Special Committee

One of the most important decisions you will make as a graduate student is the selection of your Special Committee.  This is because your Special Committee guides and supervises your program and your progress in it.  The Special Committee consists of the thesis research supervisor (Committee Chairperson and your major professor or PI), a faculty member representing a minor subject and another faculty member from the Field of BMCB.  (Occasionally, students include an extra faculty member on their Special Committee for additional expertise).  

The Director of Graduate Studies serves as temporary Chair for all first- year students.  By the end of the first academic year (or August 1 at the latest), you should have chosen your Special Committee Chair.  You should work with your chair to determine the rest of the membership of your committee as soon as possible in order to complete all the requirements (in terms of courses) as soon as possible.  The Graduate School requires that you have a full committee by the end of your third semester of registration (i.e. the end of the fall semester of your second year).

The Special Committee system offers great flexibility to the Ph.D. program since it permits tailoring of the program to your specific interests.  We encourage you to talk to other graduate students and faculty and to seek as much information as possible before selecting your committee members.  Make an appointment to meet with each of your potential committee members and bring relevant materials to the meeting (e.g., curriculum vitae, course records, and summary of research plans if possible).  Be prepared to discuss why he or she would be an appropriate committee member.  It is important that you both understand each other’s expectations:  what courses will they require, what assistance they can provide for certain experiments, etc.

As your research develops, don’t panic if you realize that another faculty person might be more appropriate.  Until your A-exam, you can request Committee formation and change on-line in your Student Information Center (studentcenter.cornell.edu).  After that, if you want to change your Committee, you must request a paper copy of the Special Committee form and also submit a General Petition requesting permission from the Graduate School Dean to change your Special Committee after the A-exam.  All of your new Committee members must sign and avow, in writing, that they accept the results of your A-Exam.

Choosing a Minor

You are required to designate at least one minor.  When you submit your full Special Committee request in your Student Center, you will be asked to identify the major and minor that each member of your committee represents.  These will appear on your transcript as part of your program plan.

A minor provides you with an opportunity to delve with greater breadth and depth into a specific area that may help you with your individual research project and goals.  The Graduate School publishes a list of major and minor subjects and concentrations for all graduate fields at Cornell https://www.gradschool.cornell.edu/academics/fields-of-study/fields).  You can pick any areas of study listed as your minor.  

Most minors that are chosen by BMCB graduate students require a couple of additional courses, which students are strongly encouraged to finish by the end of the second year.  Fields often have guidelines, rather than strict requirements, for the number of courses needed to satisfy a minor.  It is up to the faculty member who represents the minor to decide, in consultation with the student, how many courses and which courses are to be taken.  You should discuss with potential committee members which courses they would want you to take, given your background and interests.  

Annual Progress Reports

You are required to meet with your entire committee at least once a year to discuss progress and plans for your research project and completion of your program.  You should arrange this meeting to take place immediately following your Monday seminar (or as soon after as possible).  is the student’s responsibility to arrange this meeting, which should take place as soon as possible after your Monday seminar.  You are required to submit a progress report to the Graduate Field Assistants within 30 days of your Monday seminar.

The annual progress report supports communication between the student and their Special Committee and helps to gauge the progress being made toward graduation. It is used by the Field to monitor student progress, as well as such administrative purposes as award nominations and collection of assessment data for the Graduate School., The Progress Report is found on-line on your Student Center.

Regular meetings with the full committee (a minimum of once a year) will help keep your program on track.  You are also encouraged to meet with individual members of your committee along the way in order to get information and feedback on your program and research. Use your committee for guidance and feedback.  That is why they are there.

The Progress Report should be completed by the student and distributed to their Special Committee members one week PRIOR to the student’s Monday seminar.  Students are required to meet with their Special Committee as soon as possible after their Monday seminar, within two weeks at the very latest, certainly within two weeks of your seminar date.   The Field of BMCB takes this very seriously and require 100% compliance.

Beyond the fourth year, all students must include a “Thesis Outline” in their annual progress reports.  The Thesis Outline should be distributed to the Special Committee one week prior to the committee meeting, so it can be thoroughly discussed at the committee meeting.

The BMCB Steering Committee will discuss situations in which students appear to be making slow progress toward their degree or having other problems and these circumstances will be addressed confidentially at the BMCB Field Meeting.  Results of the evaluation are communicated to the student(s) and their advisor(s).