PhD Student Handbook
Introduction and Orientation
Welcome to Africana Studies & Research Center!
Our handbook should be used in conjunction with the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty which sets the policies governing advanced degree programs throughout the University. Graduate study at Cornell requires each student to work out a program of study in consultation with a Special Committee selected by the student from the membership of the Graduate Faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as “the committee system,” takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform department examinations. It is intended to create a close working relationship between faculty and students and to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of each student’s degree program.
Incoming graduate students are strongly encouraged to visit the Graduate School’s “Welcome to Cornell” webpage. This webpage provides information on registering for classes, important dates, how to activate your net ID & email, Open House, etc.
Another great resource is the newstudents.cornell.edu website.
Please monitor your new Cornell email address. You will receive several important emails from the Africana Studies Department, the Graduate School, and the University
1. Program Overview
Graduate education at Cornell is designed to accommodate the specific interests, objectives and development of individual students who work out a program of study in consultation with a special committee selected by the student from the membership of the graduate faculty. This procedure, commonly referred to as "the committee system," takes the place of uniform course requirements and uniform departmental examinations and is intended to encourage freedom and flexibility in the design of individual students' degree programs. Such a system requires adaptability on the part of both faculty and students, and requires of each student a high degree of initiative and responsibility.
Ph.D. Degree Program and Requirements Sample Schedule
(Please refer to the Procedural Guide for more detailed information.)
Fall - 1st Semester:
Sage Fellowship 1
Enroll in: Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis & 2 additional Courses
- Topics class in Africana History or Theory (can be taken first or second semester)
Spring - 2nd Semester:
Sage Fellowship 2
Enroll in: Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis & 2 additional Courses
- Complete Student Progress Review (SPR)
- Choose & Assign Committee Chair in Student Center
Sage Summer Fellowship 1
Enroll in Graduate Research (GRAD 9016)
Fall - 3rd Semester:
- Enroll in: Support Methods Course & 2 courses
- Complete the Cornell Teaching Assistant Online Orientation at the Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI)
- Choose & Assign Entire Committee in Student Center
- Meet with committee
Spring - 4th Semester:
- Enroll in: 2 courses
- Complete SPR
- Take Q-exam (before end of 4th semester)
Sage Summer Fellowship 2
Enroll in Graduate Research (GRAD 9016)
Fall - 5th Semester
- Prepare for A-exam
Spring - 6th Semester
- Submit course proposals for Freshman Writing Seminar
- Complete SPR
- Prepare for A-exam
Sage Summer Fellowship 3
Enroll in Graduate Research (GRAD 9016)
- Take A-exam (before fall term)
Enroll in Writing 7100 (must complete prior to teaching FWS)
Fall - 7th Semester
- Submit Prospectus
- Meet with committee
Spring - 8th Semester
Meet with committee
Apply for summer Grad School fellowship
Sage Summer Fellowship 4
Enroll in Graduate Research (GRAD 9016)
Fall - 9th Semester
Sage Fellowship 3
Enroll in: Placement Seminar (optional)
- Meet with committee
- Apply for jobs and fellowship
Spring - 10th Semester
- Meet with Committee
- Apply for jobs and fellowship
Enroll in Graduate Research (GRAD 9016)
Defend Dissertation (B-exam)
Requirements: Seminar in Africana Studies I & II, Topics class in Africana History or Theory, A supporting methods course, Workshop on Dissertation Proposal Development, 8 additional courses, Q Exam, A Exam, Teaching Requirement, Colloquium/Presentation, Language Requirement, Registration Units, TA Online Orientation, and CTI Conference or Institute.
2. Course Requirements
There are four required courses and a dissertation proposal workshop that introduce students to the field of Africana studies:
I. Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis
II. Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis
III. Topics class in Africana History or Theory (Chosen in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS))
I. A supporting methods course: Students are required to take a supporting methods course. This course is chosen in consultation with the student’s advisor and may be taken in Africana Studies (ASRC) or in a related field.
Workshop on Dissertation Proposal Development
8 additional courses:
Students must also complete, by the end of their second year, a minimum of eight additional courses, chosen in their field of research emphasis and selected in consultation with their advisor. Of these eight additional courses, one course per semester must be taken with a core faculty member in the ASRC. Students will develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration by their second year. Within each track, students will select a geographic area of concentration, e.g., Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or emerging studies of the global African diaspora. In regards to course load, in order to remain in good academic standing, students are expected to complete at least three courses per semester. Students are strongly encouraged to enhance their learning and training by striving to complete more than the minimum courses. The ASRC Ph.D. Program will only accept the transfer of graduate courses from other institutions under extremely rare circumstances and after the submission of a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).
Required Courses (students who matriculated before Fall 2019)
There are two required courses that introduce students to the field of Africana studies:
- Seminar in Africana Studies I: Historical, Political and Social Analysis
Seminar in Africana Studies II: Cultural, Literary and Visual Analysis
Students complete the required seminars during the first year and, in consultation with their special committee, develop a program of study within major and minor areas of concentration over the following year. Within each track, students will select a geographic area of concentration, e.g., Africa, the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, or emerging studies of the global African diaspora. Students take a minimum of ten additional courses in Africana studies and related fields before taking the qualifying exam (Q exam) by the end of the second year of graduate study. Students are strongly encouraged to enhance their learning and training by striving to complete more than the minimum courses. The ASRC Ph.D. Program will only accept the transfer of graduate courses from other institutions under extremely rare circumstances and after the submission of a petition to the DGS.
There are two New York State policies that stipulate graduate course requirements must be at the 5000 level or above:
The NY State Education Department (NYSED) policy indicates that
Credit toward an undergraduate degree shall be earned only for college-level work. Credit toward a graduate degree shall be earned only through work designed expressly for graduate students. Enrollment . . . of undergraduates in graduate courses, and of graduate students in undergraduate courses shall be strictly controlled by the institution. See 8 CRR-NY 52.2.
SUNY provides this guidance on the NYSED policy
“An undergraduate-graduate cross-listed course should have two syllabi, one for undergraduate students and another for graduate students. Each syllabus would have student learning outcomes, readings, assignments, assessments, etc. that are appropriate for the level of study. Though there may be some overlap, there would need to be clear distinctions, as determined by the faculty. There is no definitive answer to the question of how much they should differ, but instead this would be under the purview of the faculty in relation to the particular course.”
3. Special Committees
The DGS serves as the student's main academic adviser and provisional chair during the first semester of residence and during that period will assist the student in beginning the process of forming a special committee. Because the special committee is charged with guiding and supervising all of a student's academic work, it is important to establish this committee as soon as possible. The expectation is that a student will select at least the Chair of their committee by the end of your second semester. The entire special committee should be chosen and assigned in "Student Center" by the end of the fall semester of the second year of graduate study and the chair of the committee will become the candidate's dissertation advisor. The two other members of the committee represent fields of study (the "minor fields") in which the student also has a strong interest and will become competent to teach. The DGS will serve as a temporary member of the student's special committee until there is a full complement of functioning members. Minor members may be chosen from related fields outside the department, but the chair must be in the graduate field of Africana Studies. Any changes or additions to the special committee before the A Exam can be assigned through Student Center. A student's special committee chair is charged with certain formal responsibilities:
- Approving the student's choice of courses for each semester
- Recommending at the end of each semester that the student be awarded appropriate residence credit. One "unit of residence" is awarded for a semester's satisfactory full-time study. Fractions of a unit may be awarded for part time or not wholly satisfactory study.
- Completing the faculty section of the Student Progress Review (see section 5).
- With the other special committee members, conducting the Qualifying Exam (Q Exam)
- Conducting the Admission to Candidacy Examination (A Exam) with the whole special committee
- Approving the dissertation with the committee after conducting a formally scheduled final examination (B Exam)
- Recommending the conferral of the degree. This recommendation must be unanimous. The committee is expected to meet with the student at least once a year.
4. Graduate School Milestones
The Graduate school has 4 Milestones that must be completed. Completing you Responsible Conduct of Research training (RCR), forming your Special Committee, passing your A Exam and passing your B Exam.
Research training (RCR)
Every graduate student pursuing a research degree (masters or doctoral) is required to complete training on Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), addressing issues of authorship, peer review, plagiarism, and research misconduct in their first year. RCR Training: Online | Cornell Research Services
Per the Code of Legislation, the Graduate Faculty requires all research degree students, both master’s and doctoral, to complete research in responsible conduct of research, including authorship, peer review and avoidance and consequences of research misconduct. This training us through the Cornell Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) and must be completed before the end of the second semester (Code E.2.a.).
The DGS serves as the student's main academic adviser and provisional chair during the first semester of residence and during that period will assist the student in beginning the process of forming a special committee.
See section "3. Special Committee" for details regarding the formation and requirements of your committee.
Per the Code of Legislation, the Graduate Faculty requires both research master’s and doctoral students to have identified (or been assigned) a Special Committee Chair or a temporary advisor no later than three weeks after the first registration in the Graduate School (submitted to the Graduate School via Student Center. Per the Code, the Graduate Faculty requires research doctoral students to have a full Special Committee no later than the end of the third semester.
No later than the end of the third year, each student will take an “A” Exam (Admission to Candidacy Examination), demonstrating proficiency in one major and two minor fields. Successful completion formally admits the student to candidacy for the doctoral degree.
After two years of coursework, Ph.D. students will take the A exam in the spring semester of the third year.
The examination is taken after a student has earned at least two registration units of credit. Unless special permission is obtained from the Dean, all doctoral students must attempt the Examination for Admission to Candidacy before beginning their seventh semester of registration in the Ph.D. program.
Advancing to the A Exam
In order to advance to scheduling the A exam, the student should first clear their dissertation topic with their special committee and submit a draft of their dissertation proposal to their special committee members.
Outline of the A Exam
The A exam will cover one major and two minor concentrations, and is partly oral and partly written.
This exam consists of written responses to questions from each of the committee members, followed by an oral examination based on the responses to the questions. The content and timing of the A exam is negotiated between the student and their special committee. Although there is variability in each A exam experience – the questions and timing are tailored to the interests and goals of each individual student – the exam is typically a “take-home” exam comprised of a minimum of three separate questions (one from each committee member; if a student has more than three committee members, additional members may choose to collaboratively write an exam question for the student, may write a fourth question, or may substitute the dissertation proposal for a question. The student should consult with their committee chair and the other committee members, who will be charged with outlining how the question from the fourth committee member will be incorporated). The student may have anywhere from two days to one week to respond to each of their committee members’ questions. The response time should be agreed upon at least one month before the exam is scheduled. Students may also be required to submit reading lists, syllabi, and/or a dissertation proposal as part of the A exam.
Protocols for Scheduling, Etc.
Students and faculty must adhere to Graduate School protocols for completing the A exam, including scheduling the exam and submitting exam results. These protocols include policies for Faculty Participation (including expectations for faculty and student attendance and regulations regarding remote participation), Location of Examinations, Scheduling Examinations, and Examination Results. Once a student has received the exam questions and the exam has been scheduled, the student is expected to complete all exam questions during the semester in which the exam is initially scheduled. Any rescheduling that delays the exam beyond the semester in which it was initially scheduled will only be approved under extremely rare circumstances, and the student will have to petition the DGS for permission to do so.
Upon passing the A exam, the student advances to Ph.D. Candidacy status. By the time of the A exam, the student should have identified and explored a doctoral dissertation topic. If the student plans to do fieldwork, a great deal of planning and preparation is necessary. Almost all foreign countries require graduate students to be attached to an institute or agency, so all such arrangements must be completed in advance. Students must also ensure that human subjects protocols are approved if this kind of research is germane to their dissertation research and writing. See the Institutional Review Board for Human Participants regulations at https://www.irb.cornell.edu/
A Note on Failing the Exam: ASRC adheres to the Graduate School policy outlined in the following link: https://gradschool.cornell.edu/policies/code-of-legislation/
The B Exam is an oral defense of your thesis or dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum registered semester requirements. At least two semesters of successful registration must be completed between the passing of the A Exam and the scheduling of the B Exam.
5. Student Progress Review
The Student Progress Review (SPR) 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.
All Africana Studies PhD candidates will receive an email with a link to their SPR in the Spring semester of each year. First year students will be required to complete the short form. All other students will be required to compete the standard form
6. Field-specific Requirements
All students must demonstrate proficiency in one language other than English. This requirement can be satisfied by taking a proficiency exam or by taking the relevant language course.
Ph.D. candidates at Cornell must complete at least six registration units. One registration unit is equivalent to one semester of fulltime study. Students entering the Ph.D. program may be granted a maximum of two registration units for a master's degree earned at another institution if that degree is relevant to the doctoral program. However, no commitment regarding transfer of registration units may be made until the special committee has had an opportunity to judge the student's accomplishments.
Minimum grade standard
You will be expected to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or better to remain a student in good standing.
Doctoral candidates will be required to give a departmental colloquium/presentation in the early stages of dissertation research and writing and a public colloquium/presentation at a later stage. Students must also defend the final dissertation in an oral exam.
7. Field Exam (Q Exam)
The African Studies Ph.D. program requires that all candidates pass the Q Exam no later than the fourth semester of their graduate study.
The goal of a Q exam is to test whether the student has the necessary qualifications for continuation in the program.
The content of the exam is decided in consultation with the student’s committee chair. Passing the Q Exam is required to remain in good academic standing.
The process and content for the Q exam should be discussed with second-year Ph.D. students early in the fall semester, and the exam must take place no later than the fourth semester of graduate study.
The Q Exam is comprised of both a written and an oral portion. Each student, in consultation with his or her committee chair, will choose one of the 20-25 page research papers written during a previous semester at Cornell and work with his or her chair to enhance and revise it in preparation for submitting it to the full committee. This paper will form a significant part of the student's oral qualifying exam that must be taken by the end of the fourth semester of study. The Q Exam itself consists of a presentation by the student and questions from the committee.
At the conclusion of the exam, the committee offers the student its written assessment of progress in developing the knowledge and skills necessary for a Ph.D. in Africana studies and makes recommendations for further study. At this time, the committee should also take the opportunity to propose how the language requirement is to be satisfied, or whether it has been satisfied already. Committee chairs must report the results of Q-exams to the DGS, along with information about the language requirement.
This exam will determine whether the student will remain in good academic standing. Students with incompletes are not eligible to take the exam.
8. Required Training
Center for Teaching Innovation (CTI)
In the second year of Africana Ph.D. program, candidates are expected to complete the Cornell Teaching Assistant Online Orientation
The TA Online Orientation includes essential information to accelerate new TAs on the path to success in their teaching roles, as well as details about campus teaching support resources. It should take approximately 4-5 hours to complete all 5 modules in the orientation.
The Orientation is comprised of the following modules:
- Module 1: Welcome to Cornell
An overview of teaching at Cornell and the roles of teaching assistants at the university.
- Module 2: Getting Ready to Teach
Preparing for the first day of class, warming up the learning environment, and tips for working with a teaching team.
- Module 3: Teaching Essentials
Strategies for engaging students, leading discussions, implementing group work, assessing student learning, and grading.
- Module 4: Cornell Policies and Resources
Introduction to Cornell University policies and resources related to teaching.
- Module 5: Next Steps
Opportunities for developing your teaching skills and preparing for your future career.
Candidates must also complete either
- The University-Wide GET SET Teaching Conference in the Fall Semester
- One of the Institutes on Special Topics offered in the Spring Semester
Africana PhD students will receive a Sage Fellowship.
The Sage Fellowships are two-year fellowships—first year and then dissertation year—with four summers of funding. These include stipend, tuition, and individual health insurance. Sage fellowships cannot be stacked with another fellowship in the same academic year.
- Students are awarded four summers of funding with the stipulation that they actively pursue their scholarship over the summer and maintain satisfactory academic progress.
- Students will be eligible for the first and second summers of funding only if they file with the Graduate School by May 1 of that year an academic plan describing the anticipated summer academic activities and outcomes.
- To be eligible for second-summer funding, a student must have assembled the Special Committee before the end of the third semester of registration, as required in the Code of Legislation (and must file an academic plan by May 1, as above).
- Students will be eligible for third-summer funding only if they have passed the A exam or have filed an exam scheduling form by May 1 of that year that indicates they are scheduled to attempt the A-exam prior to the start of their seventh semester of enrollment, as required in the Code of Legislation, and if they have filed with the Graduate School by May 1 an academic plan describing anticipated summer academic activities and outcomes.
- Students will be eligible for fourth-summer funding only after passing the A exam, and only by application. A student must submit an application to the Graduate School for fourth summer of support by May 1 of that year, describing the scholarly work completed with the third summer of support and stating the academic objectives to be undertaken during the fourth summer. Graduate School staff will review the applications.
- The dissertation-year fellowship will be available only to students who have passed the A exam. In addition, students seeking the dissertation-year fellowship must have written and submitted an external fellowship or grant proposal before the dissertation-year fellowship is awarded, to encourage all students to pursue external funding. (In exceptional cases for which there may be no logical external funding organization to which it would be appropriate to write a proposal, the student may write a proposal for an internal Cornell award such as a Graduate School or Einaudi travel grant or may petition for permission to complete an alternative professionalization activity.)
- No portion of the dissertation-year fellowship may be used by the student later than the twelfth semester of enrollment, unless the student had secured external funding in an earlier term, in which case one or two semesters of dissertation-year fellowship may be used after the twelfth semester corresponding with the length of external funding (one semester if one semester external funding had been secured, or two semesters if at least two semesters of external funding had been secured). Exceptions to this requirement will be considered on an individual basis and should be directed to the Graduate School Associate Dean for Administration.
Assistantships are awarded by the fields. There is no separate application for assistantships, and all assistantships include stipend, tuition, and individual health insurance. Students are assigned an RA'ship in their 2nd year. Candidates for the Ph.D. degree in Africana studies must complete at least three semesters of carefully supervised teaching as a teaching assistant during their third and fourth years. Following admission to candidacy, students will have the option of teaching in the undergraduate writing seminar program.
Research Assistantships (RAs)
A RA is an academic appointment for research that is not directly thesis-related, 15 to 20 hours per week, averaging no more than 15 hours per week. For example, a RA appointment might include data analysis on a faculty research project not directly related to the student’s dissertation topic. As with other assistantships, there is no separate application. Students are appointed by departments, fields, or individual faculty.
Teaching Assistants (TAs)
A teaching assistant is an academic appointment in support of the teaching of a course. Teaching assistants may assist in teaching a section of a course, lead discussions, and/or lead laboratory sections. Teaching assistants average no more than 15 hours per week for the base stipend as established by the Board of Trustees.
RA and TA assignments are usually solidified after early enrollment closes.
Ph.D. Funding Timeline
Please refer to your offer letter for more detailed information.
Year 1: Sage Fellowship (guaranteed); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan - 1st summer sage
Year 2: RA or TA Package (guaranteed); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan - 2nd summer sage
Year 3: External Award or TA Package (guaranteed); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan - 3rd summer sage
Year 4: External Award or TA Package (guaranteed); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan - 4th summer sage
Year 5: Sage Dissertation Writing Fellowship (guaranteed); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan
Year 6: TA or RA Package (BY APPLICATION*); includes academic year stipend, tuition & health insurance plan
Year 7: External Funding
Note: You may teach a Freshman Writing Seminar in your 3rd or 4th year in place of one semester of your TA assignment.
* Support in the 6th year is NOT guaranteed but may be available by application.
No support is offered in the 7th year.
10. Field-based Professional Development & Learning Outcome
Field-based professional development
The department will assist graduating students with Mock Job Talks.
We also encourage students to use the resources available at the Center for Teaching Innovation Welcome | Center for Teaching Innovation (cornell.edu), including but not limited to the Teaching Portfolio Program Teaching Portfolio Program | Center for Teaching Innovation (cornell.edu)
Make an original and substantial contribution to the field
Think originally and independently to develop concepts and methodologies
Identify new research opportunities within the field
Demonstrate advanced research skills
Demonstrate proficiency in language
Master application of existing research methods and techniques
Communicate in a style appropriate to the discipline
Demonstrate professional skills and commitment to the values of scholarship
Listen, give, and receive feedback effectively
Show commitment to professional development and knowledge transfer
Complete degree in a timely fashion (5 years)
Africana Studies Contacts
Professor, Department Chair
Siba N’Zatioula Grovogui
Professor, Director of Graduate Studies
Graduate Field & Events Coordinator
Graduate School Contacts
Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs
Sara Xayarath Hernández
Associate Dean for Inclusion and Student Engagement
Associate Dean for Administration
Senior Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Life
Building security and Keys
You will be assigned keys to the building when you arrive on campus. You will also be given door codes to the Kitchen, Graduate Lounge, and Copy Room upon your arrival.
You will also have a mailbox in the copy room. There is also a printer/photo copy machine and supplies available to you here. IT will help you with setting up a connection to the printer and there is a computer in the Graduate Lounge that will print to this machine.
Graduate School Resources
The Office of Academic and Student Affairs works with graduate faculty and graduate students on academic policy and programs, academic integrity and misconduct, responsible conduct of research, petitions requesting exceptions to graduate school policy as outlines in the Graduate Faculty’s Code of Legislation, and academic progress and students status. The office also offers academic, writing and professional development programs, including proposal/thesis/dissertation writing boot camp, the Productive Writer email (Sign Up), Graduate Write-Ins, Productive Writing workshops, Fellowship Application Writing Workshops and Fellowship Listserv Tips, Productive Fellowship Writer Mailing List, Writing and Publishing Workshop Series, Three Minute Thesis Competition, and the Advising Guide for Research Students.
The Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) supports an inclusive and welcoming environment for all graduate and postdoctoral scholars, but especially for those from marginalized communities and/or backgrounds historically excluded from and underrepresented in the academy. OISE supports systemic change and promotes a climate of diversity, belonging, equity, engagement, and achievement, which are integral components of graduate and postdoctoral education. OISE supports scholar success through recruitment, diversity fellowships, mentoring, professional, leadership, and community development programming, and ongoing support.
Recognizing that health and academic performance are intimately linked, the Office of Graduate Student Life is a source of information, support, and advocacy that creates a more student-centered graduate student life experience. In addition to being a first-point of contact for students who are struggling or experiencing any form of distress, the Office of Graduate Student Life serves as a coordinating hub with campus-partners that focus on promoting a healthy and holistic student experience.
More information on available support is available:
Graduate student organization
The Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI)
Center for International Studies
The Institute for African Development (IAD)
Office of Global Learning
Diversity & Inclusion