The MESAAS graduate program is small enough that guidance about programs of study, academic life in the department, and professional development as a scholar comes largely through individual meetings with the Director of Graduate Studies, the advisor and other faculty members, rather than through information on this website. These pages provide resources to supplement those meetings.
Academic Advising and Program of Study
Advising: The Director of Graduate Studies is the advisor for all graduate students when they enter the program. Students go on to choose a faculty member as their advisor, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, often by the end of their second semester and no later than the end of their third semester. For students in the free-standing M.A. program the advisor typically serves as the supervisor of the master’s thesis. For those in the Ph.D. program the advisor becomes the supervisor of the Ph.D. dissertation, and is formally known as the Ph.D. faculty sponsor. A list of approved sponsors in MESAAS can be found here.
Programs: The descriptions of the free-standing M.A. program and the Ph.D. program outline the normal stages of progress towards a MESAAS degree. Note that some students advance more quickly and that students in the Ph.D. program should avoid dropping to the minimal standard of satisfactory progress set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). The formal requirements for both degrees should be read in conjunction with the regulations in the GSAS website.
To schedule the completion of each stage of the program (the M.A. thesis defense, the M.Phil. Examination, and the defense of the Ph.D. prospectus) the student must submit a form to the Director of Academic Administration and Finance. The form should be submitted at least one month before the defense or exam. Copies of the forms can be accessed from the list in the sidebar on the right. To register for the defense of the Ph.D. dissertation, students must follow the procedures of the GSAS Dissertation Office.
Academic Progress: Students should review their progress towards completing the program requirements with their advisor at least once each semester. In addition, those in the Ph.D. program, beginning in their second year, must file online at the start of every spring semester the Report on Progress in Candidacy in the Doctoral Program, and discuss the report with the advisor. If a prolonged medical condition or other serious circumstance makes it impossible to maintain satisfactory progress, Ph.D. students should apply for a leave of absence so that the GSAS clock that counts time-to-degree and eligibility for fellowships can be temporarily stopped.
Fellowship support for Ph.D. students is contingent upon making satisfactory academic progress. The faculty reviews all Ph.D. students each spring to assess their academic performance, contribution as teaching fellows, participation in departmental intellectual life, and progress towards completing the M.A., M.Phil., or dissertation. Where there are concerns, the faculty asks the student’s advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies to discuss them with the student. In those rare cases where progress does not meet minimum requirements, in particular if a student has more than two incompletes or a grade lower than B-, or is failing to complete other requirements for the degree, the faculty, after consulting with the advisor, will consider whether to terminate the fellowship.
Research forums: Course work, exams, and other formal requirements represent one part of the graduate student academic program in MESAAS. Of equal importance is participation in the Departmental Colloquium and other research forums and conferences sponsored by MESAAS and related departments and institutes. Described on the Events page, these forums are the core of the department’s collective intellectual life. Post-M.Phil. students are encouraged to present a research paper or dissertation chapter at least once a semester in a Columbia seminar, colloquium, or conference.
Spaces: Students who have completed the M.Phil. can request individual study spaces, either in Room 518 in Knox Hall or in Butler Library. Priority is given to certain requests, including those from students returning from a period of research abroad in the case of the Knox Hall spaces. Requests should be submitted in June, using the downloadable form, for study spaces available from September 1. Shared office spaces are also available for teaching fellows, and these offices contain a number of individual storage lockers. All students are encouraged to use the reading room and common room on the fourth floor of Knox and to share the complimentary coffee and tea. Several other Columbia libraries offer pleasant places to work, including Burke Library, which faces the department offices in Knox Hall across the tree-lined interior quadrangle, accessible from the first floor of Knox.
Who Does What: In general, academic questions should be discussed with the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, and administrative issues with the Director of Academic Administration and Finance, Jessica Rechtschaffer. The administrative staff also includes two full-time Administrative Assistants, Michael Fishman and Charles Jester, and a number of part-time student aides. If help is needed at the level of the Graduate School, the GSAS directory provides contact information and describes the role of each office.
The Graduate Student Representatives (see sidebar), elected annually by the MESAAS graduate student body, represent the views and concerns of students at meetings of the department faculty. They also take the lead in organizing social events, for which modest departmental funds are available.
Teaching, Research, Professional Conduct
Teaching: Ph.D. students receive training and experience for their future careers in university teaching by serving as teaching fellows. Please see our teaching fellowship policy here. To prepare for teaching, students should attend the series of workshops offered by the GSAS Center for Teaching and explore the Center’s online resources. The workshops can be taken during the first year in the graduate program and repeated, if necessary, in following years. MESAAS occasionally supplements these sessions with its own specialized workshops. The Graduate School Events Calendar lists all GSAS workshops and information sessions.
Students who will be serving as teaching fellows in language classes should also take advantage of the specialist training in language pedagogy offered by the Language Resource Center. MESAAS may supplement the LRC program with its own training session held in the week before the start of classes.
In their first year, students in the Ph.D. program receive a Faculty Fellowship, which carries no teaching responsibilities. In three of the following four years they serve as teaching fellows, and may receive further Teaching Fellowships for a sixth and sometimes a seventh year. After completing the M.Phil., students can apply for the one-year Dissertation Fellowship, which carries no teaching duties and is intended to support the research and writing of the dissertation. Post-M.Phil students can also apply for a Preceptorship, which involves teaching a section of Literature Humanities or Contemporary Civilization in the Columbia Core Curriculum .
Each year in February, students submit a form, available here, indicating which fellowship they plan to request for the following year and listing any preferences in teaching assignments. If plans change, for example due to the award of an external fellowship, students should inform the department immediately, since several other students may be affected by any reassignments that have to be made. Last-minute changes of plan (requests made after May 31) can be accommodated only if there are unforeseen and compelling reasons.
Teaching fellows should be available during the week before classes begin, to meet with the instructor and help prepare teaching materials and course websites. They may be entitled to desk copies of any books required for the course. It is the responsibility of the teaching fellow (in consultation with the instructor) to order these copies from the publishers, who may take several weeks to supply them. The form for requesting desk copies can be downloaded here.
Research: Training in research methods and sources begins in seminars taken with the student’s advisor and other faculty. However, many other resources are available at Columbia, starting with the specialist librarians and collections in African, South Asian, and Middle East and Islamic studies. Bibliographic software such as Endnote is available free of charge from Columbia University Information Technology. The online Citation Guide from The Chicago Manual of Style offers a list of basic rules of citation.
Fellowships and Travel Awards
MESAAS and the Graduate School endeavor to ensure that students in the Ph.D. program are fully supported during the time it takes to complete the degree. The support includes the initial five-year fellowship, possible sixth- and seventh-year teaching fellowships, the Lead Teaching Fellows Program, Whiting Foundation and International Travel fellowships, Core Curriculum Preceptorships, summer fellowships, and funds for travel to conferences and professional meetings, all of which are described below. Students are expected to supplement Columbia support with external fellowships.
External fellowships: Developing grant-writing skills is essential to successful academic life (some guidance is provided in MDES GR6008). Outside fellowships secure you increased stipends and release from teaching duties. They are also a mark of intellectual distinction. Each spring, Ph.D. students list their external grant applications in the GSAS Report on Progress in Candidacy in the Doctoral Program and in the MESAAS Application for Teaching Fellowships. The policy on combining external awards with Columbia fellowships is explained on the GSAS External Fellowships page, where there is also a searchable database of external fellowships, and information about Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships.
Columbia fellowships: Doctoral students can supplement or extend the five-year GSAS fellowship with a number of other Columbia fellowships that provide a semester, a year, or two years of support. These include the Columbia University International Travel Fellowship, the Whiting Foundation Fellowship, the Core Curriculum Preceptorship, the Lead Teaching Fellowship, and Instructorships in the Undergraduate Writing Program. Application deadlines for these fellowships vary, and may be as early as November. Application forms for the International Travel and Whiting Fellowships are available from the GSAS Financial Aid Office here. Students are not eligible to receive GSAS fellowships after their seventh year in the Ph.D. program.
Summer fellowships: Subject to the availability of funds, MESAAS strives to offer summer research fellowships for students in the doctoral program, usually to fund participation in intensive summer language programs or research trips. During the summer after their first year Ph.D. students are expected to make significant progress on their M.A. thesis, which may require additional research. Other uses of departmental and GSAS funds include exploring the feasibility of a dissertation topic, making trips to archives relevant to the dissertation, or pursuing additional professional training. The application form can be downloaded here. Students should also apply, where eligible, for summer FLAS Fellowships and summer fellowships offered by the regional institutes. In addition, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences may offer Summer Teaching Scholarships, which provide doctoral students with an opportunity to design and teach their own course in the Columbia Summer Term.
Travel awards: During the year, additional funds are available for graduate students to present papers at accredited conferences and professional meetings. In awarding these funds, the department gives higher priority to students who participate regularly in the Departmental and graduate student colloquia and other MESAAS-related and Columbia research forums.
While we encourage students to present papers at conferences, the department will not fund student travel to the US while they are abroad doing fieldwork.
Travel funds are generally restricted to students formally presenting a paper at an accredited professional meeting. Those participating in a conference in some other academic role, such as chairing a panel, may apply, but the request will be given lower priority. Those attending a conference without any formal role can also apply, but should provide clear justification for the trip. The request will be considered only if surplus funds are available. If surplus funds are available, they may be allotted to those presenting formal papers at a Graduate Student conference but these applications are similarly given lower priority.
All graduate students in their second year (both those in the Stand-alone Masters and Ph.D. programs) who are in good academic standing are eligible to apply for GSAS and departmental funding for one trip per year. All students should apply for the matched GSAS/departmental travel award before applying for a second, departmental award. The second departmental award can be used to top off the amount of funding for the first trip or to travel to a second conference.
Departmental travel awards can be used to pay for transportation, registration fees, and lodging. GSAS awards can be used only for transportation expenses.
To apply for departmental awards at least one month prior to the trip students should submit a request by email to the Director of Academic Administration and Finance, copied to the Director of Graduate Studies. The request should include a budget, a copy of the meeting program listing the student’s role, and a note describing participation in the Departmental and graduate student Colloquia and other Columbia research forums. Questions about the application process for both the GSAS and departmental travel fellowship should be directed to the Director of Academic Administration and Finance.
To apply for GSAS travel awards students should follow the guidelines for the GSAS awards and submit the application form to the Director of Academic Administration and Finance.