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Cornell University Course/Program Name
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International :01 Dec 

PhD Computational Biology

 Course Level
Full Time

5 Years
 Start month

 Tuition fee

49000 USD
48900 USD

Application fee

International 95 USD
National 95 USD
Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology
Scores accepted
IELTS (min)7
TOEFL-IBT (min)100
TOEFL-PBT (min)600
GRE (avg)317
GMAT (avg)700

World University Ranking

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About this course

The graduate field of Computational Biology offers Ph.D. degrees in the development and application of data-analytical and theoretical methods, mathematical modeling and computational simulation techniques to the study of biological systems.

Computation has become essential to biological research. Genomic databases, protein databanks, MRI images of the human brain, and remote sensing data on landscapes contain unprecedented amounts of detailed information that are transforming almost all of biology. The computational biologist must have skills in mathematics and computation as well as in biology. A key goal in training is to develop the ability to relate biological processes to computational models.

The field provides interdisciplinary training and research opportunities in a range of subareas of computational biology including comparative and functional genomics, systems biology, molecular and protein networks, population genomics and genetics, bioinformatics, model system genomics, agricultural genomics, and medical genomics.

Students majoring in computational biology are expected to obtain a broad, interdisciplinary knowledge of fundamental principles in biology, computational science, and mathematics. But because the field covers a wide range of areas, it would be unrealistic to expect a student to master each facet in detail. Instead, students choose from specific subareas of study: They are expected to develop competence in at least one specific subdomain of biology and in relevant subareas of computational science and mathematics.

Check further details on University website

Eligibility Criteria

Note to international students: for those whose native language is not English, Cornell policy requires a set minimum for TOEFL or IELTS Exams. Details can be found here. All TOEFL/IELTS scores are to be submitted by December 1st (no exceptions) in order for applications to be considered for review.

English Language Proficiency Requirement

What you need to know:

  • As an international applicant, you must demonstrate proficiency in the English language by taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam. (See exceptions.)
  • Cornell must receive official TOEFL or IELTS scores before the university can process your application.
  • TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid only if dated within two years of your program's application deadline.
  • Check minimum TOEFL and IELTS score requirements with individual graduate fields. Some fields' minimum score requirements are higher than the Graduate School's

English Language Proficiency Requirement
All international applicants must demonstrate proficiency in the English language. International students demonstrate proficiency by submitting official test scores from TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Cornell does not accept PTE Academic scores or any other alternatives. An application cannot be considered complete until Cornell receives official scores from ETS or IELTS.  An offer of admission will not be made, nor will a visa document be issued if an application is incomplete. If your TOEFL or IELTS scores do not meet the requirement, we cannot issue a visa document, and you will not be able to enter the country.

For applicants living in regions where the TOEFL iBT is not available, Cornell will accept scores for the paper-based test (PBT). Although individual graduate fields may require higher scores, The Graduate School's official minimum sub-scores for each element of the TOEFL iBT are:

Speaking: 22

Reading: 20

Listening: 15

Writing: 20

Send scores to Cornell University Graduate School, Code # 2098. 
The TOEFL score must be dated within two years of your program's application deadline. Photocopies of TOEFL score reports will not be accepted.

Take the TOEFL early enough to have the results submitted at the time of your application. Exam dates are posted on the TOEFL web site. Please note that we cannot confirm receipt of test scores until an applicant has submitted an online application. 
If you receive your test results and any sub-score does not meet the requirement, you should make arrangements to retake the test.

The Graduate School requires an overall band score of a 7.0 or higher on the IELTS.

  • When you register for the exam, you may select up to five institutions to which you would like to have your Test Report Form (TRF) mailed. You may also submit a request to your test center to have additional TRFs sent to institutions not originally listed on your registration form.
  • Have IELTS send your Test Report Form (either by postal mail, or electronically) to Cornell University -- Graduate Admissions. Please do not e-mail a scanned copy, or mail a photocopy of your TRF.

The English language proficiency requirement may be waived if the applicant meets at least one of these criteria:

  •  Is a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, or a citizen of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (except Quebec). Applicants who are citizens of India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc. are not exempt from the requirement.
  • At the time you enroll at Cornell, you will have studied in full-time status for at least two academic years within the last five years in the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand, or with English language instruction in Canada or South Africa. Even if English was the language of instruction at your school, if you did not study in one of these countries you are not exempt from the requirement. You must submit a transcript that shows you attended college in one of the approved locations, and that your academic program was at least two years in length.

Check further details on University website

Course Modules

Computational Biology (CB) at Cornell is an interdisciplinary program that links the computational and mathematical sciences with the life sciences. Quantitative prediction and interpretation are becoming increasingly essential components of biology and other fields. Complex patterns, structures and interactions raise fundamental and fascinating questions that can only be addressed using formal mathematical, statistical, and computational methods. The wealth of data being acquired to address these questions requires new and substantive quantitative approaches to make possible appropriate analysis and interpretation. The unprecedented level of computational power now available to researchers provides the means for increasingly sophisticated analyses of highly complex systems arising in the biological sciences.

Many biologists are faced with the task of analyzing and modeling data collected in the lab, in the field, or in silico that requires sophisticated mathematical and computational analysis. Traditional statistical methods are limited in their scope and are proving inadequate for the complex models and massive data sets that are now becoming commonplace. The solutions to these large-scale problems often lie at the interface of mathematics, computer science and statistics and a new type of scientist and academic who can work and communicate across the inter-disciplinary barriers is needed.

The Computational Biology faculty come from 16 departments in a spectrum of endowed and contract colleges, including the Weill Cornell Medical College. As might be expected, these faculty also represent the related fields such as Computer Science, Biophysics, Applied Mathematics, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Biometry.

Course # -Course name- Semester offered

No/limited exposure to Probability Statistics:

  • BTRY 3080 Probability Models and Inference Fall/Spring
  • BTRY 4090 Theory of Statistics Fall
  • BTRY 6830 Quantitative Genomics and Genetics Spring
  • MATH 4130 Honors Intro Analysis I Fall/Spring

No/limited programming experience:

  • CS 1110 Introduction to Computing Using Python Fall/Spring
  • CS 1112 Introduction to Computing Using MATLAB Fall/Spring
  • CS 1142 Introduction to MATLAB Fall/Spring
  • CS 2024 C ++ Programming Fall

N0/limited exposure to machine learning/Data mining:

  • CS 5780 Machine Learning Fall
  • STSCI 4740 Data Mining & Machine Learning Fall

If interested in Research Involving Modelling W/ differential Equations (assuming you have been exposed to calculus):

  • MATH 3230 Introduction to Differential Equations Fall
  • MATH 4200 Differential Equations and Dynamical Systems Fall

Introductory classes (=interested & no previous exposure):

  • BTRY 4381/6381 Bioinformatics Programming Spring
  • BIOMG 4000 Genomics Fall
  • BIOMG 4810 Population Genetics Fall
  • BIOMG 4870 Human Genomics Fall
  • MATH 2210/4310 Linear Algebra Fall/Spring
  • MATH 2220 Multivariable Calculus Fall/Spring
  • MATH 2310 Linear Algebra with Applications Fall/Spring

Advanced classes (=interested & previous exposure):

  • BTRY 4030 Linear Models w/ Matrices Fall
  • BTRY 4840/6840 Computational Genetics & Genomics Fall
  • BTRY 6520 Computational Intensive Statistical Methods Spring
  • BTRY 4820/6820 Statistical Genomics: Coalescent Theory & Human Population Genomics Spring
  • MATH 3110 Introduction to Analysis Fall/Spring
  • MATH 4710 Basic Probability Fall
  • CS 4210 Numerical Analysis and Differential Fall
  • CS 5320 Introduction to Database Systems Fall
  • ORIE 6500 Applied Stochastic Processes Fall
  • ORIE/STSCI 7170 Theory of Linear Models Fall
  • STSCI 7100 Special Topics: Multivariable Distribution Theory Fall

Lab rotations
Your first year lab rotations:
Lab rotations provide an opportunity for you to explore possible PhD dissertation research during year one of the program. Your goal for lab rotations is to determine a permanent lab/advisor no later than August 1 of the following summer (earlier is preferred).

The exact timing of your rotations are flexible and can be revised according to your rotation faculty. You should typically plan on at least 3 rotations, Fall=August 16 through December 31/Spring=January 1 through May 15/Summer=May 16 through August 15, with exceptions made for special circumstances, i.e. if a student is struggling to find a lab it is possible to extend to a 4th rotation if necessary – this is by permission only from the DGS.

To arrange for lab rotations, it is up to you to contact the faculty member directly and discuss possible research projects. You should plan to make this communication at least 3-4 weeks prior to the rotation beginning. We encourage you to contact more than one faculty since many times your first choice is not available. For each lab rotation you are required to inform the DGS/GFA of your lab chose.

By the end of the third semester rotation (summer), you should have discussed with your rotation faculty about the possibility of joining the lab for your dissertation research. Once this has been determined and you have been accepted into the lab, you must inform the DGS/GFA of your permanent research lab choice and we will confirm with the faculty member with details. Or if you need an additional 4th rotation you are expected to discuss this with the DGS.

Exams & Special Committee
A Exam
To qualify as a Ph.D. candidate, each graduate student must pass an “Admission to Candidacy” exam (or A-exam) before the start of the seventh semester. The purpose of the exam is to test the student’s level of knowledge and ability to design research strategies and to be sure you are ready to proceed into the dissertation phase of your degree program.

B Exam
The B exam is an oral defense of your dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum registration unit requirements. At least two registration units must be earned between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

The necessary forms for each exam can be found here.

Special Committee
You are required to select your Special Committee chair within three weeks of registering with the Grad School. Because you will be doing lab rotations for your first year you will select your field's Director of Graduate Studies as your temporary committee chair. You are required to have a full committee by the end of your third semester. This will consist, at the minimum, a dissertation research chair (major subject) and two minor members (a faculty member representing the minor subject and second faculty member from the field of Computational Biology). This online process takes place in the Advisor section of your Student Center and will require approval of all your committee members, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and the Graduate Field Assistant (GFA).
Note that you cannot major and minor in the same subject. For a listing of subject/concentrations gohere.

Understanding Majors and Minors
At Cornell, students are accepted into fields of study.  Within each field are major subjects and areas of concentration.  A major, like its undergraduate cousin, is a focused subject area where a student will conduct his or her research or scholarship.  Concentrations are a subset within the major subject. Minor subjects are secondary areas of research. 

Determining Your Major and Minor Subject Requirements
Master's degree student choose one major and one minor subject. Doctoral candidates choose one major and two minor subjects of study, although some fields have permission from the General Committee to require only one major and one minor subject. Faculty members are picked from these approved subjects to form a "Special Committee."

Check further details on University website

How to Apply

The application for Fall 2016 will be available on-line September 1, 2015. Please note this program does not have a Spring admission. We encourage all applicants who are interested in the Computational Biology PhD Program to complete their application, including letters of recommendation, test scores, transcripts, resume, and statement of purpose, by December 1st

Admission into the doctoral program in the field of Computational Biology is based purely on academic merit and research experience. Financial need plays no role in the admission procedure.  All Ph.D. students who are admitted are fully funded as long as they remain in good academic standing. Support from Cornell includes tuition, stipend, and health insurance. Support is available in the form of teaching assistantships, graduate research assistantships, and fellowships. You can find more on costs and fundinghere.

Cornell University expects all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credentials services, or other paid professional assistance. The use of such services violates University policy, and may lead to the rejection of application materials, the revocation of an admissions offer, cancellation of admission, or involuntary withdrawal from the University.

Application Information

  • The Cornell Graduate School provides an Application Overview
  • Please adhere to all Graduate School Application Policies
  • Application

Note there is no formula that guarantees the admission of an applicant. We will carefully evaluate all of the required components of your application---transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE score, and statement of purpose. In reviewing your transcript, we tend to look for the following:

  • A coherent body of course work with a grade average in the A- to A+ range.
  • Adequate mathematical background including freshman and sophomore calculus and at least two other courses (e.g., linear algebra, abstract algebra, analysis, statistics).
  • Basic background in computer science and/or biology.
  • Research experience in relevant areas.
  • It is important to stress that these are only guidelines and not a rigid policy. An applicant whose record is weaker in some respect (e.g., GRE scores) may be admitted if strength is revealed in some other respect (e.g., exceptional letters of recommendation, exceptional publication record).


Check further details on University website

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