Computer Science Ph.D. Program

The Cornell Ph.D. program in computer science is consistently ranked among the top six departments in the country, with world-class research covering all of computer science. Our computer science program is distinguished by the excellence of the faculty, by a long tradition of pioneering research, and by the breadth of its Ph.D. program. The department has been growing steadily since its founding in 1965, and currently has about 120 Ph.D. students and 70 field faculty members. The Field of Computer Science also includes faculty members from other departments (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Operations Research and Industrial Engineering, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Computational Biology, and Architecture) who can supervise a student's Ph.D. thesis research in computer science.


Over the past ten years we've increased our strength in areas such as artificial intelligence, computer graphics, systems, and digital libraries, while maintaining our depth in traditional areas such as theory, programming languages and scientific computing.

Department Life

The department provides an exceptionally open and friendly atmosphere that encourages the sharing of ideas across all areas. To promote close interaction and collaboration, we maintain a student-to-faculty ratio of about 3 to 1. Faculty members are highly accessible, with offices interspersed with those of students. Faculty and students also interact outside the department. Many play on intramural athletic teams, and some even play together in a rock band.

Cornell is located in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. This beautiful area provides many opportunities for recreational activities such as sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, both downhill and cross-country skiing, ice skating, rock climbing, hiking, camping, caving, and wine-tasting. In fact, Cornell offers courses in all of these activities.

Ph.D. Program Structure

Each year, about 25 new Ph.D. students join the department. During the first two semesters, students become familiar with the faculty members and their areas of research by taking graduate courses, attending research seminars, and participating in research projects. By the end of the first year, each student selects a specific area and forms a committee based on the student's research interests. This “Special Committee” of three or more faculty members will guide the student through to a Ph.D. dissertation.

The Field believes that certain areas are so fundamental to Computer Science that all students should be competent in them. Ph.D. candidates are expected to demonstrate competency in four areas of computer science at the high undergraduate level: theory, programming languages, systems, and artificial intelligence.

Each student then focuses on a specific topic of research and begins a preliminary investigation of that topic. The initial results are presented during a comprehensive oral evaluation, which is administered by the members of the student's Special Committee. The objective of this examination, taken in the second or third year, is to evaluate a student's ability to undertake original research at the Ph.D. level.

The final oral examination, a public defense of the dissertation, is taken before the Special Committee.

To encourage students to explore areas other than Computer Science, the department requires that students complete an outside minor. Cornell offers almost 90 fields from which a minor can be chosen. Some students elect to minor in related fields such as Mathematics, Electrical Engineering, or Operations Research. Others use this opportunity to pursue interests as diverse as Music, Theater, Women's Studies, Philosophy, and Finance.

The computer science Ph.D. program complies with the requirements of the Cornell Graduate School, which include requirements on residency, minimum grades, examinations, and dissertation.

The Department also administers a very small 2-year Master of Science program (with thesis). Students in this program serve as teaching assistants and receive full tuition plus a stipend for their services.