Plant Biology Graduate Student Association

PBGSA Chair: Caylyn Railey

The PBGSA is the Plant Biology Graduate Student Association: all Plant Biology grad students are members. PBGSA is an important group as it is a place for Plant Biology students to get to know each other, it interacts with Plant Biology faculty, and it helps plan many important annual events, such as recruitment. If you want more information about PBGSA, just talk to any officer.

Events planned by PBGSA: Student invited speaker: PBGSA invites a professor to speak at a Friday Plant Biology seminar. This includes selecting the professor, inviting the professor, helping to plan the visit with Plant Biology administrative staff and acting as the host for the speaker. This happens once per semester or once per year.

Recruitment weekend: PBGSA helps to plan and facilitate the recruitment weekend. This includes planning the activities on Saturday afternoon, helping to transport recruits and organizing graduate student attendance to events over the weekend. This is the most important event of the year and PBGSA is a large part of it.

Social events: Events include the annual SIPS Chili Cookoff and Crossroads, a semi-monthly event when a professor invites the graduate students to their house for dinner and a paper discussion. Other social events have included brunch, picnics, ice skating, and fossil-hunting trips.

PBGSA officers:

  • President: Oversees most of the day to day function of the group, plans events
  • Vice president: Helps with the day to day function, attends GSC meetings, plans events Treasurer: Helps to set up monthly budgets to submit to the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) Finance Commission (see below), tracks finances
  • Secretary: Write up the minutes to send out after meetings
  • GPSA Representative: Attends bi-weekly GPSA (see below) meeting to allow for funding

Funding: Funding is obtained from the Graduate & Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and is used for community events (e.g. skating, fossil hunting) as well as paying for a student invited speaker for the Friday seminar.

Meet us!

Current students in the Graduate Field of Plant Biology

graduate students examine flower in conservatory

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 [available to research degree students only]
  • Graduate and Professional Student Assembly: Cornell’s community of graduate and professional students to address non-academic issues of common concern

Plant Biology Graduate Student Handbook

Perspectives and advice written by students for students

Welcome to Plant Biology! This handbook is written by and for graduate students; we can’t claim any administrative authority, but we hope to provide accurate information as of 2018 about the field and to offer advice based on our experience.

Special thanks to

2016-2017: Daniella Allevato, Mia Howard, Michelle Laterrade, Penelope Lindsay, Elena Michel, Julia Miller, Mischa Olson, Dana Robinson, Elden Rowland and Nick Segerson

2017-2018: Kate Harline, Adriana Hernandez, Arielle Johnson, Elena Michel, Julia Miller, Nick Segerson and Hannah Thomas

Moving to Ithaca

Welcome to Ithaca! Ithaca is a small city in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The economy is largely based on education (Cornell and Ithaca College), and Ithaca feels like a college town-- relatively liberal and international. Ithaca is warm in the summer, cold and snowy in the winter, and often rainy in between.

The nearest major city is New York City, about four hours south. Syracuse is a medium-sized city about an hour to the north-- it has, among other features, a giant mall (Destiny USA).

Finding off-campus housing

Because of the smaller size of the city, housing can often be one of the most challenging parts of living in Ithaca. It is strongly encouraged that you organize living arrangements prior to arriving. Depending on when you plan to arrive in Ithaca, it is advisable to start looking several months early as the rental/real estate market is constantly changing

Not to fear however, several resources are at your disposal to find the place that’s right for you. First, feel free to contact your fellow graduate students about their living arrangements; many of the students live in buildings that have multiple rooms or may have recommendations about where they have lived previously. If you don’t know who to contact, reach out to Graduate Field Assistant Karin Jantz (kpg2 [at] or Director of Graduate Studies Mike Scanlon (mjs298 [at] and ask they forward your request for help to other graduate students! In addition, websites such as Ithaca Craigslist are commonly used to identify apartments/houses for rent.

The Plant Biology graduate community is usually fairly spread out over town and as such many will have good advice about where to live. In addition, Ithaca itself has many diverse options. The numbered and labeled housing neighborhoods below match up to the above map ( linked here and below to preserve quality as a high-definition image):

  • On Campus Housing: On-campus housing is also available for graduate students. The majority of grad student apartments are at the Hasbrouck Apartments on North Campus; these and other options are described at Living @ Cornell. The advantages of living on campus are mostly convenience: utilities and maintenance are covered in the rent, and apartments are walking distance from most campus buildings. Applications for on-campus housing are filled on a space-available basis, so it’s best to apply as soon as possible. Bus routes: 82, 83, 92, 93, 31, 37, 41, 17
  • College Town: Generally considered to be a less common option for graduate students with the exception of a few co-ops which some students have been a part of in the past. This area is where much of the undergraduate population lives. It is often busy, loud, and can be quite a mess during the weekend.
  • It is a common practice in Ithaca for landlords to split houses into apartments. Some graduate students live in houses bordering this neighborhood. Bus routes: 10, 30, 32, 51, 41, 81, 90, 92, 93.
  • East of Collegetown, is the newly built Maplewood Graduate Apartment Complex. These apartments come in a variety of styles. While, not the cheapest option, they are very close to campus while not being in the heart of Collegetown. Bus routes: 82, 92, 93.
  • East Hill: Just south of the Ag Quad, this convenient neighborhood has a grocery store, fast food, and access to trails.
  • Summerhill Townhouses, Plaza East Apartments, Ellis Hollow Apartments. Bus routes: 51, 52, 82, 92, 93.
  • Commons: The heart of the city. Living here will offer you easy access to the many events that take place (Apple Fest, Chili Fest etc) and very easy access to the bus lines for travel, though you will also be very affected by the high traffic and occasional construction. Options here are more limited to studio, one, or two bedroom apartments.
  • Center Ithaca, Lofts @ Six Mile Creek, Dewitt Park Apartments, 140 Seneca Way, also visit craiglist and IthacaRents for privately rented spaces. Bus routes: All bus routes connect through the Commons
  • Fall Creek: This area is close to downtown, however separate enough that the traffic isn’t significantly affected while major events are taking place downtown. The spaces for rent in Fall Creek are usually single bedrooms in a house or a multiple bedroom house with multiple roommates. Bus Routes: walking distance to Commons buses, 10, 13
  • South Hill: This area is most similar to Fall Creek and is mostly houses where people who are not part of Cornell or Ithaca College live. This area is also close to the commercial district where many of the major corporate stores are located. Bus Routes: walking distance to Commons buses, 15. Access to the south side shops including Wegmans, Barnes and Nobles, Home Depot, and many chain restaurants like Panera and Chipotle. Many Ithaca College Student live in this area.
  • Community Corners: The intersection between Handshaw, Triphammer, Pleasant Grove, and Cayuga Heights. A popular option for graduate student or families. A pizza shop, Gimme Coffee, a gym, and boutiques are all in the Community Corners intersection. The local Fire Station also has community events here.
  • Carriage House: 1 bedroom and studio apartments. Many houses and basements for rent in the surrounding neighborhoods. Bus Routes: 30, 31, 32, 37, 41.
  • NE Ithaca/Lansing: Close proximity to the airport, mall, shopping, grocery stores. Convenient access to Route 13. This is a common neighborhood for graduate students and families.
  • University Park Apartments, Gaslight Village Apartments, Triphammer Apartments, Warrenwood Apartments. Quiet 1-3 bedroom apartment complexes. Bus routes: 30, 31, 32, 37, 72.
  • Winston Court Apartments, many rooms and basements for rent in houses. Near Sapsucker Woods and the Cornell Lab or Ornithology Trails. Bus Routes: 31, 74, 41, 37.
  • Northwood Apartments: across the street from the airport. Bus Routes: 32, 37

Getting around in Ithaca

Whether you are bringing your own mode of transportation or relying on the use of public transit, getting around Ithaca won’t be too bad. Graduate students take advantage of many different options of getting to campus and around town in general. The greater Ithaca area has a well-run public transport system through Tompkins Consolidated Area Transport (TCAT) with many routes offering two major stops, one inbound and one outbound, at the edges of downtown.

New graduate students receive a complimentary bus pass which allows for unlimited usage for the span of their first year (lasting through August). This pass is operated through your Cornell student ID so that you won’t even be required to carry something extra in your wallet.

After your first year, there are a couple of options for transport onto campus. First, you may purchase an Omniride bus pass, which allows unlimited use of the TCAT bus system for $200. Omniride passes are sold online by Cornell Transportation Services; the pass is linked to your student ID. The pass will go into effect in mid-August and expire on the last day of August the following year. If you would prefer to drive your vehicle to campus the options are more limited; most the parking permits on campus are prohibitively expensive and the only viable option is a parking pass at the B-Lot, located at the east end of Tower Road and costs $330. In addition, the TCAT buses become free to all students after 6 PM and on the weekends.

However, many of the parking lots on campus become free to use after 5 PM, so one popular option with students with personal vehicles is to buy a bus pass to ride down from campus and return with their personal vehicle after 5 PM.

Ithaca is also pretty bike friendly, but commuting from downtown up to campus involves a serious hill.

Getting to Ithaca: airports

Ithaca has its own airport, but this isn’t always the best option for getting into and out of Ithaca. Options to consider include:

  • Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport: Close to the city and accessible by bus (Routes 32 and 72). This is a small regional airport with direct flights only to Detroit, Newark, and Philadelphia. This is the most convenient airport, but tickets can be relatively expensive and flights are often delayed by weather.
  • Syracuse Hancock International Airport: In Syracuse, about an hour away from Ithaca. Syracuse has direct flights to Midwestern and East Coast domestic destinations (includes NYC). Ithaca Airline Limousine will deliver you to/from this airport.
  • Elmira Corning Regional Airport and Greater Binghamton Airport: These two are about one hour away from Ithaca. Often have more reasonable prices and are less likely to cancel than Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.
  • JFK and LaGuardia Airports: A long trip from Ithaca in NYC, but these are often cheaper or more convenient for international flights. The Cornell Campus to Campus Bus, the ShortLine Bus, the Big Red Bullet bus, or OurBus will get you to Midtown Manhattan; from there, there are several public transit options to get to the airports in Queens.

When to arrive in Ithaca

The first event that you must be present for is the graduate student orientation/ SIPS orientation, which usually occurs in late August. The specific time that you should arrive in Ithaca will likely be decided by

the beginning of your first rotation, which will usually last for the duration of the first semester. To this end, it would be most beneficial to contact the faculty member that you would be interested in working with before you come to Ithaca so that you have an idea of when it would be possible to start. Don’t be worried if you don’t have your initial rotation arranged before arriving for the orientation as many students do not.

University resources for new graduate students

The graduate school itself has provides online resources for incoming graduate students. The most useful of these is a To Do List which provides a clear list of tasks to be completed prior to arriving at Cornell. In addition, this website also includes descriptive sections which cover aspects of graduate school that are important but may not have been previously covered including defining terminology (ex. NetID) and the variety of health and wellness programs on campus.

Things to Do in Ithaca and Nearby Areas

  • August Farmer’s Market every weekend Great Syracuse Oktoberfest (Syracuse) September Ellis Hollow Fair
  • Farmer’s Market every weekend New York State Fair (Syracuse) October Apple Harvest Festival
  • Cornell Homecoming Fireworks and Light Show Wizarding Weekend (Harry Potter Festival) November Cornell Thanksgiving Dinner (It’s good!) December Ice Fest
  • January Skiing at Greek Peak Ski Lodge, Cross country skiing at Connecticut Hill or Dryden Lake (Dryden) April Beginning of New York State Lantern Festival (Syracuse)
  • May Ithaca Festival
  • June Boat Tours on Cayuga Lake Ithaca Celtic Festival
  • Peterboro Civil War Weekend (Syracuse) Central NY Pride Week (Syracuse) Farmer’s Market every weekend Jamesville Balloon Fest (Syracuse)
  • Food and Drink Festivals all summer long! (Syracuse) July GrassRoots Festival
  • July 4th Fireworks
  • New York State Blues Fest (Syracuse)
  • Trumansburg Fair and Carnival
  • Farmer’s Market every weekend

Email listservs (E-lists)

The main conduit for announcements of events and seminars is via email listserv. Cornell has a university-wide listserv system, so once you learn how to subscribe and unsubscribe to one list, the process will be the same for other lists. As an incoming Plant Biology graduate student, you should be added to a few listservs automatically. You cannot add yourselves to these lists:

  • PB_FIELDSTUDENTS-L [at] ( )(All Plant Biology grad students).To email all the other Plant Biology grad students, the GFA and the DGS, simply send an email to this address from your subscribed email (i.e. your Cornell email address)
  • PB_ALL-L [at] ( )(Plant Biology faculty, students, staff, etc.)
  • PLANT-SEMINAR-L [at] ( )(SIPS-wide announcements)

If you are a part of a lab embedded within an institute (BTI, Weill, etc.), you should subscribe to those lists also. For explanation of how to join/leave lists, see the Cornell IT webpage.

Other useful listservs include:

  • Evolgen_seminars-l [at] ( )for seminars in evolutionary biology and related topics
  • Subscribe by emailing eovlgen_seminars-l-request [at] ( )with the word “join” in the subject line, and the message body blank (no text, no formatting)
  • Ecology and evolution seminars
  • Subscribe by emailing lyris [at] ( )with message: SUBSCRIBE EANDSSEMINAR-L full “Firstname Lastname”
  • Biogeochemistry seminars Email biogeo [at] ( )with request to join

Make yourself at home

Feel free to use the kitchen on the 4th floor of Mann; please clean up after yourself. There is an electric kettle for making hot beverages. Manndible Café, on the first floor of Mann near the library entrance, serves coffee/tea, baked goods, snacks and lunch.

The Big Red Barn is a graduate and professional student café on campus. On Friday afternoons from 4:30 to 7pm, the Barn holds an event called “Tell Grads It’s Friday” (TGIF) in which they have free salty

snacks, and sell $1 beer, $2 hard cider, and free soda. 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 $1 beer every weekday after 2pm, and is a great place to study or meet up with friends.

Other nearby dining options include Trillium (a standard dining hall), Bus Stop Bagels, and the Dairy Bar (hot sandwiches and ice cream). The vet school café is convenient for students at BTI and the Holley Center, and Temple of Zeus has soups and sandwiches that are worth the walk to the Arts Quad. The portobello sandwich at Goldie’s (coffee, sandwiches, grab & go snacks) in the Physical Sciences Building is a must.


Cornell has many opportunities to be active on campus. There are four Cornell Fitness Centers (CFC) on campus, the closest to most Plant Biology students being Helen Newman and Teagle. A year membership costs $145. All centers include weight rooms, cardio rooms, and places to change. There are also free classes, such as yoga, kickboxing and ZUMBA. You can see the schedule of the classes on the CFC website. All you need to do is get a wristband at the fitness center before each class. Teagle and Helen Newman have swimming pools with open swim hours throughout the day. There is a bouldering wall in Noyes, and a whole climbing center in Bartels Hall, which is close to Teagle. You can rent sport equipment, such as basketballs, volleyballs, tennis rackets and more at Helen Newman, Teagle and Noyes. One thing to note is that during breaks, Helen Newman is often the only gym open. You can join an intramural sports team and play soccer, flag football or many other team sports.

There is also Cornell Outdoor Education (COE), a group that has classes, the climbing center at Bartels Hall and the ability to rent all types of gear (for hiking, climbing, kayaking, skiing and even vans). The outfitting center is in the basement of Bartels Hall. The classes are a great way to learn a new skill, or improve on something you already love to do with an Intermediate- or Advanced-level class. There are also classes that take the form of trips over Fall Break or Spring Break, and allow you to explore the incredible natural areas in upstate NY and beyond. The COE classes are incorporated into the larger list of PE classes offered at Cornell, which also include everything from yoga to archery to ice skating. You can view these on the Cornell Class Roster each semester, under Physical Education, and sign up for them via the Student Center website.

Go to Plant Biology Field Requirements for information on on courses, exams, and financial support (TAships, fellowships, assistantships)

Advice on choosing labs

Below are some questions and topics to consider before choosing a rotation lab, thesis lab, or both. The decision to join any lab almost always includes more factors than just “do I like the research”, so it’s important to consider subjects such as personality, expectations, etc.

Choosing a rotation lab:

  • Does the lab do research you think you want to focus on, or will it offer you the chance to learn a new technical skill?
  • Is there a project ready for you?
  • Have you and the potential rotation PI discussed goals for the rotation?
  • Is there a chance for you to join the lab after the rotation, or does the PI know already they will not take any new students?

Choosing a thesis lab:

  • Have you and the PI been able to agree on a funded project for you?
  • Does your PI’s mentorship style mesh well with you (hands-on vs. hands-off)?
  • Is your PI easy to contact?
  • Does your PI offer advice on your research project?
  • Do you feel comfortable in the lab climate?
  • How often are you expected to be in the lab? Are you expected to follow specific working hours?
  • Have you arranged with your PI how often you will update them (weekly meetings, emails, or during lab meetings only)?
  • Have you asked other graduate students or postdocs in the lab for their opinion?
  • Will working in this lab help you to achieve your future career goals?

For both decisions:

  • Do your research interests align with the research within the lab?
  • Do you feel comfortable approaching the PI for advice or with questions regarding fellowships, research objectives, and feedback?

Asking about funding:

While it may seem like an awkward topic to ask a potential advisor about, knowing the status of funding in any lab you want to join is a crucial part of your decision. Complicating things, many advisors are also happy to offer rotations, but may not be currently taking any students. This may create an uncomfortable situation where you have completed a successful rotation with a faculty and then assumed you can join their lab, but it turns out they don’t have funding and don’t like to accept students without being able to fund them (e.g. not asking the student to do TAships to support themselves). We recommend discussing this topic up front, before beginning a rotation with a faculty member, to avoid any uncomfortable situations.

Below is a recommended “script” you could follow if you are not sure how to bring the topic up yourself:

“Dear XX, I am interested in your research, specifically XX project and how it could apply to XX. Would it be possible for me to do a rotation project related to that topic? I’m hoping for this to be my [first,second,third] rotation starting around XX date. Additionally, are you currently taking students this year, and how many are you planning on taking? If you are taking students, what kind of funding support is available to students in your lab? I’m happy to meet in person to further discuss any of these topics”

Of course, funding situations can be subject to change or pending on grants, so the faculty member in question may not be able to answer you right away or may give you several different possible scenarios. Even if they don’t have a concrete answer for you right at that moment, it’s a good way to “break the ice” regarding funding and pave the way for future conversations about funding, to make sure that you are on the same page with available support. As a reminder, Plant Biology guarantees funding for five years, which means you will always have a TAship available. You can see how long you have guaranteed funding for in your offer letter.

Career resources

Graduate study does not commit you to a career in academia; the majority of Ph.D.s do not end up in tenure-track positions. It’s a good idea to be aware of multiple career options early in your graduate training. Plant Biology hosts two speakers per year that are focused on career development. Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Graduate Student Association hosts a few speakers each semester that also focus on careers. The BEST program offers information about and internship-like appointments in fields including science policy, science communication, industry, and governance. Cornell offers career development resources through Cornell Career Services; these include free membership at Versatile Ph.D. and access to a Science Careers Individual Development Plan. BTI often has many events related to careers inside and outside of academia.

GSC - Graduate Student Council

The Graduate Student Council is an organization to help facilitate connections between the section and communication between the graduate students of SIPS with the SIPS administration. This council will focus on graduate student issues across SIPS, and how to discuss and solve said issues with SIPS as a whole. The GSC also hopes to increase communication and camaraderie between graduate students in different sections! There will be one representative from each section of SIPS (the vice President of PBGSA is the representative for Plant Biology), as well as from SAGES (Geneva graduate student group), PGS (Post Graduate Society, the Boyce Thompson Institute graduate and post graduate group) and the USDA Holley Center.

There are meetings every semester with the SIPS Executive Committee and the Graduate Fields Council. The GSC is often the first point of contact for the SIPS admins in talk about issues related to graduate students, such as sending out surveys and getting graduate student opinions. One recent survey covered topics like SIPS-wide curriculum, funding for mentoring undergraduates and ways to support diverse careers, and the findings were presented to the SIPS Executive Committee. The GSC also helps plan other SIPS events, such as the SIPS student-invited speaker and meetings with the SIPS director. The email for the group is sips_gsc [at] ( )and the website is here. Meetings are every few months and open to everyone.

GPSA - The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly

The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) is part of shared governance at Cornell University. GPSA is made up of representatives from all graduate and professional fields, as well as common-interest organizations. As a group, GPSA addresses non-academic issues impacting all constituencies of GPSA. Examples are setting the student activity fee, sponsoring graduate and professional student events, and lobbying the administration to improve pay and benefits, or to address concerns shared by the body.

Plant Biology sends one field representative elected from our Graduate Student Association to represent PBGSA’s views during discussion. Field representatives are responsible for attending the biweekly GPSA meetings and relaying updates about resolutions and campus initiatives back to PBGSA, as well as communicating issues to GPSA regarding our section or the graduate school. Field representatives have no voting power, but are able to introduce motions and contribute to discussions. By sending a field representative to GPSA, PBGSA is able to request money from the GPSA Finance Commission for events and initiatives. GPSA is open to the public, and any graduate or professional student can run for a voting member seat.