Application to the Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology


We are glad you are interested in the Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology. This is an exciting time in our many areas of research and extension. The deadline for MS/PhD application is November 15.

Note that consistent with our commitment to holistic evaluation of applications, GRE scores are not required and will not be considered. 

Preparing your application

The Graduate School uses an online application system, through which the application form is completed and attachments such as the statement of purpose, transcripts, etc. are uploaded; complete instructions for the application are available on the site.  The system is secure and easy to use, and 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 programs may request a fee waiver


  • Interests, experience, and goals: The application requires an Academic Statement of Purpose describing (within 1000 words) the substantive research questions you are interested in pursuing during your graduate studies and why, and explaining how our program would help you achieve your intellectual and professional goals. Additionally, detail your academic background and any training, research, or work experience you have had that you believe has prepared you for our program (see below). Within your statement, please also identify specific faculty members whose research interests align with your own interests (applicants are encouraged to correspond with faculty of interest prior to applying).
  • Related work and/or research experience: Experience in a work or research environment can be valuable preparation for graduate studies but it is not required. 
  • Prior academic achievements: Applicants should have, or expect to receive soon, a bachelor's degree (or equivalent) with broad training in the biological and physical sciences.  Though some deficiencies can be made up through coursework during the program, applicants are best prepared when they have introductory-level knowledge of biochemistry, calculus, chemistry, genetics, microbiology, organic chemistry, physics, plant biology, microbiology, and statistics. Computer programming may also be beneficial. Course work or experience in plant pathology is desirable but is not required. Transcripts of undergraduate and graduate studies (if applicable) should be submitted with the application. If necessary, an unofficial  transcript may be submitted with the initial application, however, an official transcript will be required prior to matriculation.
  • Personal motivation and potential to contribute to the community: The application requires a separate, Personal Statement. In it, please describe how your personal background and experiences influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Additionally, provide insight on your potential to contribute to a community of inclusion, belonging, and respect where scholars representing diverse backgrounds, perspectives, abilities, and experiences can learn and innovate productively and positively together.
  • 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.

How we evaluate you

Holistic review of applicants is carried out by a committee of faculty and one or more current graduate students, using a rubric to score academic preparation, research potential, alignment of interests with research programs of one or more faculty, motivation or preference for long-term goals, and potential for contributing to the community.

Admission is competitive. Highly ranked applications are shared with all program faculty. Then, those applicants are interviewed via videochat by small groups of faculty comprising, to the extent possible, faculty the applicant is most interested in speaking with. Interviews are not recorded, but each interview team prepares a report and recommendation. Based on these recommendations and faculty interest, select applicants are invited to the School of Integrative Plant Science's school-wide graduate recruitment event, two days of activities and meetings with faculty and students at both the Ithaca and Geneva campuses. (for applicants for whom visiting Cornell is impractical, we may conduct additional interviews by phone or videochat). Final admissions decisions are made thereafter. Importantly, these decisions are not based solely on qualifications; they also necessarily factor in recruiting objectives of individual faculty and availability of funding. 

Contact us

Josh Balles
Graduate Field Coordinator
Graduate Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology
jeb527 [at] (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu)

Sarah Pethybridge
Associate Professor and
Director of Graduate Studies
Graduate Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology
sjp277 [at] (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu)
Phone: (315) 787-2417

Applying to the Field of Plant Pathology & Plant-Microbe Biology

  • All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by submitting official language proficiency test scores. Please see the Cornell Graduate School English Language Proficiency Requirement webpage to learn which tests are accepted and what score cutoff must be met.

    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.
  • GRE scores are not required and will not be considered if submitted.

The deadline for applications is November 15, for admission the following August. Some students arrange with their advisors to begin research prior to formal matriculation (for example in May or June for field studies over the summer).

Applications for Spring admission are considered only at the request of a faculty member on behalf of an applicant.

November 15

Applications must be received by this date


Applications are reviewed by a committee of faculty and one or more current graduate students

Early February

Highly ranked applicants are interviewed by videochat

Early to mid-February

Select applicants visit for the School of Integrative Plant Science graduate recruitment event

Mid-March to early April

Offers of admission are made

April 15

Admittees must accept or decline by this date

Students may obtain support in several ways including teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships.

Applicants from a variety of backgrounds or identities historically underrepresented and/or marginalized within graduate education are eligible for consideration for a Fellowship in Support of Diversity. We encourage you to visit the Diversity Fellowship website to see if you are eligible and if so, to check the box on your application. The Personal Statement will be used in evaluating candidates for a fellowship. You may also use the Optional Personal Statement Addendum to submit (within 250-500 words) any additional personal information you would like to have considered as part of the Diversity Fellowship nomination and selection process, but NOT as part of the admissions process. Only the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate School Office of Inclusion & Student Engagement will have access to any information submitted through this addendum, and it is completely optional.

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.