Graduate Student Handbook

Ph.D. Program
Current Students

Academic Pursuits

Graduate Student Requirements

Qualifying Examinations

Committee Meeting Guidelines

Teaching Guidelines

General Degree Requirements

Thesis Defense

Departmental Facilities


Academic Pursuits

Graduate students at Columbia University are expected to engage full-time in advanced study and research. The program demands initiative and self-discipline from the student; it offers the student the opportunity to study and learn to the extent of his/her ability. Each student is expected to undertake intensive study of those areas of science that are of special interest and that will further their research goals. The stipends provided are for a full-time effort; students are discouraged from additional activities that will prolong time to degree or overlap with work already supported by the fellowship.   More information can be found under the Policies link, which includes the Policy on employment and professional activities outside of the program and the Policy on enrollment in courses that are not on the pre-approved course list.

Policies and resources that apply to all students in GSAS may be found here.  


First Year Activities 

  1. Courses and seminars - students entering in 2018 will be required to take coursework adding up to the same number of credits as in previous years, but will have more individualized training plans to be formulated with a Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and other faculty as desired.  All new students must take the Pre-Research seminar (G9301). Students are also encouraged to attend departmental seminars, generally held on Mondays at noon.
  2. Degree requirements - Teaching is begun in the second year or second semester of the first year (see Teaching Guidelines). Dr. Deborah Mowshowitz has developed a whole collection of useful information related to teaching, all of which can be found at her faculty website. In addition, Columbia CTL Center for Teaching and Learning has created a website with useful teaching resources
  3. Laboratory rotations- Students must complete two rotations in the first year, and three rotations are encouraged.  Such experience, an essential component of graduate education at Columbia, facilitates the development of practical skills that open the way to independent research and provides an opportunity for becoming better acquainted with some of the faculty and other students.  Considerations in choosing rotations will be discussed during Orientation and in advising meetings with a DGS.  Please see Lab choice policy for first year students for additional considerations in choosing rotations.

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Research Sponsor 

An important aspect of a student’s program is developing a compatible association with a research sponsor. A sponsor not only guides the student in design, the performance and analysis of experiments, but also makes effective use of all the faculty to ensure that the student is not only well-trained, but also well-educated. A student wanting to initiate thesis work should ask an appropriate faculty member with whom he or she would like to be associated to act as research sponsor. Faculty members are not required to act as research sponsors and students are not assigned to laboratories. The relationship is a personal one, established after thoughtful consideration by the student and by the prospective sponsor. 

Please see Lab choice policy for first year students on this page.

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Thesis Committee Formation 

The students choose two faculty from the training program to be on their thesis committee after consultation with their sponsor. Generally these faculty are in a related field, but do not need to be closely related. These two faculty form the Qualifying Exam committee for the student. This occurs no later than June 30th of the second year.  The exam consists of a written research proposal followed by an oral defense. This committee plus the sponsor then comprises the thesis committee which meets with the student at least once a year.  After 5 years the committee will meet at least twice a year to aid in completion of the thesis in a timely manner. The committee may be changed after the Qualifying Exam with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. In some cases, one person of the three person thesis committee may be from outside the program to provide useful expertise. This should also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

The final thesis defense committee consists of the above committee plus two additional faculty. At least one of these must be from outside our program and are often from outside the university.  (Both may be from outside the program or university.) These two outside members are chosen by the student and sponsor and are generally in a field of expertise close to the thesis. The full committee of five reads the student's thesis, attends a public seminar by the student, and administers an oral exam in private.

 In cases where there are joint sponsors, there may be an initial thesis committee of four, two sponsors plus two others from our program.

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English Placement Test 

The University requires that all foreign students from non-English speaking countries take an English Placement Test. This test is offered in the Language Labs in Lewisohn Hall. Once this test is evaluated, the student may be placed in a course offered by the American Language Program. This course, designed specifically to assist foreign students with both language and cultural difficulties and emphasizes teaching skills, is required for all students whose scoring on the placement test demonstrates a need. The American Language courses are given at many different times, accommodating laboratory and course schedules.

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Graduate Student Requirements

All students are required to maintain good standing as per GSAS policies:


THE CORE COURSE: The Core Course has been a common curriculum for all first-year students; it includes everything students need as a foundation for elective courses and thesis work. Needless to say, our faculty have put forth a great deal of effort determining the content and means of presentation in the Core Course. However, to allow for flexibility in preparing for a research focus in certain specialized areas, students entering in 2018 will have more individualized training plans to be formulated with a Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and in consultation with other faculty as desired.  In these plans, two of the six current core courses will be required.  Entering students will be advised to take the two required Core courses in the first year, but will have more flexibility to defer additional core courses to the second year and/or to take courses on the pre-approved course list starting in the first year.

Satisfactory academic performance in a student's first year entails passing all courses with a grade of B or better.  A grade of B- or below in any course will result in academic probation for the following semester, while a grade of B- or below in two or more classes, or an additional failure (grade of B- or below) during the time a student is on academic probation, may be grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. program. Thus, students should take the Core Course very seriously, learn all they can in it, and seek help in any section in which they feel their understanding and possibly their grades may be inadequate. 

BIOLOGY: In addition to G6001, G6002 and G6003, the Biology Core courses, two graduate biology seminar courses are required (not including Pre-Research Seminar or journal clubs). These courses generally must be at the G4000-level (GR 4000-level) or above, and one may be in physics, chemistry or mathematics. No more than one of these two elective courses may have a grade of "B-" and the average must be "B" or higher (i.e., if a grade in one of the two elective courses is a B-, the other must be a B+ or better). A grade of C+ or below is considered to be failing, no matter whether the average for electives is a B.  A list of pre-approved elective courses including those offered at the medical school can be found here.

MATHEMATICS: A background of one year of college-level math covering calculus or statistics is required. Students who need to take an additional mathematics course are encouraged to take a course in statistics 

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In fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree, all students must gain teaching experience as part of their graduate training. "Teach" means to lead a laboratory section or assist in teaching a lecture course. Students are expected to start teaching in their second year and generally complete their teaching by the end of their 3rd year. A few students start later or delay some of their teaching, either to gain more experience and confidence, or to have the opportunity to help teach a course in their specialty. Students with sufficient experience and maturity are allowed to start teaching in the second term of the first year. 

The duties of the Teaching Fellow vary, depending on the course. They generally include grading (exam papers, homework or lab reports), running discussion sections, holding office hrs (in person or by email), preparing course materials and (for laboratory leaders) supervising laboratory sections. Each graduate student is required to teach the equivalent of 8 units (= about 2 semesters). Ordinary assignments count for 4 units. Project labs, which involve heavier time commitment, count for 8 units; teaching the introductory lecture course, which involves a greater than average workload, counts for 6 units. Therefore the average graduate student teaches for 2 semesters. Students who enter with a master's degree (who have generally taught in their previous institution) are required to earn 8 units instead of 12. 

1. A seminar is held every semester at the beginning of the term for all students who are doing their first teaching assignment. The department's Teaching Manual is distributed and many of the issues covered are raised. The major purpose of this session is to provide departmental support and encouragement to the student TA's. At the session itself we discuss various aspects of graduate student teaching and suggest some ways to improve teaching and learning (both for the benefit of the Teaching Fellows and the benefit of their undergraduate students). We also try to provide Teaching Fellows with resources for solving problems that may arise in the future (the manual, GSAS web site, whom to contact, etc.) 

2. There are no other department wide sessions, but Teaching Fellows for the introductory lecture and lab classes (and most of the other classes that have required sessions led by Teaching Fellows) meet weekly with their instructors to discuss the material and ways to present it. 

3. Teaching Fellows must demonstrate oral and written proficiency in English or pass the International Teaching Fellows Course offered by the American Language Program. 

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Research Presentations 

Third, fourth and fifth year students will present a 30-minute description of their research as a public seminar once each year, on the day of their annual advisory committee meeting. The advisory committee will meet with the student and sponsor following the seminar. 
Annual Committee Meeting Form

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Once the dissertation is completed, the student will present a Departmental Seminar on the work, and this will be followed by an examination by a panel of five professors, three from the Department and two from other Departments.

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Qualifying Examinations

Part I - First Year 

Qualifying Exam I consists of the aggregate exam grades in the Core courses. Biology G6001, G6002 and G6003 must be successfully completed by the end of the student’s first year. 

Part II – By June 30th Summer of Your Second Year

Students will prepare a written proposal based on their intended research project, as perceived at that time. The proposal will be in the form of a short postdoctoral fellowship application (see guidelines below). Students will submit this proposal to qualifying exam committee consisting of two faculty members, then present and defend the proposal before this committee.

The deadline for proposal defense is June 30th, during the Summer of the student’s second year, however students many also take the exam earlier, in the previous Spring. The written proposal must be submitted to the committee at least two weeks before the oral defense of the proposal.

The committee will probe the student’s general knowledge in the area represented by the project, the area represented by the sponsor’s laboratory, and the areas covered in courses the student has taken. Students should be prepared to describe any procedure proposed in the research plan. Although the structure of the oral examination will be that of a defense of the proposal, the emphasis will be as much on general knowledge in these areas as on the merits of the specific research proposed. The examining committee will be made up of two faculty members from the program’s training faculty and will not include the student’s research sponsor. This committee, plus the sponsor, will constitute the student’s research progress committee, which will meet at least annually with the student after the oral examination.

Students whose performance is judged unsatisfactory on this exam will be given one additional opportunity to take the exam within the next few months, but before the end of the Spring semester of the third year. The committee for the second exam shall be comprised of the original members plus the sponsor. The student also has the prerogative to request a new committee for the second exam comprised of two new faculty members plus the sponsor.

IMPORTANT: Be sure to print the Qualifying Exam II form and take it with you to your Qualifying Exam for your committee to sign. Then return the form to 600 Office.

Guidelines For The Written Research Proposal 

The guidelines for an NIH predoctoral research fellowship should be used. These are printed below. The space limitations have been changed for double-spaced formatting. Another difference is that up to 7 figures may be included outside of the page limits. References are also not included in the page limits.

  1. Specific Aims
    • Specific Aims are limited to two pages. State concisely the goals of the proposed research and summarize the expected outcome(s), including the impact that the results of the proposed research will exert on the research field(s) involved. List succinctly the specific objectives of the research proposed, e.g., to test a stated hypothesis, create a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm or clinical practice, address a critical barrier to progress in the field, or develop new technology.
  2. Research Strategy
    • This item is limited to twelve pages. Organize the Research Strategy in the specified order using the instructions provided below. Start each section with the appropriate section heading —Significance, Innovation, Approach. Cite published experimental details in the Research Strategy section and provide the full reference in the Bibliography and References Cited section.
      •  Significance
        • Explain the importance of the problem or critical barrier to progress in the field that the proposed project addresses.
        • Explain how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or clinical practice in one or more broad fields.
        • Describe how the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.
      • Innovation - Optional.
      • Approach
        • Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project. Include how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted.
        • Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success anticipated to achieve the aims.
        • If the project is in the early stages of development, describe any strategy to establish feasibility, and address the management of any high risk aspects of the proposed work.


If an applicant has multiple Specific Aims, then the applicant may address Significance, Innovation and Approach for each Specific Aim individually, or may address Significance, Innovation and Approach for all of the Specific Aims collectively.

Preliminary Studies for New Applications.

For new applications, include information on preliminary studies, if any. Discuss the applicant’s preliminary studies, data and/or experience pertinent to this application. When applicable, provide a succinct account of published and unpublished results, indicating progress toward their achievement. [This should be done within the Research Strategies section, usually in Significance.]

Bibliography & References Cited

 Provide a bibliography of any references cited in the Project Narrative. Each reference must include the names of all authors (in the same sequence in which they appear in the publication), the article and journal title, book title, volume number, page numbers, and year of publication. Include only bibliographic citations. Applicants should be especially careful to follow scholarly practices in providing citations for source materials relied upon when preparing any section of the application.


 The proposal should be formatted according to the following guidelines:

  • Double-space all text, except captions for figures, which may be single-spaced.
  • Use a 11 or 12 pt. font such as Arial, Helvetica, Palatino Linotype, or Georgia.

  • Use 1-inch margins on top, bottom, left and right.

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Committee Meeting Guidelines

Thesis Committee Meetings

How frequently do Thesis Committee Meetings occur? 

  • Most students will have one Thesis Committee Meeting per year until they are in their 6th year in the program.
  • In the 6th year students must have one meeting every 6 months, counting from the previous meeting in the 5th year. 
  • However, members of a student’s Thesis Committee or Program Directors may require more frequent Thesis Committee Meetings for students who are either struggling in their research, are otherwise deficient in progress towards their graduation, and/or who the committee feels would benefit from additional guidance.

How should students prepare for the Thesis Committee Meeting?     

  • Students should reserve a conference room or other venue for a 2-hour period, convenient to the schedules of the committee members.
  • S/he should prepare a short talk (~20 minutes in length, including appropriate background information) describing the progress the student has made since the last Thesis Committee Meeting.
  • The student should also make a written outline of the Specific Aims of her/his project, and what progress, including publications, has been made on these. This outline should also include any publications or poster or lecture presentations the student has co-authored since arriving at Columbia. This document should be distributed to the Thesis Committee at least three days before the committee meeting. In many cases, a student’s Specific Aims will be identical or at least very similar to those proposed in the student’s Oral Qualifying Examination. However, sometimes the project will have shifted radically and the Thesis Committee should be kept abreast of changes in the stated goals and the progress made towards those goals, as well as problems or competitors’ results that have influenced the student’s project.
  • Students should also print a “Thesis Committee Meeting Report Form” [ or for students in their sixth year and up] and bring it to their meeting. This can be partially filled out beforehand by the student with names and a brief project summary. This form documents the date of and participants in the Thesis Committee Meeting; it also has places for the committee members’ comments and signatures, their recommendations concerning the student’s future plans, and their stipulation for when the next Thesis Committee Meeting (or the Thesis Defense) should take place. The form should be returned to Sarah Kim Fein and/or 600 Fairchild. We use this form as a record of student progress.

What should happen at the Thesis Committee Meeting?  

  • When all are convened for the meeting, the Chair will state what year and laboratory the student is in and make sure that all committee members have met one another.
  • Then the student will give her/his talk, which is usually liberally interrupted by the Thesis Committee with questions, suggestions, or information relevant to the talk.
  • When the student is finished with the talk and discussion has completed, s/he will leave the room for a few minutes to allow the committee to come to a consensus as to recommendations of how to proceed and to consult the advisor on his/her assessment of the student.
  • When the student returns, the Thesis Committee will communicate their conclusions to the student and discuss their response.
  • The advisor will then leave the room and the student will have the opportunity to bring up any problems in the lab that the committee might be able to help with.


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General Degree Requirements

Students in the doctoral program receive three degrees in the course of fulfilling the Ph.D. requirements in the Department of Biological Sciences: the Master's of Arts, the Master of Philosophy, and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

For the M.A. Degree 

Residence Units: Four.

Languages: Non-native speakers must demonstrate proficiency in English or complete International Teaching Fellows Training by the American Language Program.

Examinations: Satisfactory completion of part I of the Qualifying Examination. Part I: successful completion of all sections of the Core Course sequence BIOL G6001, G6002, G6003 with a grade of B or higher.

BIOL G6001 Graduate Core Course I - section 1: Genetics & section 2: Genomics
BIOL G6002x Graduate Core Course II - section 1: Eukaryotic Gene Expression & section 2: Protein Thermodynamics
BIOL G6003y Graduate Core Course III - section 1; Cell Biology & section 2: Structural Biology

If a grade in any one section is below B, the student must take a course as determined by the core section instructor or Director of Graduate Studies to make up for the inadequate core section grade.

Mathematics: 2 semesters of college-level math, generally including single-variable calculus and/or statistics. Required if students have not had previous math courses as determined by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Completion of the Research Ethics course, BIOETHICS K4450 Research Ethics. Completion of the Pre-research seminar course, BIOL G9301. Completion of up to three research rotations, and choice of a lab for thesis research.  Multiple rotations are not required when a thesis lab is chosen early.

Completion of all sections of the Core Course sequence as described above represents the equivalent of a comprehensive exam for the purposes of the University requirements for the M.A. degree.

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For the M.Phil Degree 

Residence Units: Six (Two beyond the four required for the M.A.).

Graduate biology courses: Required courses include BIOL G6001-G6002-G6003 (the Core Course sequence, required for the M.A.); G9301 (Pre-Research Seminar); BIOETHICS K4450 Research Ethics; and two graduate-level elective courses approved by the department. Two approved graduate seminar courses. No more than one of the two elective courses may have a grade of "B-" and the average must be "B" or higher (i.e., if a grade in one of the two elective courses is a B-, the other must be a B+ or better). A grade of C+ or below is considered to be failing, no matter whether the average for electives is a B. Students entering the program with a Masters degree may be exempted from one elective course if they have taken a relevant PhD level course in their Masters program. A description of the course should be given to the Director of Graduate Studies for approval. For a list of elective courses go to pre-approved elective courses. Additional courses may also be allowed subject to approval by the Director of Graduate Studies.

Satisfactory completion of part II of the Qualifying Examination: preparation of a written thesis proposal and the oral defense of the proposal before a Ph.D. advisory committee, to be completed by June 30th of the second year. In the student's spring semester of the second year, a Ph.D. advisory committee consisting of three faculty members is assigned to each student, generally based upon consultation with the student and sponsor. Each committee is appointed by the Graduate Student Advisor in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and consists of the student's sponsor and two other faculty members in the Department's training program. The student's sponsor does not participate in the verbal defense of the thesis proposal, but does participate in all subsequent meetings. Passing of the Qualifying Exam Part II (i.e., successful verbal defense of the thesis proposal) is verified via submission of the faculty evaluation form to the departmental office (600 Fairchild).

Teaching requirement: Participation in the instructional and/or research activities of the department for a minimum of one year. All students gain teaching experience as part of their graduate training. Two semesters of teaching are usually required, which typically includes assisting in undergraduate laboratory or lecture courses. Teaching activities require about 5-10 hours per week.

Satisfactory work in thesis lab.

Advisory committee meetings: Each Ph.D. advisory committee meets with the student at least once each year to discuss the progress of the student's research and continues in this capacity until the Ph.D. degree is granted. Conduct of the meeting is verified via a form submitted to the departmental office (600 Fairchild). A revised thesis proposal is required at the meeting conducted during the fourth year of residence unless the student has a peer-reviewed paper submitted or accepted for publication.  Advisory committee meetings are required biannually after the end of the fourth year if the advisory committee has concerns that the student will not be ready to complete the Ph.D. degree by roughly the end of the sixth year in residence.

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For the Ph.D. Degree 

Dissertation and Defense: All students are required to present and defend a dissertation.  Each student meets with his or her Ph.D. advisory committee at least once each year, as detailed above, to discuss the progress of the student's research and continues to do so until the thesis defense.  The thesis defense consists of a public presentation of the work in a forty-five minute seminar. This seminar is followed by an examination related to the thesis work of the candidate by the thesis committee, which consists of the three members of the Ph.D. advisory committee and two outside faculty members, generally including one from another institution.  It is expected that the thesis defense will occur before the end of the sixth year of graduate study at Columbia.

A student must be registered for a Resident Unit or for Extended Resident Unit for the term in which the dissertation is distributed to the defense committee. See the Dissertation Office rules for Registration and Application for Ph.D. Defense.

See the Dissertation Office website for Dates and Deadlines for deposit deadlines and degree dates.

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Residence Requirements 

Residence at the University is required for each advanced degree and is completed through the accumulation of Residence Units during the autumn and spring terms. The Residence Unit, rather than registration for individual courses, provides the basis for tuition charges. Two Residence Units are required for the Master of Arts degree and six Residence Units, including the two for the M.A. degree, are required for the Master of Philosophy degree. The residence requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy degree is satisfied by the six Residence Units earned for the Master of Philosophy degree. An M.A. will be awarded in the Fall of the third year of study to those students who have completed 2 full satisfactory calendar years of study. This requirement includes completion of the Qualifying Exam Part II and satisfactory research performance.

Students must complete all academic requirements, as well as residence requirements, within four consecutive terms for the M.A. degree (except in designated part-time M.A. programs described under Master of Arts Degree, below) within four calendar years for the M.Phil. Degree, and within seven calendar years for the Ph.D. degree. A student transferring with the M.A. degree, or the equivalent, from another university must, if granted standing, complete all the requirements for the M.Phil. degree within no more than three years and all the requirements for the Ph.D. degree within no more than six years. 

The student must have satisfied the academic requirements in force at the time a degree is awarded. Accordingly, if the student takes more than the normal time to complete requirements for any degree, he or she may be required to satisfy increased or changed requirements. 

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Continuous Registration 

Continuous registration until completion of all requirements is obligatory for each degree except for requirements completed extra muros (see Doctor of Philosophy Degree, below). 

After completing the appropriate number of Residence Units, students are required to register for Extended Residence for any term in which (a) they hold a fellowship of University appointment or (b) they are completing a degree requirement such as course work, language or qualifying examinations, deposit of an essay, or the defense of dissertation. Students who neither hold a fellowship or a University appointment nor are completing a degree requirement can satisfy the continuous registration requirement and maintain their status as graduate students by registering for Matriculation and Facilities, which allows them to make use of various University facilities. (Exception: a student may defend a dissertation or deposit an essay while registered for Matriculation and Facilities if registered for a Residence Unit or Extended Residence in the immediately preceding term. However, any student holding a fellowship or University appointment must register for Extended Residence for th at term.) Students are exempted from the requirement to register continuously only when granted a leave of absence. 

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Leave of Absence 

A student who must interrupt studies for a compelling reason – for example, sustained ill health – may be granted a leave of absence for a stated period, usually not to exceed one year. During the period of leave, a studen t may not use University facilities. Forms requesting leaves of absence may be obtained in the Office of Student Affairs, 107 Low Memorial Library. 

If a leave is granted, the fact is entered on the student’s permanent academic record. The period of a leave of absence is not counted as part of the time allowed for the completion of degree requirements. 

Students on leaves of absence may be eligible to defer payment of University loans and National Direct Student Loans. Consult the Office of Student Affairs, 107 Low Memorial Library, for further information. 

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A student who leaves the University without obtaining a leave of absence, or who fails to pay the Matriculation and Facilities fee, is not usually readmitted. The special approval of the Dean, contingent upon the merits of the student’s request and the recommendation of the department, is required for readmission. 

If a student wishes to apply for readmission, he or she must submit the application to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Office of Student Affairs at least four weeks before the first day of registration for the term in which he or she wishes to resume studies. If readmitted, the student becomes subject to all current requirements, as interpreted by the Dean to fit the student’s case. Because an unauthorized absence does not relieve a student of the obligation to register continuously until the completion of all degree requirements, readmitted students are also required to pay the Matriculation and Facilities fee for each term of absence after June 1972, ordinarily for a maximum of eight terms. (Students who are absent for more than eight terms and who continued to work toward the degree during the entire period are liable for additional payment.) 

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A satisfactory rate of progress toward a higher degree is required at all times. A department or doctoral program subcommittee has an absolute right to terminate a student’s candidacy at any time for academic reasons, or t o deny the student readmission. 

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Advanced Standing 

Advanced standing is limited to students who, upon entrance to the Graduate School, have completed the requirements for either an appropriate M.A. degree or the equivalent, or an appropriate professional degree, at Columbia or elsewhere. On the basis of such work a maximum of two Residence Units may be accepted for credit toward the M. Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. Usually, work is accepted for credit when a) it has contributed directly and substantially to the fulfillment of t he requirements for the M. Phil. and Ph.D. degrees and b) it meets departmental standards. Students granted advanced standing under the foregoing provisions are not eligible to receive the M.A. degree from Columbia. 

Exceptions to the regulation on advanced standing may be granted for students who transfer from other graduate programs within Columbia University. Such students may offer a maximum of 30 points in fulfillment of no more than two Residence Units, provided that the candidate does not offer the courses toward another degree. No more than one such Residence Unit may be credited toward the M.A. degree and no more than one toward the M. Phil. and Ph.D. degrees. 

Students transferring from institutions outside of Columbia who have not completed an appropriate M.A. degree program or the equivalent, or an appropriate professional degree, are not eligible for advanced standing.

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Thesis Defense

The thesis defense consists of a public presentation of the work in a forty-five minute seminar. This seminar is followed by an examination related to the thesis work of the candidate by the thesis committee. The outcome of this examination is either an acceptance of the thesis with minor revisions, acceptance with major revisions or failure. 

Graduate School policy requires that all dissertations be written in English. Rare exceptions may be granted only with prior approval of the Executive Committee of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Dean (after departmental approval of the topic, but before research is begun). Guidelines governing exceptions are available from the Office of the Dean, 109 Low Memorial Library. 

A student must be registered for a Residence Unit or for Extended Residence for the term in which the dissertation is defended. Exception is made for a student registered for a Residence Unit or for Extended Residence in the term immediately preceding the term in which he or she defends and for a student returning from a leave of absence for defense who was registered for a Residence Unit or for Extended Residence in the term immediately before beginning the leave. In both exceptional instances, the student may defend while registered for Matriculation and Facilities. 

Deposit of the Dissertation 

When the faculty committee has certified that the student has passed the final examination, the candidate must, in order to receive the degree, arrange with the Dissertation Secretary, 108 Low Memorial Library, for the deposit of the dissertation in the University library. The student has two options regarding the form in which copies of the work are acceptable - print or microfilm. The student should obtain from the Dissertation Secretary the statement of rules governing the two options. A fee of about $160 is payable at the time of deposit. Please check with the Dissertation Office for the exact amount. 

Award of the Degree 

When all requirements have been satisfied and all outstanding fees paid, the degree is awarded on the next conferral date (October, January, or May) following the final deposit of the dissertation (see Academic Calendar ). The deadlines for applying for degrees through the Office of Student Information Services do not apply to the doctoral degree. Once all requirements for the Ph.D. degree have been completed, the Office of Student Information Services is notified th at the degree should be awarded on the next degree date. For employment or other purposes, candidates may obtain official certification of the completion of all degree requirements from the Office of Student Information Services. Information about the annual Ph.D. Convocation held the day before Commencement is mailed from the Office of the Dean in March. Information about the annual Commencement ceremony in May is mailed from the Office of the President in March.

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Departmental Facilities

Academic Office

Kim Fein, Sarah
Program Manager 
(212) 854 2313,

Siddens, Ellie
Department Administrative Assistant / Undergraduate Coordinator 
(212) 854-4581,

Molina, Amanda
Office Assistant / Chair's Assistant 
(212) 854 5388,

Boluk, Inna
Administrative Assistant
(212) 854-7289,

Business Office

Rashid, Muin
Director of Financial & Administrative Services 
(212) 854-6690,

Lannon, Will
Director of Laboratories 
(212) 854-0502,

Sakolsky, Josh
Senior Manager 
(212) 854-5016,

Santosh, Jaya
(212) 854-5678,

Gulliver-Niles, Adelia
Purchasing Assistant

Cruz, Yasmin
Financial Assistant
(212) 854-5678,

Computer Facilities

Dubchenko, Mikhail
(212) 854-6162,

Gomez, Anthony
Staff Associate 
(212) 854-7062,

Shanley, Jim
Senior Staff Associate 
(212) 854-4337,


Rodriguez, Al
Stockroom Manager 
(212) 854-4046,

Crespo, Edgar
Stockroom Coordinator 
(212) 854-4046,

Del Pilar, Freddy
Office Assistant
(212) 854-4046,


Bielskas, Amanda
Geology/Geosciences & Psychology Librarian
(212) 854-6767,
Geology Library - 601 Schermerhorn

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Policy on employment and professional activities outside of the program

Students in the second year and above may be permitted to have limited employment or other professional activities outside of the program, but in all cases will require prior approval of both the thesis advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).

This policy is intended to ensure that the extra work or activity does not significantly deter from the focus on thesis work so as not to prolong time to degree, and that the extra work or activity is sufficiently distinct from work already supported by the fellowship.  This policy is modeled on the stipulations of the NIH policies for trainees, and applies to all students in our program regardless of whether the individual's stipend is provided by an NIH source and is designed to ensure equal treatment for all students regardless of their funding source.  The DGS may consult the student's thesis committee and/or the graduate committee in making the evaluation and decision.

We note that such permission is also required for compensated Columbia “fellowship” programs such as those offered via Columbia Technology Ventures (CTV), the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).  

First-year students may not have any outside employment/compensation.

Purely voluntary opportunities, such as community service and outreach, are permitted and do not require permission.

Failure to obtain permission from a DGS and thesis advisor for financially compensated employment or professional activities outside of the program may lead to a loss of good academic standing in the program and potential placement on probation or other disciplinary action.  

If in doubt about whether an activity may be in conflict with department policy, please consult a DGS.


Policy on enrollment in courses that are not on the pre-approved course list

Any course included in the pre-approved course list used for electives may be taken without prior approval.

Enrollment in courses that do not advance training in Biological Sciences or the area of thesis research is discouraged.   However, a student may be permitted to enroll in other classes if they receive prior approval of both their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).  Decisions will be made based on the strength of the academic performance in program courses and the assessment of research performance progress towards degree.  It is anticipated that students will take no more than two extraneous courses beyond fulfilling program requirements.   Failure to obtain permission from a DGS and thesis advisor for coursework that has not been pre-approved for the program may lead to a loss of good academic standing in the program and potential placement on probation or other disciplinary action.  

Please note the following GSAS policy, from   "With the sole exception of approved dual-degree programs, students may not pursue a degree in more than one Columbia program concurrently, and may not be registered in more than one degree program at any institution in the same semester. Enrollment in another degree program at Columbia or elsewhere while enrolled in a GSAS master's or doctoral program is strictly prohibited by the Graduate School. Violation of this policy will lead to the rescission of an offer of admission, or termination for a current student.”

Requirements for M.D.-Ph.D. students

In recognition of their medical school course work, M.D.-Ph.D. students are not required to take the Core series of courses. 

  1. M.D.-Ph.D. students are required to take two graduate elective courses.
  2. M.D.-Ph.D. students are required to take a bioethics/responsible conduct of research course. The course offered at the medical school or by the M.D.-Ph.D. program is acceptable. 
  3. M.D.-Ph.D. students are required to take the qualifying exam within 1.5 years of joining a lab. Often students do it earlier.
  4. M.D.-Ph.D. students are not required to be teaching assistants or to take the Scientific Writing course. 
  5. M.D.-Ph.D. students are required to fulfill all other requirements for students in the program, such as thesis committee meetings and the final thesis defense. 


Lab choice policy for first year students

A) The department expects students to do no more than three rotations before committing to a thesis lab, but we will allow a fourth rotation as a safety net if there have been no serious performance or academic issues and a mutually acceptable match has not been made.

B) Students must do at least two rotations. In order to avoid pressure to make an early decision, faculty may not accept students to their labs until May 1 of the first year.

C) All Biological Sciences faculty are part of the training program, and there are many additional faculty in the program at Columbia University Medical Center and in other departments on the Morningside campus.  The program faculty are listed here.  Presently, students are not allowed to work with faculty outside the program except as part of an equal collaboration with a member of the program. This is due to our desire to keep the program to a manageable size and to ensure the continued quality of the training our students receive.  In a few cases it has been difficult to place students in labs corresponding to their interests. We have therefore modified this policy to allow students to work in outside-the-program labs on a case-by-case basis where there are no reasonable alternatives. The requirements for working outside the program are:

i) Students may rotate and do their thesis in outside-the-program labs on a case-by-case basis when faculty matching the student's interest are not available in the program.

ii) This must be done in consultation and approval by a DGS.

iii) Only tenured faculty with a record of a graduated student will be accepted.

iv) The topic of the faculty's work should be in line with the general interests of the biological sciences program.

v) It will also be essential to first discuss with the new mentor the expected mentoring, thesis committee meetings and financial support for the student.

vi) Students must do at least two rotations in program labs before opting for approval of an outside-the-program lab.

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Business Office

Department of Biological Sciences
500 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2401
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027

Academic Office

Department of Biological Sciences
600 Fairchild Center
Mail Code 2402
Columbia University
1212 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
212 854-4581