Students prepare for qualifying examinations and dissertation research by judicious selection of required and elective coursework at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and in other divisions of the University. Course selection for individual students is at the discretion of the Training Committee and the Dissertation Research Advisory Committee (DRAC).

  • First-year students take advanced courses and seminars in nutrition and molecular biology, elective courses, begin laboratory work, and explore research opportunities for their dissertation topics.
  • Second-year students participate in research and seminars, have an initial meeting with their DRAC, complete the Qualifying Examination, and may take additional courses if desired.
  • Third-year and on going students meet once or twice a year with their DRAC in anticipation of preparation and submission of the dissertation. Ideally, at the end of the fifth or sixth year the research is completed and the dissertation is defended and deposited with the University.
  • Electives may be taken at any time, usually after the first year in the program. The selection of courses should be based on the student’s research interests and career goals, or to fill deficits in their background. Elective courses are offered in the following departments: Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Biostatistics, Genetics and Development, Microbiology, Pathology and Cell Biology, Pharmacology, Physiology and Cellular Biophysics, and Psychology.

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Pathway to the PhD

Year 1

  • Complete coursework as determined by the NMB-TC
  • Become familiar with training faculty’s research
  • Participate in three laboratory rotations
  • Select thesis mentor

Year 2

  • Select the Qualifying Examination Committee (by mid-spring of the second year at the latest)
  • Complete the Qualifying Examination (by June 30 of the second year)
  • Select the Dissertation Research Advisory Committee (DRAC), often but not necessarily the same as the Qualifying Committee
  • Receipt of the MA degree
  • Conduct dissertation research

Years 3+

  • Receipt of the MPhil degree
  • Participate in required academic activities, such as the Student Seminar Series
  • Conduct dissertation research
  • Regular (minimum yearly) meetings with the student’s DRAC
  • Schedule and meet with DRAC about four to six months before the projected defense date
  • Submit thesis draft (acceptable to mentor and to a designated reader)
  • Select Dissertation Defense Committee (usually includes some members of the DRAC)
  • Set defense date
  • Submit thesis to the Defense Committee four weeks in advance of defense date
  • Defend thesis
  • Revise thesis, if needed
  • Submit final thesis to the Dissertation Office