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Graduate Field of Development Studies

Field-leading social scientists & development practitioners

    The Graduate Field of Development Studies (previously known as Development Sociology) provides rigorous training for aspiring academics and development professionals. Our graduate curriculum builds off the foundation of classical sociological theory, integrating diverse frameworks and methodologies to fuel investigation, analysis, and evaluation of social phenomenon.

    Whether through ethnographies, statistical analyses, or participatory action research, our students are trained to produce the highest quality social science research in areas including:

    • Inequality across health, class, and gender
    • Impacts of social policy including health and education
    • Governance, community development, and civic organization
    • Food systems, food sovereignty, and sustainable agriculture  
    • Migration and demographic change
    • Political ecology and land use change

    Ph.D. in Development Studies

    The Graduate Field of Development Studies (previously known as Development Sociology) offers a single PhD degree track. It does not accept students into a terminal MS degree program. With an acceptance rate of 15%, our cohort of 45 Ph.D. candidates come from backgrounds including journalism, natural resources, environmental studies, sociology and more.

    The Department of Global Development works together with the Cornell Graduate School to process applications. Required documents must be submitted online via the Graduate School online application and requested test scores must be sent through the testing agency.

    Application deadline

    January 1; no spring admissions

    Before You Begin

    • Graduate study at Cornell is organized using a field structure. You can familiarize yourself with this structure to gain a better understanding of which faculty members might serve on your master's and/or dissertation committee(s).
    • The application will ask for your major concentration. The options are Population and Development, Rural and Environmental Sociology, and State, Economy, and Society. Here you will find an overview of the concentrations as well as a list of core and affiliate faculty associated with each concentration.
    • You are encouraged to familiarize yourself with faculty members' research areas before applying and to identify in your personal statement faculty members with whom you are interested in working. It is appropriate to email faculty members to see whether your interests and goals align, though this is not required.
    • Please bac89 [at] (contact the graduate field coordinator) if you are interested in visiting campus before you apply.

    How to Apply

    Submitted by the applicant via the online application

    • on-line application form
    • master's thesis (email to bac89 [at]
    • statement of purpose (upload PDF)
    • transcripts from all universities listed on the application (upload PDF)
    • transcripts may be official or unofficial: official copies will be requested upon matriculation
    • academic CV (upload PDF)
    • short writing sample (under 10 pages, upload PDF)

    Submitted by recommenders via the online application

    • three letters of recommendation, two of which must be from academic recommenders

    Submitted by the testing agency to the Cornell Graduate School upon applicant’s request

    • GRE general test scores are optional for 2021-22 (if submitting, use the Cornell code of 2098 and the rural sociology code of 2103).
    • TOEFL Exam scores (required of applicants from countries where the native language is not English; see the Cornell Graduate School website for requirements and exceptions.)

    Any material that you cannot submit online can be sent directly to our field (i.e. such as sealed transcripts and sealed letters of recommendation that your recommenders opt not to submit via the on-line system). We will not accept emailed recommendation letters. Send to: 

    Graduate Field Assistant
    B75A Mann Library
    Cornell University
    Ithaca, NY 14853


    Call 607-255-7807 or email bac89 [at]

    Those admitted to the Ph.D. program are guaranteed 5 years of funding. This includes tuition, health insurance, and a stipend. Stipends for academic year 2021-22 are $28,654. For 2021, the estimated living expenses are:

    *coverage available for spouse / domestic partner and children at additional cost

    Application Fee Waiver

    In cases of extreme financial need, the Graduate School will consider a request for a fee waiver. A letter of request for a waiver and documentation of need, such as a letter from a college financial aid office, must be sent to the Graduate School. Requests should be emailed to gradadmissions [at]

    Cornell offers several fellowships for newly admitted students, including the CALS Excellence Award and the SUNY Diversity Fellowship.  These are determined by the department at the time of admission.

    Teaching and Research Assistantships

    • determined on a yearly basis
    • include tuition, a stipend and student health insurance
    • students are expected to work about 15 hours per week

    For the academic year 2021-22, tuition is $20,800, the stipend is $28,654 and student health insurance (or SHP) is $3,762. Summer and conference travel grants are also available.

    The Graduate School offers more information on available fellowships for Cornell students.

    Research Travel Grants

    The Graduate School awards a small number of grants to graduate students for research-related travel. 

    • Awards are to fund trips of 3-5 weeks in duration.
    • Applications are due to the Graduate School (350 Caldwell Hall) by 4:30 pm on Oct. 1 for fall travel and Feb. 1 for spring or summer travel.
    • Grant applications are available here.
    • Priority given to Ph.D. students who have or will have passed the A Exam prior to initiating their research travel, but all research-degree students are encouraged to apply.
    • Priority given to requests for pre-dissertation research.
    • Prior awardees are given low priority.

    Because the Graduate School seeks to award a maximum number of grants from limited funds, awards are typically no more than $2,000. Students are encouraged to submit requests that reflect careful budgeting. For example, applicants should use public transportation when practical, plan on preparing their own meals whenever possible, and secure modest accommodations.

    Please note that research travel grants are for travel that is directly related to dissertation research, not conference travel. Download the conference grant application from the Graduate School's forms page.

    Funding is also available through the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.

    Conference Travel Grants

    Conference travel grants are available both from the Graduate School and from the department.

    Graduate School Conference Travel Grants

    • For students who are invited to present papers or posters at professional conferences
    • Award amounts are based on geographic location, not actual expenses.
    • Awards will not, under any circumstances, exceed $675. The Graduate School tries to fund most requests from students.

    Download the conference grant application from the Graduate School's forms page.

    Department Conference Travel Grants

    • Graduate students are guaranteed two grants during their time in the program. Beyond that, awards are made based on the applicant's role at the conference, as indicated below:
      • First priority: student presenting a single-authored paper (student with multiple papers or multiple engagements have priority over those with a single engagement.)
      • Second priority: student presenting a single-authored paper
      • Third priority: student participating as a discussant
      • Fourth priority: student not presenting but co-author of paper or poster
      • Fifth priority: student participating but not on the program
    • There will be one application period per semester: Sept. 20 for Fall and Feb. 10 for Spring. Applicants must submit a one-page abstract of the paper/poster to be presented and a brief statement on the relevance of the conference to their research as well as proof of acceptance of the paper. (Proof of acceptance can be provided as soon as possible after the application deadline.)
    • Maximum of $500.00 per fiscal year (July 1st- June 30th) to registered graduate students
    • Travelers should review Cornell's Travel Policy
    • Travel advances can be obtained through Linda Warner in Warren 240F.

    To obtain reimbursement, complete the "Travel Checklist". Include receipts for all lodging and travel, including boarding passes for air travel and submit to the “Job Request Box” in the mailroom for processing.  All documentation must be submitted by June 30th.

    Mario Einaudi Center grants

    Dissertation Research Grant

    The Ronny Adhikarya Niche Award (RANA)

    • The R-Adhikarya “Niche” Award (RANA) empowers students to pursue innovative thinking in their studies and careers. This $10,000 annual prize to a graduate student in Global Development recognizes young visionaries who dare to think differently. 

    The Cornell Graduate School hosts a database containing over 700 funding opportunities. Here is a list of common sources of funding for Development Studies students, based on the previous five years:

    Other funding sources:


    Lecturer Sarah Giroux and graduate student Anthony Poon discuss research

    Population & Development

    Focuses on theoretical, methodological and applied aspects of population and development in both developing countries and the United States from a social demography perspective emphasis on links between population, food and environmental sustainability, fertility, and population movements.

    Rural & Environmental Sociology

    Emphasis on environmental equity and rural sustainability, social carrying capacity and the nexus between poverty and resource allocation, access and use, and devolution of power and responsibility.

    State, Economy, & Society

    State, Economy, & Society combines themes of political and economic sociology, within macro- and micro-comparative and historical approaches, emphasizes general training in the social change and development area to enhance students' credentials for general sociology programs, and views development as less the analysis of the Third World, and more the analysis of global and local processes with broad variation.

    Our Experts

    John Sipple
    John Sipple


    Department of Global Development

    Director of Graduate Studies

    Department of Global Development

    John Sipple
    Pk-12 education
    Sociology of communities
    Bridget Richardson headshot
    Bridget Richardson

    Graduate Program Coordinator

    Department of Global Development

    Bridget Richardson