The Ph.D. Program

Students in the Ph.D. program receive the M.A. and M.Phil degree before writing the Ph.D. dissertation. They complete the requirements for the M.A. degree in the first two or three semesters and the requirements for the M.Phil. by the end of the sixth semester. Formal requirements for each stage of the program are listed at the bottom of this page. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are normally awarded five years of financial support, including full-tuition fellowships and stipends. Fellowships are sometimes available to support research in specific areas of study. For more details, see below.


A standard program of study looks like this:


First year: All students take MDES G4000 (Theory and Methods) and additional seminars and language courses. Most students complete the course work for the M.A. degree, which requires at least thirty (30) points of MESAAS (or advisor-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level, including MDES G4000. (Most courses carry 3 or 4 credit points, so the M.A. usually requires completing 6 to 8 graduate-level courses) . They also satisfy the M.A. language requirement, by passing an examination in a MESAAS language at the intermediate level or higher or by successfully completing a two-term MESAAS language course at the intermediate level or higher with a grade of at least a B. Those who enter the Ph.D. program with a Master's degree already completed may apply for advanced standing (see below).


Second year: The M.A. thesis is submitted as early as possible in the second year, and no later than the twelfth week of the fall semester. It is defended before two faculty readers before the end of that semester. The thesis is usually about 30 to 40 pages in length, and typically emerges from a seminar paper written during the first year. An M.A. thesis course, in the form of an independent study, may be taken with the advisor. The course may count as one of the five courses necessary for fulfilling the M.A. requirement.


Students continue to take seminars in the second year and by the end of that year usually complete the course work for the M.Phil. degree, which requires at least five additional MESAAS (or advisor-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level . Language requirements for the M.Phil degree are completed by the end of the second or third year. The requirements are: High p roficiency in a first MESAAS language (usually the one used to fulfill the M.A. language requirement), proficiency in a second MESAAS language, and reading competence in a third language (a research language, meaning a modern language other than English in which there is a substantial body of scholarship in the student's field of study). High proficiency is normally achieved by a minimum of four years of coursework or the equivalent, and proficiency by a minimum of two years of coursework through the intermediate level. Reading competence is demonstrated by passing a Columbia University examination.
Teaching requirement: As a rule, in the second, third, and fourth years of study, students receive training and experience in teaching by serving as assistants to faculty in language courses and as readers or discussion-section leaders in undergraduate lecture courses.


Summer research and language study: The department encourages students to use the summers following the first, second, and third years for intensive language training and for travel abroad to make preliminary investigations of libraries, archives, and other potential research sites. Where possible it offers financial support for summer study and travel. Preliminary research trips are especially encouraged for those who plan to submit applications during their third year for external fellowships to support research abroad in the fourth year.


Third year: After completing the required course work and language training, students prepare for the M.Phil oral examination, normally taken by the end of the sixth semester. The exam is held in three areas, which are determined by the student in consultation with the three-member M.Phil committee. Reading lists are prepared by the student and each normally covers about twenty-five books or a commensurate number of articles. In contrast to the dissertation prospectus (below), which concentrates on a specific scholarly question, the reading list for an M.Phil. area covers a broader range of scholarship, encompassing the main literature and debates in a field of teaching and research. All three fields are examined on the same occasion. Students who plan to conduct research abroad in the fourth year must submit applications for external fellowships during the third year. This may require preliminary work on the dissertation prospectus during the fall, and possibly the preceding summer, at the same time as the student prepares for the M.Phil examinations.
The M.Phil. is awarded once the student has taken MDES G4000, completed a minimum of five courses with a grade of B or higher beyond the 24 credits (obtained through course work or Advanced Standing) required for the M.A. degree , satisfied the language requirements, passed the oral examination, and completed six Residence Units. (A Residence Unit is one semester of full-time study.)


Fourth year and beyond: Prior to beginning the writing of the dissertation the student submits a dissertation proposal. The proposal should be approximately twenty pages in length and is normally prepared in the sixth or seventh semester, or in the summer between those semesters. It should provide a clear statement of the scholarly problem to be addressed; a review of previous scholarship; a discussion of the student's theoretical and methodological orientation to the problem; a provisional outline of the dissertation as a whole; a plan of research, including discussion of the texts and/or archives to be consulted, research sites chosen, and a timetable; and a bibliography of two to three pages. The proposal is defended orally before at least three members of the candidate's dissertation committee. The proposal defense is open to all MESAAS faculty and students. The fourth and fifth members of the committee may be chosen at this point, or after the writing of the dissertation begins.
After researching and writing the dissertation, the student defends it before a five-member dissertation committee.


Advisor, Ph.D. faculty sponsor, and committees: The Director of Graduate Studies is the advisor for all graduate students upon entering the program. In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, each student asks an approved Ph.D. faculty sponsor in MESAAS to become the student’ s sponsor, usually by the end of the first year. A list of approved sponsors in MESAAS can be found here.
The faculty sponsor, in consultation with the student, chooses the five members of the student's dissertation defense committee. The sponsor (not the student) asks them to serve on the committee and asks one of them to chair the defense. The chair of the defense, the sponsor, and at least one other member of the committee (typically the second reader of the dissertation) must be members of MESAAS; at least one committee member must hold an appointment outside MESAAS. Rules governing the constitution of Ph.D. defense committees are set out in the GSAS website and in the Dissertation Rules published by the Dissertation Office.


Advanced Standing: Advanced standing can be granted to students who, when entering the Ph.D. program, have completed the requirements for a Master's degree, at Columbia or elsewhere, that is the academic equivalent of the MESAAS M.A. and so advances the student by one year toward the M.Phil. A maximum of two Residence Units may be applied to credit toward the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees.


Financial Aid: A comprehensive program of financial aid, including fellowships and appointments in teaching, is available to Ph.D. students. All Ph.D. students admitted to the program receive annually the prevailing stipend and appropriate tuition and health fees through the fifth year, provided that they remain in good academic standing. If students receive a year of advanced standing, they are entitled to four years of fellowship funding. The Department also offers support for travel to academic conferences and for summer research and language study.


Fellowships are sometimes available to support students in specific areas of research. The department currently offers a Ph.D. fellowship in Armenian studies (contact Professor Nanor Kebranian) and the Ambedkar Fellowship in Sanskrit Studies (contact Professor Sheldon Pollock).