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The Master of Science and the Doctoral Degree Programs are flexible so as to accommodate the needs and interests of individual students. The MS is normally completed in two years; the PhD, in about four to five. Students are rarely admitted directly to a terminal MS program; students accepted into the MS/PhD program are normally expected to complete a PhD degree. A student's research project and major course work are chosen from those available in chemical engineering; minors are chosen in fields related to their project and career aspirations.

There are no specific credit requirements and fixed degree requirements are few. See the course offerings for the courses on offer and the course requirements for PhD students.

Doctoral candidates must pass a qualifying exam on chemical engineering fundamentals and practice (typically after the first year), and an examination for admission to candidacy (typically in the third year), which confirms the student's ability to undertake original research and to present an appropriate plan for their thesis project. Eventually, each candidate must present a satisfactory thesis defense.

Each student's program is guided by a special committee, whose members are selected by the student, with guidance from their advisor, from among virtually any of the 1,600 members of the Cornell faculty. This system, a feature of graduate education at Cornell, enables you to work with faculty members who best match your academic interests, irrespective of your home field. The committee supervises the student's program and monitors their progress toward a degree. The chairperson of the special committee is the thesis adviser, and either one (for Master's candidates) or two other professors represent the major and minor subjects. For the PhD, a student must have two minors; one of these may be an internal minor in some subspecialty of chemical engineering.

For new students, choosing the special committee is perhaps their single most important decision. It is this committee, not the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering or the Graduate School, that recommends a program of courses, conducts examinations, and approves the thesis. New students will need to devote time to meeting faculty members, reviewing their research publications, consulting with senior graduate students, and investigating research facilities in order to make an appropriate choice of thesis committee members.