Ph.D. Program Overview


The graduate program in the field of mathematics at Cornell leads to the Ph.D. degree, which takes most students five to six years of graduate study to complete. One feature that makes the program at Cornell particularly attractive is the broad range of interests of the faculty. The department has outstanding groups in the areas of algebra, algebraic geometry,  analysis, applied mathematics, combinatorics, dynamical systems, geometry, logic, Lie groups, number theory, probability, and topology. The field also maintains close ties with distinguished graduate programs in the fields of applied mathematicscomputer scienceoperations research, and statistics.

Core Courses

A normal course load for a beginning graduate student is three courses per term. 

There are no qualifying exams, but the program requires that all students pass four courses to be selected from the six core courses. First-year students are allowed to place out of some (possibly, all) of the core courses. In order to place out of a course, students should contact the faculty member who is teaching the course during the current academic year, and that faculty member will make a decision. The minimum passing grade for the core courses is B-; no grade is assigned for placing out of a core course.

At least two core courses should be taken (or placed out) by the end of the first year. At least four core courses should be taken (or placed out) by the end of the second year (cumulative). These time requirements can be waived for students with health problems or other significant non-academic problems. They can be also waived for students who take time-consuming courses in another area (for example, CS) and who have strong support from a faculty; requests from such students should be made before the beginning of the spring semester. 

The core courses  are distributed among three main areas: analysis, algebra and topology/geometry. A student must pass at least one course from each group. All entering graduate students are encouraged to eventually take all six core courses with the option of an S/U grade for two of them. 

The six core courses are:

MATH 6110, Real Analysis

MATH 6120, Complex Analysis

MATH 6310, Algebra 1

MATH 6320, Algebra 2

MATH 6510, Introductory Algebraic Topology

MATH 6520, Differentiable Manifolds.

Students who are not ready to take some of the core courses may take MATH 4130-4140, Introduction to Analysis, and/or MATH 4330-4340, Introduction to Algebra, which are the honors versions of our core undergraduate courses.

"What is...?" Seminar

The "What Is...?" Seminar is a series of talks given by faculty in the graduate field of Mathematics. Speakers are selected by an organizing committee of graduate students. The goal of the seminar is to aid students in finding advisors.

Schedule for the "What Is...?" seminar

Special Committee

The Cornell Graduate School requires that every student selects a special committee (in particular, a thesis adviser, who is the chair or the committee) by the end of the third semester.

The emphasis in the Graduate School at Cornell is on individualized instruction and training for independent investigation. There are very few formal requirements and each student develops a program in conjunction with his or her special committee, which consists of three faculty members, some of which may be chosen from outside the field of mathematics. 

Entering students are not assigned special committees. Such students may contact any of the members on the Advising Committee if they have questions or need advice.

Current Advising Committee

Analysis / Probability / Dynamical Systems / Logic: Lionel Levine
Geometry / Topology / Combinatorics: Kathryn Mann
Probability / Statistics:  Philippe Sosoe
Applied Mathematics Liaison: Richard Rand

Admission to Candidacy

To be admitted formally to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree, the student must pass the oral admission to candidacy examination or A exam. This must be completed before the beginning of the student's fourth year. Upon passing the A exam, the student will be awarded (at his/her request) an M.S. degree without thesis.

The admission to candidacy examination is given to determine if the student is “ready to begin work on a thesis.” The content and methods of examination are agreed on by the student and his/her special committee before the examination. The student must be prepared to answer questions on the proposed area of research, and to pass the exam, he/she must demonstrate expertise beyond just mastery of basic mathematics covered in the core graduate courses. 


To receive an advanced degree a student must fulfill the residence requirements of the Graduate School. One unit of residence is granted for successful completion of one semester of full-time study, as judged by the chair of the special committee. The Ph.D. program requires a minimum of six residence units. This is not a difficult requirement to satisfy since the program generally takes five to six years to complete. A student who has done graduate work at another institution may petition to transfer residence credit but may not receive more than two such credits.


The candidate must write a thesis that represents creative work and contains original results in that area. The research is carried on independently by the candidate under the supervision of the chairperson of the special committee. By the time of the oral admission to candidacy examination, the candidate should have selected as chairperson of the committee the faculty member who will supervise the research. When the thesis is completed, the student presents his/her results at the thesis defense or B Exam. All doctoral students take a Final Examination (the B Exam, which is the oral defense of the dissertation) upon completion of all requirements for the degree, no earlier than one month before completion of the minimum registration requirement.

Masters Degree in the Minor Field

Ph.D. students in the field of mathematics may earn a Special Master's of Science in Computer Science. Interested students must apply to the Graduate School using a form available for this purpose. To be eligible for this degree, the student must have a member representing the minor field on the special committee and pass the A-exam in the major field. The rules and the specific requirements for each master's program are explained on the referenced page.

Cornell will award at most one master's degree to any student. In particular, a student awarded a master's degree in a minor field will not be eligible for a master's degree in the major field.

Graduate Student Funding

Funding commitments made at the time of admission to the Ph.D. program are typically for a period of five years. Support in the sixth year is available by application, as needed. Support in the seventh year is only available by request from an advisor, and dependent on the availability of teaching lines. Following a policy from the Cornell Graduate School, students who require more than seven years to complete their degree shall not be funded as teaching assistants after the 14th semester.

Special Requests

Students who have special requests should first discuss them with their Ph.D. advisor (or with a field member with whom they work, if they don't have an advisor yet). If the advisor (or field faculty) supports the request, then it should be sent to the Director of Graduate Studies.