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Overview

Students can be admitted either into the M.S. program or into the Ph.D. program. The focus of these programs is on scholarly research. With top-ranked and diverse faculty, in one of the highest-ranked Biological and Environmental Engineering (BEE) departments in the country, we use basic biological and environmental science to generate solutions to societal problems involving air, water, food, energy and public health. Our goal is to enable our students to drive innovation as our discipline continues to be transformed by our changing world.

To give students the flexibility they need to participate in problem solving across traditional boundaries the fixed degree requirements for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in BEE are minimal. There is no fixed curriculum. The student and the members of their Special Committee design a program of study that best suits their background, needs and interests. Cornell is unique in the structure of its graduate fields so as to enable students to participate in and contribute to interdisciplinary research across the university.

BEE offers full financial support for their M.S. and PhD students, including tuition, stipend, and health insurance to all students accepted into the program. Support may be through Research Assistantships or Teaching Assistantships. Applications are sometimes declined from otherwise very qualified students because the student’s interests are not a good match for our research programs. We encourage perspective students to visit our faculty websites and to contact perspective faculty members for more information. Contact the director of graduate studies, pgh25 [at] cornell.edu (Peter Hess) for general information. Prospective students are encouraged to apply for full or partial funding from appropriate funding agencies (NSF GRFP, DoD NDSEG, DOE SCGF and others).

Program Objectives

A candidate for a research master's (M.S.) or doctoral degree (Ph.D.) is expected to:

  • Demonstrate mastery of knowledge in their chosen program of study and to make a contribution to the scholarship of the field (M.S.) or synthesize and create new knowledge, making an original and substantial contribution to the discipline (Ph.D.).
  • Demonstrate advanced research skills by synthesizing existing knowledge; identifying and accessing all sources of relevant information; applying and modifying existing research methodologies, techniques, and technical skills; and critically analyzing and evaluating one's own findings and those of others.
  • Demonstrate effective oral, written, and visual communication skills and the ability to listen, give, and receive feedback effectively.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to advancing the values of scholarship by keeping abreast of current advances within one's field and related areas and showing a commitment to personal, professional development through engagement in professional societies, publications, teaching, grantsmanship, collaborative inquiry, mentoring, and other knowledge transfer modes.

Application Details

We use several criteria to judge applications, including, but not limited to:

  • Interests and motivation: The application requires a one- or two-page statement of purpose describing the applicant's reasons for undertaking graduate work as well as an explanation of academic interests, including how they relate to undergraduate study and professional goals.
  • Related work and/or research experience: Training in a work or research environment can be valuable experience for undertaking graduate studies. Applicants should include a summary of such experience in the statement of purpose.
  • Prior academic training and record: Applicants to the M.S. or Ph.D. programs must have a baccalaureate degree (bachelor's degree) in an area of engineering, physical science, or biological science with a strong preparation in mathematics and physics. They should have introductory-level knowledge of biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, organic chemistry, physics, statistics, and computer programming plus a working knowledge of calculus and differential equations. Course work or experience in Biological or Environmental Engineering is desirable but is not required.
  • TOEFL/IELTS scores (for international applicants): High proficiency in the English language is essential for admission to our graduate program. Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL or IELTS exam. Students who have studied full-time for two or more years at a college or university in a country in which English is the native language and where English is the language of instruction are exempt from the TOEFL or IELTS. The Graduate School has strict minimum scores for admission. Applicants must meet or exceed the minimum on the Internet-based test - Writing: 20; Listening: 15; Reading: 20; Speaking: 22. Applicants must receive an overall band score of 7.0 or higher for the IELTS exam.
  • Letters of recommendation: Three letters of recommendation from faculty members or employers who can assess the applicant's academic potential for a graduate program are required.
  • Interviews: We encourage students to contact perspective faculty members to ascertain mutual interaction. Depending on the time frame and individual situations, prior to acceptance, we may conduct phone interviews with promising applicants to better assess their interests and compatibility with our department as well as his or her communication skills. Successful applicants will be invited to visit the Ithaca campus (at the field's expense in many cases) to meet with faculty, staff, and students during our spring BEE Research Symposium. This is an opportunity for us to get to know you, but even more importantly for you to get to know us. For applicants for whom visiting Cornell is impractical, we will possibly conduct additional phone/Skype interviews.

The Graduate School uses an online application; complete instructions for the application may be found at the Graduate School application website. The secure online form is easy to use, and applications are received immediately. The application fee is USD $105.

In cases of extreme financial need, the Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver. You can request a fee waiver through the payment page of the online application form. Please visit the Graduate School website for more information about fee waivers.

Deadlines

  • Fall semester, M.S and Ph.D. applications are due by December 1.
    • Early application is strongly encouraged. To be considered for Cornell Graduate Fellowships, Cornell BEE Academic Fellowships, and other University-sponsored fellowships, applicants for the M.S. and Ph.D. degree must submit their materials by the December 1 deadline.
  • Spring semester, M.S. and Ph.D. applications are due by October 1.

Key steps in the application/admissions process

Fall Semester (For M.S. and Ph.D. Applicants)

  • December 1: All application materials received by the Graduate School
  • Mid-December: Review of applications by the BEE Graduate Coordinating Committee
  • Early-February: Select applicants visit Ithaca during the BEE Research Symposium
  • Mid-March: Notification of acceptance and offers of financial support
  • April 15: Applicants accept or reject offers
  • 3rd week of August: Accepted students arrive on campus for orientation and start of Fall semester.

 Spring Semester (For M.S. and Ph.D. Applicants)

  • October 1: All application materials received by the Graduate School
  • Mid-October: Review of applications by the BEE Graduate Coordinating Committee
  • End-October: Notification of acceptance and offers of financial support
  • November 15: Applicants accept or reject offers
  • 3rd week of January: Accepted students arrive on campus for orientation and start of Spring semester
  • Statement of purpose: The statement of purpose is submitted online following the instructions for the online application. It is not necessary to send a hard copy to the Field.
  • Letters of recommendation: Letters can be submitted online following the instructions for the online application. If unable to submit online, recommenders may choose to send a copy via email to the field: Brenda Marchewka, Graduate Field Assistant, at bls19 [at] cornell.edu.
  • TOEFL/IELTS: TOEFL/IELTS exams must be taken no more than two years before the application is submitted. Scores are sent directly to the Graduate School. The institutional code for Cornell University is 2098; the department code is no longer required.
  • GREs are not required.
  • Official transcripts: Official transcripts of undergraduate and graduate studies (if applicable) should be scanned and uploaded into the online application as part of the submission process. For students who are subsequently admitted and accept the offer of admission, a formal paper transcript will be required prior to matriculation.

Please note that the Graduate School will not accept official materials sent by email or fax; these are discouraged by the Field as well.

Questions? At any time, questions about the application process may be directed to:

Brenda Marchewka
Graduate Field Assistant
bls19 [at] cornell.edu
Phone: 607-255-2173
Fax: 607-255-4449

Professor Peter Hess
Director of Graduate Studies
Graduate Field of Biological and Environmental Engineering
peter.hess [at] cornell.edu
Phone: 607-255-2495

Is it necessary to be accepted by a faculty member in his or her lab?

Students apply to the Field of Biological and Environmental Engineering and specify in the application the faculty member(s) they would like to work with. Applicants are encouraged to contact the faculty prior to submitting their application.

Is funding included in all offers?

BEE offers full financial support for their M.S. and Ph.D. students, including tuition, stipend, and health insurance to all students accepted into the program. Support may be through Research Assistantships or Teaching Assistantships. Applications are sometimes declined from otherwise very qualified students because the student’s interests are not a good match for our research programs. We encourage perspective students to visit our faculty websites and to contact perspective faculty members for more information. Contact the director of graduate studies, pgh25 [at] cornell.edu (Peter Hess) for general information. Prospective students are encouraged to apply for full or partial funding from appropriate funding agencies (NSF GRFP, DoD NDSEG, DOE SCGF and others).

Is there funding for international students?

Yes, international M.S. and Ph.D. students accepted into our program may also be offered full funding. Some funding sources, however, may only be used for U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Do I need to take the Graduate Record Exams (GREs)?

GRE subject tests are not required.

Do I need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)?

All applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL. Only students who have studied full-time for two or more years at a college or university in a country in which English is the native language and where English is the language of instruction are exempt from the TOEFL.

The Graduate School has set strict minimum scores for admission. Applicants must meet or exceed the minimum for each of the categories on the internet-based test (iBT):

  • Writing: 20

  • Listening: 15

  • Reading: 20

  • Speaking: 22

Applicants must receive an overall band score of 7.0 or higher for the IELTS exam.

Can I apply to be admitted for the Spring semester instead of Fall?

Yes, but the majority of our M.S and Ph.D. admissions—and funding—follow an annual cycle, with applications due December 1 for students to begin their studies in August. The availability of funding at other times of the year is more constrained. However, beginning studies in the spring or summer is possible and decided on a case by case basis.

Can I send unofficial test scores or transcripts to make the application deadline?

Yes, we will accept unofficial transcripts uploaded to your application. If admitted to the program, students must send official transcripts before matriculation. You can submit unofficial test scores, but you you must also send official test scores to be uploaded to your application.

Funding for M.S. and Ph.D. Graduate Students

Most graduate students in the Field of Biological and Environmental Engineering receive full funding in one of three forms: graduate research assistantships (GRAs), teaching assistantships (TAs), and internal and external fellowships. All of these funding sources include a stipend, tuition and fees, and student health insurance. Stipends for the 2019-2020 academic year is $36,291 per year.

Additional information on funding and taxes can be found through the Cornell Graduate School.

The faculty member in whose lab the student is conducting research may provide the funding in the form of a GRA. This type of funding is usually from research grants awarded to the faculty member by a government agency or from private sources. Availability of this type of funding is sometimes difficult to predict in advance.

A limited number of teaching assistantships (TAs) may be available in the Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering to assist in introductory and upper level undergraduate courses. These assistantships usually are used to augment a Faculty sponsored GRA.

The Graduate School of Cornell University offers several fellowships specifically for recruiting outstanding graduate students. For example, the Graduate School awards Cornell Fellowships to new students with outstanding academic records, and the State University of New York Fellowship is awarded to underrepresented minorities. In addition, incoming Biological and Environmental Engineering students have been successful in recent years when competing for Presidential Life Science Fellowships, a prestigious award given to a limited number of students annually throughout the university.

All students are strongly encouraged to apply for external fellowships. The Graduate School maintains a comprehensive fellowship database available to Cornell students. In particular, all students who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents are requested to apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in their first and second years of graduate school. Many deadlines for applications are in the autumn, so early inquiries and applications are necessary.

Graduate School Requirements for M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees

Although each student designs a unique degree program, there is a set of minimum requirements for graduate degrees in Biological and Environmental Engineering. These requirements include the following components:

  • The Special Committee
  • Independent Thesis Research
  • Examinations
  • Residency

Cornell graduate students develop their own programs, including coursework and independent research, through consultation with and approval by their special committees. Each student forms his or her own special committee made up of faculty members that represent the student's academic interests. Committee members determine the courses a student must take based on the student's previous training, experience, and goals. They also counsel the student concerning the selection and completion of a thesis research problem and judge whether the student's knowledge, aptitude, and ability to do research are at levels commensurate with the degree being sought. A student may reformulate his or her committee at almost any time.

Each committee is composed of a chairperson, chosen from the major field, and others chosen from each minor field selected by the student. Co-chairpersons may be selected if the student will work collaboratively in two research programs. Minor subjects and minor advisors are typically chosen in consultation with the committee chairperson. Ph.D. students must have a minimum of two minors, at least one of which must be outside of the Field of Biological and Environmental Engineering. M.S. students must have a minimum of one minor subject, preferably outside of the field. Thus, the minimum number of committee members is three for a Ph.D. and two for an M.S. Additional advisors, who serve as optional members, may be selected from any Field. Any member of the Graduate Faculty, however, may contribute to a student's progress and is available for consultation. Students need to have their special committees in place by the end of their second semester.

Successful achievement of independent research is central to the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees and is documented by completion of a thesis or dissertation. Research for these degrees is typically conducted under the direction of the special committee chairperson, with additional guidance from the entire committee. The special committee judges whether the student has accomplished scholarly research commensurate with the degree sought.

Students must successfully pass examinations for each degree. For the M.S., the student must pass a final exam based on research presented on his or her thesis. For the Ph.D., students must pass two exams. The admission to candidacy exam - the A-exam - is a comprehensive exam and is designed to test whether the student has the ability and proper preparation to continue to pursue the Ph.D. The A-exam is expected to take place sometime near the end of the fourth semester, and no later than the beginning of the seventh semester. The second exam - the B-exam - is based primarily on the research in the student's dissertation. In all cases, the special committee judges the student's performance; for the A-exam, additional members are appointed by the field to evaluate the student in conjunction with the special committee. Students must fill out and submit the appropriate forms 7 days prior to and 3 days after each of the exams. Please pay attention to the requirements described on the form, or the exam could be invalidated by the Graduate School.

Each student is required to complete two registered semesters for an M.S. and complete six registered semesters for a Ph.D. One registered semester is equal to each semester of satisfactory full-time study on campus.