Supervision of Dissertation Research and Writing

The Graduate School has the following general expectations for how dissertation sponsors should supervise their students' dissertation research and writing. For additional information or clarification, please contact the Dissertation Office.

Students should receive continuous supervision. Ordinarily, dissertation sponsors—and in some programs, second readers—are expected to read chapters or groups of chapters rather than insisting on reading only a complete draft of the full dissertation. The approved dissertation proposal should provide readers with a sufficient sense of the whole to make the review of drafts of individual chapters valuable.

Faculty members should provide written or oral responses to drafts within a reasonable time period. Generally, during the academic year, three weeks to a month should be sufficient time to permit a detailed response to a single chapter. Six weeks should generally be sufficient time to review a group of chapters. A full draft of a dissertation should generally be responded to within two months of receipt of the material.

Absence from campus during the summer months may cause some unavoidable delays. If dissertation sponsors plan to be absent for long periods of time, they should inform their doctoral students well in advance and endeavor to continue to provide some supervision while absent.

When on leave, faculty members should make arrangements for continued, regular supervision of the doctoral students whose dissertations they are sponsoring (by mail, telephone, email, or through occasional meetings.) Where this is impossible, the faculty sponsor has the responsibility for ensuring that during his/her absence, the second reader will take on the primary responsibility for such supervision during the period in which the faculty sponsor cannot be reached.

Regular full-time tenured and untenured faculty who are approved sponsors may choose to continue in their sponsor role if they leave Columbia University.

As part of the annual departmental review of graduate students' academic progress (which is normally undertaken for purposes of determining students' continued eligibility for financial support and enrollment in their program,) all sponsors must provide by the deadline an annual online report on the progress of doctoral students whose dissertation research they are guiding. The annual progress report is completed through SSOL early in the spring semester.

Although some students may misconstrue encouragement and civilities or misinterpret the meaning of the phrase "approved for defense," it is important, while students are writing the dissertation, that sponsors make clear two fundamental features of the final examination procedure:

  • Preliminary approval of the thesis for examination by the sponsor (and second reader in some departments/programs) and department/program does not guarantee that the thesis will be passed, nor does it necessarily indicate the vote.
  • Preliminary approval does not deprive the sponsor of the right to press questions and criticisms during the final examination. Many departments schedule a departmental seminar in advance of the final examination, which provides the student with an opportunity to discuss his/her research findings with the departmental faculty and other graduate students.