opportunity to discuss these issues openly will be an important and valuable part of your graduate training.

Required Exams

A Exam

To qualify as a Ph.D. candidate, each graduate student must pass an “Admission to Candidacy” exam (or A-exam) before the start of the seventh semester. This oral exam may include a written component, as determined by your Special Committee. The purpose of the exam is to test the student’s level of knowledge and ability to design research strategies and to be sure you are ready to proceed into the dissertation phase of your degree program.

B Exam

The B exam is an oral defense of your dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum registration unit requirements. At least two registration units must be earned between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

Special Committee

You are required to select your Special Committee chair within three weeks of registering with the Grad School. Because you will be doing lab rotations for your first year you will select your field's Director of Graduate Studies as your temporary committee chair. You are required to have a full committee by the end of your third semester. This will consist, at the minimum, a dissertation research chair (major subject) and two minor members (each representing one of your minor subjects).

Any faculty member of any graduate field may serve as minor member. Your Special Committee chair must be from the Graduate Field of Computational Biology. This online process takes place in the Advisor section of your Student Center and will require approval of all your committee members, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA).

Note that you cannot major and minor in the same subject. Please visit the listing of subjects/concentrations.

Recommendations for Course Offerings

No/limited exposure to probability statistics 

  • BTRY 3080: Probability Models and Inference - Fall/Spring
  • BTRY 4090: Theory of Statistics - Spring
  • BTRY 6830: Quantitative Genomics and Genetics - Spring
  • MATH 4130: Honors Intro Analysis I - Fall/Spring

No/limited programming experience     

  • CS 1110: Introduction to Computing Using Python - Fall/Spring
  • CS 1112: Introduction to Computing Using MATLAB - Fall/Spring
  • CS 1132: Short Course in MATLAB - Fall/Spring
  • CS 1133: Short Course in Python - Fall/Spring
  • CS 2024: C ++ Programming - Fall

No/limited exposure to machine learning/data mining     

  • CS 4780: Machine Learning for Intelligent Systems - Fall
  • STSCI 4740: Data Mining & Machine Learning - Fall

If interested in research involving modeling with differential equations

(assuming you have been exposed to calculus)     

  • MATH 3230: Introduction to Differential Equations - Fall
  • MATH 4200: Differential Equations and Dynamical Systems - Fall

Introductory Classes

(if you are interested & have no previous exposure)  

  • BTRY 4381/6381: Biomedical Data Mining and Modeling - Fall
  • BIOMG 4000: Genomics - Fall
  • BIOMG 4810: Population Genetics - Fall
  • BIOMG 4870: Human Genomics - Fall
  • MATH 2210/4310: Linear Algebra - Fall/Spring
  • MATH 2220: Multivariable Calculus - Fall/Spring
  • MATH 2310: Linear Algebra with Applications - Fall/Spring

Advanced classes

(if you are interested & have previous exposure)     

  • PLBRG 7170: Quantitative Genetics in Plant Breeding - Fall
  • PLBIO 4000/6000: Concepts and Techniques in Computational Biology - Spring
  • CS 2110: Object-Oriented Programming and Data Structures - Fall/Spring
  • BTRY 4030: Linear Models w/ Matrices - Fall
  • BTRY 4840/6840: Computational Genetics & Genomics - Fall
  • BTRY 4820/6820: Statistical Genomics: Coalescent Theory & Human Population Genomics - Spring
  • MATH 3110: Introduction to Analysis  - Fall/Spring
  • MATH 4710: Basic Probability - Fall
  • CS 4210: Numerical Analysis and Differential Equations - Fall
  • CS 5320: Introduction to Database Systems - Fall
  • ORIE 6500: Applied Stochastic Processes - Fall
  • ORIE/STSCI 7170: Theory of Linear Models - Fall