Prospective Student FAQs

Will you be accepting new PhD students into the Helbling Research Group in the Spring 2024 semester?

No. We generally only welcome new students to the group during the Fall semesters. However, if a position for the Spring semester were to become available, it would be announced on this website.

Will you be accepting new PhD students into the Helbling Research Group in the Fall 2023 semester?

Yes. We generally welcome one new PhD student to the group every Fall. This is dependent on the availability of funding, and the funding situation is often not fully clear until early in the calendar year (for Fall 2023, this would mean around February 2023). Prospective students who wish to be considered for admissions during the Fall 2023 semester should apply through the Cornell graduate school website. The application deadline for Fall 2023 has passed. Stay tuned for details on the application deadline for Fall 2024!

To which graduate school Field of Study and Concentration should I apply?

Civil and Environmental Engineering → Environmental Processes

If you apply to any other graduate school Field of Study or Concentration, we will probably not see your application even if you mention us in your application.

I am not interested in a Ph.D. at this time, and would like to apply to the M.S. program. How does that work?

The process for applying to the M.S. program is similar to that of the M.S./Ph.D. program or the Ph.D. program. Please visit the Cornell graduate school website for details.

One key difference with the M.S. program is that admitted students are not necessarily paired with a research advisor until they actually accept the offer for admissions and arrive on campus. The incoming cohort of M.S. students will meet with all of the Environmental Processes faculty and then submit a ranked list of potential advisors/research projects. The Environmental Processes faculty try our best to make sure that everyone gets their first choice.

What can I expect with respect to financial support?

All M.S./Ph.D. and Ph.D. students are admitted with at least three years of guaranteed funding. As long as the student remains in good academic standing, they can expect to receive funding for the duration of their studies in our program.

M.S. students are generally admitted without funding. In some circumstances, M.S. students can receive funding for one or more semesters (or over the summer) as a graduate research assistant (GRA) or teaching assistant (TA).

I am interested in a Cornell Fellowship in support of diversity. How can I be competitive for those Fellowships?

Cornell offers a variety of Fellowship for graduate students in support of diversity. See details here.

Pro tips: To be considered, applicants must respond “yes” to the question on the admissions application asking if they wish to be considered for university assistantships and fellowships, including diversity fellowships.

Applicants must also submit a supplemental essay via the admissions application. The supplemental essay should detail how one or more of the following criteria applies to the applicant:

  • first-generation college student
  • member of a group historically underrepresented in graduate education
  • experiences overcoming any significant challenges in your path toward graduate school (examples include but are not limited to: managing a disability, being of a gender historically underrepresented in your graduate field of study, and being a Veteran)
  • Success in graduate education requires significant persistence and resilience. Therefore, students should also use their supplemental essay to address how their personal, academic, and/or professional experiences demonstrate their ability to be both persistent and resilient especially when navigating challenging circumstances.

Do I need to take the GREs?

No. The field of Civil and Environmental Engineering does not require GRE scores for consideration for admissions.

I have an undergraduate degree. Should I apply to the M.S./Ph.D. program or the Ph.D. program?

Your choice! You do not need a Master’s degree (or other graduate degree) to apply directly to our Ph.D. program.

The difference between the M.S./Ph.D. and Ph.D. programs is the requirement to complete and defend a separate M.S. thesis in the former. Student’s entering the Ph.D. program directly from an undergraduate program can still earn a M.S. degree without the need to complete a separate thesis. Most students admitted to our program directly from an undergraduate program are admitted as Ph.D. students (not as M.S./Ph.D. students).

What is the timeline for applications and admission decisions?

Application deadlines for Fall admissions into the graduate Field of Study of civil and environmental engineering is on or around February 1. Please check the Cornell graduate school website for any potential changes to this. Applications undergo a pre-screening in early February and those that pass that initial screening get transferred to the faculty usually by the middle of February. We try to make admissions decisions as early as possible, and reach out to the top applicants to schedule short video chats usually by the end of February.

What are the most important criteria for admission?

There are a few ways to get noticed among the many applications that we receive each year. First, I like to see a genuine interest (or passion) in water quality and environmental organic chemistry. I like to be convinced that you are committed to a future career in aquatic science and technology. Second, I like to see curiosity and an inquisitive nature. I would like to hear about your genuine research interests and why the Helbling Research Group is an ideal place for you to explore those interests. Third, I like to see some level of laboratory- or field-based research experience. Although it is certainly not required, previous research experience with experimental or analytic techniques in environmental organic chemistry or microbiology is a plus. All three of these things can be articulated to some extent in your personal statement. You are also free to reach out to me by email to express your interests and tell me why the Helbling Research Group is a great fit for you.

The Helbling Research Group is committed to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion; we encourage applicants from all underrepresented groups including (but certainly not limited to) BIPOC, women, LGBTQ+, disabled, immigrants, low-income students, and first-generation students.

I am interested (dare I say, passionate) about environmental engineering/water quality/environmental organic chemistry/environmental microbiology, but I don’t have a lot of engineering/organic chemistry/microbiology in my background. Can I still apply to this program/research group?

Of course! One purpose of your graduate education will be to fill in the gaps in your background with respect to the fundamental engineering and science that will be essential for your research and future career. All incoming graduate students have some gaps in their education. We have accepted students into our Ph.D. program with undergraduate degrees in civil engineering, environmental engineering, chemical engineering, environmental science, chemistry, and biology. There are certainly a number of related majors that would likewise be fine. Your graduate curriculum would be tailored to ensure that you learn the fundamentals of our field within the first year of your studies.

Can you read my CV and let me know if I would be admitted to your program?

Unfortunately, no. There are several reasons. First, we admit students to our program based on quality of applications and fit to specific research projects. Often the scope of new research projects is unknown until the admission period in late-winter or early-spring of the admission year. Second, the CV is just one part of the application. It is difficult to evaluate a candidate without the full application package. Third, it is also difficult to evaluate a candidate in the absence of other applications. Our methodology for selecting candidates for admission involves a rigorous comparison of application materials among the application pool.

If you are interested and passionate about our research (see above), and have a related background (see above), I would encourage you to apply. You cannot be admitted unless you apply through the Cornell graduate school website.