Graduate Student Handbook


This handbook has been prepared for the use of doctoral students and faculty in Near Eastern Studies and should be read in conjunction with the Code of Legislation, which sets the policies governing advanced degree programs throughout the University.

The graduate program in Near Eastern studies prepares students for careers in academia and beyond. Academic specializations include the following areas: ancient Near Eastern studies (including archaeology); Arabic literature; biblical studies; early Christianity; Hebrew literature; Islamic studies (including anthropology); Judaic studies and the modern Middle East. All students admitted to the program are expected to earn a doctoral degree. Completion of the Ph.D. program normally requires three years of full-time course work at Cornell and two additional years of dissertation research and writing.

We expect our students to demonstrate broad knowledge of theory and scholarship across relevant sub-fields, advanced research skills, ability to produce and communicate original, publishable research, and effective teaching. We expect our students to demonstrate mastery in the language or languages of the main texts that are directly related to the topic of their dissertations. Students are advised to determine their field of concentration in their first year, and to consult their advisors about linguistic requirements.

Although every student’s particular in-depth course of study will vary according to his/her historical and disciplinary interests, we expect students to take advantage of the opportunity to appreciate the sweep and breadth of the Near East, both past and present. For example, students interested in modern history are strongly encouraged to acquire a background in pre-modern history and culture, and students interested in a particular Near Eastern literary or religious tradition are advised to investigate another Near Eastern tradition.

General Requirements

The general requirements for the receipt of the PhD in Near Eastern Studies are:

  • Three years of residence in Ithaca (any extended absence from campus during a semester must be approved in advance by the DGS);
  • Satisfactory completion of coursework
  • Satisfactory performance on the “Q” Exam by the end of the fourth semester
  • Satisfactory performance on the “A” Exam before the start of the seventh semester
  • Satisfactory performance on modern language exams
  • Successful completion of the oral defense, or the “B” exam
  • Submission of the thesis to the Graduate School


Completion of the Ph.D. program normally requires three years of full-time coursework. Students work with their advisor and Special Committee to devise a course of study that meets their needs. Students are expected to take a wide range of courses in Near Eastern studies.

A student may audit courses with permission from the instructor and in consultation with their advisor.

NES graduate students are required to enroll in NES 6722: Graduate Colloquium every semester and participate in the colloquium series. The NES Graduate Colloquium meets once a month during the semester to discuss new research by outside visitors or members of the Cornell community. Graduate students work together with the DGS to organize the Colloquium. First-, second-, and third-year students should try to schedule classes outside of Mondays, 12-1. Required readings will be uploaded to a Cornell Box shared file and distributed at least one week before the seminar.

For some subfields, required first year courses include coursework in a second Near Eastern language. The precise requirements for primary Near Eastern languages varies by subfield and will be determined by the Special Committee.

All students are required to take NES 6800 (Practicum in Near Eastern Studies) at some point during the first three years. 

Cornell’s Satisfactory Academic Progress policy stipulates that students in research degrees must maintain a minimum GPA of 2.25 to be in good academic standing or to be eligible for federal loans. NES further stipulates that a student must achieve minimum grades of A- and demonstrate satisfactory performance in their annual Student Progress Review (see below).

No graduate student shall be permitted more than one grade of incomplete per semester. During the following term the student must complete the coursework for which the incomplete was assigned. The incomplete will become permanent after one year, per Graduate School policy. In the event that a student receives a permanent incomplete, the NES graduate faculty must convene to determine whether the student’s standing warrants continuing in the program or withdrawal from it.

Students not enrolling in courses other than NES 6722 must enroll for thesis or dissertation research. The course number for fall/spring is GRAD 9011: Doctoral Dissertation Research but is subject to change.


After completing three semesters in residence, students must convene a meeting with their committee called a "Qualifying Exam" ("Q Exam"). The contents of this exam are determined by the committee and focus upon assessing a student’s progress and defining an appropriate course of study for the upcoming semesters. It can include informally presenting the results (selectively) of the student’s research papers. They will also agree upon the academic subfields in which the student will be examined for admission to candidacy at the conclusion of the third year. The Special Committee administers the exam and communicates the result upon its completion. Upon completion of the Q Exam, students continue in their doctoral studies (Code F.3.)

The “A Exam” is typically taken in the spring semester of the third year. It must be completed before the start of the seventh semester (Code F.1.c). Students must schedule a meeting with their Special Committee in the fall semester of the third year to establish a format and timeline for the A Exam. 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 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.

The “B Exam”, an oral defense of the dissertation, is the final exam of the doctoral program, taken upon completion of all requirements of the degree. Candidates must give copies of the dissertation to each member of the committee and must make two copies available to the Director of Graduate Studies six weeks before the expected defense date.  One copy is for faculty in the field to consult; one is for the Director of Graduate Studies. The Schedule B Examination form must be received by Graduate Student Services at least seven calendar days prior to the defense. The defense will be open only to members of the field and individuals invited by the committee. It is administered and evaluated by the Special Committee, and the results are communicated by the Special Committee at the conclusion of the exam. The “B Exam” can be taken no earlier than one month before completion of the minimum registration requirement (Code F.1.d)

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.



Students must acquire a reading knowledge of two modern research languages (French, German, Spanish or any other language deemed necessary by the student’s Special Committee). Students must attempt the first of two required reading exams in their first modern research language by the end of their first year. Students must attempt the second required reading exam in a second modern research language by the end of the fourth semester, and before the completion of the A Exam. Students must pass both language exams before the completion of the admission to candidacy examination (“A-exam”), normally before the end of the third year. Successful completion of specific language courses above the 6000 level may also satisfy the requirement.

By the end of the fourth semester, students are required to reach a very high level of expertise in their chosen primary Near Eastern language(s)—a level sufficient for primary research in the language(s).

The English language skills of international graduate students who do not speak English as a first language must be assessed prior to the start of a TA appointment. For NES students, this normally starts the fall semester of the second-year. ITAP (International Teaching Assistant Program) offers assessments four times a year (May, August, December and January) on specific dates before fall/spring classes begin. Chris Capalongo, Graduate Field Assistant, will contact students to schedule an appointment. Neither students who have received previous education in English institutions nor students exempt from the summer ITAP (International Teaching Assistants Program) are exempt from the assessment.

Dissertation Prospectus and Applying for Grants

The graduate school requires in order to receive a 4th summer of funding, students must be able to demonstrate that they have applied for external grants and fellowships. In order to support students in this effort, at the A exam students will submit a written plan outlining which grants they intend to apply for during their 4th year, including application deadlines and the nature of the proposals the granting institutions require. In the fall of the 4th year students will produce a dissertation proposal that is ALSO a grant proposal, targeted to one of the granting institutions that students identified at the A exam. Students are expected to develop a dissertation prospectus, normally within three months of the exam. The prospectus typically goes through several drafts over several weeks. When the prospectus is ready, the student presents it at a meeting of the full committee, where it is formally accepted. 

The prospectus must conform to the standards of scholarly writing within the field in terms of style, transliteration of foreign characters, transcription and translation of primary and modern languages, and in scholarly apparatus, i.e. footnotes, references, and bibliography.  The prospectus should include:

  • The nature of the question or problem to be examined in the dissertation
  • The importance of the question or problem to the discipline
  • A literature review, including but not limited to:
    • The views of earlier major scholars
    • What has been missed
  • A discussion of methodologies to be used
  • An outline of chapters
  • A timetable for submission of drafts of each chapter
  • A bibliography


Candidates must submit the dissertation within seven years (fourteen semesters) of entering the program. Continuing beyond seven years requires a petition be submitted to the Graduate School for approval. Use of a Sage Fellowship beyond the sixth year is prohibited. After seven years of support, no funding will be provided by the Graduate School nor should it be expected from the department.


Students are expected to present their research in the NES Colloquium. The colloquium presentation can take place in the fourth year, when dissertation research is underway, or in the fifth year, as the dissertation is nearing completion.

Special Committee

All students are assigned the DGS as temporary chair upon matriculation. Per the Graduate School’s Code of Legislation, doctoral students must identify a Special Committee Chair no later than three weeks after the first registration in the Graduate School (submitted to the Graduate School via Student Center). The Chair must be a faculty member of the NES graduate field.

Students are expected to have a full Special Committee by the end of the second semester, and 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. The Minor Members should be selected in consultation with the committee chair, and at least one should be faculty in the NES graduate field. Minor Members support students in gaining mastery of two areas of study in addition to their primary subfield. 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.

Upon the completion of the dissertation prospectus, a non-Cornell advisor may be asked to serve on the Special Committee, at the discretion of the Special Committee Chair, but there must already be three (3) Cornell serving members, two of whom must be from the NES graduate field.

As a student in our graduate program, you will work closely with NES department faculty who specialize in a wide range of languages, literatures, cultures, religions and historical periods, from ancient Sumer to the modern Middle East. You may also work with members of the wider graduate field of Near Eastern studies, which includes scholars whose main appointment is in other departments and programs at Cornell but who are able to supervise dissertations of Ph.D. students in Near Eastern studies.

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 (Code E.2.a)


Admitted Ph.D. students in NES are guaranteed five years of funding from Cornell, which will cover tuition, living stipend and health insurance.


Normally, during your first and final years of study you will receive a fellowship from the Graduate School (for example, Sage Fellowships and Deans Excellence Fellowships), with no teaching responsibilities. The fellowship may not be combined with another fellowship in the same academic year. 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.

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.

Teaching Assistantship

In other years, your financial aid package will require you to serve as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a lecture course or to teach your own first-year writing seminar. Teaching assignments are made based on course enrollment and departmental needs.

Many students are able to extend the period of time during which they are funded with internal or external grants.

Summer support

The funding package includes summer support, with the stipulation that the student actively pursues scholarship over the summer and maintains satisfactory academic progress. For students to be eligible for summer funding for the first two years, an Academic Plan form must be submitted to the Graduate School by May 1. To be eligible for the second year of summer funding, a Special Committee must be assembled by the end of the third semester of registration. Students will be eligible for the third year of summer funding only after passing the A-exam, or committing to attempt the A-exam prior to the start of the seventh semester, in addition to their application. Students will be eligible for the fourth year of summer funding only after passing the A-exam and describing the scholarly work completed during the third year of summer support and stating the academic plans for the fourth summer (by application).

Beyond the Fifth Year

Sixth-year funding can on occasion be offered, but is constrained by available resources and annual contingencies. Students who require more time to complete their degree should discuss their situation and develop a plan with their committee chair and the DGS.

Student Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the doctoral program, we expect our students to:

  • Demonstrate in-depth knowledge of their chosen area(s) of expertise
  • Demonstrate broad knowledge of theory and scholarship across relevant sub-fields
  • Demonstrate advanced research skills
  • Demonstrate the ability to produce and communicate original, publishable research
  • Demonstrate the ability to teach effectively

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.



NES Department Chair: Deborah Starr

Director of Graduate Studies: Ziad Fahmy

Graduate Field Assistant/Undergraduate Coordinator: Christianne Capalongo

Conference Grants

Conference presentations are encouraged, but students should discuss their intentions to present their research with their chair to strategize on timing and ensure the work is ready for presentation at a scholarly venue.

The Graduate School provides conference grants to all graduate students who are invited to present papers or posters at professional conferences. Award amounts are based on geographic location, not actual expenses. The Graduate School tries to fund most requests from students who meet the criteria for eligibility. Only one award will be considered during a single academic year, which is from July 1 through June 30. For information and deadlines, please refer to the Conference Grant Application found on the Graduate School website.

The Department of Near Eastern Studies offers limited funding for graduate student travel to conferences, for research, etc.  Students must first speak with the Chair of the Special Committee about how the funds will be used (deliver a paper, travel for research or fieldwork, etc). If appropriate, students may submit a Graduate Student Travel Request form to the department.  This request must include the following:

  • Name of conference (indicate if student will be presenting a paper).  If funds will be used for research, provide details.
  • Budget (including travel costs, lodging, food).
  • Indicate other sources of funding (pending or confirmed) and the dollar amount.

Funds from the department must be requested prior to travel.  Only, after all outside funding is confirmed and the student has notified the department, will the request be reviewed.  Once the student has returned to campus and receipts have been submitted, funds will be applied to the student’s bursar account.  Please copy Chris Capalongo, Graduate Field Assistant, on all requests.

Research and Travel Grants

The Graduate School awards a small number of research travel grants for academic year, research-related travel in the United States and abroad. These grants are for travel that is directly related to dissertation research, not conference travel. Recipients must be enrolled (full-time or In Absentia) in a graduate research (MA/MS, MFA, DMS, JSD or PhD) degree program through the Graduate School and must be registered at the time of the award. For detailed information and deadlines, please refer to the Research Travel Grant Application found on the Graduate School website.

Research and Travel Grants are also available through the Einaudi Center for International Research.


Graduate Field Faculty


Near Eastern Studies Lounge (410 White Hall) is open for public use between the hours of 8 am and 4:30 pm.

TA Offices: Space will be provided to TAs only.  Students not holding a TA-ship may need to remove their items from the office.

Keys: TAs will receive a key to the TA office.

Computer lab: There is a designated computer lab in the basement of White Hall for graduate students in NES and Government.

Graduate Student Checklist

Download a PDF version of this checklist.

Requirements to be completed by the end of the First Year (first and second semesters):

  • Define Special Committee and submit to Graduate School via the Student Center.
  • Attempt reading exam in first modern research language.
  • Complete required coursework.
  • Complete Cornell Office of Research Integrity and Assurance (ORIA) Training.  
  • International students who do not speak English as a first language must complete TA assessment.
  • Submit the Student Progress Review (SPR).       

Requirements to be completed by the end of the Second Year (third and fourth semesters):

  • Meet with the Special Committee for a “Q” exercise.
  • Meet with Special Committee to draft a preliminary program of study for the upcoming semesters; and to determine the subfields of study in which the student will be examined for admission to candidacy.
  • Attempt reading exam in second modern research language.
  • Submit the Student Progress Review (SPR).
  • Complete required coursework.

Requirements to be completed by the end of the Third Year (fifth and sixth semesters):

  • Pass reading exams in both modern research languages.
  • Fall semester: meet with full committee to establish a format and time line for the A-exam.
  • Complete A-exam by the end of sixth semester.
  • Submit the Student Progress Review (SPR).

Requirements to be completed by the end of the Fourth and Fifth Years (seventh thru tenth semesters):

  • Submit the dissertation prospectus.
  • Present dissertation research in the NES Colloquium
  • Submit the Student Progress Review (SPR).

More information

Contact Director of Graduate Studies, Professor Ziad Fahmy

Contact Graduate Field Assistant, Christianne Capalongo