Ph.D. Advising and Evaluation


A member of the doctoral committee is responsible for advising all M.S./Ph.D. and Ph.D. students in their first year of study, and making sure that all the prerequisites are met and required courses are taken. At the beginning of their second year, students pair up with a faculty adviser (not necessarily their dissertation adviser) to gain experience in research. By the beginning of a student's third year (or earlier) it is expected that the student will have found a dissertation advisor to guide the student.

Periodic Reviews

Doctoral student performance is reviewed by the doctoral program committee at the end of each semester during the first two years and at the end of each year thereafter. During the first year, attention is focused on the student's performance in course work, particularly the four required core courses. Doctoral students are held to the highest expectations; any grade below A- is a cause for concern. After each semester during the first two years, the faculty will give the doctoral students constructive feedback on their performance.

Qualifying Procedure

The qualifying procedure for PhD students consists of three components:

1) Complete the four PhD core courses during the first year, with at most one grade of B+ or worse;

2) Conduct research during the first summer, and give a talk based on this research at the beginning of the third semester;

3) Submit a research report (paper) at the end of the third semester.

The students will be reviewed by the PhD committee after each of the three components. A student who fails to complete component (1) may be asked to withdraw from the PhD program at the end of the first year.

A student who successfully completes component (1) will typically move on to do summer research, advised by a faculty member in the department. In the rare instance the PhD Committee is not satisfied with a student's performance in components (2) and (3), they may be asked to withdraw from the program at the end of the second year.


After successfully completing the qualifying procedure, a student is considered by the faculty to be qualified to complete the doctoral program. However, due to the limited resources, support beyond a fourth year may not be possible. The departmental faculty is committed to guiding and assisting students to complete the program within the time given.

Thesis Adviser

The ultimate goal for the student in the doctoral program is to write the doctoral dissertation in collaboration with a faculty adviser. By the end of the second year or early in the third year, each doctoral student should find a doctoral adviser, who assumes primary responsibility for advisement and evaluation. However, the entire faculty will continue to monitor each student's progress, and other faculty members will be available to give advice. For most doctoral students, the most critical step in their doctoral program is finding a faculty dissertation adviser. Collaboration between the student and faculty adviser is critical to the successful completion of the program. At times, students may conduct research with more than one faculty member. Students are encouraged to interact with a broad range of faculty and students in the Columbia research community members.

Dissertation Defense and Department Colloquium

After the dissertation has been completed (at the end of the fourth year), the student defends the dissertation before a small faculty committee following University guidelines. The student distributes the dissertation to the defense committee in advance. There are high standards for the dissertation defense; technical errors and sloppy writing causes major setbacks. Creativity and good workmanship are appreciated. At the time of the dissertation defense, the student should also give a seminar for the department.

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