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.

Programs of Study

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 department requirements for good academic progress supersede those of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), which represent the minimal standard.

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 the appropriate form to the Director of Academic Administration and Finance, by the deadline. 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, all post-M.Phil. students must meet with their advisor and at least one other member of their committee once a semester to receive feedback and support on their dissertation. Depending on what part of the dissertation the student is working on, the meeting can be with different members of the committee each semester. 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.

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Departmental Life

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. These forums are the core of the department’s collective intellectual life. 

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, Jason Land and Charles Jester, a Business Manager, Christine Adapon, 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, 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.

To contact the MESAAS Graduate Student Association, please email

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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 guidelines here. To prepare for teaching, students should attend the series of workshops offered by the GSAS Center for Teaching and Learning 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 supplements these sessions with its own specialized workshops, particularly a mandatory departmental orientation. 

In their first year, students in the Ph.D. program receive a Faculty Fellowship, which carries no teaching responsibilities. In three or four of their following years in the program they serve as teaching fellows. 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 spring, students submit a form 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 other students may be affected by reassignments. Changes of plan requests made after May 31 can be accommodated only if there are compelling unforeseen 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.

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Fellowships and Travel Awards

Aside from the standard doctoral fellowship package, MESAAS and the Graduate School offer various other funding possibilities. Students are expected to supplement Columbia support with external fellowships. A long list of internal and external fellowships can be found here

External fellowships: Developing grant-writing skills is essential to successful academic life. Outside fellowships secure you increased stipends and release from teaching duties. They are also a mark of intellectual distinction. The policy on combining external awards with Columbia fellowships is explained on the GSAS External Fellowships page, where there are also searchable databases of external fellowships, and information about Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships.

Columbia fellowships: Doctoral students can supplement GSAS fellowship with other Columbia fellowships that provide a semester or a year 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 offers summer fellowships for 6th students in the doctoral program, under particular circumstances. These include those who received an outside grant and have funding for the 7th year but no external summer money, or who are on track to defend by the end of the 6th summer. Less advanced students should apply, where eligible, for summer FLAS Fellowships and summer fellowships offered by the regional institutes. In addition, GSAS may offer Summer Teaching Scholarships, which provide doctoral students with an opportunity to design and teach their own course in Columbia’s Summer Term. 

Travel awards: 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 to present papers at accredited conferences and professional meetings. When approaching the department they should first apply to GSAS for matching funds here. Students should also apply to the Graduate Council’s travel grant here

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. All requests are subject to availability of surplus departmental funds. Students who regularly participate in the department colloquia and contribute generously to peer review are typically given preferential consideration for departmental funding. 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.

Departmental travel awards can be used to pay for transportation, registration fees, and lodging. 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, statement of participation in the conference (if not obvious), 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 DAAF. 

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  Address:  401 Knox Hall, MC9628
606 West 122nd St,
New York, NY 10027
  Tel: (212) 854-2556