SCS Graduate Student Association

The mission of the Soil and Crop Sciences Graduate Student Association (SCS-GSA) is to encourage and instigate social and intellectual exchange between graduate students interested in environmental and agronomic issues. Our goal is to enhance the quality of life for graduate students and their families, improve the quality of Soil and Crop Sciences education at Cornell, and facilitate academic and professional collaboration. All Soil and Crop Sciences graduate students are automatically members. The SCS-GSA also participates in the SIPS Graduate Council.

SCS-GSA officers:

  • President - Annika Rowland (avr28 [at] (avr28[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Vice-President - Whitman Barrett (wab224 [at] (wab224[at]cornell[dot]edu))
  • Treasurer - Valentina Rubio (vr349 [at] (vr349[at]cornell[dot]edu))


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 Soil and Crop Sciences

graduate student and professor looking at seedheads in field of perennial grain

Soil & Crop Sciences Graduate Student Handbook

Welcome to the Field of Soil and Crop Sciences. The Section of Soil and Crop Sciences (SCS) at Cornell University is composed of numerous facilities and faculty members housed at several different locations. For most issues, the Section is equivalent to a Department elsewhere at Cornell and at other institutions. The organizational structure is as follows, from largest to smallest:

  • Cornell University
  • College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS)
  • School of Integrative Plant Science (SIPS)
  • Section of Soil and Crop Sciences

SIPS was first established in 2014 to foster cross disciplinary collaboration among its various Sections, which include; Plant Biology, Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, and Soil and Crop Sciences.

The Field offers qualified students the opportunity to obtain an advanced graduate degree in a Master of Science (M.S.) degree program, the Masters of Science/Doctor of Philosophy (M.S./Ph.D) and a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program.


Newly admitted graduate students should correspond with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in their field to clarify program details. Upon arrival to campus, students should report to their major advisor, the DGS, and the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA). New graduate students should take the responsibility of meeting professors, other graduate students, office staff, technicians, greenhouse, and field staff. Students should also become familiar with campus buildings, laboratories, and staff offices. The DGS, as well as other faculty members and staff, can provide assistance to become familiar with University, Graduate School, and Section. An orientation program for all incoming graduate students is held during the week of registration in January and August.

This handbook will help you understand how the section operates, what is expected of you, and what you may expect from the section. The faculty, DGS, and the Section chair have an open-door policy and make every effort to address student needs. This handbook provides supplemental information that applies specifically to the Field of Soil and Crop Sciences and should be used in conjunction with information published by the Graduate School. Please feel free to ask questions as you adjust to your new surroundings.

Desk Assignments

The section has several rooms in Bradfield Hall set aside for graduate students to share, and a desk will be made available for each graduate student upon their arrival. Assignments will be made by the GFA. Students on a Leave of Absence or with space elsewhere (such as in Geneva, or have lab/desk space) may be asked to forfeit their desk space to others, if there is a need for space when new students arrive. Students should not “take over” another desk area while they are here; and they must empty and clean their assigned desk prior to departure.

Major Advisor & Special Committee

The faculty person who directs a student’s thesis work is usually considered the major advisor/chairperson of his/her special committee. This advisor identified upon your arrival, unless you are initially doing rotations. If a student is doing rotations, then the DGS will be their chairperson. The chair is a primary mentor who will guide the student. The Special Committee Chair should be recorded with the Graduate School within the first 3-weeks of admission. The Special Committee Selection and Change form should be used to assign the chairperson. This can be done on-line at the Graduate School's form page or directly through the ‘Student Center’ website.

Other members of the special committee represent the minor fields chosen (one additional faculty member/field for a M.S. degree and two additional faculty members/fields for a Ph.D.), plus any additional members students wish to add.

Choosing a Special Committee

The Special Committee should be chosen by the end of the first semester at Cornell for M.S. students. Ph.D. students need to have their Special Committee selection done by the end of their third semester. Selection of the minor members is best done in consultation with the major advisor/chairperson. Feel free to meet with, and interview, various members of the graduate faculty before making a decision. Common goals and interests should be discussed.

One minor member is required for an M.S. and two for a Ph.D. degree.

The selection of a major chair and other committee members should be done through “Student Center”.

Field Appointed Committee Member

The Director of Graduate Studies may assign an additional member of the Field of Soil and Crop Sciences to participate in your A/B exams and/or final exam. This person would be recorded on your Special Committee as: Field Appointment Member for Exam.

In-House Application to a Ph.D. Program

Students who were admitted into the M.S. degree program, have fulfilled those requirements, and then wish to continue their studies in a Ph.D. program must complete a new on-line application for admission to the PhD program. Application fee waiver information can be found here: Graduate School Application Fees.

Note: The Application for Readmission (Form R3) is only used for students who have let their registration lapse in their current program and wish to return to finish their degree.


There are forms for everything you would like to do in regards to your graduate program. These include, but are not limited to, scheduling exams, exam results forms, leave of absence, in absentia, petitions, travel grants, etc. Forms can be found on the Forms can be found on the Graduate School website. There are also section forms that can be found on the Soil and Crop Sciences website.


Major professors (or supervisors) have the following obligations to graduate students

  • Have a general knowledge of the student's ability to handle personal financial affairs.
  • Make arrangements for office space and facilities for the student.
  • Consult with the student regarding a special committee and see that the student proposes names to the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate School for approval.
  • Ensure that the special committee has approved the course of study by the end of the first semester of residence.
  • Ensure that the special committee has approved the thesis research proposal for an M.S. degree by the end of the second semester and the dissertation proposal for a Ph.D. degree by the end of the second semester of residence.
  • Approve the student's annual report before it is submitted to the Field.
  • Approve the thesis draft before it is presented to other committee members.
  • Involve the special committee in the early stages of the student's proposed course of study and research project.
  • Assume major responsibility for the intellectual, scientific, and technical guidance of the student.

Responsibilities of the Graduate Student

All graduate students are provided with field, laboratory and/or greenhouse space and materials to accomplish the research required for their degrees. Depending on their funding source, students may be expected to participate in other projects their major professors consider appropriate, even though projects may not be directly related to their own degree programs or research. Participation in such projects should enhance each student's graduate training, but it will not be so extensive and demanding that it prolongs the graduate program beyond the time normally required for completion of M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Students are responsible for initiating discussions with major professors concerning thesis research, coursework, and special committee appointments and meetings. They should also let their major professors know about any financial or personal problems that threaten their progress toward the completion of degree requirements. This kind of communication enables the major professors and the Field, through the Director of Graduate Studies, to be of maximum assistance in ensuring that each student's experience at Cornell is intellectually rewarding and personally satisfying.

Orientation of Facilities Use

We are required by law to make certain that all users of chemicals, equipment, and facilities are familiar with potential hazards and appropriate safety precautions. Graduate students are required to attend orientation and training sessions before using any of the laboratory, growth chamber, greenhouse, or field research facilities. Orientations for facility usage are held regularly and graduate students should watch for announced times (usually by e-mail).

If you are unable to attend, please contact the person in charge of orientation to make other arrangements. Do not use a facility or hazardous equipment if you have not been through the appropriate training session.

Right to Know

Federal and New York State law mandates and the university requires that all graduate students and employees attend an orientation on the “Right to Know” Act. This introduces the law, the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), general toxicology and laboratory safety. You will receive a memo with times and locations of the orientation meetings. You will also receive a Safety Guideline checklist, mandated by the University, and you are required to return the checklist to the Section safety representative. Safety Information notebooks are available for your reference in the main offices and in the Section laboratories. You will receive an index to the notebook as a quick guide to its contents.

Laboratories and Equipment

Most research projects and professors have one or more laboratories with research equipment. Students will normally use of their advisor’s laboratory and equipment. To use other equipment in the Section, permission should be obtained from the professor involved. Laboratory space is assigned by the major advisor. Equipment, glassware, reagents, etc. are generally purchased to use in specific laboratories. They should not be transferred to other locations unless approved by the faculty member in charge. Before using laboratory equipment, students are expected to obtain permission and instruction from the faculty member in charge or his/her designate. Each student is responsible to keep their work areas clean. Laboratory supplies or other purchases should be approved by the student’s major advisor. Disposal of toxic materials must follow proper safety procedures. See the appropriate Radioactive Material Permit Holder about use and disposal of radioactive materials.

Growth Chambers

Growth chambers, both reach-in and walk-in, are available for research use. Fees are paid by the research project and professor involved. At the beginning of each semester a meeting is held to establish growth chamber assignments. Be sure to clear the availability of funds with your major professor before reserving growth chamber space. There is high demand for this and the Section makes every effort to accommodate everyone’s needs.


Requests for Section greenhouse space should be approved by your major advisor beforehand. Guterman space requests are made through the greenhouse superintendent. Greenhouse space at Kenneth Post Lab (KPL) is arranged through the greenhouse manager.

Field Research

Requests for experimental field plots are made early each spring and must carry the endorsement of the major advisor. Policies and procedures will be explained at an orientation and training session for field research.

Computing and Multimedia Facilities

Computer support for personal computers and Section-owned equipment is requested via a Remedy Incident Ticket.  New graduate students will need to have an anti-virus program installed and have their computer scanned, before they can get on our wired network. This process can take a half day or so. Please be prepared to leave your computer in the IT office (Rice 105) for this procedure. RedRover wireless can be accessed without any scanning.


While campus is a generally a safe place, theft does occur and we urge you to be mindful of your and others property. Keep offices and valuables locked up, and secure windows upon leaving for the day. Shut down computers, especially after using email. Keep backup copies of all your important work. Keep graduate student office doors closed at all times.

Section Hours

Working hours for Section staff (offices and facilities) are: Monday through Thursday, 8:00 am-4:30 pm; and Friday, 8:00 am-3:30 pm. Some offices such as the greenhouses, farm, or orchards may vary. Laboratories and graduate student offices are usually accessible 24-hours a day.


Graduate students are encouraged to attend and participate in industry oriented conferences/meetings. Attendance is also encouraged at national and regional scientific meetings. In the course of a student’s research, the major advisor may agree to reimburse a portion of the expenses for attending a scientific meeting. It will be up to the advisor to decide if funds are available. Additional assistance may be obtained by applying in advance to the Graduate School for a special travel grant, which pays for transportation costs but only when presenting a paper/poster. The Graduate School also provides grants up to $2,000 to research degree students to conduct thesis/dissertation researcher. Priority is given to those who have or will have completed their A Exam by the date of travel. Prior to your trip, give your advisor the following information: destination, departure and arrival time, date, purpose of trip. You must file a “Notice of Proposed Travel” for insurance purposes, and also if you need a travel advance. In order to get reimbursed, you must submit all original receipts and complete an expense report upon your return. Please see the Travel Funding Opportunities page on the Cornell Graduate School Website for more information.

You may also apply for a travel grant from the Section of Soil and Crop Sciences for up to $400 per year. This form is found on the SCS website.

Section Vehicles

Use of university/section vehicles by graduate assistants is authorized for university business only, such as carrying out research or other university projects. You must be registered to drive these vehicles. For insurance purposes, family members or friends are not permitted to ride in or drive university/Section vehicles at any time unless they are Cornell employees and registered.

State Fleet vehicles

Visit the Facilities and Campus Services website to view the Fleet Policy Manual. Fleet cars are available for official use. Permission from the major advisors is required. Charges are made on a mileage or per day basis to Section accounts; an account number is required when reserving a fleet vehicle. Reserve a car or van as early as possible; and should the need arise, cancel immediately to avoid a charge (24-hours prior to departure). The actual driver must pick up the fleet car. Students must have a valid driver’s license, be registered at the Fleet Garage, and be pre-approved by the Risk Management Office. In order to do so, fill out a form available on-line at the Fleet Transporation Services website.

“Authorized Drivers: A member of the Cornell community who has been authorized by an operating unit to drive one of its vehicles for university-related business.” (Use of Cornell Vehicles, Policy 3.4). Fleet vehicles cannot be used for personal business nor may the vehicle be used in commuting to and from an individual’s place of residence. Members of an employee’s family, or other unauthorized passengers not associated with the University, may not ride in a fleet vehicle. For clarification and/or policy exceptions re: passengers contact the Contract College Fleet Supervisor (607-255-3247).

Note: If the vehicle is involved in an accident, please obtain complete information. Use the form enclosed in the book in the glove compartment for the preliminary report. Notify Fleet Services immediately in the event of any accident.

Farm Equipment

Farm equipment can be used upon approval of the farm/orchard manager after a short vehicle-safety-training course.


Keys are available for various Section facilities based on need. Key requests should be directed to Section head assistants: Karin Jantz kpg2 [at] (kpg2[at]cornell[dot]edu) (Plant Biology), Amy Collins acl10 [at] (acl10[at]cornell[dot]edu) (Soil and Crop Sciences, Plant Breeding and Genetics) or Michele Blackmore mb2525 [at] (mb2525[at]cornell[dot]edu) (Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology).


During the course of your graduate study it will be necessary to obtain various items essential to your research. Be sure to check with your major advisor for availability of funds and an account number before placing an order. Items may be obtained in a number of ways. Check with your major advisor or one of the sections accounts representatives for catalogs. It is important to plan ahead for your needs.

Copy Machine Privileges

Graduate students who have received approval from their advisor may use the copy machine for materials that are connected with their assistantship assignments and/or thesis research. If the student is a TA for a Section course, copies may be made for that purpose.

Copying of books is not permitted on the section copiers; these machines are not designed to do so and could cause the glass to break. Use one of the copiers in Mann Library. Please do not violate copyright laws.


Mail is collected and distributed by Barb in the mailroom on the ground floor. Mail is sorted daily. Please have only university-related business delivered here. UPS is preferred for package deliveries, not via the United States Postal Service (USPS).

  • Due to on-campus postal regulations, a Postal Change of Address notice cannot be used to forward your mail.
  • Note: The Section cannot forward your mail. Please plan ahead and provide your contacts with your new address.


The Section does not provide postage for personal use, such as reprint requests, position inquiries, mailing of resumes to prospective employers, etc.

Room Scheduling

Room scheduling for meetings or exams (A or B) should be done via LibCal.

Research Abroad Guidelines

(While these are not strict requirements, justification of any deviations from these guidelines should be described fully as part of the student's annual Soil and Crop Sciences review.)

A research program should be well developed before the student goes abroad. This includes: a) demonstrating a good understanding of the system they are working in. b) a literature review of the type of research that has been done in their area of interest. c) developing clear, testable hypotheses that will likely make significant contributions to the field of Soil and Crop Sciences.

The student should satisfactorily complete their A-exam before leaving to embark on research abroad.

Graduate student research should be conducted at an established regional, national or international center or university. Arrangements for funding, housing, field and laboratory facilities (including accessibility to email) and personnel support should be fully arranged in advance and agreed to in writing by the potential advisor, her/his unit head, and funding agencies supporting the research and the student. Cornell commitments also should be expressed in writing and communicated to the overseas advisor and unit head.

At least one person at the institute who is willing to act in an advisory role to the student should be identified before student departure. This person should have qualifications or expertise similar or equal to those of a graduate field member at Cornell and must be approved by the chair of the student's graduate committee.

If possible, a member of the student's special committee should visit the student and inspect their work at least once while the student is abroad. On completion of their international research, the student should return to Cornell and complete their dissertation before embarking on new international projects.

Leave of Absence

A leave of absence can be granted for personal or medical reasons, but the process is different for each type of leave. A health leave of absence requires filing with Gannett Health Services. More information is available at Gannett Health Services website. 

The maximum number of years allowed for leave of absence is four. A student who takes a leave of absence relinquishes the access to campus facilities and personnel that normally accompanies student status. For more information see the Code of Legislation or obtain information directly from the Field Graduate School Representative, 143 Caldwell Hall or your Plant Breeding Grad Field Assistant.

In Absentia

In absentia status provides an opportunity for graduate students to engage in approved study in a location at least 100 miles away from the University’s Ithaca campus during the academic year, while continuing to work under the guidance of the Special Committee. Students can earn 1 registration unit RU) if the arrangement enhances the student’s program of study. For more information see the Code of Legislation or obtain information directly from the Graduate School Representative, 143 Caldwell Hall or the Plant Breeding GFA.