Prospective Graduate Students

How to Apply

To apply to become a graduate student at the Cornell Lab, you’ll need to go through the Cornell University application process. The whole process can be broken down into three phases:

  • Create a shortlist of potential advisers whose work interests you
  • Contact each person to find out if she or he is a good match for you, and vice versa
  • Become familiar with Cornell’s system of Graduate Fields, and apply

First, A Few Basics: 

  • Cornell does not offer a degree in Ornithology. Of course you can still study birds, but your degree will be in a broader Graduate Field such as Natural Resources or Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
  • Cornell offers both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, although several Graduate Fields generally accept only Ph.D. students
  • You should make contact with a professor and determine whether their research is a good match for your interests before you apply to graduate school here
  • Application deadlines vary by Graduate Field, but most are around December 1

For more detail on each of these basics, see our Graduate Student FAQ.

Look for Potential Advisers:

Reach out to potential graduate advisers whose work matches your interests. Lab-based faculty and staff who can serve as graduate advisers include: David Bonter (DNRE), Andre Dhondt (EEB & DNRE), John Fitzpatrick (EEB), Holger Klinck (DNRE), Irby Lovette (EEB), Ian Owens (EEB), Aaron Rice (DNRE), Amanda Rodewald (DNRE), and Mike Webster (NBB). Be aware that in addition to ornithologists at the Lab, other Cornell University faculty also study birds and the natural world, and could be good matches (e.g., Maren Vitousek, EEB).

Do some research to learn about a potential adviser’s research interests. Look at their web site, read their papers, and see what their current graduate students and postdocs are doing. Make a short list of people who might be a good fit for your interests and goals.

Contact Potential Advisers to Find a Good Match

After identifying a faculty adviser who might be a good match, it is essential to open a conversation with them via email, phone, or a personal meeting. Potential advisers will appreciate you sending them detailed information about yourself in your first query, including a CV or resume. They will also be looking for students with initiative, so it helps to send a well-reasoned description of why you are hoping to join their particular research group.

By speaking with a potential adviser you’ll get a sense of how their professional approach and personal style matches with yours, and you’ll also find out whether they have an opening in their lab group in a time frame that works for you.

How to Apply to Graduate School at Cornell

Graduate students apply to one of Cornell’s many Graduate Fields. These are part of an organizational system that is unique to Cornell; they integrate faculty and students with common interests across many university departments. Cornell faculty choose which Graduate Fields they are a part of, and if you want a particular faculty member as your adviser, you’ll need to apply to one of the Graduate Fields she or he is in.

To be a strong applicant, it helps to have a good academic record, but often your experiences, accomplishments, and goals will matter more. Related research experience is a plus, so take advantage of opportunities both to conduct research and to publish your results. Undergraduate honors theses and formal scientific publications are very useful. Strong letters of recommendation are also valuable, so develop good relationships with supervisors or mentors. As relevant to your area of study, it can also help to apply for outside fellowships like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Here’s more about Graduate Fields from the Cornell University website. Also check our Graduate Student FAQ for more advice and resources.