Biomedical Informatics

Program Category: PhD Programs

Chair: George Hripcsak


Degree Programs: Full-Time: MA, MPhil, PhD

Please note: The degree for this program is conferred by GSAS, but program specifics, such as admissions, degree requirements, and financial aid, are administered by other schools of the university.

Biomedical informatics studies the flow of information in health care, medical education, and biomedical research. The field explores techniques for assessing current information practices, determining the information needs of health-care providers and patients, assisting in molecular biology and genomic research, developing interventions using computer technology, and evaluating the impact of those interventions. This research seeks to optimize the use of information in order to improve the quality of health care, reduce cost, provide better education for providers and patients, and conduct biomedical research more effectively.

Columbia University offers two programs in Biomedical Informatics: an advanced degree program leading to the MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees and a postdoctoral training program. The degree program focuses on the theory and application of information science in the domains of clinical medicine, public health, imaging, and bioinformatics. The program trains students for academic careers as researchers and teachers as well as for professional positions in biomedical research and health-care information processing. The curriculum incorporates course work from computer science, public health, and biostatistics, with core courses and projects in biomedical informatics serving to integrate approaches and illustrate practical applications. Students earn both an MA and MPhil degree en route to the PhD. During the first two years of the PhD program, students typically spend most of their time in coursework and obtain the MA degree. The two to four years are spent conducting research that leads to the MPhil and PhD degrees. For students in the free-standing MA program, the degree can be earned in two to four years, depending upon the student's full or part-time degree status.

The specific goals of the program are:

  1. to teach the fundamentals of biomedical informatics through formal course work and to enable the student to gain proficiency in several defined areas, including physiology, computer science, biostatistics, experimental design, and evaluation methodology related to medical informatics
  2. to provide a structured research experience that includes development of a research proposal, execution of the research project, evaluation of the outcome of the project, and the preparation of written documents describing the project’s accomplishments
  3. to offer students experience in learning the necessary domain knowledge and communication skills to conduct collaborative research with faculty in clinical and basic medical science departments
  4. to aid the students in implementing innovative solutions to real-world problems, by testing explicit hypotheses about the effectiveness and utility of information systems in medical care, research, or teaching

Fellowships are awarded in recognition of academic achievement and in expectation of scholarly success. Teaching and research experience are considered an important aspect of the training of graduate students. Thus, PhD and postdoctoral students are required to serve as a teaching assistant for two courses as well as conduct full-time research in fulfillment of their degree requirements.

Student Profile

Biomedical Informatics students have come from many countries, including China, India, Argentina, Ukraine, South Africa, and the Philippines as well as the US. There are approximately sixty students in the program, half of whom are master’s students, including postdoctoral fellows, and forty percent of whom are women. All PhD trainees are fully funded by the department, either through our National Library of Medicine Training Grant or as graduate research assistants.

Career Placement

Graduates of the MA and PhD programs have found employment in academic and nonacademic institutions in the US and abroad. For example, individuals pursuing academic careers currently have positions at the University of California at San Diego Cancer Center, Marquette University, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, University of Tennessee, Columbia Genome Center, and Columbia University. Others work in industrial settings such as Pfizer,, GE, and Torex Health Ltd., or in health care institutions, including Columbia University Medical Center.

Special Admissions Requirements: 

The requirements listed on our website are specific to the Biomedical Informatics degree program and must be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The basic requirement for admission as a student in the Biomedical Informatics program is a bachelor's degree in computer science, engineering, mathematics, physics, biology, nursing, medicine, public health, information management, or similar discipline. The applicant should have demonstrated strong mathematical and computer science skills.

Degree Programs: Full Time