Nominating Your Special Committee

Each student is responsible for putting together his or her own special committee, which is composed of a faculty member from your major field who will serve as your chair and additional members from any field or discipline in the university, provided they are a member of the graduate faculty.

When to Select Special Committee Members

You must select your special committee chair within three weeks of registering with the Graduate School. If you are uncertain of your choice for chair, you may select a temporary one or your field’s director of graduate studies (DGS) may assume the role.

Deadlines for constituting a full committee depend on your expected degree.

  • Master’s degree students must complete their special committee selection by the end of the second semester.
  • Doctoral candidates must have a full special committee no later than the end of the third semester, although some fields have earlier requirements. Your graduate field administrator (GFA) will know for sure.

Choosing a Special Committee Chair

The faculty member who represents your major subject is considered the chair of your special committee. Your chair will supervise your thesis or dissertation work and will typically provide the facilities and supervision necessary to conduct your research.

Your chair may serve for up to one year without special approval if he or she leaves the university. To maintain chair status, you must petition on that individual’s behalf. A retiree may continue serving as either chair or minor member.

Choosing Special Committee Members

You have a lot of flexibility when it comes to selecting members of your special committee. Any member of any graduate field may serve on your special committee, with occasional limits imposed on the faculty based on their field standing. Your special committee chair must be from your graduate field.

At a minimum, master’s students must select one faculty member to represent their major subject (the chair) and a second member to represent their minor subject. Doctoral candidates must have one faculty member representing their major subject and two minor members, each representing one of their minor subjects. For those fields that have secured permission from the General Committee to require only one minor subject, the third member of the special committee must represent an additional concentration within your major subject.

Others Who May Serve on a Special Committee

Some fields require and assign a field-appointed member to special committees to help administer exams. This member serves in addition to existing committee members. If you request, and the field-appointed member agrees, this appointee may be counted as one of your selected members and serve on the special committee beyond examinations.

Students may nominate non-Cornell affiliates to serve as “ad hoc” members of the special committee. They serve in addition to the required members of the Cornell graduate faculty committee and are invited to participate in committee meetings as well as exam and thesis/dissertation defenses.