Application to the Field of Plant Breeding


Now is an exciting time to study plant breeding and genetics.  People in the United States and globally are more interested than ever in their food, its textures and flavors, its stable supply, and its impact on the environment.  Inexpensive DNA and RNA sequencing, high throughput chemical analyses, imaging and robotics have increased the data that we can bring to bear on these questions.  Computing and statistical methods develop apace to bring it all together.

The Field of Plant Breeding welcomes applicants globally who are eager to be leaders in discovery and in building solutions. We provide training that links current science with solvable problems and methods to tackle them.  Our alumni are recognized at the cutting edge of their fields and are sought after.

Our entering graduate students are guaranteed five years of tuition and stipend support. The stipend is adequate to cover living expenses in Ithaca or Geneva. Health insurance is included. 

Preparing your application

Applications to our Field should be submitted online through the Cornell Graduate School. The deadline for applications is December 1st. In admissions, we make no distinction between the M.S./Ph.D. versus the direct Ph.D. programs. Applicants may be considered for the M.S. degree or for spring admission, but only with prior approval and encouragement from a faculty member in the Field. The online system ensures that applications are received immediately.

There is a fee to apply. Applicants for whom the fee is a financial hardship or who participated in certain pipeline may request a fee waiver.

The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is not required and we will not consider any scores we receive.

How we evaluate your application

Admission is competitive. We evaluate applications holistically. You will be asked for a Statement of Academic Purpose, a Personal Statement (required), transcripts, relevant research and work experience, and letters of reference. Should you make it through our first screen, we will interview you in a brief video call. Finally, short-listed applicants will participate in a longer recruitment event at our campuses in Ithaca and Geneva (at no cost). Through these interactions, we are interested in discovering your:

  • Academic preparation: Relevant major, rigorous course choices, high course grades, research experience, formal academic recognition.
  • Research potential: Motivation for creating knowledge and problem solving. Evidence of critical thinking. Ability to communicate, particularly in writing.
  • Alignment with our faculty: Research interests consistent with those in our Field.
  • Personal background: What life experiences influence your decision making? How do you work with people who have different perspectives?
  • Potential for contributing to our community: Have you engaged in service or mentoring? Have you led an organization? Do you reflect on unique strengths you can bring to our field?
  • Success habits: Framing activities within long-term goals, ability to identify own strengths and weaknesses, ability to rebound from setbacks.

Broadly, your Statement of Academic Purpose should address the first three aspects and the Personal Statement should address the last three aspects. Note: the Personal Statement should complement, not reiterate, the content contained within the Academic Statement of Purpose. We believe that some of these aspects indicate your current level of preparation while others indicate likelihood of long-term success. We know that you are now early in your career. We are interested in training professionals who will have great cumulative impact on the field over a long career.

We believe that diversity is a part of excellence. In today's science, all high impact publications are the result of extensive collaboration. Such collaborations are successful among people skilled in working across diversity.

How you can improve your application

Identify Plant Breeding and Genetics faculty with research interests aligned with yours and communicate with them. Your chances of admission are much higher if a faculty member wants to work with you.

Show your enthusiasm by applying for external funding.  Prominent funding sources are:

Get all three of your letters of recommendation submitted (remind your referees regularly to submit the letters) -- it helps the committee and it looks better.

Applying to the Field of Plant Breeding

  • TOEFL/IELTS scores (for international applicants): High proficiency in English is essential for success in our program.  Applicants whose native language is not English are required to take the TOEFL or IELTS exam. The Graduate School has minimum scores for admission. The TOEFL or IELTS exams must be taken no more than two years before the application is submitted.  Scores are sent directly to the Graduate School. Students who have studied full-time for two or more years at a college or university in a country where English is the native language or the language of instruction are exempt.

    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. More information: English Language Proficiency Requirements.
  • GREs are not required
  • December 1: Application deadline.
  • December 8 - 14: Video conference calls with applicant shortlist.
  • December 21: Applicants we want to recruit will be notified and invited to a longer recruitment event to take place in early February.  Further communication with the Section and with potential faculty advisors should take place after this notification.
  • March 15: Offer of Admission sent to successful applicants.
  • April 15: Offer response deadline.

If you are short-listed in the application process and invited to our recruitment event, we will pay for the expenses of your visit. We will ensure that there is no financial barrier for you to participate in our recruitment event.

  • Students may obtain support in several ways including teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. Examples of some external fellowships are described above.
  • Fellowships in support of Diversity: Research has shown that diverse teams generate more creative and far-reaching solutions to problems. Applicants from a variety of backgrounds or identities historically underrepresented within graduate education are eligible for consideration for a Fellowship in Support of Diversity. We encourage you to self-identify your eligibility. You may then write a Personal Statement to be used in the Diversity Fellowship nomination and selection process.

SIPS Graduate Fields: Frequently Asked Questions

The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences degree is a one-year, course-based master's degree, ideal for individuals who are interested in in-depth study of the issues and advancements in plant and soil sciences. Learn more about the program description and MPS specializations.

MS/PhD degrees typically take 2-5 years and involve a combination of coursework and original research. A written thesis based on original research is an important element of MS/PhD degree programs.

At Cornell, graduate study leading to an Masters or Science (MS) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is organized using a field structure.  Fields are composed of faculty members from a number of departments or sections (in the case of SIPS) who come together around a shared intellectual interest, and may draw from different campuses or colleges.  Graduate students are admitted to fields of study.  Within each field, they select major and minor subjects, which are research interests or concentrations.

Fields span departments and even disciplines.  It’s possible for a student in the field of economics to include faculty on his or special committee from industrial labor and economics, civil and environmental engineering, and sociology along with the more traditional economics and management.

The concentrations listed under each field and topics of recent MS/PhD theses can help you decide which Field is a good fit for you.

Go to the complete list of SIPS faculty. The short profiles list the Graduate Fields of which they are a member.  Note that many faculty are members of more than one field.

Correspondence is welcomed from potential applicants who have a well-informed interest. Be sure to briefly describe your experience and your interests and how they relate to the research program of the faculty you contact. Inquire about the recruiting goals of those faculty for the coming year. Faculty input about individual applicants is extremely important to the decisions of our admissions committee.

No. Students without an MS are admitted to our doctoral program as MS-PhD. This arrangement provides greater flexibility and does not generally take longer.  Note that the Graduate Field of Plant Biology is PhD only with now MS option.

The Graduate School requires that all doctoral students have a full special committee no later than the end of the 3rd semester and all masters students no later than the end of the 2nd semester.

What Constitutes a Special Committee?

A minimum of three members of the graduate faculty for a doctoral student and a minimum of two members for a master's student constitute a special committee.

  1. One member, the chair of the committee (major advisor), represents the major field and concentration.
  2. One member must represent a minor outside the student's major field.
  3. The third member can either represent another minor outside of the field or be in the major field but represent a different concentration from the major one.

Please note that most faculty members are members of several fields. A student can add additional members and ad hoc members depending on the circumstances (an additional member would be another member of the Cornell Graduate Faculty; an ad hoc member is generally someone from another institution such as a collaborator on a project who is not a member of Cornell's faculty).

The Philosophy

The selection of the special committee is up to the student in consultation with his/her major advisor. Theoretically, minor/s can be in any field (Russian Literature, anyone?); however, in practical terms, students will want to select faculty who will, in some way, contribute to or support their research goals.

The Power of the Special Committee

The faculty member who represents a particular subject/concentration on the committee determines the specific requirements for that student (e.g. coursework needed). The committee, as a whole, evaluates the student at the time of exams and determines whether they have met the appropriate standards for original research contributing to the knowledge base of the field (approving the thesis or dissertation). Students are encouraged to meet with their full committee at least once a year to ascertain that everyone is in agreement regarding progress toward degree completion.

Acceptable Committee Formations

Chair, Minor, Minor
Chair, Minor, Additional Member
Chair, Minor, Field Appointed Minor Member
Chair, Co-Chair, Minor Member

Nomination Process

Committee members are nominated through student center (link in advisor box to 11Special Committee"). The GFA is the first approver so if the distribution among fields/concentrations is not correct, the GFA should not approve the committee nomination.