Biomedical Engineering, Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Program Description

The field provides rich, interdisciplinary opportunities in research and education leading to the Ph.D. degree in Biomedical Engineering. It integrates engineering and the life sciences to prepare students for diverse careers in academe, industry, and government.

The field focuses on both the molecular and macroscopic aspects of biomedical engineering and comprises five research areas: biomedical instrumentation; drug delivery, design and metabolism; biomaterials; computational and systems biology; and medical biomechanics. Facilities commonly used include the Cornell Nanofabrication Facility, the NSF STC in Nanobiotechnology, the Cornell High-Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS), the Cornell Theory Center, the Cornell Center for Advanced Technology in Biotechnology, and the programs in the Department of Biomechanics and Biomaterials at the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Orthopedic Affiliate of the Cornell Medical College.

It is anticipated that students entering into the field of Biomedical Engineering will have received formal training in a recognized sub-discipline of engineering. Students obtain thorough training in biomedical engineering research. They also master the Ph.D. course work for a minor in a traditional engineering discipline and another minor in an area of the life sciences. Formal course work in the major includes a two-semester course in the Foundations of Biomedical Engineering, advanced BME analysis of biological systems, at least one other advanced course in bioengineering, and required seminars. Further, PhD students are expected to complete a six week immersion experience in medical research and clinical practice at Weill Medical College, as well as completing a graduate student teaching experience. M.S. students complete the Foundations in Biomedical Engineering course, two semesters of seminars, and typically four to five additional courses in engineering and the life sciences. These requirements are subject to revision.

Students are supervised by a core of faculty members who represent twelve departments in the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Engineering, Human Ecology, Veterinary Medicine, and the Weill Medical College. Currently biomedical engineering is a program, but a process to form a distinct department is underway.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-2573

109 Weill Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • biomedical engineering


2017-2018: $29,500

Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Dec. 1

Requirements Summary:

Applicants are expected to have a bachelor's degree in a recognized subdiscipline of engineering. However, exceptional students with a BS in the Sciences and demonstrated knowledge of advanced mathematics, calculus-based physics, and introductory computer science will also be considered. Applicants must submit GRE general test scores, and are advised to submit scores on the GRE subject test in engineering or a related field.



The educational goal of the BME Graduate Field is to produce future leaders of BME who are able to able to apply quantitative methods across multiple spatial and temporal scales in order to solve problems related to human health.

A person can have an impact only through communication and so the BME Graduate Field emphasizes written, spoken, and presentation communication skills.  A student in the Field will acquire and practice these skills pervasively throughout their program, e.g., in course work, A and B exams, teaching, publishing research papers, etc.

Ethical issues are important in all domains but especially so in BME because of the proximity to human health.  Discussion of these issues arise in many contexts during the first year, e.g., in the Summer Immersion Term. The successful completion of the Responsible Conduct of Research unit online is required of all students.


A candidate for a Ph.D. degree in BME is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in the field of BME, and to synthesize and create knowledge by making an original and substantial contribution to the field of BME in a timely fashion.

Each candidate must demonstrate the following proficiencies:

  • Make an original and substantial contribution to the discipline of BME:
    • Demonstrate creative and independent thinking.
    • Identify new research opportunities in field of BME.
  • Demonstrate advanced research skills:
    • Identify existing knowledge and resources.
    • Integrate a variety of existing knowledge and resources to address a new problem.
  • Evaluate the candidate's results and those of others in the context of this integrated knowledge.
    • Master and/or innovate research methodologies and techniques.
    • Master and/or innovate communication methods for oral and written information exchange.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to advancing scholarship:
    • Maintain familiarity with advances in the field.
    • Engage with other investigators in the field and communicate findings via professional publications, participation in professional societies and research seminars, and other modes of communication.
    • Support learning through teaching, collaborative inquiry, and mentoring.
  • Demonstrate professional skills
    • Display high ethical standards and expect high ethical standards of others.
    • Listen, give, and receive feedback effectively.
  • Make timely progress through the degree program.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Assessment is the process by which a Ph.D. degree candidate demonstrates that they have achieved these proficiencies.  The students who enter the BME Graduate Field come from very diverse educational backgrounds and have very diverse career goals.  The research programs of faculty in the BME Graduate Field are very diverse and participate in a very diverse group of intellectual communities.  For these reasons, the BME Graduate Field depends heavily on a student's Special Committee for assessment of the student's progress where the Special Committee is chaired by the student's thesis advisor and has at least two additional members who represent the Graduate Fields in which the student is doing minor programs, one in an Engineering field and one in a Lifescience field.

Because of the importance of the Special Committee to the assessment process, the BME Graduate Field has two mileposts that a student must achieve in order to be considered as making adequate degree progress:

  1. An advisor must be selected by the beginning of the third semester (not counting Summer).
  2. A complete Special Committee must be selected by the end of the thirdsemester (not counting Summer) noting that Special Committee members can easily be changed up to the time of the so-called "A" exam (please see below) after which changes are possible but more difficult.

The first examination is the Admission to Candidacy Examination ("A" exam) which is administered by the student's Special Committee.  The exam is generally taken after the student has achieved their first research results and is in a position to propose a research program that will lead to the Ph.D. degree.  The exam has two parts.

  1. A written document is prepared in the weeks preceding the exam and given to the Special Committee about one week before the exam.  The document describes what has been achieved and proposes what will be achieved in the remainder of the student's Ph.D. degree program.  The form of the document is decided by the student and Special Committee and typically varies depending on the area in which the student is working.Typical forms include mock NIH R01 grant proposals, chapters that will eventually be a part of the thesis document, journal or conference publications or manuscripts intended for such publication, etc.
  2. The Special Committee administers an oral exam.  The form of the oral exam is decided by the student and Special Committee.  The form is typically an open meeting during which the student makes a presentation of what has been achieved and the proposed further work to compete the Ph.D. degree followed immediately by a closed meeting devoted to further questions.

The second examination is the Final Examination ("B" exam), effectively a thesis defense examination, which is also administer by the student's Special Committee.  The "B" exam is taken after the student has completed their thesis research and a draft of the thesis document has been given to the Special Committee.  The form of the B exam is typically an open meeting during which the student makes a presentation of the thesis research followed immediately by a closed meeting devoted to further questions.