Graduate School Requirements

The student is responsible for all Graduate School requirements whether listed here or not. Please review the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty for a thorough overview of policies regarding graduate studies at Cornell. The Information Science Ph.D. program complies with the requirements of the Cornell Graduate School, which include requirements on residency, minimum grades, examinations, and dissertation. All students are required to meet academic milestones on time. 

Milestone Petition Process

In extreme circumstances students may petition to extend the time to meet a specific milestone. Students should not expect petitions to be approved and should only use a petition as the last resort. Petitions are considered on a case by case basis and must have the approval of the entire committee and the DGS before they are submitted to the Graduate School Dean for final consideration. Petition forms are on line and can be found on the forms page on the Graduate Schools website. The full explanation about the process can be found in the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty. 

Students who are coming up on a milestone deadline will receive notices from the Graduate School approximately 2 months prior to the due date of the milestone. Students should not wait for these notices, instead it is expected they will be proactive with completing milestones on time.

Student progression toward an advanced degree is determined not only by the quality of work completed (through faculty evaluations and formal exams), but also the length of time spent in the pursuit of the degree. For research degrees, the Graduate School measures this progress in terms of registered semesters. Ph.D. candidates are required to obtain a minimum of six registered semesters. Two of these six semesters are required after the A exam. At least one-half of the registered semesters earned toward the above requirements must be earned from full-time, academic-year study on the Ithaca or Tech campus.

The special committee chair shall provide qualitative feedback on student progress, from the first year through the completion of the degree, using the Student Progress Review (SPR) form. Students, in consultation with the committee chair, are required to complete a self-assessment, reflect on progress towards established academic goals, report on professional development activities, and identify future plans and timeline. The SPR will be completed by Information Science Ph.D. students sometime in the spring semester, each year, of their graduate career.

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within seven years of the first registration in the Graduate School (see Time-to-Degree Limits policy). 

A Ph.D. student may petition to have study in another graduate degree program at Cornell or study in other graduate schools counted toward the registration requirement. Upon recommendation of the special committee and approval of the Dean, a maximum of two semesters of advanced standing towards the Ph.D. requirements may be awarded for a master’s degree completed at Cornell or at another university. Requests will not be formally considered until the student is registered as a Ph.D. student in the Graduate School.

Students are required to take two examinations: a comprehensive admission to candidacy examination (the “A exam”) after the student has earned at least two residence units, and a final examination after completion of the dissertation (the “B exam”). Students must complete a dissertation.

Graduate School Ph.D. Requirements

University Registration

In order to be considered a registered student by the university, a student must:

  1. Settle all financial accounts, including current semester tuition;
  2. Clear any holds, whether these are from the Bursar’s Office, Cornell Health, the Judicial Administrator, or the Graduate School; and
  3. Satisfy New York state health requirements.

Enrollment in courses does not constitute or imply university registration.

Checking Your Registration Status

Students can check their registration status at the beginning of the semester using Student Essentials. If you are registered, your registration status will state “Registered” with a green checkmark. The absence of a green checkmark means there is a hold preventing your registration.

There are several different types of holds – some are informational and must be completed for graduation, and some are immediate and prevent current semester registration. Your holds are listed at the top right of the page. Click on “more information” for complete details including steps to resolve a hold.

Students who are not registered by the deadline risk being withdrawn from the university. When withdrawn, they will be dropped from classes, and services such as (but not limited to) library access, housing, dining, building access, Canvas, and bus service will be terminated. Any funding such as fellowships, TA or GRA appointments will be terminated, and potentially a student may be asked to repay back part of their stipend. 

Summer Registration

Students must register for the summer session if, during the summer, they will receive financial aid, fellowships, loans, assistantships, travel grants, or tuition awards. You also must register in order to use campus facilities during the summer. If you are not on campus, but meet any of the previous conditions, you must register for the summer.

Summer registration is automatically granted to all students who enroll in a non-credit summer graduate research course through their Student Center. Enrollment opens in mid-April. There is no tuition charge for summer registration and enrollment in the graduate research course, although students requesting a registration unit for summer study do pay tuition.

Changing your Registration Status

You must submit a form if you wish to withdraw, take a leave of absence, or otherwise cease to be registered. All Graduate School forms are located on the Graduate School’s website along with the deadlines and procedures to submit each form. 

Non-registered Status

Non-registered status means a student hasn’t met the requirements for registration or is on a leave of absence or withdrawn.

The Special Committee

Each student's committee must consist of a minimum of three members representing each of the following:

  • Primary IS concentration (this is the committee Chairperson)
  • One Secondary (this is the first minor member) IS concentration
  • One external minor outside of IS (this is the second minor member)

The committee must be formed no later than the end of the third semester. Each PhD student's campus location is determined by the location of their preferred or temporary advisor. Students should consider this when choosing their permanent advisor, since students are expected to be on the same campus – either Ithaca or New York City – as their advisors. When the field of Information Science admits a student, they are admitted with a temporary advisor. In some instances, this advisor remains throughout the student’s entire career at Cornell. Students may change their advisor up until the time they have taken the A exam. After this time an advisor and/or committee change will require a petition submitted to the Graduate School Dean. All newly admitted students must officially nominate their Chairperson no later than September 1 of their first year. 

The student's committee may require the student to take courses in addition to the core requirements. This requirement should be discussed with each faculty member prior to them being nominated to the student’s committee. 

To choose or change an advisor or committee member, students must submit a request online from the “Advisor” section of their Student Center prior to completing the A exam. After the A exam has been taken, all changes must be by petition. 

Any member, including the chair, may resign at any time from a special committee. It is the student’s responsibility to reconstitute their special committee. Failure to reconstitute a committee, will result in withdrawal from the University.

Responsible Conduct of Research Training (RCR)

Ethical researchers and scholars think critically about the impact of their behavior on others—their research subjects, students and trainees, advisors and other field faculty, and certainly the scientific community and society at large.

Every graduate student pursuing a research degree (master’s or doctoral) is required to complete training on Responsible Conduct of Research, addressing issues of authorship, peer review, plagiarism, and research misconduct. Each student must complete online training through Cornell’s Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) prior to the end of the second registered semester.

If your research involves human participants seek review and receive a notice of approval or exemption from the Institutional Review Board before beginning your research.

If your research involves live vertebrates seek and receive a notice of approval from Cornell’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee prior to ordering, acquiring, or handling animals for your research.

Student Progress Review (SPR)

The Student Progress Review is a requirement at the request of students and faculty to support the regular exchange of constructive, written feedback between advisees and advisors. In the department of Information Science, it is expected that advisors meet with their students on a regular basis, weekly, or at least several times monthly. The SPR is not intended to take the place of these meetings. 

Currently students and advisors are sent an email with instructions on how to complete the SPR, the link to the forms, and the deadline for this to be completed. At the spring Information Science field meeting, the entire field reviews a summary of our student’s progress. This meeting gives the opportunity for advisors to discuss with the group the progress of their students both what has gone well, and to get advice on getting a student back on track if needed. The content of the SPR is not shared with the group. The Chairperson supplies a summary for the purpose of the field meeting only. 

Information Science requires all students, including first years to complete the SPR form. The full contents of the SPR is available to the student, the special committee, DGS and GFA. Please see the Graduate School’s website for the full details about this process and FAQ’s. 

Exams Required to Complete the Ph.D. Degree

Examination for Admission to Candidacy (A Exam)

The A exam tests the student's breadth in Information Science and depth in their proposed thesis area. The committee has to be selected before the A exam can take place. Students generally take the A exam after completing their coursework and at a point where they've outlined their research and have some preliminary results. The committee members will discuss with the student the format of the exam, and will outline what is expected. This will happen well in advance of the actual scheduling process. 

Normally, the A exam is taken in the third year of the Ph.D. program. By Graduate School rules, the A exam may not be taken before two semesters of registration as a doctoral student (i.e., beyond the Master’s), but it must be taken before the student begins the seventh semester of registration. Students must petition the Graduate School Dean at least 3 months prior to the exam deadline if they are not able to meet this milestone. 

Content of the A Exam

The student’s Special Committee will determine the specific content of the A exam. The Field recommends that the student meet with the full committee to agree on the scope of the exam questions and the procedures to be followed. The Chair of the Committee will coordinate this process to ensure that questions achieve the goals set for the A exam. This coordination may include defining areas of inquiry and recommending reading lists.

Scheduling the A Exam

All students must submit a schedule of exam form online no later than 12 days prior to the date of the exam. Graduate School rules require that the A exam be announced no later than 7 days prior to the date of the exam and open to all members of the Field Faculty. Students may invite students to their exam, but this is not mandatory. If a student wishes to invite current students to their exam they are responsible to send the invitation prior to the exam date. Students should alert the GFA as soon as they and their committee have decided on a date and time of the exam. 

The GFA will require the following information to be included in the announcement that is sent to the field:

  • The title of the dissertation
  • Short Abstract
  • Zoom link for the exam
  • A photo of either the student or something related to the research, or indicate no photo
  • Format the exam will follow
    • Broad-audience talk then questions
    • Questioning of submitted materials
    • Other, please explain

The GFA will assist students in reserving a room in Gates Hall for the exam to take place on the Ithaca campus. Tech students should follow the procedure at the Tech campus for reserving room at that location. Typically, a room is reserved for 3 hours to ensure there is time for set up and clean-up. As of March 2020, virtual exams are acceptable without petition by the Graduate School. If the exam will be totally via Zoom no room will be necessary.

To be inclusive of both our campus locations a Zoom link is required for all exams. So that all faculty and students may attend the exam regardless of location. Students should be prepared to start the Zoom meeting prior to starting their exam. 

Results of the Exam

After the exam is completed the student will initiate the A exam results form online. All members of the committee need to agree to the results and electronically sign off on the results form no later than 3 days after the date of the exam. The Information Science Field may award a non-thesis Masters upon passing the A exam. This should be noted on the results form by the Chairperson when they sign off on the form. If this is the case, students will have the non-thesis Master’s degree conferred on the following conferral date in either May, August, or December, and receive a diploma. 

Dissertation Defense (B Exam)

The B exam is an oral defense of your thesis or dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum registered semester requirements. At least two semesters of successful registration must be completed between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

The B exam is to be scheduled at least 12 calendar days in advance via the Schedule of Exam form. Announcing the exam to the field and the cohort is the same as the A exam. Zoom links and announcement requirements also are the same as the A exam. 

During the examination, graduate faculty other than the Special Committee may question the candidate. Determination of whether the student passes or fails and provisions for re-examination are the same as for the A exam.

A student must complete two semesters of registration between the A exam and the B exam; thus, the B exam will normally take place one to two years after the A exam. All requirements for the Ph.D. degree, including filing the dissertation, are expected to be completed within five years after the student completes the required six total registered semesters, or seven years after the first registration in the Graduate School, whichever is sooner (see Time-to-Degree Limits policy).


Candidates for the doctoral degree must complete a dissertation.

A Ph.D. student shall submit a dissertation proposal to his/her Special Committee. This proposal must be approved by the Special Committee after discussion at a committee meeting. The proposal will include no less than a statement of the research question or questions, a brief review of the relevant literature, and a plan of research for answering the research question. The 

B Exam may not occur less than three months after the proposal has been approved by the Special Committee.

A complete draft of the dissertation should be given to each Special Committee member at least six weeks before the final examination. At least five business days prior to the examination, each member should receive a copy of the dissertation, to be retained until the examination. Normally, the student can expect to revise the dissertation after successful completion of the B Exam. The faculty requires publication of Ph.D. dissertations by abstract and UMI Dissertation Express.

Nature of the Dissertation

The dissertation represents an original research effort leading to new knowledge in Information Science; it deals with significant theoretical issues in the field. Typical dissertations develop new theories or methods in Information Science, explore new areas in Information Science research, or deal with Information Science as a social phenomenon. Other approaches are possible in consultation with the student’s Special Committee.

The finished dissertation must conform to the format requirements for a doctoral dissertation listed on the Graduate School’s website. All dissertations are submitted online following the Graduate School’s protocols.