MS info

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This page is a collection of information that the outgoing MS class (2016) would like to pass on to the incoming one. Basically, this is what we wish we had known two years ago. Note that this content is not officially approved by Cornell or the department.


The course requirements are relatively light, making it possible to configure them in several ways. In general, taking the majority of your difficult classes (read 6000's) early is a good idea. This allows for more flexibility at the end and prevents overload when the thesis is due the final semester. If you intend to do research, we found it difficult to handle more than 2-3 courses (depending on the level).

  • Front-loading: Taking only courses for the first two semesters would allow for easy completion of the course requirements. This will limit your ability to do research early, but it is much easier to focus on two tasks (courses + teaching) than three initially.
  • Even spread: This is possibly the best configuration given that you can still complete courses relatively quickly. This schedule would involve doing some light research the second semester while finishing the course requirements.
  • Back-loading: This is probably a very bad idea!


You must select a thesis adviser and a minor adviser. The minor adviser can basically be anyone, but is usually someone with whom you have taken a course. The thesis adviser is typically the person with whom you are doing research. However, we had many instances where (for whatever reason) the research adviser could not officially be listed. For this reason, many of us selected the program chair as the official adviser. In general, getting an adviser was a relatively painless endeavor hinging mainly on their availability. Being very forthright about the requirements is helpful, particularly for advisers in different departments who are not familiar with the MS.


The thesis is supposed to be a written document of some length. While you should strive to make it of the highest quality possible, it need not be an earth shattering tome. Basically, the thesis adviser has complete discretion over its contents and will in most cases work with you until acceptable. The amount of revising necessary is highly variable, however. From our experience, some professors scrutinize the document and demand numerous revisions. Others, may not read it. In general, presenting a draft early and having a clear timetable that both you and your adviser have agreed on are highly recommended.


While research by definition is the systematic study of something, it need not be theoretical! That is not to say it will involve no math whatsoever, but that it can be highly applied. The final output runs the gamut from a new course management platform to a research paper. The write up is mainly a chance to document what you did and how it went. It should demonstrate that you have become an expert in some domain, have identified some problem, and devised a plan to solve it. The results (whether positive or negative) are less important than having a well reasoned approach.

If you are highly motivated to do research, starting as early as possible (by second semester preferably) is a good idea. A good strategy is to befriend more advanced PhD students and have them mentor you. Your access to your adviser will be limited most likely. Therefore, it is crucial to have more advanced students teach you the ropes and get you started. They are (in our experience) very friendly and willing to patiently help you through difficulties. Their help is probably most forthcoming when you work on a project with them. Nevertheless, set expectations that are reasonable. Don't expect to be the first author at a top conference (at least not immediately).

TA Work

You are required to teach all four semesters. It is a rewarding experience, but it is a substantial demand on your time. The most important advice we can give is to meet the professor and review his/her expectations immediately after your assignment is released. That way any changes can be made should they be necessary. Also, the department assigns you where you are most needed, which may not be a course you selected. In fact, we found are choices had little overlap with our assignments in general. We were divided into two camps: those who taught the same course repeatedly and those who didn't. The former is considerably easier since you only need to review the course materials in depth once. This approach also makes it possible to assume more responsibility with time.


  • Ithaca is cold.
  • Most grad students live in College Town.
  • Cycling up extremely steep inclines is highly inadvisable.
  • The Thai food is great!