The special committee, under the leadership of the chairperson, is responsible for overseeing the student’s course of study and progress. Among other things, the special committee administers examinations, oversees the thesis, assures itself that the student is well prepared in his or her field, sees to it that all degree requirements have been satisfied, and recommends that the degree be awarded.
The special committee will also meet and set requirements tailored to individual student needs, typically including course work and other program goals. There are no regulations of the Graduate School governing the number of courses, grades, or specific content of instruction to which special committees must subscribe, so the committee has a good deal of freedom to work with the student in establishing an appropriate program. Special committees may impose any requirements over and above the requirements of the Graduate School that they deem educationally sound. Also, students must remain in good standing and making satisfactory progress by both doing well in course work and making progress in research toward the thesis, as discussed in Section IX below.
The Graduate Fields of Atmospheric Sciences and Geological Sciences (and the Graduate School) considers regular meetings between the student and his or her special committee important to ensure proper communication and urges the student to take the initiative in holding such meetings at least twice a year. These meetings may take the form of individual meetings with each advisor or a group meeting of the entire committee; most students also meet much more regularly with their advisor. Remote participation is acceptable. It is recommended that students be proactive to set up such meetings regularly, for example at the start of each semester. Students will report these meetings on annual self-evaluation.
The Chair is the most important member of a special committee, and typically is the research advisor. It is important to maintain a good working relationship with the Chair, as they will be more heavily invested in your success than anybody else, and will put a tremendous amount of time, thought and energy into your education. They will be working hard to secure resources needed for your research and support during your time in the program, and will be helping you professionally for a long time, writing recommendation letters and related activities. They are also the primary person evaluating your progress and success in the program. For these reasons, it is important that you have in-depth discussions with your advisor about expectations and commitments early in your program. The relationship is voluntary on both ends, in the sense that you have some leeway to switch advisors, and the Chair or any committee member can resign in which case you have to select a new chair; see Section C below. Either of these options is complicated, so a best first step will be to work out any issues as best you can. You can find information on where you go if you encounter problems in Section XII below.
An M.S. student is required to have at least two members on their special committee. For the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences the special committee includes a chairperson representing a concentration within the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences, and a minor member representing either an additional concentration within the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences or a concentration in an additional subject outside the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences. In the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences, the special committee includes a chairperson representing a concentration within the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences, and a minor member representing a subject and concentration outside the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences. In most situations it is beneficial to have committee members besides the advisor who have expertise in your thesis topic, so you may have more than two committee members. It is recommend that an additional member or members be added when the minor member will not provide that expertise.
A Ph.D. student in the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences is required to have at least four members on his or her special committee: a chairperson representing a concentration within the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences, and two minor members who each represent a concentration in an additional subject outside the Graduate Field of Atmospheric Sciences. Additional members may be added to the special committee of Ph.D. students to cover other areas of interest.
A Ph.D. student in the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences should have at least four members on their special committee. Three are mandated by the Graduate School: a chairperson representing a concentration within the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences, a minor member representing a subject and concentration outside the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences, and a minor member who may represent either an additional concentration within the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences or a concentration in an additional subject outside the Graduate Field of Geological Sciences. The fourth member can be in any discipline, but in most situations it is beneficial to have committee members besides the advisor who have expertise in your thesis topic. Additional members should be added in the common case where neither of the minor members will provide that expertise. The full 4-person committee must be formed prior to the A exam, but not necessarily before the Q exam (see below).
All members of the special committee may impose requirements above and beyond what is required in this document or by the graduate school. It is good to discuss what requirements a member might impose before adding them to your committee. Quoting from the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty (https://gradschool.cornell.edu/policies/code-of-legislation/): “The special committee member who represents an approved subject or concentration on a special committee determines the specific requirements for the student.”
All members will participate in the A and B exams, while generally a subset of the committee or a temporary committee will participate in the Q exam (see Section VI). Students may structure participation in regular advising meetings such that only in-field members participate or all members participate, as needed.
Note that EAS faculty are members of multiple Graduate Fields and can serve on your committee as an external member if they represent a field that you are not a member of.
- Larry Brown: Archaeology; Physics; Sustainable Energy (minor)
- Lou Derry: Sustainable Energy (minor)
- Esteban Gazel: Astronomy & Space Sciences
- Dave Hysell: Astronomy & Space Sciences; Electrical & Computer Engineering
- Teresa Jordan: Latin American Studies (minor); Sustainable Energy (minor)
- Natalie Mahowald: Civil & Environmental Engineering; Physics; Mechanical Engineering
- Matt Pritchard: Astronomy & Space Sciences
- Susan Riha: Soil and Crop Sciences; Water Resources (minor)
- Sara Pryor: Computational Science and Engineering (minor)
- Britney Schmidt: Astronomy & Space Sciences
Also, several faculty are members of both Graduate Fields in EAS: Geological Sciences and Atmospheric Sciences (see Section II for list).
A temporary committee will be established for all first-year students in both Graduate Fields upon arrival to provide guidance and multiple points of contact through the student’s first year. It will be replaced by the permanent committee as the permanent committee is appointed. The temporary committee includes the special committee chair (advisor) and 1-2 additional members. Each first-year student should meet regularly with this committee to identify important courses; generally, one meeting should be near the start of classes each semester. By default, the DGS will be a member of this committee, although in many cases more suitable alternatives can be found. Students will report this committee composition and meeting in their annual self-evaluation.
A student must submit the name of their special committee chair or temporary advisor to the Graduate School no later than three weeks after first registration.
M.S. students must select their full committee as defined by the Graduate School (chairperson, minor member) by the end of their second semester.
Ph.D. students must select their full committee as defined by the Graduate School (chairperson, two minor members) no later the end of their third semester. The fourth committee member must be added prior to the A Exam.
The timeline to submit the M.S. and Ph.D. theses for approval in advance of the three conferral deadlines (May, August, and December) is available from the grad school: https://gradschool.cornell.edu/academic-progress/thesis-dissertation/writing-your-thesis-dissertation/understanding-deadlines-and-requirements/ In brief, you need to submit a draft of your thesis to your committee six weeks in advance of your exam. Then revise your thesis, get it approved by your committee, and submit the final version of the thesis by the date posted by the grad school (and within 60 days of the thesis exam).
Changes to Membership
A student may change their special committee with the approval of all the members of the newly constituted committee. Notice of such change must be filed immediately with the Graduate School.
For M.S. students, no change may be made during the three months prior to the Final Examination, except with the approval of the Dean.
For Ph.D. students, no change may be made after passing the A Exam, except with the approval of the Dean. In addition, no Ph.D. student may schedule a B Exam within three months of a change of committee, except with the approval of the Dean.
Any Special Committee member may resign, including the chair, except when students are on approved Health Leave of Absence status. The student must replace the member who resigned. A chair must generally be replaced within one semester for a student to continue to register, and financial support is not guaranteed while the chair is absent.
Ad Hoc Members
Although members of a student's special committee are normally drawn from the currently active graduate faculty at Cornell University, committee members from outside that body (ad hoc members) may be added under special circumstances. Such a member should either have special expertise in the student's subject area, or should have a close working association with the student and his or her research. An example would be a faculty member at another institution with whom the student is working or who has expertise in the student’s sub-specialty.
To be nominated, the individual must be recommended for ad hoc membership by the Director of Graduate Studies. The individual’s curriculum vitae and the student’s petition requesting the ad hoc member, including the signature of the Director of Graduate Studies, must be submitted to the Dean of the Graduate School for final approval. The student and advisor can work with the Department and Director to generate this request.
Ad hoc special committee members can fill the role of the third member for M.S. committees, or fourth member of Ph.D. committees. The Graduate School mandates that two members of an M.S. committee or three members of a Ph.D. committee are members of the graduate faculty and are not ad hoc members; see the Code of Legislation for details.