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Below is some advice about problems first year students typically run in to.

General Outlook

Getting started in New York

(Put information here useful for first year students when they first arrive.)

Getting a bank account & credit card

HSBC, 1165 3rd Avenue @68th St., will open account with a letter certifying graduate student status and one ID, low minimum balance, *NO LONGER HAS A BRANCH IN ITHACA*

Washington Mutual, 1191 3rd Avenue @ 69th St., does not require social security number, no minimum balance, no fees for cashing international checks, ATM card arrives within a week, 9 day waiting period to cash checks within the first month, *No branch in Ithaca*

Credit Card: SSN is necessary; once obtained, American Express Blue for Students approves students with no prior credit history, go to (you should double check all of these for updates)

Getting an SSN

Social Security Office, 755 2nd Avenue @ 41st St., 2nd floor, Telephone: 1-800-772-1213.

Getting started in Ithaca

Getting a bank account

M&T Bank, 118 North Tioga Street - only bank with branches in Ithaca and NYC as of Sep 2014

Getting an SSN

Social Security Office, 127 W State St., 2nd floor, Telephone: 1-800-772-1213 (national), 1-866-706-8289 (Ithaca)

For international students: ensure you have been in the US for at least 10 days and bring a letter from the ISSO confirming employment status at Cornell, paystubs or another letter from your supervisor or department specifying start date and job title (can ask Sue), passport, I-20, I-94 card or arrival record. For a more detailed list:

Student Email Lists

We maintain student-only email lists for sharing advice and events, planning meet-ups, etc.

To get added to email list for

- all NYC students, email Katie Gayvert

- all Ithaca and NYC students, email Katie Gayvert


Choosing a lab to rotate in

Use the list of faculty (and the listing by research field) as a starting point. Find faculty with research directions that fit your interests. Read through some of their recent papers. Email them to ask the general focus of the lab and how someone with your background could fit. Finally have an in-person meeting to discuss project ideas and familiarize yourself with the lab, if possible. Remember that unless there are no alternatives, you should focus on faculty you may choose as a thesis adviser.

There are two general things to note about each lab: the field of study or specific system and the methods used to study them. The field of study needs to be a good fit for your interests. Examples are: developmental biology, cancer biology, neuroscience, neurobiology, biochemistry, ... Go to the seminars in the department/field. If they're boring, hard to understand, and don't inspire any further interest, the field is probably not for you. The same goes, to a lesser degree with the method used: you have to love doing it and have an inherent interest in building upon the current knowledge of it.

Finishing a rotation

Leave the final week of a 6 week rotation, the final day of a 1 week rotation, or the final 2 weeks of a semester rotation to wrap up your work in the lab and write a report. Be warned: you will *not* have time in Ithaca to complete the work or report from your first summer rotation, so start on the report early. You should complete a full rotation report (regardless of whether the PI asks for it) describing what you did, how you did it, what you learned, and your overall experience in the lab. PIs expect this information. (This may not be applicable to a 1-2 week rotation in which you only observed).

Make sure to schedule a final meeting with the PI to discuss your experience in the lab and to ask questions for future direction from the PI. You should try to have everything else completely wrapped up beforehand. Tell the PI what problems you had or even vague things that concern you. Sometimes these are inherent to the lab, other times it is a misinterpretation or can be fixed. Ask the PI for recommendations for other rotations; they know you have to do others and will be happy to recommend someone.

Knowing when to quit

During your rotation, constantly evaluate if the lab is a good fit, not just your project. Do you enjoy the content of the lab meetings and related journal clubs? Do you look forward to meeting your adviser? Is the atmosphere pleasant? Do you like the other students/postdocs in the lab?

Sometimes early in to a rotation you will find things are just not working. Discuss this with the PI and the program director, David Christini. You will not be a good match for every lab. Particularly in Ithaca where the rotations can last a semester or more, it is in the best interest of both you and your adviser not to continue a rotation that clearly will not work. Work hard to leave on good terms.


Deciding what to take

First-year students will have 2 semesters of coursework in Ithaca. There are no real requirements and little advice about what to take due to the great breadth of the field and vastly different backgrounds of incoming students. Find faculty who have similar research goals to your own (perhaps even someone with the same background) and get course advice from them. Fellow students (especially those in other programs) can be a great resource as well. You want both specific class recommendations and general recommended fields. Once you have some idea of what you need, use the Computational Biology Field course list as a starting point for ideas. Then scan though the full course list (you can get a hard copy in the graduate office) to find others of interest.

In general you should fill in the essential background material you are missing that will keep you from doing research. You should keep in mind that it is far easier to build on a subject area you are already familiar with by reading journal articles and books than it is a completely new field. If there is a major area (computer science, mathematics, statistics, biology) that you are missing, you should focus on that first. Keep in mind that Weill has classes that are mostly focused on medical sciences (e.g., physiology, biophysics, neuroscience, pharmacology, immunology, developmental biology, ...). If you need computer science, mathematics, or physics, you should get as much as possible in Ithaca and save the biology/medicine for Weill.

Workload and time

Classes take time, something we have precious little of. In general, while in Ithaca, taking 3 classes for a grade is a maximum (2 is perfectly ok), but this can vary dramatically on how deep the subject material is and how much homework there is. I recommend auditing classes that cover material you only want to be familiar with and take for a grade those that are required background material. Attend many classes in the first 2 weeks to decide which ones are the best fit and drop it down after. Be wary of the Add deadline, because after this you cannot switch the class to S/U or Audit.

If you find yourself stretched too thin on time, don't be afraid to drop classes. If you don't have enough time to dedicate to all your classes, you will wind up getting very little out of all of them. This is far worse than getting alot out of a few.

Remember, course decisions should be made in consultation with a faculty advisor (to be assigned to 1st year students), thesis advisor (in later years), and/or the program director, David Christini.

Presentation (and other general career issue) tips

  • "Academic Scientists at Work: The Job Talk" Science Careers, December 10, 2004.
  • "How (not) to give a seminar" by Gottfried Schatz; FEBS Letters 534:5-6 (2003)
  • Science Careers "Mastering Your Ph.D." series has several useful articles, including "Giving a Great Presentation", "Countdown to Your Thesis Defence", "Defending Your Thesis With Flair", "Better Communication With Your Supervisor", "Writing Your Doctoral Thesis With Style", "Science Papers that Shine", "Making the Most of a Conference", "Starting off on the Right Foot".
  • NYU has a very nice page of tutorials regarding the use of Adobe Creative Suite and other software packages for making posters, figures, etc.

Electronic Resources


A great way to access electronic journals off campus is to use LibX, a browser plugin for Firefox or IE.

EZ Proxy

If you have made the change to chrome there are many extensions that allow some of the functionality as LibX, namely redirecting a subscriber journal article through your library's proxy. Here is one example.