Graduate Curriculum

Guide for New Students
The Microbiology & Immunology Graduate Program has a Guide for New Students that provides a detailed description of our graduate program for new students and how their next several years of graduate education and research will proceed. The guide is updated annually.


Laboratory Rotations
In the first year, students are expected to complete three rotations of three months duration each. The three rotations must be in laboratories representing three distinct areas of research. In summer, students begin their doctoral research, or in exceptional circumstances, complete a fourth rotation. The function of the rotation is not only to enable the student to select a laboratory, but also to experience a diversity of experimental approaches and systems. To facilitate the selection of rotations, students attend faculty presentations where ongoing research is described. The Microbiology, Immunology and Infection doctoral program of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology is one of the specializations in the Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies of the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences at CUMC.


Course Work

First Year (Fall)

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I (G6300)
  • Microbial Molecular Genetics (G4150)
  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology I (G9501)
  • Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology I (G9301)

First Year (Spring)

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology II (G6301)
  • Introduction to Immunology (G4020)
  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology II (G9502)
  • Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology II (G9302)

First Year (Summer)

  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology III

Second Year (Fall)

  • Advanced Topics in Microbiology & Immunology I (G6055)
  • Introduction to Computational & Quantitative Biology (G4120)
  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology I (G9501)
  • Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology I (G9301)

Second Year (Spring)

  • Advanced Topics in Microbiology & Immunology II (G6056)
  • Responsible Conduct of Research and Related Policy Issues (G4010)
  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology II (G9502)
  • Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology II (G9302)

Second Year (Summer)

  • Research in Microbiology & Immunology III
  • Ph.D. Qualifying Exam

Subsequent Years

  • Dissertation Research I and II (G9501 and G9502)
  • Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology I and II (G9301 and G9302)
  • Ph.D. Thesis Defense


Students are encouraged to take graduate level elective courses that are relevant to their research interests. Examples of courses currently offered at the College of Physicians and Surgeons follow. Please note that not all courses are offered each year. Check with the individual Department websites (some listed here) or the Registrar's Directory of Classes

Fall Semester Electives

  • Genetic Approaches to Biological Problems I (G6210)
  • Mechanisms in Human Disease (G6003)
  • Molecular Biophysics (G4250)

Spring Semester Electives

  • Cellular and Molecular BIology of Cancer (G4500)
  • Chromosome Dynamics and Genome Stability (G4900)
  • Genetic Approaches to Biological Problems II (G6211)
  • Quantitative and Computation Aspects of Infectious Diseases (G4016)
  • Statistics for Basic Sciences (G8012)
  • Virology (W3310)

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination tests the ability of each student to formulate and present a research project. These exams are given in the fall of the second year. The student prepares a research report not exceeding 6 pages (according to NIH F31 guidelines). The proposal is distributed to the Qualifying Examination Committee, a panel of four faculty members, one week before the scheduled Exam date. At the Qualifying Exam, the student explains and defends the proposal to the Qualifying Examination Committee. Dr. Chris Schindler is the Director of Qualifying Exams.


Dissertation Research

At the beginning of the second year, the student must choose a laboratory for his or her thesis research. The student and the thesis advisor then select a Thesis Advisory Committee of three members, including the advisor. The function of the Thesis Advisory Committee is to follow the student's research progress until its completion. This is accomplished by yearly meetings of the Committee and the student. Prior to these meetings, the student prepares a brief written progress report and an outline of future objectives and planned experiments. These meetings are often held shortly after the student has presented his or her work to the Department in the Friday seminar series.

The Department of Microbiology & Immunology expects that all graduate students will complete their thesis research within five years of entering the training program. When the student, thesis advisor, and Thesis Advisory Committee agree that the student has completed work of sufficient novelty and quality to merit the Ph.D., the student prepares a dissertation.



The Microbiology & Immunology Department hosts an outside speaker each Wednesday and a student or postdoctoral speaker each Friday of the week. We believe these seminars are crucial to the training program, and therefore all students are required to attend in the form of a two-credit course entitled Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology.

Students also serve as hosts for the Richard C. Parker Memorial Lecture, which is held once each year in memory of a former faculty member of the Microbiology & Immunology Department. The students select the speaker and arrange a schedule that provides the opportunity for all students and postdoctoral fellows to meet with him or her. In connection with this lecture, an outstanding student near completion of the Ph.D. thesis is selected each year to receive the Richard C. Parker Memorial Award.

The development of speaking skills is crucial for the ultimate success of scientists. The Department recognizes this need and provides many meaningful opportunities for trainees to speak about their research in a seminar format. After completing their Ph.D. qualifying examination, students are asked to present a seminar at least once a year in the Department's Friday seminar series.


Laboratory Meetings & Data Clubs

In addition to the Friday seminars, there are other opportunities for students to present their own work or that of others as reported in the scientific literature. Most laboratories have regular meetings at which students and postdoctoral fellows present their work and discuss it with other members of the laboratory. There are also a number of data and journal clubs, such as the Virology Group, the Cell Cycle Data Club, the Immunology Data Club, the Prokaryotic Molecular Biology Data Club and the Yeast Data Club, which are attended by faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows.


Microbiology & Immunology Retreat

In the fall of each year, the Microbiology & Immunology Department holds a departmental retreat away from the campus. All departmental faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows are invited to attend. The retreat begins on Friday afternoon and lasts until Sunday afternoon. There are three sessions of 10-15 minute research talks, and a poster session. The level of participation is extraordinary, the scientific discussions, both formal and informal, are excellent, and the ability to spend leisure time with colleagues has enhanced the collegiality of the department.


NIH/NAID T32 Training Grant

The department is home to a NIH/NAID T32 Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Institutional Research Training Grant for the predoctoral Columbia University Graduate Training Program in Microbiology and Immunology, which serves to fund up to four graduate trainees a year over a period of five years. Trainees are selected for this prestigous award through an application process from doctoral students in the department that have attained dissertator status, which typically takes place in the second year of study. Applications are due by June 1st of each year.