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Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Materials Science and Engineering

Program Description

The focus of current advanced materials research at Cornell includes ceramics, complex fluids, metals, polymers and semiconductors in the form of thin films and in the bulk. Electrical, magnetic, mechanical, optical, and structural properties are investigated. Some special topics of interest are composites, inorganic-organic hybrids, nanocomposites, organic optoelectronics, and, in relation to the structure of materials, the investigation of grain boundaries, surfaces and structural defects. Also studied are materials synthesis and processing and solid state reactions in model systems. Many faculty are involved in electronic packaging. Numerous interactions exist with other fields at Cornell.

A strong catalyst for materials research activities at Cornell has been provided by the Cornell Center for Materials Research (formerly: Materials Science Center), which provides substantial financial assistance to graduate students and maintains central research facilities.

Contact Information

Phone: 607 255-0999

214 Bard Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • materials engineering
  • materials science



Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Jan. 2

Requirements Summary:

Applicants should have an undergraduate degree in engineering or physical science. United States and Canadian applicants are strongly advised to submit GRE general test scores; all other applicants must submit those scores. The director of graduate studies may waive this requirement on request. Additional information about course programs and research areas is available on request from the graduate field office.


  • all Graduate School Requirements, including the TOEFL Exam or IELTS Academic Exam for non-native English applicants
  • three recommendations
  • GRE general test

Note: The preapplication is no longer required for this field. This change supersedes the requirements written in the paper application.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes and Assessment for the Ph.D. Program in Materials Science and Engineering

Learning Goals

The Learning Goals of the Materials Science and Engineering Ph.D. program reflect the exceptionally interdisciplinary nature of the program. The essential goal is to train candidates to be able to execute original research in Materials Science and Engineering at a world-class level. This implies that they master the fundamentals of all core materials science and engineering topics, develop in-depth understanding of the topics that are central to their research, synthesizing knowledge from different areas, and take the course-based knowledge to the research level. Here, with guidance from their mentors and peers, they apply their knowledge to solve problems of fundamental or practical interest. In addition to becoming a world expert in the area of their dissertation topics, the candidates will be prepared for a career as a professional scientist/engineer, with all the flexibility that that implies. 

Materials Scientists and Engineers must communicate effectively at a high level using written, oral and presentation skills. Candidates will acquire and improve these skills through course work, preparation for exams, and participation in faculty research groups. For example, MS&E 8020, the MS&E Research Seminar course, requires students to make oral presentations to members of their research group each semester. The MS&E A- and B-exams also require comprehensive skills in written and oral presentation. These formative skills are essential for the practicing Materials Scientist and Engineer.

It is also essential that Materials Scientists and Engineers are aware of ethical issues pertaining to the conduct and dissemination of research, in collaborative research endeavors as well as instances that may arise concerned with the teaching arena. Opportunities to participate in training concerned with ethical issues will be provided and training must be completed by each student before his/her A-exam. The successful completion of the Responsible Conduct of Research unit online is required of all students. 

Learning Outcomes

  A candidate for a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering is expected to demonstrate broad knowledge in the fundamental topics of Materials Science and Engineering and a deeper understanding of the topics that are central to their chosen research direction, breadth of interdisciplinary training, including relevant specialized coursework, and the ability to synthesize and create knowledge by making an original and substantial contribution to an area of Materials Science and Engineering. 

Specific Learning Outcomes/Proficiencies

Learning Outcome 1: Demonstrate broad knowledge in the fundamental core topics of Materials Science and Engineering,  advanced knowledge topics central to their chosen research direction, and broad interdisciplinary training.

  • Proficiency in six core topics:

   o Materials chemistry

   o Mechanical properties of materials

   o Materials thermodynamics

   o Kinetics

   o Electronic properties of materials

   o Structure of materials 

  • Advanced knowledge in at least three core topics relevant to their research
  • Interdisciplinary training 

Learning Outcome 2: Demonstrate the ability to acquire skills to perform independent advanced research.

  • Demonstrate ability to identify and seek out resources and information; apply these to guide research plan developmeny
  • Demonstrate the ability to master and/or innovate research methodologies, and techniques
  • Demonstrate oral and written communication skills 

Learning Outcome 3: Make an original and substantial contribution to the discipline.

  • Demonstrate independent thinking and creativity
  • Develop and execute original research plan
  • Generate publishable advances in an area of Materials Science and Engineering 

Learning Outcome 4: Demonstrate a commitment to advancing scholarship.

  • Maintain familiarity with advances in the field
  • Demonstrate commitment to personal professional development through engagement in professional societies, conference participations and publications
  • Show commitment to learning, collaborative inquiry, and mentoring 

Learning Outcome 5: Demonstrate professional skills.

  • Understand and maintain ethical standards in the field
  • Listen, give, and receive feedback effectively 

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Exams and assessments are part of the learning process. Formal learning in a classroom environment is assessed in exams that are a part of course work, and may take the form of written exams, oral exams, term papers, and/or oral presentations. 

The Q-exam is an oral exam that assesses the candidate’s basic knowledge of Materials Science and Engineering. This exam focuses on the candidate’s familiarity with the core topics of Materials Science and Engineering and mathematics. Each topic is assessed by  one or two faculty members who are familiar with the topic and the proficiency expected of MSE graduate students planning to pursue a Ph.D. degree. The oral format allows emphasis on examining understanding of the essential concepts as opposed to rote memorization. The Q-exam helps the faculty assess the candidate’s readiness in transitioning from a coursework-based environment to a practicing materials scientist and engineer who can synthesize and attack complex problems as well as create new knowledge by carrying out original research. The Q-exam formal report for students who have conditionally passed the exam notes any deficiencies in preparation and indicates the required remedies. 

The second examination is the Admission to Candidacy Examination (A-exam), a comprehensive exam that gauges the candidate’s knowledge of the field and readiness for independent research. This is an oral examination, administered by the members of the candidate’s permanent Special Committee along with a Field-appointed member whose role in part is to ensure that any deficiencies noted in the Q-exam have been remedied. At the A-exam the candidates must demonstrate broad knowledge in their research area, relate it to general concepts in Materials Science and Engineering, and demonstrate solid communication and presentation skills. After passing this exam, usually by the beginning of the candidate’s third year, he/she begins research in earnest. 

The third and final exam is the thesis defense (B-exam). It is an oral exam administered by the candidate’s special committee after his/her completion of the Ph.D. thesis research. The exam covers the thesis topics and related matters. The B-exam is an open examination that permits the faculty (and fellow students/public) to assess the quality of the research, and that highlights the candidate’s written, oral and communication skills.

Assessment of the Ph.D. program does not end with awarding of the Ph.D. It is vital that long-term outcomes be tracked and assessed. In the past it has been challenging to maintain contact with more than a small fraction of MS&E Ph.D.’s, the advent of professionally-oriented social media (such as LinkedIn) is likely to increase the success rate. Contact after one year will be used to determine employment status, and on a five-year cycle we will survey Ph.D. graduates to determine what aspects of the program they have found most instrumental in their careers, what aspects they might wish were different, and what level of success they perceive themselves to have attained in their careers. A committee will collect and evaluate these data on at least a biennial basis.