Students in the Ph.D. program earn the M.A. and M.Phil. degree before writing the Ph.D. dissertation. They complete M.A. degree requirements by the end of the third semester and the M.Phil. requirements by the end of the sixth semester. Students are expected to fulfill the program requirements within six to seven years. Students admitted to the Ph.D. program are normally awarded six years of financial support, including full-tuition fellowships and stipends. They may extend their funding to a seventh year with an external grant.

Formal requirements for:

M.A. degree Courses: Thirty (30) points of courses at or above the 4000 level, taken for a letter grade (of B or higher) by the end of the third semester. All students are required to take MDES GR5000 (Theory and Methods 1: Politics, Economy, and Society), offered in fall semester, and MDES GR5001 (Theory and Methods 2: Literature and Textuality), offered in spring semester. In consultation with the DGS, they design a program of additional seminars and language courses. Students must also enroll in MDES GR6008 (MESAAS Research Colloquium), a forum for peer discussion of M.A. papers or theses, in the third semester. At least two thirds of the total courses must be in MESAAS (or taught by MESAAS faculty). Though a B grade indicates basic requirements have been met, generally only A level grades signal strong academic performance. Language: Proficiency in one MESAAS language, demonstrated by successfully completing a two-semester course at the intermediate level or higher with a grade of at least a B, or by passing an equivalent exam. Note: Elementary and intermediate-level language classes, even when taken as part of the preparation for satisfying the language requirement, are not graduate-level (4000 or above) classes and therefore do not meet the requirement of thirty (30) points of graduate courses. Residence Units: Completion of two full Residence Units is required for granting the MA degree. A Residence Unit is one semester of full-time study. Students must fill out an application for the MA degree with the Registrar at the beginning of the term in which the MA will be completed. Please click through to SSOL to apply for the degree. Advisor and Ph.D. faculty sponsor: The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) is the advisor for all graduate students upon entering the program. In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, each student asks an approved Ph.D. faculty sponsor in MESAAS to become the student’ s sponsor, usually by the end of the first year, but no later than the start of the third semester.

The M.A. Papers: Students in the Ph.D. program complete the requirements for the M.A. degree by submitting two seminar papers for review and discussion before a committee of two MESAAS faculty members no later than the end of the third semester. The work consists of two seminar papers written during the student’s first year or during the summer, (at least one must be in a MESAAS seminar), revised, typically during the following summer, in the light of written comments from the seminar instructor. Each paper should be about 8,000 words in length and at least one paper should demonstrate a capacity for original research. The M.A. papers review committee is formed of the professors in whose course the papers were written (if one was written for a course outside the department, the other committee member is the advisor). Students must submit an application to the department for the oral review of their Master’s papers no later than three weeks before the review. The committee awards either a “pass” or a “fail” on the strength of the written work and the oral review. A pass may be awarded either with or without permission to continue to the M.Phil. In the case of exceptional MA papers, considered to be of publishable quality, the committee may recommend departmental “distinction.”

M.Phil. degree

Courses: A second semester of MDES GR6008 and at least four MESAAS (or advisor-approved) courses at or above the 4000 level beyond the 30 points (obtained through course work or Advanced Standing) required for the M.A. degree. Students generally complete the coursework for the M.Phil. no later than fall of the third year. In their second semester of the MESAAS research colloquium students workshop and discuss oral exams, grant proposals, and the dissertation prospectus. As with the MA, at least two thirds of the total courses for the M.Phil. must be in MESAAS. Exceptions to this rule, rarely given, must be approved by both the advisor and DGS. Those awarded advanced standing must be sure to include MDES GR5000 and MDES GR5001 (Theory and Methods 1 and 2) and one semester of MDES GR6008 in their course work for the M.Phil.

Languages: Language requirements for the M.Phil. degree are completed by the end of the third year. The dissertation sponsor is free to set higher standards, depending on the student’s field and project, but the minimum language requirements are: High proficiency in a first MESAAS language (usually the one used to fulfill the M.A. language requirement), proficiency in a second MESAAS language, and reading competence in a third language (a research language, meaning a modern language other than English in which there is a substantial body of scholarship in the student’s field of study). High proficiency is normally achieved by completing a fourth-year language course or the equivalent, and proficiency by completing coursework at the intermediate (second-year) level or the equivalent. Reading competence is demonstrated by taking a proficiency exam, or the rapid readings and translation course (or equivalent) offered by other Columbia language departments.

Grants: Those who plan to conduct research abroad in the fourth year must submit applications for external fellowships by the first half of the third year, and sometimes earlier. This may require preliminary work on the prospectus during the fall, and possibly the preceding summer, at the same time as preparation for the M.Phil. examinations.

Oral Examination: By the end of the second year, they should also have finalized their M.Phil. reading lists. They should reach out to potential examiners to begin planning their lists at the beginning of the spring term their second year. At least two of the three examiners should be members of MESAAS (one will be the advisor). After completing the required coursework and language training, students take the oral exam, usually at the start of the sixth semester (exam period is the 3 weeks before spring break). The exam is held in three areas, which are determined by the student in consultation with a three-member M.Phil. committee.

Reading lists are prepared by the student and each normally covers about twenty-five books or a commensurate number of articles (one book = 4 or 5 articles). In contrast to the dissertation prospectus (see below), which concentrates on a specific scholarly question, a reading list for an M.Phil. area covers a broader range of scholarship, encompassing the main literature and debates in a field of teaching and research. An application must be filled out one month prior to the exam and all language requirements must be fulfilled prior to the exam. The MPhil exam is taken on a pass/fail basis. Students may not retake the exam and failure of the MPhil exam will result in the termination of candidacy in the PhD program.

Dissertation Prospectus: Prior to beginning the writing of the dissertation the student submits a dissertation prospectus, by the end of their third year. In its broadest outline the prospectus is a proposal that explains in detail the thesis project, the critical and theoretical instruments used to approach it, and the original contribution that the proposed project entails in terms of the existing relevant scholarship on the subject. Approximately 20-30 pages in length, it should provide a clear statement of the scholarly problem to be addressed (in the form of a central question), a review of existing scholarship that elaborates the significance of the project’s central question, and a discussion of the student’s theoretical and methodological orientation to the project. The prospectus should also contain a provisional outline of the dissertation as a whole, a plan of research (including discussion of the texts and/or archives to be consulted, research sites chosen), and a bibliography of several pages.

The plan of research should also include a tentative plan for the project’s development in the form of a research schedule and a tentative chapter outline and description. The aim of the prospectus is to persuade the committee of the significance and plausibility of the proposed research and its guiding question, rather than to anticipate its potential conclusions. The prospectus is prepared in consultation with the advisor(s) who determine when the document is ready. It is defended orally before at least three members of the candidate’s Ph.D. committee (at least two should be MESAAS faculty).

A Prospectus defense application and an electronic copy of the Prospectus must be submitted to the department a minimum of at least three weeks prior to the exam. The Prospectus is circulated to department faculty and graduate students as well, who are invited to attend the defense. To remain in good academic standing, the department requires students to fulfill M.Phil. requirements by the end of the third year of study (the second year if in cases of advanced standing). In exceptional cases and only with the approval of the DGS and adviser, students may meet these requirements later. But GSAS requires all students to complete M.Phil. requirements no later than May of the fourth year. Students who do not meet this deadline will not have their stipend disbursed for the ensuing fall semester, and will be terminated from the PhD program. Residence Units: Completion of six residence units (semesters of full-time study).

Post-M.Phil. Ph.D. requirements After defending the dissertation prospectus, students pursue their research, often in the archives located in MESAAS regions (ideally, with the support of external fellowships). They also establish a timeline for the completion of their dissertation chapters. It is important to develop a regular schedule for writing, and to stay in close contact with the dissertation sponsor and committee throughout the writing process. All post M.Phil. students must circulate work in progress (chapters/essays/grant proposals) for feedback in the MESAAS Dissertation Colloquium.

Thus, post M.Phil. students are required to enroll in the MESAAS Dissertation Colloquium, MDES GR8008, a non-credit course that supports the writing of the dissertation every semester they are in residence. Students not in residence must enroll at least one semester a year. The colloquium provides a forum in which the entire community of MESAAS dissertation writers meets, bridging the department’s different fields and regions of research and serving as a valuable forum for feedback. The colloquium convenes regularly, on a schedule that is drawn up at the start of every term, with the oversight of the department chair. Each meeting is devoted to the discussion of one or two pre-circulated pieces of work or some aspect of professional development. All enrolled students share in the process of peer review by reading and providing feedback on others’ submissions. As with all graduate seminars, registration alone is not acceptable, lack of attendance and nonparticipation will result in the loss of good academic standing. Students who are abroad on field work/research are exempt, once verified by the DGS. All other cases must be discussed with the DGS and approved in advance on a case by case basis.

Additionally, per GSAS requirements, students must hold Dissertation Progress Meetings. Beginning in the semester following the defense of their prospectus, students should meet once each semester with their advisor and at least one other faculty member on their dissertation defense committee to receive timely feedback on their dissertation work and regular support throughout the dissertation-writing process. The DGS (sometimes in collaboration with GSAS) works to support students in the accomplishment of this expectation.

The advisor(s), in consultation with the student, chooses the four other members of the student’s dissertation defense committee. Three must be in place directly after the prospectus defense and the fourth should be selected within a year of the defense. The fifth should be added no later than the start of the last year of writing. The sponsor (not the student) asks them to serve on the committee and asks one of them to chair the defense when the time comes. The advisor and at least two other members of the committee must be MESAAS; at least one committee member must hold an appointment outside MESAAS. The remaining member can be MESAAS or external faculty. Rules governing the constitution of the committee and the deadline for distributing the dissertation to its members are specified by the GSAS Dissertation Office. Students should familiarize themselves thoroughly with the dissertation regulations and deadlines well in advance of their defense date.


Abbreviated Doctoral Program Structure
● Take classes as widely as possible to fulfill degree requirements and work with possible mentors.
● Identify seminar papers to revise for M.A. by end of May. Make revisions over the summer.
● Choose advisor at the end of year.
● First term – workshop papers in the Research Colloquium, revise and submit, and pass MA exam by mid Dec.
● Second term – establish oral fields with examiners, begin reading, draw up lists. Finalize lists with examiners by end of May.
● Teaching Fellowship
● First term – apply for research grants for Y4. Prepare for orals.
● Second Term — Oral exams (end Feb-early March) and Prospectus submission and defense (by end of May)
● Teaching Fellowship
● Research (on Dissertation Fellowship or outside research grant).
● Writing.
● First term – apply for external completion grants for Y6.
● Teaching (TF, Core Preceptorship or Teaching Scholars Program), DF (if not already used), or outside grant.
Y6 (and 7 if received outside grant)
● Writing and/or teaching and/or applying for external completion grants.
● First term – Job and Postdoc applications.

Other Information for Doctoral Study 

Transfer Credit: In some instances, Transfer Credit may be granted to doctoral students who have completed relevant graduate-level coursework elsewhere. This requires approval of the DGS and advisor. Students are advised to go to the GSAS Transfer Credit page for further information. Up to eight credits can be transferred, beyond which students obtain one semester of advanced standing (and less time to finish their degree). 

Financial Aid: GSAS offers a comprehensive program of financial aid, including fellowships and appointments in teaching, to Ph.D. students. All Ph.D. students admitted to the program receive the prevailing annual stipend, summer research support, and appropriate tuition and health fees through the sixth year, provided that they remain in good academic standing. They receive five years of summer support and can apply to the department for a sixth year under certain circumstances. Ph.D. students are expected to apply for both internal and external grants (grant writing is one of the topics covered in MDES GR6008, the Research Colloquium taken by all pre-M.Phil students). They must apply to external grants (usually for research) at least once in their first four years and often also again to complete writing. Please consult the Fellowship Listings on the website for a full list. 


Teaching requirement: Beginning in the second year, students receive training and experience in teaching by serving as Teaching Fellows to assist faculty in undergraduate classes. The six-year Ph.D. fellowship includes four years in the position of Teaching Fellow. The timeline may vary depending on field research and external fellowships, but most students serve as Teaching Fellows for 3-4 years. GSAS requires doctoral students to serve as a Teaching Fellow for a minimum of one year.

Departmental colloquia: Students and faculty should keep Thursdays from 4-6 pm free, since most Thursdays throughout the academic year the department holds some form of colloquia. MESAAS faculty (and sometimes scholars doing related work from other departments or universities) present their current research in the form of pre-circulated papers at the Faculty Colloquium. Other colloquia (including the Research Colloquium and the Dissertation Colloquium, but also less formal meetings and workshops, as well as job talks) dedicated to the intellectual and professional development of the MESAAS community are scheduled in this time slot. Graduate students are expected to attend colloquia and other talks regularly and to contribute to the intellectual life of the department. 

Summer research and language study: The department encourages students to use the summers following the first and second years for intensive language training and for travel abroad to make preliminary investigations of libraries, archives, and other potential research sites. Preliminary research trips are especially intended to aid students in preparing for their grant applications (deadlines are typically the fall of the third year but some are earlier), and drafting their dissertation prospectus.

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