Students are expected to acquire a thorough knowledge of the discipline, including substantial theoretical, conceptual, and substantive competence in a major subject; to provide a clear demonstration of the methodological, linguistic, and other skills needed to conduct original scholarly research; and to acquire at least one semester's experience as a teaching assistant. Students who have not had equivalent course work are expected to take three of the four field seminars in the major subjects.
Numerous interdisciplinary programs are available, and include the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research, the Peace Studies Program, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and various area programs.
Early in their first semester, doctoral students meet with the director of graduate studies and several faculty members to discuss the first year's program. At the end of the first year, students form their Special Committee, which guides and supervises subsequent academic preparation and dissertation research.
By the end of the third year of residence, or sooner if possible, students are expected to have taken the Admission to Candidacy examination. The exam is given in three parts: a written exam in the student's major and minor subjects; an extended research paper in the student's specialized field of interest; and an oral exam conducted by the Special Committee. The written exam is normally taken before the end of the second year; the oral exam, at the beginning of the third. At the oral exam, the student presents a thesis proposal outlining the hypothesis, data, methods, and resources needed to carry out the dissertation research.