Two exams are required by the Graduate School as benchmarks toward the Ph.D. Information about the Graduate School requirements and guidelines for these exams, please see the Exams section of the Graduate School site.

A-Exam: Admission To Candidacy Examination

To qualify as a Ph.D. candidate, each graduate student must pass the Admission to Candidacy, or “A exam.”  This exam has both written and oral components.  The A Exam is taken at the start of the third year of registration. (Note: Students are expected to complete their coursework in the first two years, prior to taking the A exam).

The student must submit a Schedule of Exam form (found on-line on the Graduate School website) at least seven (7) days prior to the exam. When reserving a room allow for three (3) hours for the exam.  It may not last that long, but it is better to have more time than you need scheduled than not enough.

The proposal title should be provided to the GFAs when the exam is scheduled.  The Graduate School requires that the exam be announced to the BMCB faculty; this announcement goes out a week prior to the exam.  A Results of Exam form must be submitted within three (3) days of the exam.

For more information about the components of the A-exam, please click on each link provided below.  In addition, current students have written a tips document on Preparing for Your A-Exam.

The A exam must be taken by September 30 of your third year. You should consult with your committee about an acceptable date/time and reserve a room.  Complete a Schedule of Examination Form on-line at at least seven (7) days prior to the date of the exam. This form must be approved by all of the members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the GFAs. Give a copy of the written proposal for your exam to each member of the examination committee at least a week before the oral exam.

If the exam is not taken by September 30 of your third year, your mentor must write a formal letter of explanation to the DGS, including the time when the exam will be taken.  A copy of the letter will go into your permanent file. Please note that not having obtained sufficient data is not an acceptable reason for delaying the A exam.

Course requirements for the major (including BioMG 7510 “Ethical Issues”), and all or most for the minor, should be finished by the time of the A exam. Occasionally, the student and the Special Committee may feel an additional course is useful or important after the A exam and this may be recommended or required by the Special Committee.

Your examiners for the A exam are your Special Committee and one other member of the Cornell University faculty that you choose. (This person is usually, but not necessarily, from the Field of BMCB).  This fourth member should add breadth to the committee and have expertise closely aligned with the topic of your proposal.  They will read your proposal and participate in your A-exam. However, they should not sign the Schedule or Results of Exam forms since they are not a permanent member of your committee.

The Results of Exam form must be filed within three (3) business days of the date of the exam. All members of your Special Committee will be required to sign the form. 

Note:  In accordance with the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty, your A-exam is announced to – Field faculty. Please do not be concerned; Field faculty outside your Special Committee, although free to attend by Graduate School rules, rarely, if ever do.

B Exam: Thesis Defense

Defending a thesis successfully requires at a minimum that the student has obtained sufficient data to make a significant contribution to at least one research paper that has been submitted or published in a peer-reviewed journal.  If this expectation is not met, the Chair (thesis advisor), with help from the Special Committee, must determine that circumstances beyond the student’s control that prevented the student from meeting these expectations.

A Schedule of Exam form needs to be filled out online (accessed on the Forms section of the Grad School website) and signed by the GFAs, your committee, the DGS at least 7 days before the examination date. You are also required to provide the title and abstract for your dissertation and the list of your publications to the GFAs for the announcement of your exam.

A section of the Graduate School website ( is dedicated to information about the dissertation process, including the Thesis and Dissertation Guide.  You are highly encouraged to follow the process it lays out in planning submission of your thesis and graduation.

The Graduate School Office of Academic & Student Affairs ( also coordinates a number of workshops to assist you with thesis writing.

Your thesis may be organized either as a single work (traditional thesis) or as a series of relatively independent chapters (independent chapter thesis).  In the latter case, there may be a unified introduction and bibliography or separate introductions and bibliographies.  There may be a unified summary, or the two-page abstract (required of all theses) can serve as a summary statement for all chapters.  Some examples of thesis formats are shown below.

Traditional Thesis Independent Chapter Thesis
Literature Review

Materials & Methods




Literature Cited


Chapter 1:  General Introduction and Literature Review

Chapter 2:


Materials and Methods



Literature Cited

Chapter 3: (as above)

Final Chapter including

General Discussion,

Speculations and



The independent chapter option allows you to prepare your thesis as a series of papers in a format ready for publication, and chapters can be published before the thesis defense.  The work in your thesis must be primarily, if not entirely, your own.  If your published work includes co-author(s), you may cite the work of your co-author(s) in your thesis with appropriate acknowledgment, but you should not include the data of your co-author(s) in your thesis.  An exception could be if data from a co-author are needed for clarity.  In that case, the legend to the figure should explain this.  You should acknowledge in the publication that the research is part of a thesis, and the Graduate School requires written permission from the publisher to include it in your thesis.

Full collections of dissertations are maintained in Mann Library.  There are also a collection of theses of graduates in the Fields of Genetics, Genomics and Development and Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology in the Keller Reading Room, Biotechnology Building, Room G09.  You can view these by asking someone in the MBG Department Office (107 Biotech) to let you into this room.  Please ask to be let into that room.  NOTE:  Materials are NEVER to be removed from this room.