PPPMB Graduate Student Association

The PPPMB Graduate Student Association (PPPMB-GSA) represents student concerns to the Field and University. It is also active in section and field social events, and provides valuable assistance in recruiting and welcoming new graduate students. The PPPMB-GSA also participates in the SIPS Graduate Student Council.


  • President: Natalia Pineros Guerrero (np353 [at] cornell.edu (np353[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Vice president: Hana Feulner (hf332 [at] cornell.edu (hf332[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Secretary: Emma Nelson (emn62 [at] cornell.edu (emn62[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Treasurer: Pratibha Sharma (ps2244 [at] cornell.edu (ps2244[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • GPSA representative: Kensy Dinora Rodriguez-Herrera (kdr66 [at] cornell.edu (kdr66[at]cornell[dot]edu))

Professional Development Committee (formerly Colloquium Committee)

Eric Branch, Madeleine Dumas, Tori Hoyle, Juliana Gonzalez Tobon

Prospective Student Committee

Natalia Guerrero (Co-Chair), Liga Kalnina (Co-Chair), LIzzie Trost (Co-Chair), Ali Cala, Patrick Cho, Maddie Flasco, Juan Luis Gonzalez Giron, Tori Hoyle, Marina Mann, Michael West Ortiz, Juliana Gonzalez Tobon

Social Committee

Jess Choi (Chair), Liga Kalnina, Zichu Yang

GSA New Student Committee Chair(s):

Jean Sabety (co-chair), Jocelyn Schwartz (co-chair) 

Resources for current students

Bias Reporting

  • Bias Reporting: report a bias incident and learn what constitutes bias

Mental and Physical Health

Graduate School Programs and Resources

  • Cornell Graduate School: Academic Resources, Career Resources, Accessibility, Diversity & Inclusion, and more
  • Travel Grants: apply for funding for travel to a professional conference at which you are presenting or for funding to travel as part of thesis/dissertation research 
  • Graduate and Professional Student Assembly: Cornell’s community of graduate and professional students to address non-academic issues of common concern

Meet us!

Current students in the Graduate Field of PPPMB

grad students examining hops plants in greenhouse

PPPMB Graduate Student Handbook and New Student Guide

This handbook was compiled by graduate students in the Field of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology in cooperation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate Field Coordinator.

Updated: Fall 2021

Congratulations and welcome to Cornell! As there are only three parts to graduate school - getting in, staying in, and getting out - you are a third of the way done.

This handbook is a compilation of suggestions, ideas, pointers, and need-to-know information provided by graduate students in the Field of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology. It is an honest summary of information we think you will find helpful. It may not cover every question you have, but we think it is the best start we can give you.

We are relying upon you as the next class to update this handbook for the next generation of students.

It is a long handbook, and you need not read through every section right away. However, we strongly suggest you read through Chapters 1-4 soon. These will help you with things you will encounter within your first month of being at Cornell.


All graduate fields at Cornell are part of and are governed by the Graduate School, but the administrative home for the graduate Field of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology  is the Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology (PPPMB), which comprises numerous facilities and faculty members housed at several different locations. The concept of a ‘Section’ sounds a little strange from what other schools may have with a Department, but it is not all that different. Here is where the Section sits in the organizational structure:

  • Cornell University
  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)
  • School of Integrated Plant Sciences (SIPS)
  • Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology (SIPS)

SIPS was established in 2014 to foster cross disciplinary collaboration among its various Sections, which include PPPMB, Plant Biology, Horticulture, Plant Breeding and Genetics, and Soil and Crop Sciences.

As a graduate student, you will also be a member of the Graduate School at Cornell University. The Graduate School is at the same organizational level as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Faculty in PPPMB may be located at the Ithaca campus (Plant Science Building, Bradfield, or others), the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI), USDA-ARS research facilities on the Ithaca campus, Cornell AgriTech in Geneva (previously known as the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station) in Geneva, or other experiment stations near Lake Placid, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island. Members from each location frequently interact through in-person visits and through video conferencing (Zoom).

When to Arrive

Some students, such as those in labs that do fieldwork, international students, or sometimes students doing rotations, arrive during the summer. However, the default is the beginning of the fall semester, and many students choose that. Talk to your advisor or the PI of your first rotation to discuss when it is best for you to arrive and whether there is funding available to support you prior to the start of the fall semester. Please consider carefully whether to matriculate early. If you are eligible for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, starting in the summer as a student limits your time to apply for that fellowship to your first year, whereas if you start in fall, you are eligible to apply in your first or second year. An alternative to matriculating early is to join your advisor’s lab as a temp employee, which won’t count against you as time in graduate school in the eyes of NSF.

We recommend giving yourself a little time in Ithaca to get used to the area before starting school. Many leases start at the beginning of August, which gives you time to enjoy how beautiful Ithaca is in the summer before orientation.


You are strongly encouraged to arrange housing before you arrive, as it will be difficult to find affordable housing right before the start of the fall semester. Housing is expensive! Most first year students live in Ithaca, even if you know your thesis lab is in Geneva. This allows for students to be near the main campus while taking the required classes in their first two years and it is nice to be near the same area as others in your cohort.

While there are some options for living on-campus, the vast majority of graduate students choose to live off-campus. The Cornell Housing Office has some helpful information about on-campus housing and tips for finding off-campus housing. When choosing housing, look for options within the City of Ithaca with off-road parking. Otherwise, you will have to move your car every day during the winter to make way for the plows (which many people do).

Some other important questions to ask your potential landlord include: are utilities included in the rent price? which ones? If not, what is the average cost of those utilities per month? How does the heating system work? Does it have AC? Do you have to pay a fee for trash removal and recycling? If you have pets (or want to) which ones are allowed? Is there a fee for pets? How does the security deposit work? Is there a security deposit for pets? Is renter’s insurance required and are you required to get that renter’s insurance from a specific company?

Upon acceptance, you will be assigned a current student as a mentor. Your mentor is the perfect person to ask about housing. They can even visit apartments for you (or find someone who can). Also feel free to reach out to other current PPPMB graduate students. They may be able to share about where they live or lived while in Ithaca/Geneva and what areas they might recommend. We are currently using WhatsApp to stay connected and you can contact almost any current graduate student there! In Ithaca, many graduate students live in the Fall Creek neighborhood (down the hill from Cornell), which has lots of large houses divided into rental units. Graduate students tend to avoid Collegetown, which is just south of campus along College Ave; Collegetown is very expensive, and typically home to noisy undergraduate students. The housing website has a helpful guide on Ithaca neighborhoods. The Ithaca Craigslist is a good source of rental listings as well. If you are interested in buying property, as some graduate students choose to do, most houses are put on the market in early spring and closing typically takes around 2 months, so plan accordingly!


The bus system in Ithaca is very good! Many people use the buses to get to campus from near or far. Check out the TCAT bus website as you pick where to live so you can see how close your housing is to a bus route. TCAT buses have bike racks on the front of them, so mixing biking and bussing can be a great way to deal with hills and rain/snow.

Bus access is provided for your first year at Cornell and your Cornell ID card serves as your bus pass. All Cornell students can ride for free after 6 pm on weekdays and anytime on weekends. An Omniride pass ($200/year in 2020/2021) is available for purchase through the Cornell Transportation Office for students after their 1st year when the free bus privileges expire.

Some people choose to bike to campus, but remember, Ithaca has some steep hills and biking can get tricky in the winter with icy conditions. Car parking on the Ithaca campus for commuters is very expensive and the lots are on the edges of campus, so few students choose to drive to campus. Check here for more information on commuting.

Many students also walk to campus if they live close enough but keep the hills in mind when deciding if your apartment will be walkable. For instance, if you live in Fall Creek, you can technically walk to campus, just up a massive hill. Some students still choose to do this.

Graduate School To-Do List

The Graduate School provides a To-Do list that has incredibly important tasks on it. Filling out health forms for insurance, submitting official transcripts, etc. are all necessary for your transition to Cornell to go smoothly. Pay attention to the deadlines, because some are early in the summer, while others are closer to orientation. If you are arriving sooner than August, you may need to do some of these things earlier, such as setting up direct deposit to receive your stipend payments. You will also need to go to the Office of the Registrar in Day Hall to get your Cornell ID if you are arriving before the Graduate School Orientation in August. You should plan to attend the Graduate School Orientation in August even if you started earlier in the summer. In fact, the ID card that you already have will be deactivated and you must pick up a new card as a part of orientation events. Keep in mind, cash/coins will be needed to use TCAT bussing until you receive your graduate student ID at orientation. Each fare is $1.50 so we recommend you have at least $3.00 with you everyday since this would be enough for a round trip.


Keys, Passcodes, and Desks

Stop by the main PPPMB office (135 Plant Science) to get a cheat sheet of passcodes for common rooms in Plant Science. Contact our Graduate Field Coordinator (GFC), Josh Balles (jeb527 [at] cornell.edu (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu)) for desk assignments. All graduate students will receive a desk in Beebe Hall or Plant Science in their first year, which will be in a passcode-locked or ID card-locked room. You should also receive a passcode to the Haustorium (lunch room by the elevator), the printer room (right before the Haustorium), and the mailroom (across the hall from the printer room) You will have a “mailbox” that will probably be shared with others.

If you are a Geneva-based student, you will also be assigned a desk in Barton Lab. Kate Keagle (kev35 [at] cornell.edu (kev35[at]cornell[dot]edu)) will help incoming students in Geneva to get a desk. Kate is amazingly organized and she may already know who the new students are, but it doesn’t hurt to email her in advance. It may take a moment to find available spaces, so sending her a quick email a few weeks before coming up to Geneva for the first time can be helpful. She will assign you a desk!

Depending on which lab/building you are doing research in, you may need to get keys. If your lab is not in Plant Science, you will also likely have another desk somewhere closer to your lab. Talk to your lab manager or advisor about desk space and how to obtain keys to the lab, office, and/or building. In Geneva, you will also need keys to access Barton Lab on weekends and holidays. Kate can get you keys to enter Barton Lab, just reach out or ask your Faculty Advisor to. If there is ever a time where you forget your keys, don’t panic. Often there is someone at the power plant on the AgriTech campus who you can call to notify. This is a good number to keep in your phone just in case.

Email list serves 

As a graduate student, it’s important to be receiving all the emails and notifications you should be receiving! The following is a list of the email list serves you should be subscribed to, followed by the person you should contact to place you on the list:

  • ppath-l [at] list.cornell.edu (ppath-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Josh Balles, jeb527 [at] cornell.edu (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • pppmbgrad-l [at] list.cornell.edu (pppmbgrad-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Josh Balles, jeb527 [at] cornell.edu (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu))

Geneva based Plant Pathology students should be subscribed to:

  • nysaes-all-l [at] list.cornell.edu (nysaes-all-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu)  (Amy Anderson, ada10 [at] cornell.edu (ada10[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • nysaes-pp-all-l [at] list.cornell.edu (nysaes-pp-all-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Kate Keagle, kev35 [at] cornell.edu (kev35[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • sages-1 [at] cornell.edu (sages-1[at]cornell[dot]edu) (Tori Hoyle, vjh9 [at] cornell.edu (vjh9[at]cornell[dot]edu))

BTI based Plant Path students should be subscribed to:

  • bti-l [at] list.cornell.edu (bti-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Sam Nash, sln62 [at] cornell.edu (sln62[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • bti-pgs-l [at] list.cornell.edu (bti-pgs-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Sam Nash, sln62 [at] cornell.edu (sln62[at]cornell[dot]edu)) (optional, if you would like to join the BTI’s society for grad students and post-docs)
  • btirec-l [at] list.cornell.edu (btirec-l[at]list[dot]cornell[dot]edu) (Sam Nash, sln62 [at] cornell.edu (sln62[at]cornell[dot]edu)) (optional, for emails about non-work related items)

Other Useful listserves:

  • bigredbarn [at] cornell.edu (bigredbarn[at]cornell[dot]edu) (sign up at the Big Red Barn Facebook page under “More” tab) for events happening at the BRB
  • Cornell Institute of Host-Microbe Interactions and Disease (Sign up here)


Early in your first semester at Cornell, you will (hopefully) have your photo taken for use on the department photo board (both Ithaca and Geneva) and on the PPPMB website. An email will be sent out announcing when the photographer will be coming.

Make Yourself at Home

Coffee and tea - there is free coffee and tea in the Haustorium in Plant Science. Feel free to bring your own mug and take some. If you take the last cup, set another pot to brew. If you are in BTI, there are free coffee and tea bags on the second floor near room 217A. On the Agritech Campus, there is a break room and additional coffee location that you can use. If you have any questions, just ask your peers and they can point you in the right direction!

Printers - you will have access to the following printers and copiers:

  • Ithaca main copy room (color) 325B Plant Science
  • Ithaca 4th floor graduate student office (color) 423 Plant Science
  • Geneva main copy room (color)
  • Geneva 2nd floor (color)
  • Multiple around BTI

Feel free to ask a seasoned student for the IP address for a particular printer you are trying to connect to. Frequently, IP addresses will be posted directly on the printer. Instructions for faxing and emailing documents are also posted near the copiers.

Fun Social Events!

  • Coffee break – Coffee break is held Friday mornings and is a great opportunity to scavenge free food and catch up with your peers and faculty. In Ithaca, coffee break takes place at 10 am in the Haustorium. Labs take turns hosting it (usually by bringing in various snacks centered on a theme), so whether it happens every week depends on people signing up. In Geneva, coffee break is weekly at 9:45 am outside of A134 (unless it’s a station-wide coffee break or joint coffee break with another section, for which the location will be announced in advance). Coffee break is a relaxed atmosphere, with ample amounts of good laughs. And cheese. All the cheese. All students are encouraged to attend coffee breaks. It is a good way to get to know others and find out what people are doing.
  • Muggings - These are more infrequent events, occurring only when a senior student is graduating in Ithaca. During a mugging, everyone gathers on the 3rd floor of Plant Science, to hear a few words from the student and their advisor, and share in a slice of cake to wish the new grad congratulations
  • The Barn & TGIF - The Big Red Barn is a graduate and professional student-only cafe on the Ithaca campus. On Friday afternoons from 4:30 to 7 pm, the Barn holds an event called “Tell Grads It’s Friday” in which they have free snacks and sell beer and hard cider for a very low price. This is always a great time to hang out with your friends after a long week, and has by far the cheapest drinks in town. The BRB also serves beer most other weeknights and is a great place to study or meet up with friends.

Graduate School Orientation

Definitely plan on attending the Cornell Graduate School Orientation session (specific information about this orientation session will be emailed to you prior to the start of classes). Here you can check in with the Graduate School, get information, and get some free trinkets from various groups on campus. Hundreds of graduate students attend this orientation, so lines can get quite long – pack your patience! You should also plan to attend the ID pick up, even if you have an ID already as they likely printed a new ID for you and may have deactivated your old one. PPPMB will also hold an orientation session to go over matters concerning the section. This is separate from, but usually on the same day as the Graduate School Orientation.

Prescriptive Interview

The prescriptive interview is a meeting that is to take place shortly after you arrive and before the first week of classes of your first semester at Cornell. Talk to your advisor or, if you are rotating, to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Sarah Pethybridge (sjp277 [at] cornell.edu (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu)) to set up your prescriptive interview. They will help you form a temporary committee of a few other faculty as well as your peer mentor to help guide you in getting started, including choosing classes for this first year. This does not have to be members you plan to have for your Special Committee; there is still much time before you will even need to begin thinking about this. During the meeting you will discuss your research interests and experience, your educational background, and what classes you may want to or should take while at Cornell. You’ll also touch on several other topics, including rotations (if applicable), grant opportunities for graduate students, what to expect from your advisor and Special Committee and what they will expect of you, etc.

In preparation for the meeting, you will be asked to complete student sections of the Prescriptive Interview Template and share it with the interview committee. Those sections ask you to briefly summarize your previous coursework and research experience, your research interests and goals, and some courses you are considering taking. See Appendix I for how to search for classes at Cornell and Chapter 5 for advice and instructions on courses. Based on your responses and on discussion during the meeting, the committee will provide feedback and advice to help you make a firm plan for your first 1-2 years. Be sure to discuss their suggestions with other students and faculty, especially, for example, if you are not sure if a particular course is right for you. This interview is not meant to be definitive, but rather to help you determine the direction you want to go in and help you choose the courses and pursue opportunities that will best prepare you to succeed in your thesis (Master’s degree students) or dissertation (PhD students) research and your career. After the interview, your advisor (or temporary advisor, the DGS, if you are rotating) will complete the advisor sections of the template and provide it to you and the committee to document the discussion.


At the PPPMB orientation an electronic Milestones and Responsibilities checklist will be shared with you. Be sure to check it out. It is a useful guide to help you keep track of deadlines and administrative requirements as you advance through your degree program.


If you have an assistantship, fellowship, or other fully funded model, you do not pay tuition to Cornell. However, you will have to pay the University Activity Fee (unless you’re on certain fellowships). This was $43 a semester in 2020-2021. So be sure to check your bill for this. You can get to the bursar portal (fancy word for financial office) here. It is a good idea to check to make sure that your tuition has been paid on time via the website link. If it is not, contact the GFC, Josh Balles (jeb527 [at] cornell.edu (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu)) for assistance. Also, if you would like a gym membership (view gym purchase options), or a bus pass (after your first year) or parking pass (both can be purchased through Cornell Transportation Services), you will also have to pay extra for them.


A “hold” means that you are unable to register. A hold may have been placed for any of the following reasons:

  • Your funding hasn’t cleared official channels. This may be because the department hasn’t finished processing your tuition payment or you still owe the University Activity Fee (see above). International students should note that any checks drawn from a bank outside the United States will take at least two weeks to clear. Try to arrange for the check’s arrival at Cornell earlier or you will not be able to register. The late fee is $200.
  • A medical hold may be in effect if you have not provided evidence of receiving the required vaccinations (e.g. measles, mumps, rubella, etc.). The University takes vaccinations very seriously. Additional requirements may be in effect for international students. If the correct documentation cannot be provided or you are missing a vaccine or two, you can get the required shots at Cornell Health to clear up the hold (additional charge is billed to you).
  • A hold may be placed if you have an outstanding balance on your Cornell Card (an on-campus credit card like system). You will need to clear up this balance to clear the hold and register. Accounts from the previous semester must be paid in full before you can register for the upcoming semester.

“We don’t stop going to school when we graduate.” Carol Burnett


Courses as a graduate student are an important part of gaining the knowledge, expertise, and analytical and communication skills expected of an advanced degree holder in the discipline. For this reason, PPPMB has some course requirements. But more than checking off boxes toward your degree, courses are to build knowledge and skills so that you can be effective in your research. The DGS is fond of reminding us that the only actual “requirement” for the degree (either Master’s or PhD) is “research that substantively advances the field.” Courses that help you achieve that goal are the courses you should focus on. For first year students, the prescriptive interview (Chapter 3) is a perfect opportunity to make an initial plan. Ongoing, decide on what courses to take (or not take!) in consultation with your advisor and special committee.

“Required” Courses and Seminars

Currently, three courses are required for a major within PPPMB: PLPPM 5010 Biology and Management of Plant Diseases, PLPPM 6010, Molecular Biology of Plant-Microbe Interactions and PLPPM 5020 Systems Epidemiology for Plant Pathology. You can be exempted from taking some of these classes if you have taken similar courses elsewhere (discuss this during your prescriptive interview). You will also need to enroll in the Section seminar course (PLPPM 7000-PPPMB Section) every semester. After students move up to Geneva, they can choose which section they enroll under for the Section seminar course. Seminar 101 is the Geneva seminar series (Tuesday) and Seminar 102 is the Ithaca seminar series (Wednesday). Students can attend or Zoom in to either the Ithaca or Geneva seminars for credit, but you sign up for one or the other. Each week during the seminar, you need to check in here to receive credit, and graduate students are expected to ask questions (don’t let the faculty dominate the Q&A!!!). Usually there is a requirement of attending (in person or Zoom) ~8 seminars per semester. If you are unable to attend a seminar, you can watch a recording for credit instead. Seminar recordings are posted to YouTube a few weeks later, but the general rule is that students should only fall back on recordings for ~2 seminars per semester). Fun fact: some of the 8 seminars required for credit can be seminars in other Sections. Attending seminars in other SIPS sections can be refreshing and quite interesting, as they are quite diverse in the range of topics featured. Keep an eye on the weekly email bulletin for complete listings of SIPS seminars.

Seminars offer a diverse array of timely topics, presented by current students, faculty, or postdocs, as well as renowned scientists from outside Cornell. For external speakers, a lunch meeting with graduate students is part of their visit. Be sure not to miss these opportunities to speak with leaders in the field, and to get free food!

In addition to Section seminars, students are expected to register for the student seminar course (PLPPM 6820) every semester for the first four years. In this course, students develop their presentation skills by sharing their research progress (or plans, or both) through formal presentations, in an informal setting. Students receive feedback and constructive criticism from each other and from the instructors to help polish their skills.

Other Courses

PhD students are required to have two minors, and Master’s students are required to have one, so it is logical to take classes that relate to your minors (see Chapter 6 for more info on minors). In addition, you may want to take classes that fill gaps in fundamentals from your undergraduate or previous education or help you learn a new topic relevant to your research or career goals. The online Cornell Class Roster has course descriptions by field and is a great resource for researching classes. The following is a list of other courses that first years have chosen to take, and may provide you with some ideas:

  • PLBIO 6410 – Lab in Plant Molecular Biology
  • BTRY 6010 – Statistical Methods I
  • PLBRG 4030 – Genetic Improvement of Crop Plants
  • PLBIO 6831 – Concepts and Techniques in Plant Molecular Biology
  • BIOMG 4000 – Genomics
  • PLHRT 3500 - Vegetable Production

Additional classes of potential interest are listed in the Prescriptive Interview Template.
No more than about three classes per semester (roughly 9-10 hours of courses) is generally advisable so that you can also do research during this time. Geneva-based students often try to arrange their course schedule so that they can split their days of the week between Ithaca (courses) and Geneva (research). Others find lab space in Ithaca to squat in during the semesters they are taking classes so they can keep their research moving. Don’t be shy about approaching an Ithaca faculty member to arrange such an accommodation. Still others take a heavier class load to try and finish taking courses faster and move to research full-time earlier.

Course Registration

You can check the intended dates for course registration here! Typically, registration for your first semester will open the week before classes. However, graduate students may register for classes at any time through the end of the second week of classes. This allows you the opportunity to try out a number of courses before committing yourself for the semester. This may be a foreign concept to many first-year graduate students who may remember from their undergraduate school registering for classes extremely early and having to approach registration with a battle plan to get the classes you want. We agree, registering this late is a bit strange. However, after your first semester, you will register for classes well in advance during a narrow two-day registration window. Look out for emails near the end of the semester to know when this window opens. If you miss the window, that’s okay! You just have to wait for the beginning of the new semester to register. But don’t worry - the classes seldom fill up. 

Once you have been advised about classes, and your new student enrollment window opens (again, about a week before classes start) you can sign up for classes in Student Center. The GSA will often organize a tutorial the week before to show you how it is set up. If you are not sure of when your enrollment window opens, check Student Center or watch for an email announcement. See Appendix I for step-by-step visuals of how to enroll in a course. While you are in Student Center, set your committee chair (your thesis or dissertation advisor) by looking at the advisor panel on the main page. If you are rotating and do not yet have an advisor, set the DGS (Adam Bogdanove) as your chairperson. See the end of Appendix I for detailed instructions. The Graduate School requires you to have a chairperson (even a temporary one) set fairly early in the fall semester.

Be sure to register for research credits as well! If you are a Master’s student, register for PLSCI 8900. If you are a PhD student, register for PLSCI 9900. From the list of instructors, find your advisor (or the DGS if you are doing rotations) and select as the instructor. Enter the number of credits so that your total (with classes) is 22 credit hours (remembering it is not advisable to take more than 15 credit hours of classes). Note that all Master’s and PhD students are automatically enrolled for 12 credits in a GRAD research course each academic semester. Ignore those. At the end of the Drop period the Grad School will adjust the number of credits in the GRAD course according to what you entered for the PLPPM credits. Registering for PLPPM credit helps resources flow to the Section, so be sure to do it each semester. Also, in any semester you are serving as a TA without being supported by a Teaching Assistantship, be sure to register for PLSCI 7980 Graduate Teaching Experience in Plant Sciences.

If you have registered for classes through Student Center but then decide to change the classes you are taking, you can add, drop, or modify courses online through Student Center (as long as it’s before the Add/Drop deadline date). There is an electronic add/drop slip that is used only after the add deadline or if you have courses that overlap in time.

Most classes have three grading options: Graded, Sat/Unsat (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), and Audit. Sat/Unsat means that you will be graded strictly pass/fail. Officially, to meet a course requirement as a grad student, you must earn a B– or better, but you and your committee may decide that Sat/Unsat is a perfectly acceptable option for a given class, as it can allow you to get what you need from the class without necessarily having to spend as much time on it as you would if it were graded, freeing up time for your research. The “audit” option is not graded at all, and generally will not count toward your major/minor requirements, but is a good choice if you want to get some background in a topic without devoting much time to it. If choosing to audit, make sure to check with the instructor beforehand to confirm that this is a viable option. You can switch grading options up until the Add/Drop deadline.

To be registered with the University each semester, you must be registered for at least one class on Student Center. After you have finished taking classes, you can register for research credits to fulfill the University registration requirement (see above). Summer registration is required for all students who will be receiving a stipend over the summer. Summer registration, which consists of registering for summer research credits on Student Center (GRAD 9016), occurs before the spring semester is over. It is required for use of the Cornell health center and other campus facilities. Also, if you do not register for the summer, FICA will be deducted from your stipend payments for that period.

As part of your acceptance into the program, all graduate students in PPPMB are guaranteed funding for at least five years. There are several different sources for this support including Research Assistantships, Extension-Outreach Assistantships, Teaching Assistantships, fellowships, grants, scholarships, and awards. You can find additional information about the various assistantships on the graduate school website.

Graduate Research and Extension Assistantships

If you have received a Graduate Research Assistantship or an Extension Assistantship, you will receive your cost-of-living stipend through payroll, on the 15th and 30th of every month through direct deposit; you will fill out a direct deposit form in Workday (under the pay tab) when you receive your first appointment letter. Tracy Chapman (tlk2 [at] cornell.edu (tlk2[at]cornell[dot]edu)) is the Administrative Manager in Ithaca and a good contact for questions concerning these assistantships. International students should consult Tracy Chapman for proper forms to fill out.

Graduate Research Assistantships are generally funded by a grant to your advisor, and they therefore often, but not always, come with some degree of expectation to contribute to the funded objectives of the grant. Discuss with your advisor to make sure that these expectations align with your interests and goals and will support your thesis or dissertation.

Extension-Outreach Assistantships

Extension-Outreach Assistantships (EOA) require engagement in extension, up to 15 hours per week. These assistantships are funded by CALS and can be a good source of support when there is a gap in grant funding and/or the student wants to develop extension expertise. Usually the responsibilities relate to the extension responsibilities of your advisor or another faculty member you might work with under the EOA, but you will generally have a say in what you do and how related it is to your research. EOAs tend to more often support students at Cornell AgriTech than in Ithaca, where Teaching Assistantships are more practical to undertake. At the closing of the EOA, students prepare a ~3 page report of objectives and outcomes of the EOA to Sarah Pethybridge (point person) and to the Station Director, Chris Smart. Professors have examples for reference. Some examples of previous EOA projects include participation in the Cornell GRASSHOPR program , creating extension content including web resources or factsheets, school programming, preparation of extension materials for growers, and many more possibilities.

Teaching Assistantships

A Teaching Assistantship provides support for a student to help teach a class, or to teach a portion of a class, usually a laboratory or discussion section. Like the other assistantships, the time commitment is not to exceed 20 hours per week. All graduate students in PPPMB are required to complete at least one semester of teaching for professional development as part of their Master’s or PhD degree program (see Chapter 8 for more information about teaching requirements) but some opt to do more than a semester to gain more experience. Also, if TAing another semester aligns with your interests, it is a reasonable option to cover an unexpected gap in funding. Note however that it is not an obligation to TA to cover such a gap. This is the Field’s responsibility, as your offer of admission guarantees funding. An advisor can never demand that you TA more than a semester. Even if it aligns with your interests, it is counterproductive to TA more than two semesters, as doing so does not count toward your degree and takes time away from that which does – research!

Plant Path students have been TAs both for classes within plant pathology and outside, such as general biology classes. The TA application for SIPS is due sometime early spring semester each year. Find more SIPS TA information and application form on the SIPS website. The TA application for general biology courses is usually shared with our department email list and is often due at the end of February.

Plant Path students have been TAs both for classes within plant pathology and outside, such as general biology classes. The TA application for SIPS is due at the end of January each year. More SIPS TA information and application form. The TA application for general biology courses is usually shared with our department email list and is often due at the end of February.

Fellowships and Grants

If you have been awarded a Cornell or other fellowship, you may need to provide information to the fellowship office at Cornell. Generally, fellowship funds are disbursed as lump sums at the beginning of each semester, rather than on a twice monthly basis, as is the case with Research or Extension Assistantships. All graduate students are encouraged to apply for external fellowships, grants, and other sources of funding. Discuss which fellowships and grants to apply for with your advisor.

Many students who are US citizens, Master’s or PhD, apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship in their first year. You are eligible to apply for the NSF GRFP in your first or second years and can only apply once so decide which year would be more appropriate for you to apply. Once you have passed your A exam, PhD students who are US citizens are eligible to apply for the USDA NIFA Predoctoral Fellowship, which our students have a great track record of being awarded. International students should check for fellowship opportunities offered by their home governments or international funding programs. The grad school webpage on external fellowships is a great resource and includes a link to a database of fellowships maintained by UCLA. When considering external fellowships, don’t worry if they don’t match the current Cornell graduate stipend or include tuition or health insurance. Cornell has a fellowship supplementation program that can make up the difference.


Regardless of the source, your stipend is generally subject to US federal and New York state income tax. Note that taxes are usually not automatically withheld from fellowship checks the way they are with assistantships. Fellowship recipients are usually required to make quarterly estimated tax payments. International students may or may not have to pay income tax depending on the US tax treaty with their country. The Graduate School maintains a somewhat helpful Tax Information page. It ultimately refers you to Internal Revenue Service and New York State Department of Taxation and Finance for definitive guidance. Experienced graduate students can also provide guidance, but it may be advisable to consult a tax professional. Alternatives Federal Credit Union at Downtown Ithaca has an option for Financial Counseling that might be useful.

Schmittau-Novak Small Grants Program

Preparing grant proposals can be challenging but it is a good skill to have! A popular opportunity is the Schmittau-Novak Small Grants Program through Cornell SIPS. This is available to all SIPS graduate students, including international students. The goal of this grant program is to help foster collaborations across SIPS sections or to foster collaborations with undergraduate researchers, so you can use this money for a standard research project, or to fund a collaboration with a graduate student or postdoc in a different IPS section or department, or a project with a focus on undergraduate mentoring. These grants are up to $5,000 for standard grants, and up to $10,000 for collaborative or undergraduate mentorship grants. Grants last a year with a no-cost extension allowed. Grantees have the opportunity to participate on panels to help select the recipients for the following year.

Student Loans

Student loans are not typically a concern for graduate students because of the provided stipends and guaranteed funding. However, if a loan is needed to supplement in some way, graduate students may apply for both federal and private educational loans. Federal loans are limited to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. International students may be eligible to apply for private loans with a U.S. co-signer. Federal loans are generally easier to obtain for graduate students than for undergraduates. The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is shorter and less detailed, and you no longer have to fill out information about your parent’s income

In general, private loans have higher interest rates than those of federal student loans and interest typically accrues from the date you take the loan rather than after graduation. Examples of private loan agencies include:

  • CitiAssist
  • Grad Achiever
  • Grad Access
  • Nellie Mae Excel

Traveling to Professional Meetings

The Section of PPPMB may provide some funding for students wishing to attend a professional society meeting. The odds of receiving funding increase if there are more than one student wishing to attend. Contact Tracy Chapman beforehand to inquire about funding.

The Cornell Graduate School also provides funding for students to attend meetings if they are presenting a poster or a talk. The amount awarded is based upon how far away the conference is and can be used for costs of transportation, lodging, and meals, or in the case of an online conference, for registration. Currently the maximum is $700 for an in person conference and $200 for an online one. These travel grants are not very competitive, and you can even apply for them after the conference has already occurred.

Finally, some meetings provide travel funding on a competitive basis. For example, the American Phytopathological Society (APS) provides a limited number of awards for students who plan to present posters or talks at the national meeting. It is best to consult the organization’s website for details on these types of awards. Watch due dates for these grants very carefully and apply early! Websites have been known to crash the day the grant applications are due.

Graduate students may choose from one of three concentrations within the Field of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology. In general, students are required to complete appropriate course work, conduct high quality research, and submit a Master’s thesis or PhD dissertation presenting their research. Opportunities for research in other countries are also available while enrolled at Cornell.

Each student has a Special Committee, which consists of the major advisor and representatives of the minor subjects. One minor subject is required for Master’s students, and two minor subjects are required for PhD candidates. The committee provides advice about recommended courses and research activities and administers the required exams. To qualify for candidacy, PhD students must pass the oral “A-exam,” usually taken after coursework is completed. Both Master’s and PhD candidates must give a public seminar describing their research and “defend” their work (thesis or dissertation) at the “B-exam.”.

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes for PPPMB graduate students, as defined by the field faculty include the following:

  • Broad knowledge of core concepts and factual information in Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology and mastery of a specialized area of study.
  • The ability to think critically and apply the scientific method to create new knowledge.
  • Original and substantive scholarly contribution to the field, commensurate with the degree (Master’s or PhD).
  • The ability to communicate effectively to professional and lay audiences through writing, speaking, and graphics.
  • Teaching competence, developed through TA, seminar, and speaking experiences.
  • Awareness of ethics and compliance responsibilities.
  • Professional skills, including collaboration, organization, and time management, and, for PhD students, grant proposal writing, mentoring, and project management, necessary to conduct an independent research program.


Students who come in on a fellowship offer are typically able to do rotations; your acceptance offer should detail whether you have been accepted into a spot in a specific lab or will be rotating and any requirements of your rotations.

Rotations give students the chance to try out a research program before deciding if a particular lab is the right fit for them. Rotating students will identify two or three labs they have an interest in and spend anywhere from 3 to 12 weeks in each working on a small project agreed upon by the student and faculty member. Rotations are first and foremost a great way to see whether a certain faculty member would be a good fit for you as an advisor. They are also useful for deciding on a research topic. For example, some students are interested in molecular aspects of plant pathology but aren’t sure if they would rather work with fungi, bacteria, viruses, or nematodes. A rotation is a good way to get a feel for the pros and cons of working with a particular type of pathogen. Even if you already know which professor you want to work with and the topic, you may do a rotation in another lab to broaden your research experience or gain skills you might need for your thesis or dissertation, and to get to know other faculty and people in their labs. Understand your personal goals for rotations and be sure to have candid discussions with faculty you might rotate with. For example, if you think you might want to join a certain faculty member’s lab after a successful rotation, ask them if you would be able to (i.e., if they have funding and bandwidth for a new student). Likewise, if you would like to rotate for the experience and networking but do not intend to join that lab, let the faculty member know. Generally, faculty are open to rotations even if they are not recruiting.

Students have up to a year (two semesters) to complete rotations, but you should try and choose a lab by early Spring semester: recruitment weekend is in February and offers will be made to new students shortly after. Oftentimes the project is not finished when the time is up, but it is not required for you to stay in the lab longer to complete the project. Do not be afraid to assert yourself if you feel you have done what you need to do for the rotation. Very rarely, a student cannot find a lab they like, or one that likes them, after three rotations. Consult with the DGS (Sarah Pethybridge, sjp277 [at] cornell.edu (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu)) if you need help finding a home lab and advisor that fits your interests and personality. You may be able to do a fourth rotation or be directly admitted to a lab. If not, though, you will need to leave the program, so be sure to put careful thought into your rotation choices, and again, have those candid conversations up front!

Oh and by the way, the DGS will serve as your advisor while you are doing rotations, for uh – advice, and signatures, and such.


Both the Master’s and PhD are research-based degrees. Often faculty members recruit students with a particular research project (or projects) in mind and will bring you in with the expectation that you pursue that line of research as your thesis or dissertation topic. Other faculty members allow you the freedom to choose your own project as long as it is within the scope of the lab. This is an important conversation to have with your advisor. Master’s students need to identify and focus on a project early, in time to complete their thesis research by the end of 2-3 years. Often A PhD student will start by working on many different projects, any of which may evolve into the dissertation project, whereas others will remain side projects. PhD students sometimes don’t settle on a vision and plan for their dissertation research until their A exam (discussed in Chapter 7), which often includes a dissertation proposal as the written component, and even then, the vision and plan often evolve after. This may be different for Master’s students who will likely have an idea of their project coming in. If you aren’t sure what you want to work on, your advisor or the DGS (Sarah Pethybridge, sjp277 [at] cornell.edu (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu)) may help guide you into a project. Ultimately, the choice, and responsibility, are yours.

Special Committee

The Special Committee is a panel of faculty members who will advise and guide you in your research and graduate career. It consists of your advisor (known as the committee chairperson) who represents the PPPMB concentration you have chosen, i.e. your “major,” and at least one other committee member for Master’s degrees and two for PhD degrees. These other members represent your minors (more on minors below). Other experts may be added to your committee as desired, and committee members may also be from outside of Cornell; these are called ad hoc committee members and they may be collaborators or other individuals with relevant expertise. Adding an external ad hoc member to your committee requires special paperwork; the DGS (Sarah Pethybridge, sjp277 [at] cornell.edu (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu)) can assist you in completing this paperwork. This can take a month or more to approve, so submit the paperwork as soon as possible.

Since the Special Committee plays such an important role in your graduate career at Cornell, keep in mind some of the following pointers:

Take your time in selecting a committee. You have until the end of your first year as Master’s student and your third semester as a PhD student. Seek out the advice of other students who work with or have worked with professors that you are considering for your committee. Get to know professors from the classes you are taking. Ask the DGS for advice. You can even “speed date” professors before you select them for your committee. Tell them you are considering them, arrange a meeting, meet with them, and tell them you’ll get back to them if you’d like them to be on your committee. This way you have time to meet other professors and carefully consider things before adding them to your committee. You will want to be sure that potential committee members are willing and able to provide ideas, and time.

Ensure that all faculty members on your committee will be able to work together – talk to your advisor and other graduate students to determine if certain personalities will mix well in a committee.

Importantly, make sure you know what the committee members’ expectations of you will be – good rapport, with both your advisor and committee is a must! But don’t worry overly much about getting it right, and don’t worry if your needs change. If for any reason you want to change your committee, you can do so easily in Student Center up to your A exam, and with a slightly more involved general petition thereafter.

Schedule a Special Committee Meeting at least once per year. It is best to do this so it coincides with your Student Progress Review (Chapter 14, below). Note that the Field requires that part of the annual committee meeting take place without the Chair present. This allows you to discuss aspects of your advisor/advisee relationship (positive or negative!) in confidence with your other committee members. See also information about conflict resolution in Chapter 10, below.


Graduate degrees in PPPMB require you to choose minor fields of study, with corresponding minor members for your Special Committee. One minor is required for Master’s students and two are required for PhD students. You can select any graduate Field as a minor. Or, you can choose a second concentration within PPPMB as a minor (different from your major concentration; the three concentrations in PPPMB are Fungal and Oomycete Biology, Plant Pathology, and Plant-Microbe Biology). For PhD students, at least one minor must be a different Field.

Course requirements for a minor vary greatly among Fields. You can check the website of the Field to see if there are a list of requirements or suggested courses. However, the final decision of what will satisfy the requirement for a minor is up to your committee member representing that minor, so be sure to discuss their expectations (and your interests) with them. Common minors include:

  • Horticulture: often flexible and up to committee members in Horticulture.
  • Genomics: requirements have become reduced and there are now two required electives necessary, listed on the Genomics minor webpage.
  • Entomology: no formal requirements, typically only requires one course such as ENTOM 2120 or ENTOM 4830, at the discretion of your minor committee member.
  • Biochemistry, Molecular or Cellular Biology guidelines recommend 6 hours of advanced (400 or 600-level) lecture courses for PhD candidates, 4 hours for Master’s. These are guidelines only, and the final decision lies with your minor committee member
  • Microbiology: Common guidelines can be found here. Typically, 6 credits on courses of 4000 or above, including 3 from the BIOMI 6901-6906 modules. However, your minor committee member has the final say on what is required.

There are many other possibilities - Applied Economics, Behavioral Biology, Computational Biology… – you name it! So, think creatively about what would benefit you most. And remember, you can add “ad hoc” experts to your committee even if they don’t represent a minor. Faculty in International Programs at Cornell, a Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology specializing in lighting systems, an expert in oomycete biology at Oregon State University, are a few examples of ad hocs students have engaged in the past.

The A Exam

In addition to the information below, the Field provides a guide to the A exam that you (and your committee) should review.

The A Exam is a comprehensive exam, also known as the admission to candidacy exam. This exam is only required for PhD students. Absent special permission, you must take your A Exam before beginning your seventh semester (in other words, by the end of your third year), and most students take the exam at the end of their second year or beginning of their third year, after finishing all classes and ideally after having completed the research needed for a first publication. You must pass this exam in order to become a “PhD candidate” and proceed with your program. During your A exam, in addition to your Special Committee, there will be one “Field-Appointed” member present (for breadth), giving a total of at least four examiners. You should contact the DGS in advance of scheduling your A exam to request the field-appointed member. You may suggest faculty in the department to serve as your field appointed examiner, but bear in mind that the purpose of the field-appointed member is to ensure you are tested broadly in the discipline: the field-appointed member should complement areas of expertise represented by the standing committee members. The final decision about who serves as your field-appointed member is made by the DGS and is contingent upon scheduling. This field-appointed member only sits on your A exam and does not become a part of your permanent Special Committee. It is the student’s responsibility to initiate and set a date for their A Exam, and to consult early with the DGS about enlisting a Field-appointed member. An official form must be submitted to the Grad School a minimum of 7 days in advance to schedule the A Exam. The exam is announced publicly, and any graduate faculty may attend, though almost always it is just the committee.

The A exam has a written component and an oral component. Well in advance, discuss with your committee what the written component should be. Often the written component is a detailed dissertation proposal. A detailed dissertation proposal is common as it not only showcases your knowledge, insight, creativity, and analytical skills, but also serves as  a useful living document (i.e., subject to change) to help you make timely progress in your research. A downside of the dissertation proposal is that it doesn’t always effectively separate your ideas from those developed by your advisor or in discussion with your advisor or labmates. To ensure the written component more completely reflects a student’s own ideas and capabilities, sometimes a research proposal on a topic unrelated to the student’s dissertation is agreed upon. Still other possibilities include written answers to essay questions supplied by the committee, a mini-literature review, or others. In discussing with your committee what the component should be, think about what would be most useful to you! The written component is usually submitted to the committee two weeks prior to the oral exam.

To prepare for the oral exam, review everything that may be even remotely related to plant pathology, your specialization in plant pathology, and your minor(s), also review any other areas related to your research. Meet with all of your committee members individually before the exam to get an idea of their expectations and what material you should know. Some faculty will even tell you the types of questions they routinely ask. Also, talk to other post A-exam students for advice and strategies for preparing.

The A Exam will be challenging, as you are expected to be conversant and analytical. However, you will probably not be able to answer every question. Every student’s A Exam is unique depending on their Special Committee (again, discuss this with your advisor and committee members), but PPPMB guidelines currently suggest starting with a 10-15 minute presentation by the student about their proposed research followed by a long period of oral examination both on topics related to the student’s proposed research and topics that more broadly cover plant pathology and any other relevant discipline (e.g., biochemistry, genetics, computational biology, epidemiology, etc., depending on your research topic). Graduate students of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology keep an informal collection of previous A exam questions in the A Exam Binder (hard copy) and in the Box Folder (online). These files should be shared exclusively among PPPMB graduate students. Contact senior graduate students for a copy of this. Periodically, material is swapped between the two campuses, but it’s a good idea to check with the other campus when you are starting to prepare for your A exam to see if there’s any new material you can add to the A Exam Book you’re studying from. Finally, in terms of preparation, talk to your PI about providing food and beverages.

Once you have completed your A exam, right away initiate the electronic Results of the A Exam Form. It has to be signed by the examiners, the DGS, and submitted to the Graduate School within 72 hours.

Also after the A exam, do future grad students a favor and add as many questions as you remember to the A Exam Book!

The vast majority of students pass the A exam. Sometimes the pass is conditional, requiring follow up work or additional examination. Conditions must be recorded in writing and agreed upon by the entire committee. It is possible to fail the A exam, but this does not happen often. If you do fail, you may be given the option to retake the exam, or to stay on long enough to prepare and defend a Master’s thesis. Otherwise, you will be required to leave the program.

If you are graduating with a Master’s Degree

If you are in the Master’s Degree program, there will be no A Exam - just a defense of your Master’s Thesis (The M Exam), which will likely be similar in format to the B Exam for a PhD (see below). Check the Grad School website for forms required to schedule the exam and to record the results of the exam. Don’t forget, just as for the A exam, the scheduling form for the M exam must be completed a minimum of seven days prior so that a timely public announcement can be made.

The B Exam

The B Exam is also called the “PhD Defense” and is the final hurdle between you and a PhD. Well, almost – sometimes there are revisions to your dissertation required after the defense, and the actual last step is submitting it to the Graduate School for formatting check and final approval. The B Exam should (in theory) be less stressful than your A Exam, mainly because you are now the expert on your dissertation topic. In general, the B Exam takes several hours and like the A exam, it can’t hurt to provide snacks and coffee for the examiners, which is usually only your Special Committee. Unlike the A exam, this is not a comprehensive exam of your knowledge of plant pathology. Rather, the B exam is a defense (read: discussion) of your research. Your committee will ask you questions about your dissertation (mostly about the interpretation of your research, how your research fits into the literature as well as big picture questions about the impact of your work and future directions), and they will decide if what you have done substantively advances the discipline, i.e., whether you have earned a PhD.

In concert with the B Exam (part of it, really), students are expected to give a public “exit seminar” for the Section. The exit seminar is a summary of the student’s research and gives the audience a chance to ask questions. Unless defending in the summer, students often schedule their exit seminar to be a part of the PPPMB seminar series (in either Ithaca or Geneva), so you will have to ask whoever schedules the seminar series when there are openings. Students often have their B Exam directly following their exit seminar, if possible. Email announcements for the exit seminar and B Exam will be sent out to the Section beforehand. Like the A and M exams, the B exam is open to all graduate faculty, and the scheduling form must be completed a minimum of seven days prior to your B Exam so that it can be announced in time. The official “Results of Exam” form must be signed by all members of your committee after you complete the exam. Both the scheduling and results form can be found on the the Graduate School's forms page.

In order to obtain a degree and as part of their professional development, each graduate student, both Master’s and PhD) is required to serve as a Teaching Assistant for one semester. Additional semesters of teaching may be completed if you have a special interest in teaching and your major advisor agrees, or if you would like a source of funding independent of your advisor’s grants (but see important information under Teaching Assistantships in Chapter 5). Being a teaching assistant provides the student with hands-on teaching experience, which is important if you would like to teach in the future. Teaching is rewarding, but it can also be a lot of work. The advertised time commitment is 15-20 hours a week, but in reality you may spend more time than this. Be sure to plan accordingly in order to balance teaching on top of research and classes. Responsibilities for teaching vary based on the class but can include running laboratory sessions, supervising field outings, grading, administering tests, and holding office hours. It is best to speak to a graduate student who has taught a class before to learn what the actual time commitment and responsibilities are. Remember that TA stipends only cover the semester you are teaching. Even if you teach in the fall and the spring, your stipend will not include summer payment.

There are a few PPPMB classes that students can TA for, including PLPPM 5010 (Plant Pathology), PLPPM 3190 (Mushrooms of Field and Forest), and PLPPM 2010 (Magical Mushrooms). Teaching assignments within the Section are typically assigned to students based upon the Section’s needs and your interests.

A recently implemented SIPS-wide TA application opens near the end of the winter term/beginning of the spring semester  Applications are due early in the spring semester for the following academic year.

Additionally, several students have served as a TA for a class offered by another department, such as the Biology or Genetics Department. When Biology opens their TAship application, you should receive an email calling for applications and outlining the courses needing TAs. If you are interested in teaching for other departments beyond Biology or Genetics, you should reach out to that department to ask about their TAship application process and if they accept TAs from other departments. A TAship outside of the department can fulfill your teaching requirement; you do not need to teach a PLPPM course to graduate.

Geneva-based graduate students often teach during their second year while they are still taking classes on the Ithaca campus, since that is where all TAships will be based.

Cornell offers several resources for TAs through the Center for Teaching Innovation, such as multi-day “institutes,” a teaching portfolio program and workshops. The workshop topics may include grading exams, papers, leading discussions, lecturing, how to make a teaching portfolio for your resume or CV and information about other teaching resources at Cornell.

As noted earlier, you should enroll in PLSCI 7980 (Graduate Student Teaching Experience) to obtain credit for teaching experience if you are not supported by a TAship during that time.

Conflicts arise, and resolution best starts with open and frank communication between the people involved. If you have a conflict with your advisor that you can’t resolve by talking with them directly about it, call on the other members of your committee for assistance. That is part of their important role. And that is why the Field requires that part of the annual committee meeting take place without the Chair (your advisor) present. You might also bring the issue to the attention of the DGS for further assistance. Absent a resolution at that point, the issue should be brought to the attention of the Dean of the Graduate School. The graduate school details these steps.

The Section of Plant Pathology has numerous facilities that graduate students may use for their research.

Lab Space

The amount of laboratory space available to you depends on your major professor and the space assigned to them. Some professors have very crowded labs with many students, lab technicians, and undergraduates working in the lab. Others have very spacious labs with few people around. There are benefits and drawbacks to each situation and this may be something to consider when choosing your advisor!

Growth Chambers

Growth chambers are frequently housed in one location within a building and are maintained by building staff. There is a big growth chamber facility in the basement of Weill Hall, accessible through a tunnel from Plant Science. Chambers are rented out to professors and lab programs on an as needed basis.

Discuss with your major professor to make the necessary arrangements; you’ll want to have an idea of how much space you will need, how long you will need it, and particulars required for your experiment, such as temperature and lighting. Discuss with the growth chamber manager beforehand if you will be introducing any pathogens or insects to the chamber and find out who is responsible for spraying the chamber for control of unwanted pathogens or insects. You’ll need training and an orientation to use the Weill facility.

Greenhouse Space

Greenhouse space is usually rented to a professor on a monthly basis. Some professors have their own allotted space, however don’t be afraid to make temporary deals with those who have space. Much of the greenhouse space in Ithaca is located in yellow greenhouses (also called Dimock) down Tower Rd near BTI. In Geneva, extensive and modern greenhouses are located right next to Barton Lab.

Greenhouse services include watering, fertilizing, pesticide application, and general housekeeping and maintenance. Greenhouse staff are happy to help with almost any request if you discuss with them in advance. Weekly pesticide applications are made in the greenhouses to control unwanted pathogens. “Spray day” is currently Thursday in the Dimock greenhouse complex. The Barton lab greenhouses are closed for sprays after 3:35 pm on Tuesdays and 2:45 pm on Fridays. All personnel must be out of the greenhouse when these applications are made, so be sure to plan your greenhouse work accordingly. Do not enter until the signs have been taken down from the prior day’s spray.

Plant Transformation Facility

The Plant Transformation Facility is a core facility set up by SIPS to help generate transgenic plants to serve the research needs of the SIPS community. In the past they have offered transformation for rice, maize, wheat and apple. They have also been willing to work with you to transform other species, especially those that are difficult to transform and are important for New York State agriculture. If you want to transform tomato, potato, Brachypodium or Setaria viridis, then you would use the BTI transformation facility.

Other Equipment

Within the Section, there is an overall feeling of camaraderie and a good deal of sharing of equipment. Most faculty members are very generous in allowing students not in their program to use equipment in the lab, provided that a student in the home lab is not using it at the time. Be courteous, ask before using, seek out training if it is your first time using it, and return borrowed items promptly so others may use them.

Computing and Software

Many of the research labs are equipped with computers, which may be available to students working in those labs. Many of these lab computers have specialized software used frequently in that lab. Discuss with your advisor which computers and software programs are available to you. You may also be able to use remote access to these lab computers and specialized programs when you are away from the lab. Workshops and mini-courses are held frequently on the Ithaca campus to introduce and familiarize you with the systems available to you. Among these, Cornell´s Institute of Biotechnology hosts BioHPC servers where you can run computationally-demanding activities too. (Learn more about BioHPC.) Additionally, the libraries at both campuses have computer stations available for students to use.  (Learn more about the libraries' stations.)

Cornell graduate students have access to lots of different software for free. Some faculty purchase group or individual licenses for other software used frequently in their lab. If you need certain software for your research, see first if you can get it through a Cornell license or CALS license, then check with your advisor before purchasing on your own.


Cornell University offers a free statistical consulting service staffed by statistics faculty and graduate students. Students from any program are welcome to make an appointment with the consulting unit to help in the design of an experiment and/or the analysis of your data. If you would like to discuss your experimental design with a plant pathologist, ask around to find someone who can help. Most people are very happy to pass on names or advice. In Geneva, Kerik Cox really knows his stuff. He and other knowledgable people are usually happy to help in the design or analysis of an experiment, however, it can’t be stressed enough that you should consult them or another statistician before you conduct the experiment if you have concerns about the statistical validity of your design.

The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES), now rebranded Cornell Agritech, also known as the Geneva Experiment Station or just “The Station”, is located in the town of Geneva, NY, about an hour drive north of Ithaca. The Plant Pathology and Plant Microbe Biology Section in Geneva is the same section as the Plant Pathology and Plant Microbe Biology Section in Ithaca, however, each location has separate administrative and support personnel. The Station houses part of the department of Entomology and sections of Plant Breeding and Horticulture in addition to Plant Pathology. Nearly 800 faculty, staff, students, and support personnel work at the Station. Currently, a few classes have begun to convene in Geneva or have in-person meeting places on both campuses. Special seminars and select classes are frequently Zoomed between the two campuses. We are hoping to keep moving in this direction allowing for better accessibility of in-person classes on both campuses in the future.

Students with advisors at the Station will be doing most of their thesis research in Geneva. The research facilities are well equipped with extensive lab space, greenhouses, and growth chambers. Another feature of the Station is the abundant field research sites within just a few miles of the Geneva campus. The Station has numerous vineyards, orchards, and vegetable fields, as well as close collaborative ties with nearby commercial growers for additional on-farm research sites.

At the Station, greenhouse space is assigned to a professor’s program by request. It is possible to negotiate additional space to meet experimental needs. Growth chambers are also assigned by request. Requests for greenhouse space and growth chamber space should be made to the Geneva facilities coordinator. Sharing growth facility space, and equipment generally, between labs is common and routine at the Station.

Doing research in Geneva is a unique situation. Because you will spend your first one to two years taking classes in Ithaca, carrying out research may require commuting a few times a week and or arranging with a faculty member in Ithaca for research space in their lab. Some Geneva students load up and focus almost entirely on classes the first two years of their program, while doing research in the summer, before switching to research full time at the Station. Discuss your research plans with your advisor to determine what will work best for you.

Ithaca to Geneva Commute

For Geneva-based students, commuting between the Geneva and Ithaca campuses is a fact of life. PPPMB has arranged a contract with a commercial charter bus service (Fitzgerald Brothers LLC.) to provide a shuttle that goes back and forth between each campus. “The Shuttle” makes two round trips daily, one in the morning (leaving Ithaca campus at 7:00 am and Cass Park at 7:15 am) and one in the afternoon/evening (leaving Geneva at 5 pm, 4:30 pm on Fridays). When riding the shuttle, be sure to have your student ID ready, as this information is recorded from time to time to get an accurate headcount on how many students, faculty, and staff are using this service. See this Cornell AgriTech webpage for schedule and details of where the Shuttle picks up and drops off in and around Ithaca.

A PPPMB Section vehicle is also available to students if the Shuttle times do not fit your schedule. Because the Section can only supply one of these student vehicles, carpooling is highly suggested. Usually at the beginning of every semester the students interested in commuting develop a driving schedule convenient to everyone’s schedules. Look out for email about this each fall. The student vehicle parks on the Cornell campus, close to the Plant Sciences building.

Keep in mind that the drive from Ithaca to Geneva is 50 miles and takes 1 hour. There is not a lot of traffic, and it can be easy to speed. State Troopers are frequently seen patrolling the route and this is a favorite route to pull people over. Stay safe also by staying alert for animals, farm machinery, Amish horse and buggies, and winery hoppers as well.

Office Space

Most graduate student offices at the Station are located on the first and third floors of Barton Lab. Desks, office chairs, internet, and adequate shelving and filing space is supplied.

Sanger Sequencing

Once you get going on research, you may find you have DNA samples to deliver to the Ithaca campus to be sequenced in the Biotech building across from Plant Science. If you are a first-year, you will still be passing Biotech on the way to classes and can easily drop off your sequencing. If not, there are often times when additional grad students or faculty go to the Ithaca campus. Feel free to reach out and ask if they can transport your samples for you. In the past, there was often a last-minute scramble to find

Tuesday Seminar Series

PPPMB has a separate seminar series on Tuesdays at 11:20 am, in Geneva. Once done with classes and fully based in Geneva, students there often choose to regularly attend that series. Come a few minutes early for coffee and cookies. Both the Tuesday Geneva seminars and the Wednesday Ithaca seminars can be attended on Zoom, and students are welcome to Zoom in to any other SIPS seminars of interest as well, so choose what talks interest you most each week! Often, you can watch Ithaca seminars on the big screen in A134 in Barton.


Station-owned housing is available for graduate students to rent and is located just down the street from laboratory buildings. There is a waiting list for station housing, so it is suggested that interested students sign up early with the coordinator. The vast majority of Geneva’s graduate students live off-campus. In the past, prices have tended to be significantly less expensive than in Ithaca, however, with options for housing not as numerous, prices have increased.

Summer Scholars Program

A program unique to the Station is the Cornell Summer Scholars Program. This is a nine-week summer research internship for undergraduates. The department of Entomology and the sections of Plant Pathology and Horticulture all participate. Undergraduates from schools across the United States and the world apply to the program, and if accepted, are matched to work in a particular faculty member’s program to conduct a research project. As a graduate student in Geneva, your faculty advisor may ask you to work closely with and mentor an intern. This is a fun time and a great opportunity to build your mentoring and organizational skills!


Students at Cornell AgriTech participate in SAGES (Student Association of the Geneva Experiment Station). This is an organization funded by the GPSAFC and also by some funds from the Station Director. Students from all over the station participate, including students in Plant Breeding, Horticulture, Food Science (now mostly in Ithaca), and also Entomology. It is a unique opportunity to meet a variety of other scientists including graduate students and postdocs. There are officers and two yearly meetings (lunch is provided). SAGES holds quarterly workshops with librarians or statisticians over lunch. We’ve had mentorship workshops and a book club as well. SAGES tries to come together to bring resources and staff up to the station and to advocate for access to workshops and other services. The goal is to form an active and vibrant community. There are regular Thirsty Thursday events to help with this. Shortly before the end of the workday, people can gather for a beer or snack before heading home. There is also a SAGES garden on a research plot. For people without access to a garden plot, members can pay a small fee to have a plot for the summer. There is also a bicycle program that is organized by SAGES for students and Summer Scholars. There are other seasonal SAGES events including outreach and fundraising events, which really help to connect the community.

The Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) is an independent, non-profit institution affiliated with Cornell and located on the main campus in Ithaca. It was founded by William Boyce Thompson in 1924 for basic plant research. Over 100 researchers work at BTI, with a wide variety of types of research; BTI is unique in that most faculty there are adjunct faculty at Cornell, representing several departments, including PPPMB, Plant Biology, Molecular Biology and Genetics, and Chemical Biology. Many graduate students in PPPMB, and other Fields, call BTI home.

BTI Resources open to all PPPMB students:

  • Seminar Series - BTI has its own seminar series called BTI Research Updates, in which researchers from within the institute present their research. These seminars happen at 9am most Monday mornings in the BTI atrium. The details are announced in a weekly SIPS email detailing seminars of interest, and they are open to all.
  • Bioinformatics Consulting Hours - The BTI Computational Biology Center (BCBC) holds consulting hours typically every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. These hours are open to anyone in the Cornell community, and you can drop in to ask your bioinformatics questions. They can help you troubleshoot code and get started on different types of analysis
  • Introduction to Bioinformatics Course - If you want more comprehensive instruction in bioinformatics, BTI offers this course every spring (usually March to April). It is free to anyone in the Cornell community. Visit the BCBC website to inquire about registering for the course.
  • Plant Cell Imaging Center - This facility located on the first floor of BTI is equipped with a stereoscope, epifluorescence scope and a laser scanning confocal microscope. These instruments are available to all Cornell researchers after receiving appropriate training. Email pcic [at] cornell.edu (pcic[at]cornell[dot]edu) with questions or to schedule training.
  • Biotechnology Center - This is a facility that specializes in the transformation of tomato, potato, Brachypodium or Setaria viridis. Visit this page to learn more or to fill out a transformation request.

The BTI Experience

Being a graduate student based in BTI can be a unique experience. BTI boasts excellent facilities such as those listed above and easy access to greenhouse and growth chambers. BTI also offers services to its resident labs such as free glass washing and low-cost buffer preparation services. The institute is also host to many visiting speakers and events. The institute has several summer internship programs, which afford PPPMB students an opportunity to mentor undergraduate or high school students. BTI also has a very active outreach arm, and you can easily get involved in outreach by contacting Delanie Sickler (dbs266 [at] cornell.edu (dbs266[at]cornell[dot]edu)). Additionally, BTI has an excellent communications department that can help publicize your work through news releases, videos, and social media. Let your PI know if you’d be interested in having the communications team spread your research if you have a paper nearing publication.

Graduate students at BTI have the option to participate in the BTI Postgraduate Society (PGS), an organization that represents graduate students and postdocs at the institute and puts on a lot of programming each year, such as workshops, socials and invited speakers. The PGS also offers a mentorship program that can connect graduate students with mentors outside of academia. The PGS also recently started a small grant program to support small research projects or professional development opportunities for graduate students or post docs at the institute. You do not have to be a member of the PGS to apply. Look out for emails for when the application opens.

Both the GFC (Josh Balles) and DGS (Sarah Pethybridge) can help with all questions concerning graduate student studies and should be consulted if issues arise. As you proceed through your graduate program, there are a number of forms that you’ll need to submit to the Graduate School in a timely fashion. These forms generally require signatures of your special committee chair and the DGS. Most are now submitted (and signed) online.

Below are descriptions of the most common forms needed during your time at Cornell. Submit forms in plenty of time for them to circulate for signatures and make it to the graduate school by whatever the deadline is. Forms submitted at the last minute may not be signed in time for submission to the Graduate School.

Ad Hoc (External) Committee Member Request Form

This form should be completed if you would like to add an ad hoc member to your committee (someone outside of Cornell Faculty). This process requires the completed form, including the Ad Hoc members CV, and must be signed by yourself, all members of the special committee, and the the DGS (Sarah Pethybridge) and GFA (Josh Balles). The DGS will help you assemble all of these materials for submission to the Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School. Adding an ad hoc member can take some time; it is suggested that you start early.

Student Progress Review

The Student Progress Review (SPR) is anevaluation system put in place by the Cornell Graduate School to encourage dialogue between graduate students and their advisors about their degree progress. After your first year, you will have to go through this review process each year (typically due around April 1st - watch out for emails). The SPR consists of a student portion as well as an advisor portion. Final responses are to be submitted online but draft versions can be downloaded and circulated. PhD students complete the Standard Form and Master’s students complete the Short Form (see the PPPMB Graduate Field Requirements webpage) instead of the Standard Form. It is important to include the feedback of the committee during this process, so it is recommended to schedule a committee meeting to coincide with the SPR. Full details on the process can be found in the Assessments section of the PPPMB Graduate Field Requirements webpage. Briefly,


The Student Progress Review (SPR) is a new evaluation system put in place by the Cornell Graduate School to encourage dialogue between graduate students and their advisors about their degree progress. After your first year, you will have to go through this review process each year (typically due around June 1st - watch out for emails). The SPR consists of a student portion as well as an advisor portion. Final responses are to be submitted online but draft versions can be downloaded and circulated. PhD students complete the Standard Form and Master’s students complete the Short Form (see the PPPMB Graduate Field Requirements webpage) instead of the Standard Form. It is important to include the feedback of the committee during this process, so it is recommended to schedule a committee meeting to coincide with the SPR. Full details on the process can be found in the Assessments section of the PPPMB Graduate Field Requirements webpage. Briefly,

  1. Before the committee meeting, the student completes their portion of the form online and saves as a draft. Students download this draft and email it to their major advisor and special committee.
  2. After the committee meeting, the advisor completes their portion of the form offline, incorporating feedback from the committee.
  3. The student and advisor meet to discuss their responses to both the student and advisor forms.
  4. The student and advisor both submit their final responses to the online portal

General Petition Form

If you have received a letter from the graduate school stating that you need to complete a petition form by a certain date in order to be permitted to register for the next semester, please submit your form for signature 3 days before it is required at the graduate school.

Schedule of Examination Form

This form notifies the Graduate School that you are planning to take your A-Exam or B-Exam and is due to the Graduate School with all required signatures at least 7 days before the exam is to take place. This requires the form to be submitted in the online system at least 10 days prior to the exam.

Results of Examination Form

This form notifies the Graduate School that your committee members have reached a consensus on the results of the A or B Exam. Once completed this form will be automatically routed to everyone in your committee as well as the DGS and GFC. This form must be submitted within 3 business days post-exam.

Student Health Insurance

All Cornell students are automatically enrolled in the Cornell Student Health Plan (unless you waive your enrollment, which is not recommended, and you must have other insurance). The Student Health Plan coverage is provided through Aetna. You will often pay ~$10 for most on-campus visits, including counseling. Several other doctors in the Ithaca-Geneva area also take this insurance (“in-network”). However, coverage outside of Cornell Heath is not as efficient and might require higher copays or payments. You can print your insurance card and view other plan documents at the Student Health Benefits webpage. There is also the option to have additional coverage from the New York State of Health medical insurance, if you qualify. The people at the Human Services Coalition in Ithaca are very nice and can help you determine this! This might be particularly useful for international students and/or students with families or spouses.

Medical Care in Ithaca

For medical care in Ithaca, you can contact Cornell Health by calling 607-255-5155 or visiting the Cornell Health website. They offer a wide range of care options including physicals, gynecological exams, blood tests, urgent care, and counseling. A physician at Cornell Health can also refer you to specialists if necessary. Your test results, appointments, vaccination records, and other resources can be found through the My Cornell Heallth portal.

Medical Care in Geneva

Geneva-based students can receive the full range of services while they are in Ithaca, but many choose to find an in-network doctor in Geneva. This applies for both medical doctors and counselors. The Cornell Student Health Plan (SHP) is provided by Aetna, so you can use Aetna’s DocFind website to find participating doctors in Geneva. Many Geneva students travel to Ithaca to seek health and counseling services, however, you can always ask current Geneva students and faculty about their past experiences with doctors, dentists, therapists, etc. to ensure that you find a healthcare specialist that fits your needs.

Mental Health Resources

Making the transition to graduate school and balancing research, coursework, and teaching responsibilities can be stressful. Many students find it helpful to seek counseling to manage stress and address new and existing sources of anxiety. Cornell has many mental health resources, and you are encouraged to make use of them in a way that makes sense for you.

  • Peer Counseling can be a great way to seek advice in a low-pressure setting. Cornell’s EARS (Empathy, Assistance and Referral Service) is a vibrant peer-led counseling and training program open to all members of the Cornell community: anonymous, free, confidential. Call 607-255-EARS (3277) to get started. EARS also offers walk-in counseling at 213 Willard Straight Hall. Visit the EARS website for the schedule.
  • The crisis text line is available if you have an urgent issue and are not comfortable having a phone call. It is available 24/7 365 days a year. Text HELLO to 741-741.
  • Professional Counseling is available at Cornell Health and from other providers in Ithaca and Geneva. Cornell Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) is a good place to start if you are considering counseling. First, they will do a brief 15-minute phone assessment and then can set you up with a Cornell counselor or refer you to someone outside of Cornell in Ithaca or Geneva. To get started, you can schedule your phone assessment online at the myCornellHealth Patient Portal or by calling 607-255-5155 during business hours to schedule an appointment. This number can also be called 24/7 for urgent concerns outside of business hours. CAPS also offers free group counseling and Let’s Talk drop-in hours. Keep in mind that CAPS has a limited number of counselors and you may be referred to a counselor outside of Cornell during your phone interview or after being seen by a Cornell counselor for a short period of time. Many of these external counselors are excellent and can provide a more regular counseling schedule (even weekly visits), so do not be discouraged if referred to an external counselor. It is worth it to establish a connection with one of them.

As always, feel free to reach out to current graduate students for advice about seeking medical or mental health care. Lots of graduate students in the department are forthcoming about their own health journeys and we want you to be able to find the care that’s best for you!

We decided to include this section about things that might work somewhat differently for international students! First, we understand that this whole process is a gigantic change for you. Starting graduate school itself is new, exciting, but also challenging. If, on top of that, you move from one country to another, a huge number of changes happen so fast. Our group of graduate students in Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell is very diverse and several of us are international students. So, we know how you might be feeling right now!

Before coming to the US:

  1. Processing your visa

    Probably the most important thing you will have to do before traveling to the U.S is to process your student visa. This can be very tricky and is very much tailored to each individual situation. Be sure to follow ALL the instructions provided by the Office of Global Learning on their webpage.
  2. Finding housing

    As mentioned before, finding housing in advance is practically mandatory. Especially when you come from a different country. The leasing office or your prospective landlord might need some extra documents from you as an international student. So, be sure to establish a communication channel with them in advance. Ask as many questions as you need. Also, in some cases an extra security deposit is requested, please check this is accepted in the NY State tenant guidelines. However, do not forget that you have Cornell’s Off-campus living office at your disposal if you are not sure about what your landlord or leasing office is requesting from you.

Things to do after arriving to campus:

  1. Banking

    You will need a banking account so you can set up a direct deposit with Cornell for them to deposit your semi-monthly paycheck directly into your account. Also, as a new student, you are possibly carrying some cash and it is not safe to keep it at home. There are a limited number of banks (or credit unions) in Ithaca including CFCU Community Credit Union, Tompkins Trust Company, M&T Bank, and Chase bank. Both CFCU and Tompkins Trust have locations on campus at the Cornell store. You just need to bring your passport to set up a savings and checking account. When opening your accounts, you can order a debit card for your checking account, which will arrive one week later. Also, most of the banks in Ithaca know that new international students at Cornell have no social security number (SSN) when they arrive and are usually willing to open the account without a SSN. Also, you will likely need checks for things like paying your rent, so you can ask for a checkbook when you set up the accounts.

  2. Getting a SIM card

    It is a good idea to have a local phone number after arriving in the US. Also, having internet on your phone is very helpful for navigation in the first weeks that you do not know the city very well. In most cases you will not need to get a new phone. There are at least three providers in Ithaca that each have their own advantages, but AT&T and Verizon have the best coverage in Ithaca. To get a SIM card you just need your phone and your passport. There are different options based on your internet usage that you can select, but having unlimited call and text with 1 gig of high speed internet (unlimited low speed internet) would support your basic needs for navigation or web searches.
  3. Getting state ID & driver’s license

    In the US you may need to have a photo ID with you all the time and it is a very bad idea to carry your passport around. One of the first things you should do is get a state ID; it is very fast and cheap. You need to just bring your I-20 and passport to the Ithaca Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV), located at 301 Third Street. You can ask for a ride from another grad student or you can take bus route #31 from campus to Third Street. The DMV has a stop and you can ask the driver to drop you off there and you can take the same bus to come back to campus. At the DMV they will take a picture, check your I-20 and passport and you will be DONE. One week later you will have a state ID, with no need to carry your passport. For more information read helpful post on the RedBus2US Blog..

    Starting on May 7th, 2025, ID requirements at airports and some federal buildings will change. You will be required to have a REAL ID to board a plane in the US, but in order to get a REAL ID, you must first get a social security number (see below). After getting your social security number you can apply for a non-driver REAL ID or you can apply for a driver’s license with REAL-ID validity (which has little star at the corner). Either of these can be used for domestic flights. More information on how to get a Real-ID at the NY Department of Motor Vehicles website.

    It is a good idea to get a NY driver’s license if you are planning to drive often with your car or rent a car. It is very easy to get a driver’s license if you are a driver and do not need training. The procedure will take at least one month to 40 days. To get a driver’s license you should have a valid SSN, so you should apply for a SSN if you haven't already. To get a driver’s license you need to bring your I-20, passport and SSN to the DMV. You will fill out the forms (which they will provide) and you can take the exam right away (on the monitor) but it is better to study in advance to pass the exam. You can find online resources to study, such as mock exam questions here: New York State Driver's Manual & practice tests.

    If you pass the exam, the next step is attending a pre-licensing course (4 hours). After taking this course, they send you a learner permit a week later that allows you to drive in the presence of a person who has a valid US driver’s license. To get your valid driver’s license, you must pass the road test at the DMV (note that you need to bring your learner’s permit and a car for a road test). You can ask a friend or a senior grad student to provide a car for the road test. You can get more information about this process here: Get a driver license.
  4. Applying for a Social Security card

    A social security number is a 9-digit unique number that you need for all social security benefits. You will need it to open a savings account (in most banks), get a credit card (not all banks), get a driver’s license, pay taxes and to get a Real-ID. You will need your passport, I-94 entry record, I-20, and a letter from the Office of Global Learning verifying that you are eligible for a SSN. Also, you should print and fill out the application form. After gathering all of these, take them to the Social Security office at 127 W State Street, second floor. You do not need to call them in advance. They will mail your social security card in a month. Keep in your mind that your social security number is extremely private information, and can be used in identity theft, so guard it closely. Get more information about applying for a social security number here.
  5. Dropping off your diploma/transcripts

    To complete your enrollment at Cornell, you need to mail or drop off your Master’s or BS transcripts with grades in English as well as a certified copy of your diploma to the administration offices at Cornell within one year of starting classes. You can ask your previous university to mail these documents, but if the mail system between your country and the US is not reliable, it is better to bring the transcripts with you and drop them off at the Office of Graduate Admissions in Caldwell Hall on campus. More information about Transcript Requirements.
  6. Special requirements from Cornell Health

    Although already mentioned briefly above, international students might be required to get some extra vaccines or certifications. Therefore, be sure you either inquire about the requirements for your specific country or that you have someone back at home that can help you process and mail certain certifications later. Also, health insurance in the US might work differently to what you are used to. Learn more at Cornell Health website: Especially for International Students

As a graduate student in Plant Pathology at Cornell, regardless of whether you are based in Ithaca or Geneva, you will automatically become a member of the Plant Pathology Graduate Student Association (the “GSA”). This organization exists to “represent and promote the professional activities of graduate students and to facilitate communication among students and between students and faculty of the Section of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology at Cornell University,” as is stated in the GSA constitution. Unlike other organizations you may be a part of, the GSA does not collect dues from students, so there is no excuse not to get involved!

The GSA plans many activities for graduate students throughout the year, including the New Student Picnic and Halloween Party, among others. The GSA also serves as a grievance board for students of the Section and is actively involved in improving the conditions for graduate study within the Section. The GSA is governed by five elected officers: President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Representative to the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA, the graduate student association at the Cornell Graduate School level). There are also several committees, including Social, Colloquium, Prospective Student, and New Student Committees. Additional information on each officer position is listed below. Elections for GSA members occur late in the Spring semester, for terms for the following academic year. Committees are formed during the first meeting in the fall semester.


GSA meetings are usually held once a semester to discuss a wide variety of issues (food is of course provided). All graduate students are strongly encouraged to attend these meetings, especially if they want to have an input in departmental activities. Meetings are Zoomed between the two campuses so all students can participate.


Many activities are sponsored by the GSA or in conjunction with the Section or SIPS throughout the semester. Past activities have included movie nights, bowling, potlucks, parties, and weekly coffee breaks. The GSA is always open to suggestions about new and fun things to plan, so be sure to attend the meetings and voice ideas!


Each spring semester, the GSA and plant pathology graduate students sponsor a colloquium for the Section. The graduate students nominate potential speakers, vote on their favorite, and then invite the selected speaker to present a special seminar on his or her research that is of special interest to plant pathologists. This event is entirely organized by the GSA and past colloquia have proved a great success. Members of the department are encouraged to meet with the speaker individually or in small groups. Often, the graduate students are invited to a special lunch to spend time with and get to know the speaker better.

Descriptions of GSA Offices (As dictated by the GSA Constitution and personal experience)


  • Serves as the main GSA contact for students and faculty
  • Schedules and presides over GSA meetings
  • Registers the GSA with the Student Activities Office
  • Encourages involvement in GSA and its associated activities as well as delegating responsibility to other members
  • Contacts faculty or others to address the concerns of the plant pathology graduate students

Vice President

  • Serves as the representative of the GSA to the SIPS Graduate Student Council
  • Coordinates communication to others SIPS sections and helps facilitate planning of SIPS-wide events


  • Records meeting minutes
  • Maintains records passed down about events
  • Holds elections


  • Records all financial transactions
  • Coordinates all funds and fund-raising activities of the GSA
  • Assists the committees in event budgets, spending, and reimbursement

Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) Representative

  • Represents the Plant Pathology GSA at the GPSA meetings by voicing the concerns, suggestions, and questions of the GSA
  • Keeps the GSA informed of the activities of the GPSA

NOTE: The Plant Pathology GSA and SAGES each have a separate representative to the GPSA.
For descriptions of the various committees, please see the GSA Constitution.

This section is to be updated every year in May to account for changes in personnel and titles.

  • Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
    Sarah Pethybridge; 211 Barton Lab; sjp277 [at] cornell.edu (sjp277[at]cornell[dot]edu); (315) 787-2417
  • Graduate Field Coordinator
    Josh Balles: 237 Emerson Hall; jeb527 [at] cornell.edu (jeb527[at]cornell[dot]edu); (609) 255-9573
  • PPPMB Section Chair
    Gillian Turgeon, 316 Plant Science; bgt1 [at] cornell.edu (bgt1[at]cornell[dot]edu); (607) 254-7458
  • Assistant to the Chair
    Michelle Blackmore; 134 Plant Science; mb2525 [at] cornell.edu (mb2525[at]cornell[dot]edu); (607) 255-3245
  • PPPMB Program Leader, Geneva
    Kerik Cox; 218 Barton Lab; kdc33 [at] cornell.edu (kdc33[at]cornell[dot]edu); (315) 787-2401
  • PPPMB Administrative Assistant (Geneva)
    Kate Keagle; 104 Barton Laboratory; kev35 [at] cornell.edu (kev35[at]cornell[dot]edu); (315) 787-2331
  • Finance and Budget Manager
    Tracy Chapman, 330 Plant Science tlk2 [at] cornell.edu (tlk2[at]cornell[dot]edu); (607) 255-5474

GSA New Student Committee Chair(s):

  • Jean Sabety (co-chair) (js2824 [at] cornell.edu (js2824[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Jocelyn Schwartz (co-chair) (jas975 [at] cornell.edu (jas975[at]cornell[dot]edu))

GSA Executive Council 2023-2024:

  • President: Natalia Pineros Guerrero (np353 [at] cornell.edu (np353[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Vice president: Hana Feulner (hf332 [at] cornell.edu (hf332[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Secretary: Emma Nelson (emn62 [at] cornell.edu (emn62[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Treasurer: Pratibha Sharma (ps2244 [at] cornell.edu (ps2244[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • GPSA representative: Kensy Dinora Rodriguez-Herrera (kdr66 [at] cornell.edu (kdr66[at]cornell[dot]edu))

This concludes the Cornell Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Graduate Student Handbook. Revisit sections as needed. As you move through your graduate school career, remember not to stress too much and enjoy your time here at Cornell!