Qualifying Exams, Dissertation, and Teaching Assistantship

Qualifying Exams

Dissertation and Advisor

Early Research Experiences

Teaching Assistantship (TA)


Qualifying Exams

At the end of their first-year, in mid-June, doctoral students take a pair of qualifying exams. These exams must be passed in order to continue in the PhD program.  There is one 4-hour exam in each of the core areas:  (1) optimization and (2) stochastic models.  The core courses prepare the students for the qualifying exams. In cases where the exam is partially passed, or completely failed, the student will typically be given a second chance at taking the qualifying exam(s), along with additional remedial action.

Dissertation and Advisor

Your primary goal at Columbia should be to engage in new and interesting research, resulting in published papers and a doctoral dissertation (thesis).  A key step toward this goal is finding a thesis advisor.  Your dissertation is primarily your responsibility, but of course this is usually a joint project with your advisor.

You should not rush into making a decision about a thesis advisor, but you do want to be thinking about it from the very beginning.  Unlike some academic departments, by design, we avoid making explicit matching at the beginning.   You should use your first year to explore interests; and even after picking an initial topic you should allow for the possibility of changing your mind about what area to work in. You want to discover what faculty members inspire you and carry out research of interest to you.  We provide a wide array of possibilities.

Over the first two years you want to narrow down your interests, and determine the areas you want to concentrate on.  You do not need to rush into any decisions; during your second year, you should start doing some exploratory research.

Early Research Experiences

The first year course work is so intense that there usually is not much time to actually start doing research.  Thus many students start doing research after the qualifying exams in their first summer, although of course you may happen to get involved in early research experiences, which do not entail any long-term commitment.  Doctoral students might do several research projects with different faculty during their time at Columbia, even though usually only one faculty member (or sometimes two) will direct the thesis. 
The IEOR Department may provide summer support to doctoral students to engage in research.  Some students will return home in the summer and others will do industrial internships, but the possibility to stay and conduct research exists.  This past summer the department supported all doctoral students that wanted to stay and do research.  Some students served as TA's for summer courses.

Teaching Assistantship (TA)

Many doctoral students will serve as Teaching Assistants (TA).  Doctoral students are matched with Departmental needs while taking into consideration the students' interests.  The course instructor and TA will collaborate on pedagogical needs and administration of the course.

If the student has particular requests, please submit your preferences to info@ieor.columbia.edu.  Teaching is taken very seriously in the IEOR Department.   The performance of TA, just like the performance of the faculty, is evaluated by the students in the course.  The evaluations will be shared with the TA at the end of the term.


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