Can I minor in a field that Cornell does not offer and can I have a non-Cornell faculty member serve on my committee?

Date: January 2018


Hello Deans!

I am a first year Ph.D. student and I have a couple of questions regarding my graduate studies here at Cornell.

  1. I would like to minor in a field that Cornell does not currently offer. Can I choose a minor that is not listed in the fields of study on the Cornell Graduate School website?
  2. I have found an individual outside of the Cornell faculty that I would like to be on my special committee that would be relevant towards this proposed minor. I know that Cornell does allow this, but only if this individual is in addition to the other three required members of the committee. Is there a way that I can petition to have this individual count as one of the three official committee members?

Thank you!

First-year Student


Dear First-year Student,

I hope your first semester at Cornell went well and you are looking forward to the upcoming start of the “spring” semester, despite the fact that we will apparently have a bit more winter weather ahead of us!  

Cornell’s field structure allows students to declare minor concentrations (“minors”) from across the nearly 100 graduate fields of study. Most fields offer multiple concentrations so there are quite literally hundreds of possible minors to choose from. As an example, although Cornell does not offer a concentration in “biotechnology,” when I enter the term into the search box on the Graduate School’s catalog website it identifies 37 members of the graduate faculty who list biotechnology among their research interests. You can conduct a similar search for your areas of interest. 

For students in research degrees such as the Ph.D., M.S., and M.A., minor concentrations are linked to minor members of the special committee. In consultation with your committee chair and DGS, I encourage you seek out a minor committee member who can provide mentorship in the sub-discipline that you desire and then discuss which of her/his approved concentrations is most appropriate to have officially noted on your record.

You are correct that graduate students may invite researchers or scholars from outside Cornell to join their special committees as ad hoc members, but these ad hoc members serve in addition to the required three regular members. Students may petition for an exception to any rule but, as I’m sure you can understand, our clear expectation is that Cornell faculty are ultimately responsible for guiding and supervising Cornell doctoral students. I’m not aware of cases where this core principle has been relaxed so it would be best to find three members of the faculty who can help you develop your dissertation in conjunction with any ad hoc committee member.

If you’d like more information about minors/concentrations or committee requirements please stop by the student service office in 172 Caldwell Hall at any time or feel free to contact me directly.

Best regards,


Jason Kahabka
Associate Dean for Administration