Ph.D. students should review the following information and consult with their advisor to determine specific requirements for their program

Timetable & Advisor Form


Of those first-year students receiving financial aid, most will have appointments from the APAM Department in the form of a Teaching Assistantship, or a Research Assistantship. For both supported and unsupported students this first year of study is a critical one for determining your future success in the doctoral program. You will be evaluated at the end of your first year in four areas:

  1. Academic performance in course work.
  2. Performance on the written qualifying examination given annually in May.
  3. Potential for carrying out original research.
  4. Research and professional ethics.

This evaluation takes place in late May when the written qualifying examination results are reviewed by the entire APAM faculty. For first-year students there are three outcomes possible: Pass and admission to the Ph.D. program as soon as MS degree requirements are met; Failed but encouraged to take the examination again next year; and Failed and discouraged from continuing studies in the program. You may repeat the qualifying examination only once, the next time it is given. The purpose of this evaluation is to provide students with a clear signal about their chances for success at an early point in graduate studies.

For all students, whether receiving financial aid in the first year or not, passing the written qualifying exam does not guarantee continued financial aid in the second year of graduate study. While the Department supports incoming graduate students, we expect students in the second and subsequent years of study to be supported by their research supervisor through a Graduate Research Assistantship. It is, therefore, very important for new graduate students to take steps during their first year of study to make arrangements for continuing support with a research sponsor. (Several second-year and later students who have joined a research group may be asked to TA for a term.)

Academic Performance

Course requirements for the MS degree in our department vary by specialty and we have seven doctoral research specialties which are represented in the seven specialty exams offered as part of the written qualifying examination: Applied Analysis, Atmospheric Science, Computational Math, Materials Science, Medical Physics, Plasma Physics, and Solid State & Optical Physics. A new student should review the content of these exams and also any recommended courses for a given program. Previous exams are available for inspection and copying in the Department Office. Program descriptions of the seven specialty areas are included in this packet. As soon as possible during the first year of study, you should choose, within the program you have been admitted to, the specialty you will prepare for in the qualifying examination. The courses you select for your first-year program should prepare you for this exam. The first-year APAM doctoral advisor will help you with this and approve your program. You can also discuss your plans with the other members of the faculty or the chairperson of the doctoral program committee for your specialty. These are:

Applied Mathematics and Atmospheric Science: Prof. Qiang Du & Prof. Lorenzo Polvani

Materials Science: Prof. Katayun Barmak

Medical Physics: Prof. I. C. Noyan

Plasma Physics: Prof. Gerald Navratil

Solid State and Optical Physics: Prof. Latha Venkataraman

Qualifying Examination

In addition to properly planning your first-year program discussed above, you should read the description of the qualifying examination format and look at past examinations. Practice taking one or more of these exams at home without use of any reference material. Students who have had difficulty with this exam have afterward expressed surprise at the type of questions that were asked on the exam because they never examined previous exams. Practice! Get used to answering questions without your books and notes available.

More details about the requirements and timetable for doctoral and doctoral-track students may be found in the Requirements and Timetable for Doctoral and Doctoral-Track (link above).

Research Support

There are many ways of finding a research supervisor and financial support so it is difficult to generalize. Except for those few students who have already made arrangements with a research sponsor prior to starting their first-year studies, a very important objective during your first year is to identify faculty members who conduct research in an area of interest and to make yourself known to them as a candidate for support. Your research sponsor may be APAM faculty, joint faculty, adjunct APAM faculty, or faculty outside of APAM doing research in one of the seven department specialties. One of the best ways to find out who does what kind of research is by attending the mandatory weekly Department Research Conference on Friday mornings at 9:15 a.m. in Room 214 Mudd.

Attendance is mandatory for first-year doctoral and doctoral-track students and attendance may be taken.

At this meeting, faculty, research staff, and graduate students describe their research and faculty members occasionally describe research opportunities for new students. Another method to become better known to a faculty member you would like to work with is to offer to work during your first year on a research project as part of APAM E6650. This has the great advantage of giving you actual experience in that research area while permitting better evaluation of your potential by the prospective sponsor. However, doing a research project with a faculty member does not guarantee that you will be admitted to that research group. Short of this, you may take a course being taught by a prospective sponsor and do well in it. Another source of advice on possible research sponsors in a given area is to consult the program chairman listed above for advice. It is important to talk to faculty and let them know you are interested.  Start to do this during the fall term, even though some faculty will decide on supporting students only after the qualifying examination exam.

Research and Professional Ethics

Entering APAM doctoral students will be required to take and pass the physical sciences course on Responsible Conduct of Research online at before the end of their first Fall semester. A completion report documenting the student has taken and passed the course should be turned into the Department for record-keeping. In addition, doctoral students must attend the Research and Professional Ethics Seminar offered annually in May during the first AND second year of their doctoral program. This is a requirement for graduation.

Laboratory Safety Training

1st year APAM graduate students who will spend any time in a laboratory engaging in research or as part of a class are required* to and MUST ATTEND one of the safety training sessions below during the Fall term. Refresher training is required every two years thereafter. You do not need to sign up and no registration is required.

*1st Year Doctoral and Doctoral-Track students who have not completed this training by the end of the Fall term will not be allowed to engage in research with their advisor and continue toward the PhD or DES.

All 2nd year and later APAM graduate students who are doing any experimental research and have not yet received the initial training session specific to their laboratory activities MUST attend a safety training session each Fall term. This training is beyond the laboratory fire safety training given during your 1st year. Please visit the EH&S website for safety training schedules.

In addition, any student requiring refresher training has the option each Fall term of attending a classroom session or going on-line, which includes a post-test administered by RASCAL.

If you have any questions, please contact the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Office at (212) 854-8749 (Morningside) or (212) 305-6780 (CUMC). Training information can be found at

Flood Safety Training

Flood safety is just as important as fire safety, so in addition to the fire safety training, we also require that our graduate students become educated about flood prevention and hose safety selection. Since there is currently no safety training session specific to floods available through Columbia’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, we are requiring that our students visit the links below for important information.

Please read through all the information here and all of Chapter 7 here

We are also requiring that you watch the following video:

Please keep in mind that any phone numbers or other site-specific information from these websites do not apply to Columbia. You will be notified if and when Columbia offers safety training sessions on flood prevention.

NYC Fire Department Certificate of Fitness

All 2nd year and later APAM graduate students who do not yet have a NYC Fire Department Certificate of Fitness card MUST take and pass the Certificate of Fitness Exam by the last day of October.  The Certificate of Fitness must be renewed every 3 years.

New York City Fire Code requires at least one person with a Certificate of Fitness for Supervision of Chemical Laboratories (C-14) be present in a laboratory unit when such lab is in operation.  This code applies at all times including weekends, evenings and holidays.  There are two ways to obtain the Certificate of Fitness: A Self-Certification program administered by EHS – Fire Safety (if certain requirements are met) or to take the test at FDNY Headquarters.

Certificate of Fitness Information at Columbia University

Please visit to learn about requirements and training sessions on campus.

Certificate of Fitness Renewals (renewal form):

  • If you are currently in the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) Certificate of Fitness database, your renewal will automatically be processed and paid for by Columbia University. Disregard renewal notices mailed to your home. Call EH&S to verify that your name is listed in the database.
  • If you discover that you are not in the EH&S database, EH&S will then enter your name and all renewal fees will be paid by Columbia University.
  • If your Certificate of Fitness is expired by less than 1 year, call EH&S to renew your C of F, which will be paid for by Columbia University.
  • If your Certificate of Fitness is expired for more than 1 year, you will be required to retake the C-14 test.