The Graduate Field of Microbiology at Cornell is one of the few graduate programs in the country in which there is a strong emphasis on prokaryote biology, the study of the fundamental properties of Bacteria and Archaea.

This includes the study of prokaryotic physiology, genetics, and ecology. Understanding the diversity and unique aspects of prokaryotes and other microorganisms is crucial for future progress in agriculture, biotechnology, medicine, and environmental sciences.

During their first year in the program, students do three rotations selected from over 40 different laboratories before deciding on a major advisor to guide their PhD dissertation work. Once at Cornell, graduate students further tailor their individual program to their interests by choosing two minor areas of concentration.

Administrative questions about the program can be directed to the Graduate Field Assistant, ma857 [at] (Meaghan Austin). Questions about academics can be sent to the Director of Graduate Studies, tdoerr [at] (Tobias Doerr).

Note, a related graduate field with some overlap is the Biomedical and Biological Sciences (BBS) Infection and Immunity Specialty, which covers immunology and areas of microbiology involving a more dedicated focus on animal and human microbial pathogens.


Students matriculating into the Graduate Field of Microbiology complete the following courses during their first academic year:

Students in the second year in the program and beyond continue with the following courses:

In the Field of Microbiology, students must receive a grade of B- or higher in a class to have it count as completed.

Minor field requirements will be identified by the minor advisors on the student's special committee and are completed during the second year in the program. The admission to candidacy exam (A-exam) should be completed by the end of the 5th semester of residence.

Graduate students in other fields interested in minoring in Microbiology - Minor requirements are under the discretion of the minor advisor, but typically involve 6 credits of Microbiology courses at or above the 4000 level including completion.

Teaching Opportunities

Graduate students (PhD candidates) in the Graduate Field of Microbiology must teach for at least one semester. However, many students teach 2 or more semesters, depending on the requirements of their advisor and their financial support. Some students choose to teach their first year, while students with support may teach later in their career. The most common teaching assistantship is for the General Microbiology Lecture and Lab courses.

TA training includes a weekly discussion of topics in pedagogy, such as: backwards design, developing learning objectives, different assessment methods, Bloom’s taxonomy and writing good questions, using grading rubrics, active learning, facilitating a group discussion, etc.


The Microbiology Ph.D. program is highly competitive and receives a large pool of qualified applicants each year.  We are committed to a holistic review of potential students when reviewing applications. Students accepted into the program get full tuition, student health insurance coverage, and a full stipend. (view current Cornell Graduate School- Stipend Rates online)

Applicants should have preparation in general chemistry at an intermediate level, organic chemistry, physics, and introductory courses in the biological sciences. Not having preparation in all of the areas does not preclude admission. Training in physical chemistry and calculus is desirable.

Applications are processed online through the Cornell Graduate School admissions page. As part of their application, students write a statement explaining why they are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Microbiology at Cornell University. This statement is important and should be tailored to Cornell’s Graduate Microbiology program.

While students should mention potential Microbiology Graduate Field Faculty that they are particularly interested in working with, successful applicants are also generally those that show broad interests and a willingness to explore a variety of areas within the field of Microbiology at Cornell.

Applicants must arrange to have three letters of recommendation included in their application. Applications can include extra documents and information that provide a complete picture of the scholarship and motivation of the applicant.

Application deadline for the Ph.D. program in Microbiology is:

  • Fall admission period: September 1st - December 1st

Apply online:

Applications are administered through the Cornell Graduate School’s online application system.

There is a $105 non-refundable application fee that must be submitted electronically with your application. The fee may be waived in cases of financial hardship or for qualified participants of certain special programs.
For information about methods of payment or requesting a fee waiver, visit our application fee and payment page

All applicants must submit online:

  • Application form
  • Academic statement of purpose
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • Transcripts
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL or IELTS scores (if applicable, see English Language Proficiency Requirements for details)
    • Official TOEFL or IELTS scores (sent by ETS to institution code 2098). Applicants can choose any department code they wish as long as the institution code is correct. Scores must be sent electronically (e-delivery) to the Cornell University Graduate Admissions, Caldwell Hall e-download account. E-delivery may also be referred to as an e-TRF by your test center.
  • Students are NOT required to hold a M.S. degree prior to applying for the Ph.D. program 
  • Microbiology Applications do not require GRE scores (general or subject tests).

PLEASE NOTE: Applications received after the deadline are unlikely to receive full consideration (including transfers from another graduate field after rejection).

Helpful Links:


If you have further questions about the Microbiology Admissions process, please contact the Graduate Field Assistant at Ma857 [at] (ma857[at]cornell[dot]edu) 


If you are looking for more information about the Graduate School Admissions process and requirements, please Contact Graduate Admissions


Graduate Student Handbook


The Microbiology Graduate Student Handbook should be used as a guide to specific activities within the Field of Microbiology.


Valuable information about academic and research degree requirements can also be found on the Graduate School Website

The Graduate School’s degree requirements are kept to a minimum in order to give the special committee and the student freedom to determine appropriate degree requirements and to define a program of study best suited to the student’s particular goals.


For Ph.D. students, there are several requirements imposed by the Graduate School, including:

Important note