Biological Sciences Columbia University
Prospective Students
Admission Requirements
Frequently Asked Questions
Financial Aid
Contact Us
Apply Now
Current Students
Graduate Student Handbook
Ph.D. Requirements
Pre-research Seminars
Department Resources
Columbia Resources
Student Directory
Incoming Class
Previous Classes
Graduate Student Handbook - Academic Pursuits

Graduate Student Handbook

First Year Activities
Research Sponsor
Thesis Committee Formation
English Placement Test

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 not allowed to hold additional jobs.

First Year Activities

A. Courses and seminars - New students must take the two semester Core sequence (G6001-6002-6003) and Pre-Research seminars (G9301). Students are encouraged to begin their elective courses as well (two approved graduate level courses are required).

B. 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 GSAS has created a website with useful teaching resources .

C. Laboratory rotations- Students are encouraged to engage in laboratory research. 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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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 the end of the Fall semester of the third 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.
Back to Top

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.