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 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 here. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are normally awarded five years of financial support, including full-tuition fellowships and stipends. Ph.D. students are expected to apply for both internal and external grants (grant writing is one of the topics covered in the MESAAS Research Colloquium taken by all graduate students, MDES GR6008). 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: First year: All students are required to take MDES GR5000 (Theory and Methods 1: Politics, Economy, and Society), offered in fall semester, and MDES GR5001 (Theory and Methods 2: Literature and Textuality), offered in spring semester. In consultation with the DGS, they design a program of additional seminars and language courses, completing most of the course work required for the M.A. degree. 30 points of MESAAS (or DGS-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level are mandated, including MDES GR5000, MDES GR5001, and MDES GR6008. (Most courses carry 4 credit points, so the M.A. usually requires completing 8 graduate-level courses, including the first semester of the 2-point MESAAS research curriculum, MDES GR6008) with a grade of at least a B (generally only A grades, however, signal strong academic performance). They also satisfy the M.A. language requirement by successfully completing a two-term MESAAS language course at the intermediate level or higher with a grade of at least a B or by passing an equivalent examination. Those who enter the Ph.D. program already having completed graduate course work may apply for transfer credit, although it is often advisable to take as many courses with MESAAS faculty as possible.

By the end of their first year, most PhD students have established a working relationship with a faculty sponsor. During the summer after their first year, students are expected to make significant progress on their MA thesis, in consultation with their sponsor.

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 (the advisor and one additional) before the end of that semester. The first reader must be a member of the department. The thesis is usually about 30 to 40 pages in length (the size of a typical journal article), and often builds on a seminar paper written during the first year. There are no grades for the M.A. thesis. Students are awarded either a “pass” or a “fail” on the strength of the written work and an oral defense. For students in the Ph.D. program, a pass may be awarded either with or without permission to continue to the M.Phil. A truly exceptional MA thesis, one considered to be of publishable quality, may be recommended for “distinction”. A digital copy of the thesis is to be deposited in the department.

All second-year students enroll in MDES GR6008, the MESAAS research colloquium for second and third-year students. The colloquium provides a forum for peer discussion of the M.A. thesis, although the principal academic guidance comes from the thesis advisor. Some students take a supervised readings course to allow more intensive work on the thesis.

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 four additional MESAAS (or advisor-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level. At least two-thirds of the courses required for the MA and M.Phil. must be MESAAS courses. Exceptions to this rule, which are rarely made, must be approved by both the advisor and DGS.

Language requirements for the M.Phil. degree are completed by the end of the second or third year. The dissertation sponsor is free to set higher standards, depending on the student’s field and project, but the minimum requirements are: High proficiency 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 completing a fourth-year language course or the equivalent, and proficiency by completing coursework at the intermediate (second-year) level. Reading competence is demonstrated by taking a proficiency exam, or the rapid readings and translation course (or equivalent) offered by other Columbia language departments.

By the end of the second year students are expected to have a dissertation sponsor to be considered in good academic standing. They should also be well on the way toward conceptualizing the principal foci of their M.Phil. reading lists. They should reach out to potential examiners to begin planning their lists. At least two of the three examiners should be members of MESAAS.


Departmental responsibilities and contributing to the intellectual collective

Teaching requirement: Beginning in the second year, students receive training and experience in teaching by serving as Teaching Fellows to assist faculty in undergraduate classes. The five-year Ph.D. fellowship includes three years in the position of Teaching Fellow. The timeline may vary depending on field research and external fellowships, but most students serve as Teaching Fellows in their second and third year, and in their fourth or fifth year.

Departmental colloquia: On select Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. throughout the academic year a departmental colloquium is held, in which MESAAS faculty (and sometimes scholars doing related work from other departments or universities) present their current research. The papers are circulated in advance. Other colloquia (including MDES GR6008, MDES GR8008, but also less formal meetings and workshops, which are not taken for credit, as well as the annual MESAAS graduate student conference) are dedicated to the intellectual development of the MESAAS community. Most of these are listed on the events page of the website. Graduate students are expected to attend departmental colloquia regularly and to contribute to the intellectual life of the department.

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. Preliminary research trips are especially intended to aid students in completing their M.A. thesis research (for first-year students), preparing for their grant applications (deadlines are typically the fall of the third year but some are earlier), and drafting their dissertation prospectus.

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 (see 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 continue to take the research colloquium, MDES GR6008, developing grant proposals and/or the dissertation prospectus. Those who plan to conduct research abroad in the fourth year must submit applications for external fellowships by the third year, and sometimes earlier. This may require preliminary work on the prospectus during the fall, and possibly the preceding summer, at the same time as preparation for the M.Phil. examinations.

The M.Phil. is awarded once the student has taken MDES GR5000, MDES GR5001, two semesters of MDES GR6008, completed a minimum of four courses with a grade of B or higher beyond the 30 points (obtained through course work or Advanced Standing) required for the M.A. degree, satisfied the three language requirements, passed the oral examination, and completed six Residence Units. (A Residence Unit is one semester of full-time study.)

Prior to beginning the writing of the dissertation the student submits a dissertation prospectus, generally by the end of their third year. Approximately 20-30 pages in length, the prospectus is defended before at least three members of the Ph.D. committee, usually within one month (and not more than six months) of completing the M.Phil. 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 fourth and fifth members of the committee may be chosen at this point, or at a later stage of the dissertation process.

Fourth year and beyond: After defending the dissertation prospectus, students pursue their research, often in the archives located in MESAAS regions (and, ideally, with the support of external fellowships). They also establish a timeline for the completion of their dissertation chapters. It is important to develop a regular schedule for writing, and to stay in close contact with the dissertation sponsor throughout the writing process.

All post M.Phil. students who are in residence are expected to enroll in the MESAAS Dissertation Colloquium, MDES GR8000, a non-credit course that supports the writing of the dissertation. It provides a forum in which the entire community of MESAAS dissertation writers meets, bridging the department's different fields and regions of research and serving as a valuable forum for feedback. The colloquium convenes regularly, on a schedule that is drawn up at the start of every term, with the oversight of the faculty sponsor(s). Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of one or two pre-circulated pieces of work (usually a dissertation chapter). Every participant contributes at least one piece of work each year. All share in the process of peer review.

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. 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 (i.e., at least 3 MESAAS faculty members serve on a student’s dissertation committee); at least one committee member must hold an appointment outside MESAAS. Rules governing the constitution of the committee and the deadline for distributing the dissertation to its members are specified in the Dissertation Rules published by the GSAS Dissertation Office. Students should familiarize themselves thoroughly with the dissertation regulations and deadlines well in advance of their defense date.

Transfer Credit: Transfer Credit can be granted to students who have completed relevant graduate-level coursework elsewhere. Student are advised to go to the Transfer Credit webpage on the GSAS website for further information.

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, summer research support, 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. Students who regularly participate in the department colloquia and contribute generously to peer review are typically given preferential consideration for such funding.

Fellowships are sometimes available to support students in specific areas of research. The department currently offers a Ph.D. fellowship in Armenian studies (contact the DGS for further details).