Faculty Advising of the Dissertation

Early in their graduate career, students should consult with a faculty advisor or the director of graduate studies (DGS) regarding departmental procedures for securing a dissertation advisor. The responsibility for finding a willing advisor rests with the student. Securing an advisor is one of the criteria for good academic standing.

I. Dissertation Advisors

Dissertation Advisors are faculty members nominated by PhD programs and approved by the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to guide dissertation research. Advisors must be involved on a continuing basis in doctoral instruction and research at Columbia. Faculty may supervise dissertations in their own department and in any other department in which they have been designated as approved dissertation advisors. Please see a list of the responsibilities and expectations for dissertation Advisors.

Students may arrange to have two Columbia faculty members co-advise the dissertation, as long as both faculty members agree to the arrangement. The department should mark the Third examiner is a dissertation co-advisor checkbox on the Application for the Dissertation Defense prior to submitting to the Dissertation Office ([email protected]) for review. Departmental policy determines whether non-tenured faculty on the tenure track must co-advise a dissertation with a tenured faculty member. Emeriti professors may not supervise new dissertations but may be nominated to participate in defense committees as Readers (see below). Please consult the Approved Dissertation Advisors page for a list of Advisors by program. 

Columbia does not permit co-tutelles, an arrangement whereby a student receives doctoral degrees from two institutions simultaneously. However, Columbia faculty may serve on dissertation committees for students in other institutions; they may also serve as co-advisors of the dissertation if the internal rules of the other university allow it. In such instances, the single degree would be issued by the other institution.

Advisor Eligibility and Nomination

Nominations for new Advisors are initiated by departments or programs. Full-time tenured and non-tenured faculty who hold an appointment at Columbia are nominated by the chair or DGS of the department or program in which the nominee holds a full-time appointment or where the department or program wishes to grant dissertation Advisor status. The nomination procedures for each faculty category are listed below:

Tenured or tenure-track faculty advisors: The department or program chair or DGS nominates tenured or tenure-track faculty by providing the curriculum vitae of the individual to the Office of the Dean ([email protected]), after which GSAS will produce a formal Advisor appointment letter for the nominee.

Non-tenure-track faculty advisors: The department or program chair or DGS may nominate non-tenure-track faculty by providing a letter of nomination and curriculum vitae of the individual to the Office of the Dean ([email protected]), after which GSAS will produce a formal Advisor appointment letter to the nominee. The nomination letter for non-tenure track faculty should contain the following:

  • A statement about whether approval is requested on a continuing basis or for a single dissertation, in which case the student's name should be noted.
  • Indication of the substantive field(s) in which the faculty member will be expected to supervise dissertations
  • Evidence that the proposed Advisor has the requisite scholarly qualifications to guide dissertation research in these field(s) areas
  • Indication that the nominee is substantially involved on a continuing basis in graduate education and research

Adjunct faculty Advisors: Adjunct faculty are eligible to serve as Co-Advisors, provided that a full-time Columbia faculty member serves as the primary Advisor. This co-advisorship provision reflects the GSAS Executive Committee's conviction that Columbia University dissertations should be advised or co-advised by approved full-time faculty members. Adjunct faculty are nominated as Advisors using the process outlined above for non-tenure-track faculty.

II. Dissertation Readers

Dissertation Readers are faculty members who have been approved as dissertation Advisors, and who are nominated ad-hoc by PhD programs and approved by the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to participate in a given dissertation defense.  All members of a dissertation defense committee must be approved dissertation Advisors or Readers.  Faculty from outside Columbia may be nominated to serve as Readers in dissertation defenses through the process described below.

Readers from outside the department or program: At least one (but preferably two) of the five members of the defense committee must be an outside Reader, defined as:

  1. a faculty member, clinician, or practitioner who holds a position at another university or research institution
  2. a full-time faculty member at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program
  3. a research scientist at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program
  4. an adjunct professor at Columbia University outside the student's own department or program
  5. a full-time faculty member whose appointment is at Barnard College, Jewish Theological Seminary, Teachers College, or Union Theological Seminary
  6. a full-time faculty member in the student's interdisciplinary program whose field is outside of the student's dissertation field.

Readers for a given dissertation defense committee are nominated by the department or program chair in consultation with the Advisor or DGS. When submitting the Application for Dissertation Defense to the Dissertation Office ([email protected]), the department or program provides the dissertation officer with evidence of the outside Reader's qualifications, usually a curriculum vitae, for review and approval by the Dean's Office.  This requirement applies only to Readers from outside Columbia/Barnard.

Final approval of the members of a dissertation defense committee rests with the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. When proposing defense committee members who: have not been previously approved to serve on a defense committee;  who do not have a Columbia affiliation; who do not serve at Columbia in an adjunct capacity, and/or who do not hold a PhD degree, programs must submit to GSAS a copy of their curriculum vitae together with the Application for Dissertation Defense.

III. Removal of Advisor Designation and Departing Advisors

Programs may decide to remove a faculty member from their list of approved dissertation Advisors. Such decisions should be communicated to the Office of the Dean, along with the date when the removal should become effective. An Advisor who leaves the university may continue to advise dissertations that were in course at the time of his or her departure and may continue to serve as Reader on committees that were previously arranged.