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Who’s Who in the Graduate Program

The Field

All graduate studies at Cornell are organized around disciplinary fields, which are simply groups of Cornell faculty members who share common academic interests. A field, of which Sociology is one, is in charge of all aspects of graduate student training: it sets the graduate curriculum, establishes the requirements for the conferral of the Ph.D., and evaluates graduate students’ progress.

Field members are chosen on the basis of their record of scholarship, demonstrated ability to train Sociology graduate students, and commitment to the discipline of sociology. All regular and joint-appointed faculty in the Department of Sociology are also members of the Sociology Field. However, the Field also consists of many other scholars on campus, nearly all of whom obtained Ph.D’s in Sociology. Field members from outside the Department of Sociology are selected for a five year term, and must sit on the committee of at least one Sociology graduate student during that time in order to be considered for a new five-year term.

By incorporating sociologists outside the Department into the graduate program, the Field structure broadens the intellectual resources and research opportunities available to Sociology graduate students. It also facilitates an interdisciplinary perspective on graduate student training, because many members of the Field work in interdisciplinary units (e.g., ILR, PAM, STS) where they interact daily with colleagues from other disciplines.

The Special Committee

The Special Committee, another distinctive feature of graduate education at Cornell, is responsible for helping students tailor their graduate studies to suit their needs and interests. The Committee advises the student on the selection of courses beyond required courses, administers the Doctoral Admission to Candidacy Examination, supervises and reads the qualifying paper, and directs and sets standards for the doctoral dissertation. Although the Special Committee decides what is required for graduate students to obtain a degree, it operates within the guidelines set by the members of the Field of Sociology and Graduate School.

Each student chooses a Special Committee early in their studies, preferably by the beginning of the second year and no later than the end of the third semester. The chair of the Special Committee is a member of the graduate faculty of the Field of Sociology; the Special Committee chair is usually an expert in the student’s major concentration subject. A minimum of two other members of the Committee are Cornell faculty in any graduate Field. Additional members of the Committee are optional, and can be from either inside or outside Cornell. The membership of the Committee can, and often does, change as a student’s intellectual interests develop.

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

The head of the Field is the Director of Graduate Studies. He or she is appointed by the faculty members of the Field, usually for a three-year term. According to the Graduate School’s Guide to Graduate Studies, the DGS’s job is as follows:

The DGS is the primary liaison between the field and the Graduate School. He or she helps establish academic priorities and allocate resources for graduate students. The DGS strives to enhance the quality of graduate education and general student welfare. These individuals also oversee the admissions process and so may be the most familiar with you when you arrive. You will need to have your DGS sign any documents required by the Graduate School.
The current DGS for Sociology is Benjamin Cornwell.

The Graduate Field Assistant (GFA)

The other key contact for the graduate program is the graduate field assistant (GFA). He or she serves as a liaison between students and the faculty, can answer most questions about the graduate program and the process of obtaining a degree, and can help you with all the paperwork that goes along with being a Cornell graduate student.

The GFA can also help you arrange a visit to Cornell, either before you apply or after you have received an offer of admission.

The Sociology GFA is Sue Meyer. Her contact information can be found here.

The Graduate Students

The graduate students are an integral and celebrated part of the Cornell Sociology community. All Sociology graduate students have offices, usually shared, on the 3rd floor of Uris Hall in the Department of Sociology. This facilitates graduate student-faculty interaction and helps generate a strong community. In addition to the usual College and University resources, graduate students have access to a dedicated Sociology library and computer cluster on the 3rd floor of Uris Hall.

Our graduate students are extremely active in the intellectual and social life of the department. They participate in the colloquium and lecture series, sit on departmental committees, organize graduate-student mini-conferences and a brown-bag seminar, and are indispensable to our recruitment efforts. They are represented by the Graduate Student Association, which works closely with the DGS and Department Chair.

The Sociology faculty is committed to helping graduate students develop the intellectual and professional skills needed to be competitive on the academic job market and to qualify for rewarding job opportunities in government, policy, and other venues. The department has a strong record of placing its graduate students.

Next: Program requirements