Faculty Sponsorship of the Dissertation

Early in their graduate career, students should consult with a faculty advisor or the director of graduate studies (DGS) regarding departmental procedures for securing a dissertation sponsor. The responsibility for finding a willing sponsor rests with the student. Securing a sponsor is one of the criteria for good academic standing.

Dissertation sponsors are faculty members nominated by PhD programs and approved by the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to guide dissertation research and to participate in dissertation defenses. All members of the dissertation committee must be approved Columbia dissertation sponsors, although faculty from outside Columbia may be nominated to serve in dissertation defenses. Sponsors must be involved on a continuing basis in doctoral instruction and research at Columbia or elsewhere. Faculty may sponsor dissertations in their own department and in any other department in which they have been designated as approved dissertation sponsors.

Students may arrange to have two Columbia faculty members co-sponsor the dissertation, as long as both faculty members agree to the arrangement. Departmental policy determines whether non-tenured faculty on the tenure track must co-sponsor a dissertation with a tenured faculty member. Emeriti professors may not sponsor new dissertations, but may be nominated to participate in defense committees. Please consult the Approved Dissertation Sponsors page for a list of eligible sponsors by program. 

Columbia does not permit co-tutelles, an arrangement whereby a student receives doctoral degrees from two institutions simultaneously. However, Columbia faculty may serve on dissertation committees for students in other institutions; they may also serve as co-sponsors of the dissertation if the internal rules of the other university allow it. In such instances, the single degree would be issued by the other institution.

Sponsorship Eligibility and Nomination

Nominations for new sponsors are initiated by departments or programs. Full-time tenured and non-tenured faculty who hold an appointment at Columbia University are nominated by the chair or DGS of the department or program in which the nominee holds a full-time appointment. The nomination procedure for each faculty category are listed below:

Tenure-track faculty: The department or program chair or DGS nominates tenured or tenure-track faculty by providing the curriculum vitae of the individual to the Office of the Dean (gsas-dean [at] columbia.edu), after which GSAS will produce a formal sponsor appointment letter to the nominee.

Non-tenure-track faculty: The department or program chair or DGS nominates non-tenure-track faculty by providing a letter of nomination and curriculum vitae of the individual to the Office of the Dean (gsas-dean [at] columbia.edu), after which GSAS will produce a formal sponsor appointment letter to the nominee. The nomination letter should contain the following:

  • A statement about whether approval is requested on a continuing basis or for a single dissertation, in which case the student's name should be noted.
  • Indication of the substantive fields in which the faculty member will be expected to sponsor dissertations
  • Other evidence, where appropriate, that the proposed sponsor has the requisite scholarly qualifications to guide dissertation research in these areas
  • An explanation of specific arrangements for continuing dissertation guidance and sponsorship should the faculty member become unavailable
  • Indication that the nominated sponsor is substantially involved on a continuing basis in graduate education and research

Adjunct Faculty: Adjunct faculty are eligible to serve as sponsors, provided that a full-time Columbia faculty member serves as the primary sponsor. This co-sponsorship provision reflects the Executive Committee's conviction that Columbia University dissertations should be sponsored or co-sponsored by approved full-time faculty members. Adjunct faculty are nominated as sponsors using the process outlined above for non-tenure-track faculty.

Removal of Sponsor Designation and Departing Sponsors

Programs may decide to remove a faculty member from their list of approved dissertation sponsors. Such decisions should be communicated to the Office of the Dean, along with the date when the removal should become effective. A sponsor who leaves the university or one who is granted emeritus status may continue to sponsor dissertations that were in course at the time of his or her departure, and may continue to serve as insiders on committees that were previously arranged.