Science and Technology Studies, Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Program Description

Science and Technology Studies is an emerging academic field dedicated to historical and social analysis of science and engineering. STS builds on humanistic and social science traditions to examine systematically the social and cultural dimensions of science and technology. Ph.D. students explore topics at the cutting edge of science and technology studies, and learn how to conduct empirically-grounded research on science and technology in historical and/or contemporary contexts. The field thus contributes to our understanding of the place of science and technology in societies, with attention to historical, sociological, philosophical, and political issues.

The field has specific course requirements. All students are expected to take, prior to their Admission to Candidacy examination, four specifically introductory theoretical and methodological courses in three of four subject areas: history, philosophy, sociology, and politics of science and technology, as well as a one-semester seminar intended as an introduction to the field as a whole. At least four of the courses taken during the student's first year should be Science and Technology Studies courses.

Students are expected to achieve a level of competence in at least one foreign language sufficient for reading the literature in their research area. The Special Committee will decide how this competence is to be demonstrated; competence should be established prior to the Admission to Candidacy examination. Additional languages may be required at the discretion of the Special Committee.

All students are expected to take an active part in departmental life, engaging in such activities as a weekly discussion group, a colloquium series, and other special training events and workshops.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-6234

306 Rockefeller Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • history and philosophy of science and technology
  • social studies of science and technology


2015-2016 $29,500

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Dec. 15; no spring admission

Requirements Summary:

 Applicants should have some background in history, philosophy, sociology, or politics. Familiarity with science and technology studies is desirable. In addition to the Graduate School requirements, the field requires submission of GRE general test scores, a writing sample (term paper or work of similar scope), and three letters of recommendation.

  • all Graduate School Requirements, including the TOEFL Exam for Non-Native English Applicants
  • three recommendations
  • GRE general test
  • writing sample



Learning Goals


Students admitted into the S&TS PhD program come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. Their doctoral dissertations address science, technology and medicine in different historical periods, geographical regions, and social and cultural circumstances. Students who receive the Cornell S&TS PhD go into a wide variety of research and teaching fields and professional occupations. The fields include, but are not limited to, history, sociology, anthropology, government and peace studies, communication and information studies, and science and mathematics education. Professional occupations include faculty positions, government and foundation research positions, museum curatorships and editing positions. Despite such diversity in disciplinary origins and outcomes, the S&TS field possesses a coherent body of literature and a characteristic array of methodological approaches. Consequently, the S&TS PhD program is designed to enable students to become conversant with the problems, themes, key sources, and research skills that pervade the field, while allowing sufficient flexibility to tailor their courses of study to include literature, research strategies, and disciplinary approaches that are relevant to their research projects and future professional development.


Although faculty members advise students and assess their progress, the program is designed to enable students independently to develop ideas and plans for an original dissertation, rather than to take up problems assigned by a faculty supervisor. Specific proficiencies that are necessary for a career in S&TS (whether in a university department, government agency, or private research center) include the following:

  • Knowing the history of the S&TS field and its relation to other traditions such as the history and philosophy of science.
  • Becoming conversant with key problems, lines of debate, and avenues of inquiry in the current S&TS literature.
  • Developing an appreciation for different theoretical, philosophical, and ethical vantage points appropriate for participation in an interdisciplinary and international field.
  • Learning to discover gaps in the literature and to produce original research projects that address those gaps.
  • Conducting interviews, participant observation, ethnography, archival research, and other relevant research activities in an effective and ethically responsible manner.
  • Writing professional quality (publishable) articles, reports, and grant proposals that propose or present original contributions to the social science and historical literature on science, technology, and medicine.
  • Presenting research papers and work-in-progress at professional workshops and academic conferences such as the annual meetings of the Society for Social Studies of Science, the History of Science Society, and Society for History of Technology.
  • Acquiring professional skills for organizing, presenting and participating in formal colloquia and workshops, as well as informal communication skills for exchanging ideas with colleagues (including leading figures) in the field.
  • Developing teaching skills and gaining teaching experience.
  • Learning to contribute to S&TS graduate field meetings, workshops, colloquia, and the Graduate Student Association at Cornell.

In addition to these proficiencies, a student’s dissertation project may require competency in a foreign language, and a degree of familiarity with the technical language and practices of the scientific field the student has chosen to investigate.


Procedures for Achieving the Learning Goals

In order to allow sufficient flexibility to accommodate the different backgrounds, research interests, and professional trajectories of students in the program, the S&TS graduate field emphasizes the role of the student’s special committee for developing a specific course of study, advising the student on coursework and research, designing the form and content of qualifying exams, and assessing the student’s progress. In order to assure coherence and common standards in the program, and to create a common intellectual culture, the S&TS field has established the following prodedures for all graduate students in the field:

  • The first year is particularly important for establishing the student’s bearings, and the S&TS graduate field takes this into account by assigning a faculty advisor for each entering student in the PhD program. After the first year, the student is responsible for forming the special committee, which may or may not include the first-year advisor.
  • An introductory course (S&TS 7111) is offered every Fall semester. This introduces new PhD students to basic readings and ways of thinking characteristic of the S&TS field.
  • A course (S&TS 6311) is offered every Spring semester, in order to introduce first-year students to qualitative methods for studying science. When appropriate for their courses of study, student may take a methods or historiography course offered by another graduate field instead of, or in addition to, S&TS 6311.
  • Before completing the Ph.D., students are strongly encouraged to prepare publishable research papers based on their second-year projects, A-exams, and dissertation research. In recent years, many S&TS students have successfully published articles in leading peer-reviewed journals in the field.
  • At all stages of their graduate careers, students are strongly encouraged to apply for research funding through Cornell, government agencies, and relevant foundations. Cornell S&TS students have been particularly successful at obtaining Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Awards through the NSF. Whether successful or not, such applications provide valuable experience with writing proposals, gaining feedback, and working with the Cornell IRB to meet requirements for research using human subjects.
  • The S&TS graduate students organize and participate in a Science Studies Research Group (SSRG). This is a weekly seminar held during the lunch hour, in which S&TS graduate students, faculty, and invited guests present works in progress. Some sessions are devoted to professional issues, such as writing grant proposals, preparing and presenting conference presentations and job talks.
  • Students who are close to completion who have been invited for interviews for possible jobs and postdoctoral fellowships are encouraged to give practice presentations in order to get feedback and advice from attending faculty members and graduate students.
  • In addition to leading discussion sections in connection with TA-ships, students have the opportunity to teach Freshmen Writing Seminars through the Knight Foundation. In most cases, students in their third (or later) years teach these seminars, but in some exceptional cases second year students have been allowed to teach them. The student attends an orientation offered by the Knight Foundation, and is supervised by an S&TS faculty member, but is expected to prepare the syllabus, lead seminar discussions, mark writing assignments, and provide relevant feedback to the seminar students. The writing seminars provide a relatively low-pressure way to gain experience with the full array of responsibilities associated with teaching a course.


Consistent with the goal of maximizing flexibility of topics and disciplinary approaches in the context of a common intellectual culture, the assessment of students stresses the role of the special committee while also providing regular assessments by the DGS and field faculty as a whole.

  • The progress of first-year students is assessed during two meetings toward the end of the spring semester. Each first-year student takes a Q-exam: a meeting of the student with the first-year advisor and two other S&TS field members, to go over the student’s transcript and written coursework and discuss the student’s plans for the second year project. Q-exams are scheduled prior to a final field meeting, in which the S&TS field faculty meet as a whole to review the progress of each continuing student (including each first-year student). Following the meeting, the DGS writes a letter to each student that discusses the student’s progress and flags any problems discussed during the meeting.
  •  All continuing students are expected to meet with their special committees on a yearly basis to discuss their progress.
  •  Each student is expected to complete a second-year project by the end of her or his second year. The second-year project is assessed by the student’s special committee, and presented in an open forum attended by the S&TS faculty and graduate students, as well as others who choose to attend.
  •  The A-exam (Admission to Candidacy Exam) can take the form of timed or take-home exams, papers on an assigned topic, annotated bibliographies, course syllabi, or other agreed-to documents. Typically, the student submits one exam for each member of the special committee. At the discretion of the committee member, the form and content of the exams are allowed to vary, depending upon the student’s specialized fields and the requirements of the proposed dissertation project. The student is examined by the committee as a whole during an oral examination, and is expected to show broad knowledge of the individual fields (sociology of science, history of science, etc.) covered by each exam. The student’s dissertation prospectus typically is discussed during the same meeting, and the assessment is subject to approval by the DGS.
  •  The S&TS Field uses a ‘pre-B’ meeting for students completing dissertations. After a first draft of the dissertation is complete, the student meets with the special committee to discuss the draft, and the committee members identify any gaps or problems that need correction. The committee then decides if the dissertation is likely to meet the field’s standards, and schedules a date for the B-exam, allowing for sufficient time to complete and correct the draft. The B-exam is open to other faculty, students, and invited visitors, who are invited to ask questions at the very end, but during the exam the committee questions the student about the dissertation, and meets alone to assess the dissertation.

For further information on Cornell University’s S&TS graduate program, please visit the website at: .