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PhD Frequently Asked Questions

Please review the following frequently asked questions for more information about the PhD program in Information Science at Cornell.

Applying for the Information Science Ph.D.

Can I study at Cornell Tech?

The PhD program spans both the Ithaca and Cornell Tech campuses. Each student’s location is determined by the faculty that they are working most closely with. There is no requirement for students working with Cornell Tech faculty to complete a residency period in Ithaca, or vice-versa. Applicants may indicate a campus preference, and all applicants will be evaluated by the Field as a whole regardless of their intended location.

Should I pursue a Ph.D. in Information Science or in a related field such as Computer Science, Communication or Cognitive Science?

Students interested in studying and designing large-scale information systems drawing on a combination of social science and technical skills will probably find Information Science the most appropriate field of study. Students primarily interested in technical foundations should consider Computer Science. Students primarily interested in social science should consider fields such as Communication or Cognitive Science.

I hear about the Faculty of Computing and Information Science (or CIS) at Cornell. How is that related to the Information Science program?

Information Science is one of the departments within Computing and Information Science (CIS). Other CIS units and programs include the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Statistical Science.

What is the institution code for the GRE and TOEFL?

Cornell's institution code is: 2098. The department code for Information Science is 0404 and the 2-digit TOEFL code is 80 for the Graduate program.

I have requested ETS to send my TOEFL Score to Cornell with Institute Code (2098) but I put the wrong department code. Would it be necessary to send the score again?

The wrong department code will not hold up your scores from reaching Information Science.

What are the minimum language requirements (TOEFL and GRE) for the program?

There are no specific minimum GRE test scores, but we expect students admitted to the program will have GRE scores well above the 90th percentile. 

For TOEFL, all foreign degree applicants must submit an official TOEFL score directly to the Graduate School by ETS. Applicants must meet the minimums set by the Graduate School: Writing: 20; Listening: 15; Reading: 20; Speaking: 22

NOTE: A cumulative score is not the correct measure and is not sufficient for an offer of admission.

For complete information about the TOEFL requirements, please see the Graduate School's page on English Language Proficiency.

Is there a GRE subject test requirement for admission?

We require only the general test, not any subject tests.

How important is the GRE score to the application process?

Admission decisions are based on the strength of the application as a whole, not on any single admission requirement.

How many students will be admitted each year?

We hope to admit 5-10 applicants each academic year.

What are the transfer requirements?

We do not accept transfer credits from outside of Cornell.

Do you offer any graduate level extension courses that I can take via the internet?

Information Science is not offering any extension courses at present.

Do you offer part-time Ph.D. studies?

At this time all Ph.D. study is full time, there is no part-time program.

How long will the Ph.D. program take?

The program will generally take 4-5 years. By the third year students will be expected to make a thesis proposal.

Is there a Masters program in Information Science?

We offer a Master of Professional Studies.

Are there minimum admission requirements/criteria?

We do not have specific minimum requirements, but admission is very competitive. We expect strong letters of support and strong GRE scores in addition to a high GPA. Your research statement and the letters are particularly important.

How do you fund your PhD students?

All Ph.D. students in Information Science are fully supported as long as they remain in good academic standing. Support from Cornell includes tuition and stipend. Support is available in the form of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. Applicants are also encouraged to apply for external fellowships. The fellowships free the student of the responsibilities of a teaching or a research assistantship.

Current students in the Information Science Ph.D. program

How does one find an advisor and a special committee?

Many students enter Cornell with a good idea of what area they want to work in, and those that enter without a sense of this still have areas of interest. By reading recent research papers, the annual report and course descriptions, you should pick courses taught by faculty members you might enjoy working with, in areas for which you believe you have talent, good ideas, or interest. TA’ing for a faculty member with whom you may want to work is often a good idea, especially if the course is in the general area of your interests and talents.

Faculty members are always available to talk to graduate students about potential research topics in their area, and most students will talk to a few before joining a research group. It is common for a faculty member to suggest working with the student for a period of time, perhaps a semester, before considering the relationship "official". Some students will approach a potential advisor soon after arriving on campus, but others may take some time to shop around. All students should try to identify a potential advisor by the end of their first year at Cornell. The permanent special committee must be selected by the end of your third semester.

What are the rules for a special committee in Information Science?

A special committee in Information Science must consist of at least three Cornell faculty members. Each of these three faculty members fulfills a specific role on the committee. The chair of the committee is your advisor, who must be a member of the graduate field of Information Science. Your advisor represents your concentration within Information Science (one of: Information Systems, Human Computer Interaction, Cognition and Social Aspects of Information). The second committee member must also be a member of the Information Science field, and must represent a different concentration within the field than your advisor. The third committee member must be a member of the graduate field for your external minor.

If your interests change over time, or things just aren’t working out, you or your committee chair (advisor) may decide to reconstitute the committee. This isn’t considered a bad thing and won’t leave a blot on your record. All the faculty members in the field have an interest in seeing our students do the best and most innovative work they are capable of, and if this means changing advisors or topics, so be it.

Do I need to complete my graduate coursework prior to taking the A exam?

Most students who take an A exam will have satisfied the majority of their course requirements, and many will have completed their minor (for some minor fields, this is a requirement; read the rules published by the minor field that you select!) If a student still has a small amount of coursework left to complete, and has a plan for doing so, the special committee will often let you schedule the A exam prior to the coursework being completed. It is expected that most students will have finished all coursework requirements after three and one-half years at Cornell.

What is the rationale for having an external minor requirement? Some fields at Cornell don’t have such a requirement.

The minor requirement is not purely an invention of the field: The University itself requires that there be a member on each special committee "representing each of a student’s minor field(s)". Many departments interpret this to be a de-facto University requirement for a serious minor, and each field sets its own requirements which the minor committee member is expected to enforce.

More broadly, the minor requirement reflects the Information Science field’s philosophy, namely that our students should demonstrate breadth of knowledge. The area proficiency requirements relate to breadth within the field itself, but we want our students to be scholars familiar with a world beyond Information Science as well. The minor requirement reflects that requirement.

The field accepts any proposed minor, even one unrelated to the students program of studies.

How do I report on my progress towards satisfying the requirements?

The DGS office maintains a file on each student which includes a checklist for the various requirements. At least annually the DGS office will update these checklists.

I took graduate courses as part of my studies before coming to Cornell. Can I count these towards the graduate course requirements here?

Courses taken as part of some other degree program (an undergraduate or masters level degree) will not be counted towards the Ph.D. in Information Science at Cornell. Moreover, the field believes that Cornell’s 600-level courses are an important part of our program and that graduate courses taken at other institutions may not be of comparable content or emphasis. However if a student completed an undergraduate or masters degree program at Cornell prior to entering the Ph.D. program and has taken some of our 600-level courses as part of their prior studies, these courses taken can be counted towards the graduate course requirement.

I have a situation that simply falls outside the policy and is not covered by the FAQ. What do I do?

After you appoint a special committee, the committee can request that the DGS approve an exception to the rules (prior to forming a special committee talk to the DGS). If the matter is not straightforward, the DGS may consult with the field as a whole before approving the request. Exceptions are intended to be just that: exceptional, uncommon solutions to unexpected problems. Thus, requests of this sort will not routinely be granted.