Andy Clark's lab at their annual retreat

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.  After you have  chosen your Special Committee Chair, you should work with them 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).

Students who are co-mentored (i.e. have a Chair and a co-Chair) must choose two (2) additional committee members of their committee for a total committee of 4.

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 Center (  After that, if you want to change your Committee, you must complete a Post-A Committee Change Petition for submission to the Graduate School.  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  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

As a graduate students in your second year and beyond, 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 thereafter).  It is your responsibility to arrange this meeting and to provide faculty with your section of the Student Progress Review (SPR) report.  Submission of the Student Progress Review (SPR) report is due within 30 days of your Monday seminar or by April 1 for students and May 31 for mentors, whichever comes first. (see suggested process below).

The annual progress report supports communication between the student and their Special Committee, helps to gauge the progress being made toward graduation and is the basis of annual benchmarks toward graduation required by the Graduate School. 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 (see links on the BMCB Current Student Forms page).

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. Process for completion of annual Student Progress Report:

  1. Schedule a meeting with your Special Committee that coincides with your Field seminar. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss your seminar as well as your portion of the Student Progress Review.
  2. Complete the Student Section of the online Student Progress Review, save and download a draft to distribute to your entire Special Committee at least seven (7) days prior to your seminar or by April 1, whichever comes first. If you are not giving a seminar, distribute it seven (7) days prior to your annual Special Committee meeting or your B Exam.
  3. After your seminar, meet with Special Committee to discuss your progress and planning. This meeting should take place within two weeks of your seminar, if not immediately thereafter.  If your seminar is scheduled for a date after April 1, you should complete and submit your section of the SPR before April 1. If changes are needed after you have given your seminar and have had a meeting with your committee, your Chair can turn the form back to you for revisions.
  4. After your meeting, finalize the Student Section of the SPR and submit it.  Once you click submit, the document will be routed to your Chair so they can complete the Advisor section and submit it.  The rest of your committee can also view the form, however, only your Chair electronically signs and submits it.  (Note: Once you submit the SPR, you will be unable to edit it unless your Chair returns it to you).
  5. Your Committee Chair should submit their portion of the online form within 30 days of your seminar or by may 31, whichever comes first.

The Field of BMCB takes annual meetings and submission of progress reports very seriously and requires 100% compliance. Links to the On-line Student Progress Report are provided on the BMCB Current Student Forms page. Students can also use the SPR to track completion of Field requirements; for instance, note in your SPR when you attend the RCR Symposium and/or a Careers Workshop.

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).