Graduate Student Handbook


One of the leading graduate programs nationally and internationally, German Studies at Cornell offers a flexible and rigorous course of study that draws on the expertise of faculty members from both the Department of German Studies and a variety of units in the College of Arts and Sciences and other schools (including Comparative Literature; Performing and Media Arts; Philosophy; History; Government; Music; and Architecture, Art & Planning). The German Studies faculty has a strong interest in literary, cultural, and intellectual history, philosophy, literary theory, gender studies, Jewish studies, visual studies, film & media studies, and music. Members of the faculty are also affiliated with the Medieval Studies Program, the Program of Jewish Studies,  the Visual Studies Program, Media Studies, and the Department of Comparative Literature.

Students are encouraged to pursue their academic interests by exploring a variety of disciplinary and theoretical approaches. Cornell’s unique field system, which fosters close cooperation among scholars working on related topics across departments and schools, is key to supporting our students’ cross-disciplinary research in German Studies. Advanced graduate students regularly share their research-in-progress in colloquium series organized each semester by the Institute for German Cultural Studies. Students also organize yearly conferences that provide a venue for showcasing past and current work and typically draw participants from North America and Europe.


Our program is designed to grant students considerable freedom in tailoring their studies to their academic interests. To allow for maximum flexibility in their studies, students are expected to complete a minimum number of required courses, including:

  • five of the anchor courses taught by a faculty member in the Department of German Studies in the following four areas of German culture: Middle Ages through the Reformation; the Baroque through the end of the eighteenth century; the nineteenth century; the twentieth century (all of these classes must be taken for a grade);
  • a course in language pedagogy offered by the department every fall;
  • course work required to demonstrate proficiency in a language other than German relevant to the student’s field of concentration.

Any student receiving an Incomplete must complete the coursework for which the incomplete was assigned within one year. The incomplete will become permanent after one year, per Graduate School policy. Individual instructors may set earlier deadlines. Incompletes do not count toward required coursework.

Language Requirements: Students must acquire a reading knowledge of a second research language in addition to German. You can prove your competence in the second foreign language in one of the following ways:

  • by satisfactory completion of a course in the language (approved by your Committee);
  • by passing a translation examination given by the Director of Graduate Studies or a faculty member appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies; the examination will generally involve translating texts from literature and criticism

Field Exams

Qualifying Exam (Q exam)

You will schedule your "Q" examination at the end of the 2nd semester, or at the latest, at the beginning of your third semester.  Its function is to help your committee assess your capacity for Ph.D. work and provide a basis for realistic advice.  In advance of the "Q" examination, your committee members will consider your written work (at least two research papers) produced for first-year courses. In addition, they will consult with colleagues about your overall performance during your first year.

The exam will consist of a meeting with your committee, which will discuss with you its evaluation of your academic work and future plans and will recommend to the field whether you should proceed in the Ph.D. program or should devote the second year to a terminal M.A. If your performance demonstrates significant weaknesses, the committee may give you a chance to correct these weaknesses by the beginning of your fourth semester. In this case your committee will inform you as to the specific nature of your academic weaknesses.

Additionally, your committee will indicate in what manner you can demonstrate a degree of improvement that would warrant continuation in the doctoral program.


Admission to Candidacy Exam (A exam)

Per the Code of Legislation, the A Exam must be completed before the start of the 7th semester —unless special permission is obtained from the dean.  Prior to the A Exam, candidates must have completed a) the required coursework, b) any incompletes, and c) the language requirements for the degree. 

This examination forms the penultimate stage in the progress of a student toward the Ph.D. It is not intended to be a comprehensive survey of all of the knowledge in the field (or fields) of the candidate's interest. Rather it is hoped that the examination will show competency in a range of areas and special depth in areas of the candidate's specific interest and choice. The examination should be structured by the candidate and the committee around the general area of the dissertation or a particular area of student interest. Reading lists (see below) reflecting this focus should be prepared by the candidate with the advice and consent of the committee. The A Exam is the preliminary step in preparing to write the dissertation.

At least four months prior to the scheduled examination date, the examinee shall submit a proposed reading list to the committee members. The final reading lists and the exam format will be the result of extended discussions between the examinee and the committee members. Titles may be added or deleted only at the request of the examinee, with the approval of the committee. The examination consists of written and oral components. Each committee member will devise a portion of the written exam based on the academic subfield in which they work. For the oral portion of the exam, the ‘Schedule A Examination and Research Compliance Form' (online) form must be submitted to the Graduate School at least seven days prior to the exam. In the oral exam, the results of the written exam will be reviewed and follow-up questions will be posed in the course of the discussion. It is administered and evaluated by the Special Committee, and the results are communicated by the Special Committee at the conclusion of the exam. Successful completion formally admits a student to candidacy for the doctoral degree. Students who successfully pass the A Exam are awarded a non-terminal master’s degree. Students who do not pass the A Exam may earn a terminal master’s degree.


Dissertation and Final Exam (B Exam)

All doctoral students take a Final Examination (the “B” Exam, which is the oral defense of the dissertation) upon completion of all requirements for the degree, no earlier than one month before completion of the minimum registration requirement. The Schedule B Examination (online) form must be received by Graduate School at least seven calendar days prior to the defense. It is administered and evaluated by the Special Committee, and the results are communicated by the Special Committee at the conclusion of the exam. Students are allowed 60 days after the final examination to submit approved copies of the dissertation or thesis to the Graduate School. A late-filing fee ($100) will be charged if this requirement is not met.


Graduate School Milestones (Per the Code of Legislation)

  • Committee Chair: identified (or been assigned) by 3rd week of first semester
  • Special Committee:  nominated by the end of the 3rd semester
  • A Exam:  completed before the start of the 7th semester
  • B Exam:  completed by the 14th semester

Special Committee

All students are assigned the DGS as temporary chair upon matriculation. Students are expected to have a full Special Committee no later than the end of the third semester. The Special Committee should consist of three members of the graduate faculty, a Chair and two Minor Members. Together, the special committee members and the student fashion a program of courses and advanced research that is tailored to student's individual needs. The Special committee is intended to ensure a close working relationship between faculty and students and to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of each student’s degree program.

Required Training

Per the Code of Legislation, all research degree students must complete training in responsible conduct of research, including authorship, peer review and avoidance and consequences of research misconduct. This training is provided through the Cornell Office of Research Integrity and Assurance and must be completed before the end of the second semester.


Admitted Ph.D. students in Germanic Studies are guaranteed five years of funding from Cornell, which will cover tuition, living stipend and health insurance. A standard funding package; includes two years of full fellowship support, three years of Teaching Assistantships, and four years of summer funding.


Normally, during your first and final years of study you will receive a fellowship from the Graduate School (i.e. Sage Fellowship), with no teaching responsibilities. The dissertation year fellowship is only available upon successful completion of the A exam and submission of grant applications for external funding. No portion of the dissertation-year fellowship may be used by the student later than the twelfth semester of enrollment, unless the student secured external funding in an earlier term, in which case one or two semesters of the dissertation-year fellowship may be used after the twelfth semester, corresponding with the length of the external funding, contingent upon approval from the Graduate School.  The complete list of Sage Fellowship requirements can be found at:

Many students are able to extend the period of time during which they are funded with internal or external grants.  An external fellowship will not replace any fellowship offered by Cornell, but may be used to replace assistantship funding or to extend the number of years of support towards the degree program. The Graduate School may be able to provide top-off supplementation to bring an award to the minimum academic year stipend. If the required criteria are met, the Graduate School will coordinate supplementation of the stipend to the academic year TA rate, individual health insurance, and tuition: Financial Supplementation of External Fellowships.

The department facilitates several external fellowships and exchange programs  with other institutions including Humboldt University, Heidelberg University, and DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service).

Teaching Assistantship

In other years, your financial aid package will require you to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a language course or first-year writing seminar.  Supervised teaching by the student is an essential part of the Ph.D. program. All those working towards the Doctorate in German must acquire teaching experience at Cornell. Teaching assignments will reflect our best efforts to honor both student preferences and curricular need. 

Student Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the field, including historical and cultural diversity, including
  • Proficiency in the German (and, if needed, additional languages).
  • Familiarity with historical, political, cultural, and literary developments in German speaking countries and regions in which German culture/language may have been the majority or a significant minority influence, including immigration and influx from, as well as intersections, conflicts and cross-fertilization with, other cultures.
  • In-depth knowledge of their major area(s) of expertise (including canonical as well as neglected literary and cultural works; relevant cultural and political developments; local and continental histories, etc.), as well as competency in pertinent interdisciplinary areas of concentration.
  1. Demonstrate advanced research skills, including
  • independent critical thinking;
  • broad knowledge of a wide range of critical and theoretical approaches relevant to their field of research;
  • the ability to identify novel questions and formulate corresponding research projects;
  • the production of original and substantial contributions to the field in the form of publishable scholarship.
  1. Communicate research findings effectively in written and spoken form.
  2. Have become familiar with and follow ethical guidelines for work in the field.
  3. Demonstrate effective skills in undergraduate teaching (in their special field and as generalists, in both German and English) and potential for advanced/graduate teaching.
  4. Are knowledgeable about different theoretical paradigms in German studies as well as the literary humanities at large, and have developed habits of reflection that permit them to gauge the applicability of their skill set to situations and problems in academic and non-academic contexts. In particular, the question of how theoretical knowledge is transformed into know-how in the university and other academic and cultural institutions, but also in industry ought to be foregrounded in order for students to develop their professional profiles for successful academic and non-academic careers.

Student Progress Review

Students are required to complete the Student Progress Review (SPR) process in March of each year. The SPR process supports regular communication including written feedback between students and their advisors, requiring research degree students and their Special Committee to have at least one formal conversation each year about academic progress, accomplishments and plans. Students complete a form describing milestones completed, accomplishments, challenges and plans. The Special Committee chair responds in writing and indicates whether the student’s progress is excellent, satisfactory, needs improvement, or is unsatisfactory.  First year students are not required to fill out a SPR.