Ph.D. Requirements

Ph.D. Program
Current Students

Introduction

The Ph.D. Program in Biological Sciences can be described in terms of 4 components: course work, qualifying examinations, teaching, and research. For further treatment of this topic consult the Graduate Student Handbook.
 

For students entering in Fall 2018 and after
Course Work:

The curriculum and required courses have been revised to give students greater flexibility in designing a program that fits their interests in specific fields they choose to focus on, while maintaining breadth in biological sciences training.

Four distinct “tiers” (T1-T4) define the requirements of the curriculum: Tier 1 contains all of the requirements that are not regular science courses and that must be taken at the specified times; Tier 2 consists of core departmental courses for PhD students; Tier 3 consists of foundational courses in biology topics; Tier 4 are the electives. A total of 28 points, for all four tiers combined, are required as described below. It is recommended to take all courses in the first two years, however up to two electives may be taken later. All coursework must absolutely be completed by the spring of the 4th year, per GSAS rules. The T1-T3 courses are listed below and along with T4 at this link

                                                                                          

T1 – Courses required for all students (7 points out of 28 total required)

Boot camp on R/Statistics (no credit, first four days of fall semester 1st year)

BIOL GR9301 Pre-research Seminar (3 pts; fall semester of 1st year)

BIET K4450 Research Ethics (2 pts; fall of 2nd year)

BIOL GR6300 Writing for the Biological Sciences (2 pts; spring of 2nd year)

T2 – Biology core courses (two required)

BIOL GU4001 Advanced Genetic Analysis (3 pts, fall)

BIOL GR6002 Section 1: Gene Expression (2 pts, fall; half semester course)

BIOL GR6002 Section 2: Thermodynamics (2 pts, fall; half semester course)

            (BIOC GU4323 Biophysical Chemistry I can be substituted for GR6002)

BIOL GR6003 Section 1: Structural Biology (2 pts, spring; half semester course)

BIOL GR6003 Section 2: Cell Biology (2 pts, spring; half semester course)

BIOL GU4510 Genomics of Gene Regulation, (3pts, spring, not offered 2018-19)

T3 – Other foundational courses in biology (two required)

Any Tier 2 course

BIOL GR6201   Advanced Genetics and Development (3 pts; fall, odd years)

BIOL GU4799 Molecular Biology of Cancer (3 pts; spring)

BIOC GU4323 Biophysical Chemistry I (4 pts; fall)

BIOC GU4324 Biophysical Chemistry II (4 pts; spring)

BIOL GU4035 Seminar in Epigenetics (3 pts; spring)

NBHV GU4340 Survey of Neuroscience (3 pts; fall)

BIOL GR6005 Neurobiology II (3 pts; spring)

BIOT GU6560 Human Evolutionary Genetics (4 pts, spring, even years)

BIOL GR4570 Readings in Human Genetics (3 pts, spring, odd years)

BIOL GR4080 Ancient and Modern RNA Worlds (3 pts, spring)

BINF GR4017 Deep Sequencing (3 pts, fall)

BIOL GU4600 Cell Signaling (3 pts, fall)

BCHM G6300 Biochemistry Cellular and Molecular Biology I (4.5 pts, fall)

BCHM G6301 Biochemistry Cellular and Molecular Biology II (4.5 pts, spring)

(You may ask a DGS whether other courses would qualify)

T4 – Electives

Students will have to take electives up to a minimum of 28 points for all four tiers combined. Any of the courses listed under tier 2 or tier 3 can also serve as an elective, i.e. if a third course from Tier 2 or Tier 3 is taken, it will be considered an elective. These and other courses are listed at this link. Generally up to two courses not directly related to biological sciences, such as computer science, are allowed. You can check with a DGS for approval of courses not on the lists.

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.

Mathematics: Students must take the equivalent of two semesters of college-level math (Statistics and/or Calculus) if it was not taken previously. Students who have not fulfilled this requirement prior to enrollment are required to make up those undergraduate courses. Students may take more advanced mathematics, statistics or computer science courses as Tier 4 electives as needed to support their specific research interests.

Departmental Seminars: Attendance at the weekly Departmental colloquium (outside speakers) is strongly recommended. Seminars are usually held Mondays and Wednesdays at noon in Room 601 Fairchild.

Grade Requirements: 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 and the course will not count towards satisfying a Tier 2 or 3 requirement, i.e. a student will be required to take another course in the same Tier and achieve a grade of B or better to satisfy the Tier requirement.  A course in which a B- was received may count towards the 28 points if an average of B or higher in coursework is maintained. A grade of B- or below in two classes will result in academic probation, with specific conditions of the probation period to be provided by a DGS. An additional failure (grade of B- or below) is grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. program. 

After the first year, no more than one of the elective courses may have a grade of "B" and the average must be "B" or higher.  A grade of C+ or below is considered to be failing, no matter whether the average for electives is a B.

 

For students entering before Fall 2018
Course Work:

  • The Core Course in cell and molecular biology (G6001 - G6002 - G6003). Two semesters of this intensive course (in six to seven half-semester modules) cover genetics, molecular biology, cell biology, developmental biology, structural biochemistry, neurobiology, immunology, and computational biology.
  • Pre-research Seminars (G9301): Faculty describe and discuss their current research.
  • Ethics: discussions on the conduct of science. Starting in 2010-2011, Research Ethics is offered in the Fall semester: BIOETHICS K4450 Research Ethics
  • Students must take the equivalent of two semesters of college-level math (Statistics and/or Calculus) if it was not taken previously. Students who have not fulfilled this requirement prior to enrollment are required to make up those undergraduate courses. Students may take more advanced mathematics, statistics or computer science courses as electives as needed to support their specific research interests.
  • Attendance at the weekly Departmental colloquium (outside speakers) is required. Seminars are usually held Mondays and Wednesdays at noon in Room 700 Fairchild.
  • 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. 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.

Qualifying Exams 

Qualifying Exam Part I: Successful completion of the Core Course sequence.(G6001, G6002, G6003).
Qualifying Exam Part II: a written research proposal describing an intended thesis project (~10 double-spaced pages) followed by an oral defense before a 2-person faculty committee. This exam may take place during the Spring semester of the second year. It must be completed by June 30th during of the summer of the second year, Qualifying Exam Part II Form

Teaching 

Experience in teaching is deemed an important and essential part of Ph.D. training. Two semesters are required for most students. Assignments include leading a recitation section and supervising a laboratory section. Extra credit is given for more demanding assignments. Students are given a short workshop in teaching technique at the start of this training. More information on teaching can be found in the Graduate Student Handbook. Here is a list of TA jobs available for Graduate Students. (Read more.)

Research 

Research constitutes the single most important component of the training program. Laboratory rotations begin in the first semester of the first year. Two or three rotations are strongly encouraged, but not required. A rotation period constitutes either an entire semester (i.e., Fall or Spring Semester) or the Summer term of the first academic year (i.e., mid-May to September). Thus, by the start of the second year, students will have settled into laboratories for their thesis research.
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Student Advisory Committees 

Starting in the second year (spring semester) or the fall semester of the third year, each student meets with an advisory committee consisting of their research sponsor plus two other faculty. This committee stays with the student until the completion of the program, the defense of the thesis.

Time to Degree 

First Year

Fall

Core I class - BIOL GU4001 (or GR6001 Genetics in 2016), GR6002 sections 1 and 2
Pre-research seminar - BIOL G9301
Rotation 1
Bioethics (BIET) K4450 Research Ethics (recommended to complete in the second year) 
1st Residence Unit (call #99991)

Spring

Core II class - Biol GR6003 (with GU4001, GR6002 1&2 and Genomics completes Qualifying Exam 1)
BIOL W4510 Genomics of Gene Regulation 
Rotation 2
Elective (1 of 2)
2nd Residence Unit (call #99991)

Summer

Statistics or Calculus if not completed in previous institution
Rotation 3 (if needed) or Research in permanent lab

Second Year

Fall

Elective (2 of 2)
Teaching (1 of 2)
Research
Bioethics (BIET) K4450 Research Ethics (recommended to complete in the second year) 
3rd Residence Unit (call #99991)

Spring

BIOL GR6300 Writing for the Biological Sciences
Elective (if needed)
Teaching (2 of 2, must be completed by the end of the third year)
Research
4th Residence Unit (call #99991)
Qualifying Exam 2 - link to form - must be completed by June 30th during of the summer of the second year

Apply for MA degree - link to application 
Students must complete the Masters Degree requirements by the end of the Second Year.

Summer

Research

Third Year

Fall

Complete Electives (if needed)
Research
5th Residence Unit (call #99991)

Spring

Complete Electives (if needed)
Research
6th and last Residence Unit (call #99991)

Annual Committee Meeting - link to form

Apply for MPhil degree - link to program checklist - link to GSAS application 
Students must complete the Masters of Philosophy requirements by the end of the Fourth Year.

Summer

Research

Fourth Year

Fall, Spring

Research
4th year Student Seminars -- Fridays 5 pm, Room 700 Fairchild: Sign up for the date of your talk with the Bio Social Hour committee
Extended Residence Unit (call #77771)
Annual Committee Meeting - link to form

Apply for MPhil degree - link to program checklist - link to GSAS application 
Students must complete the Masters of Philosophy requirements by the end of the Fourth Year.

Summer

Research

Fifth Year & Beyond

Fall, Spring

Research
Extended Residence Unit (call #77771)
Committee Meeting every 6 months - link to form

Summer

Research

Planning for Dissertation Defense 

Apply for Dissertation Defense - link to application - submit to Program Manager at least 1 month in advance of the planned defense date
Distribute Dissertation to Committee Members 
Thesis Defense
Deposit Thesis

Departmental Retreat

Every other year, the entire department spends a weekend in the mountains discussing research projects. The most recent Mini-Symposium Retreat took place in October 2015 at HNA Palisades Conference Center, in September 2017 it will be held at the IBM Learning Center

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
biology@columbia.edu
212 854-4581