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, for grade, of at least 3 credits of the BIOMI 6901-6906 modules.

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.

Additional Options for More Teaching Experience

  • BIOMI 2900: Many graduate students act as group leaders for small group discussions in the BioMI 2900 course. Three times a semester, students meet in small groups to do an in-class activity, which graduate students facilitate.
  • BIOMI 7960: Current Topics in Microbiology

Multiple courses and programs on teaching are available each year.


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 pursing a PhD in Microbiology at Cornell University. This statement is important and should be tailored to Cornell’s Graduate Microbiology program. While students should mention potential PhD advisors 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 sent. Applications can include extra documents and information that provide a more complete picture of the scholarship and motivation of the applicant. Applications do not require GRE scores (general or subject tests).

Important note about Admissions Review Considering COVID-19 Disruptions.

The Graduate program in Microbiology is competitive, but students accepted into the program get full tuition, student health insurance coverage, and a full stipend. Questions about admissions can be directed to the Graduate Field Assistant, ma857 [at] (Meaghan Austin).

Applications for admission to the Graduate Field of Microbiology are due by December 1st. Apply now.
International applicants will need to demonstrate proficiency in English.

Cornell's institutional code for the TOEFL and GRE is 2098.

Graduate Student Handbook


Microbiology Graduate Student Handbook

This handbook should be used as a guide to specific activities within the Field of Microbiology.

Additional valuable information can be found in the Guide to Graduate Study which can be found  online at:

The Cornell University Course of Study catalog is also a useful tool and is available through the Graduate School or online at: .

All forms are now online via the Graduate school at:

Important note