How can we get involved with fitness classes despite limitations?

Date: August 2018


Dear Deans,

Inspired by some of the Grad School encouragements to bring balance into personal life in times of dissertation craziness, I started to look at potential fitness classes to take this fall. However, I found some limitations that I thought I would share with you for feedback:

  1. Most of the classes’ schedules are designed for undergrads (I noticed that they happen in the middle of the morning when we often have TA responsibilities or in the afternoon when most of us are actively writing). Beyond this schedule concern, quite a number of classes stipulate “no grad students” or “undergrads only” in their descriptions. I understand the frustration that may come from the PE side with grad students unable to commit to every single class (we sometimes have to fight deadlines, travel for research and conferences, have to attend on campus talks and colloquiums, all obligations that may conflict with the class). Yet, I think that those limitations ban us from some of the best Cornell experiences, and needless to say, some well-being improvement that would resonate in our work life. Would it be possible to have sections specifically devoted to grad students?
  2. Following on the specifics of grad students’ lives, many of the most appealing classes that would do us so much good are very costly. (For example, outdoor classes require additional costs up to $500, and checking in with a coach to set up a program improving our lifestyles comes also at a steep fee.) I understand those costs are very little in comparison to what the classes offer or to what undergrads pay overall to attend Cornell. Yet, as you know only too well, our stipends don’t allow us to afford those classes, especially when a growing number of us come from underrepresented backgrounds, first generation families, and low-income families, who cannot supplement our income. Is there a way the Grad School could facilitate some discounts or freebies on our behalf so that our amazing brains can finally be matched with amazingly healthy bodies?

Thanks in advance for your answer,

A grad student full of good resolutions and great hopes.


Dear Grad Student Full of Good Resolutions and Great Hopes,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question.  It’s great that you are taking seriously the encouragement to find balance in your life, between academic, professional, and personal pursuits, including personal fitness. 

There a number of perks, freebies, and discounts for graduate students, including several focused on fitness and wellness, such as free check out of general sports equipment (for student spouses, too!) from Helen Newman Hall (e.g., basketballs, soccer balls, volleyballs and nets, badminton equipment, tennis racket and tennis balls); hiking the trails of natural areas or gardens of the Cornell Botanic Gardens, or playing tennis, volleyball, badminton, or basketball on one of the many courts around the Cornell campus.  Free fitness and health apps are available, or try Dial-A-Meditation at 607-254-CALM for 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-minute meditations created for the Cornell community.

The Cornell University Physical Education Department, as noted on its website, offers “one of the largest and most diverse Physical Culture Programs in the Ivy League,” offering over 100 different types of courses. You mention your perception that many physical education classes are not open to graduate students, but my quick review of classes for Fall 2018 found only Beginning Swim courses that prohibited graduate student enrollment.  In fact, the policies on physical education courses state this regarding graduate students:

Graduate students are allowed to register for Physical Education classes in the same way as undergraduates. In some cases (e.g. beginning swimming, gymnastics, golf and Target Sports), undergraduate students will be given priority in registering for classes so that their physical education requirement can be fulfilled. In these cases, graduate students will not be allowed to pre-register for the class during the pre-registration period in the preceding semester. Graduate students will be allowed to register once the add/drop period for the semester begins.

Some courses, like beginning swimming in fall semester, restrict the enrollment period for graduate students to accommodate undergraduates who are required to be able to pass a swimming test in order to graduate from Cornell. Enrollment for beginning swimming is not restricted for spring courses.  (The Enrollment wait period still applies to gymnastics, golf, and target sports in the spring.) Graduate students should plan ahead if interested in enrolling in a swim course, recognizing it may be more difficult to find an open space in a fall swimming course than in a spring swimming course.

Many physical education courses (e.g., badminton; movement, music, and meditation; swimming, ) have no extra fees associated with them.  Other physical education courses (e.g., backcountry cooking; ballroom dancing; fishing; ice skating; scuba diving) do have fees which cover the extra expenses associated with those courses.  The student fee for graduate and undergraduate students is lower than the fees for Cornell staff/faculty and for community members.

The Graduate School’s Doctoral Experience Survey, conducted every other Spring semester, indicates that in 2017, 75% of doctoral students rated the quality of Cornell facilities and resources to support physical fitness as good, very good, or excellent.  Only 8% rated them as poor.  We hope that graduate students will take advantage of the many opportunities available, some of which I’ve highlighted here.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Dean of the Graduate School