The distinctive and innovative nature of this program requires a core set of courses that provide an interdisciplinary grounding. Each of these courses is taught at the level expected of first- or second-year PhD students in the affiliated departments. The course structure is designed to provide students with PhD-level training in economics and a natural science field, complemented by integrative courses in sustainable development, designed specifically for this program, and courses in social sciences. The course structure is designed to combine flexibility to pursue an individual field of study, with the development of broad-based skills and knowledge. The core curriculum consists of around 10 core courses, listed below. Students must also complete two social science electives, and a coherent sequence of four natural science courses for a minimum total of 60 credits, and should maintain an overall B+ average with no lower than a B- in any of the core classes. In addition to course work, students participate in integrative seminars (U9200) throughout the first three years of the program, and complete the MA thesis and take an Orals Exam (leading to the MPhil Degree), in addition to presenting and defending a PhD dissertation.
Due to the unique interdisciplinary content of the program, students entering with a master’s degree earned at Columbia University or elsewhere are still required to complete all MA and MPhil course requirements and examinations.
Advanced Standing for previously held degrees may occasionally be accorded at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) after successful completion of the first year.
Students must select an advisory committee before the end of the fourth semester, ideally earlier, with the help and approval of the DGS and Program Faculty. The committee ideally comprises 2 to 3 members, one of whom is the academic advisor and must be a member of the SIPA faculty. The remaining advisors can be from other Columbia University schools and departments or from other universities. An advisor from a different university cannot be the main academic advisor. The advisory committee should include faculty whose expertise covers both the social and natural sciences.
For the first year or (at most) two academic years the DGS will have the role of academic advisor. The role of the advisor is to guide and monitor research progress including reporting to GSAS on the progress of the student, sitting in on Orals and Defense committees and other associated duties.
In addition to the completion of the requirements for the MA and the MPhil, students have to fulfill a teaching and research requirement. This entails six semesters of work as a teaching assistant (TA) or a research assistant (RA), as assigned by the director of the program. Students typically serve as TAs in SIPA master-level courses as well as a few undergraduate courses. Students who secure external fellowship funding may reduce this requirement with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, but in all cases every student must TA at least two semesters.
The PhD in sustainable development is designed and supported as a five-year program. It is recognized that some students may need to extend their studies for all or part of a sixth year. While this can be accommodated administratively, students cannot assume that funds will be available to support a sixth year of study and they are urged to make efforts to secure fellowship support or obtain funds through their advisors or from outside sources. Sixth year extensions may be granted as exceptions and must not be assumed.
Sustainable Development Courses
These courses are designed and taught specifically for the PhD students in Sustainable Development, although they may be open to students from other programs.
- Human Ecology U9240
- Politics of Sustainable Development U9250
- Environmental and Resource Economics U9245
- Environmental Science for Sustainable Development U6240
- Macroeconomic Policy
Core Economics Courses
All core economics courses are taught in the Economics Department and are drawn from the Economics PhD syllabus. More information about these courses can be found from the Economics department Web site.
- Microeconomic Analysis I and II (G611 - G612)
- Introduction to Econometrics I and II (G6411 - G6412)
- A third course in Quantitative Analysis is also required.
Natural Sciences Courses
Students must also take 3 natural science electives drawn from the following departments:
- Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology (E3B)
- Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES)
- Department of Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) at the Mailman School of Public Health
- Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering (DEEE) at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS)
For details of natural science electives previously taken by students in the program please see here.
The master’s thesis should be completed by May 1 in the fourth semester and should address a problem in sustainable development using data and methodologies from the four natural science courses completed in the first two years of the program. The thesis consists of an article (around 30 pages long), which would be publishable in an appropriately refereed academic journal reflecting the disciplinary orientation of the project. Students should submit the Masters paper to their research advisor(s) with a copy to the DGS. The advisor later meets with the student and submits a pass/fail grade to the Assistant DGS for processing. For titles of MA thesis projects previously completed by students in the program please see here.
- Completion of the MA requirements with a minimum of 60 credits and a B+ average.
- Complete 4 out of 6 semesters of service requirements (Teaching Assistant, TA or Research Assistant, RA appointments). Students with outside funding need to complete a minimum of 2 TA appointments.
Fulfillment of research tools requirement
- Core courses in quantitative methods (Introduction to Econometrics I and II, and a third Quantitative Analysis course).
- Either a two-course sequence in GIS or other analytic modeling systems or a proficiency examination in a non-English language, as selected with the approval of the academic adviser.
Submission of a final draft of the dissertation prospectus, approved by the adviser, to the MPhil Examining Committee three weeks prior to the MPhil examinations. The prospectus should:
- be a single, 10-page document
- be distinct from the Master’s thesis though it can build on similar research
- cover the methods and objective of the research project
Two-hour long oral exam designed to examine the candidates’ formal learning and their capability to do independent research, including the presentation of a dissertation prospectus/proposal. The examination committee will consist of three faculty members, normally from the Sustainable Development core faculty, and will be chaired by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), who will lead the discussion of the prospectus. Examinations are conducted as follows:
- 5 minutes: the candidate will give a formal presentation of the prospectus
- 30 minutes: all members of the examining committee, led by the DGS, will ask questions.
30 minutes: examination of proficiency in fields most relevant to the proposed research, from within the following subjects:
- Natural Science
- Sustainable Development
- (Optional) An elective field, such as study of a region
Each component will be graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest. If the average grade is 3.5 or above the student receives a clear pass. If the average grade is below 3.0 the student will be required to leave the program by the end of the current semester. If the average grade is between 3.0 and 3.5 or if any individual grade is below 3.0 the committee require the student to take further courses, revise their prospectus, or provide a revised research paper.
The PhD dissertation will be on a social science topic in sustainable development. The social science research will be informed by an understanding of physical and natural science constraints and opportunities influencing economic development.
Students with a regional area of interest to their dissertation may wish to do research abroad, so as to conduct field studies, use archives, improve language skills, or confer with local experts. In order that students may complete the PhD program without delay, it is preferred that they make use of summers to conduct such research. Students who feel they require a longer period of field research or language training need the approval of their advisor, and of the DGS. Students may not receive extended residence credit for study or research away from Columbia before the completion of all course work requirements and comprehensive examinations.
Open defenses (optional)
If both the candidate for a defense and the Advisory Committee choose to have an “open” defense, the following will apply:
a. The candidate will have a maximum of 40 minutes to present major conclusions of the thesis research, with at least half of the time devoted to a description of new findings or insights in the field discussed that directly resulted from research by the student.
b. Any member of the University community or other interested parties can attend the first part of the thesis defense.
c. Questions following the initial presentation are permitted for a maximum of 10 minutes.
d. Following the oral presentation by the candidate and the brief period for general questions, the defense committee will question the candidate in closed session for a period of up to 90 minutes.
If either the candidate or the Advisory Committee prefer, the procedures for “closed defense” (i.e., 20-minute oral presentation followed by questions from the defense committee in closed session for a period of up to 90 minutes) will be followed.
- Candidates must consult with their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies about scheduling the defense. Every Ph.D. student must submit the Intent to Distribute and Defend form directly to GSAS.
- The final examination will not be scheduled until the Director of Graduate Studies has recommended the dissertation for defense. A five-person examining committee will be appointed by the department and must be approved by GSAS. The DGS will then officially invite the examiners.
- The Application for Defense must be completed by the Candidate and the Director of Graduate Studies and submitted by the program’s office to the GSAS Dissertation office.
- Members of the PhD examining committee must be given a minimum of three weeks to read the thesis, so the defense may comfortably be scheduled after submission of the thesis to the Advisory Committee. Before being recommended for defense, the candidate must submit to his/her Advisory Committee draft copies of the thesis, including figures, plates and tables and obtain the Advisory Committee’s written approval of the draft. (Written approval by the Advisory Committee indicates only that the thesis as it stands or with revisions suggested by them is in good enough form to justify scheduling the defense.)
- After the Advisory Committee has given its preliminary approval in writing, and the candidate has made any revisions suggested by them, he/she must distribute copies of the dissertation to the external readers. Instructions for the correct form for preparing the manuscript and information on publication options may be obtained via the Graduate School’s website (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/gsas/)
- The candidate must see that outstanding fees or loans to the University are paid and make sure that he/she has fulfilled all other Departmental requirements. When these requirements have been fulfilled and the examining committee has been appointed by the DGS, the candidate is notified of the examination date, usually about two weeks in advance.
- After passing the final examination, the candidate must see to any minor revisions and their approval by the examining committee before final deposit. If major revisions were called for (a defense-vote of “incomplete”), these must be made and submitted within a stated period (usually no fewer than three months and no longer than one year from the date of the defense) to the supervising committee, whose approval will have to be certified in writing before the candidate can be recorded as having passed the final examination. From the time of the “pass” vote, the student has a maximum of six months to deposit the thesis. There are four steps to completing your deposit -- the steps can be done in any order, but your deposit is only considered complete when all four steps are done.
- Doctorate degrees are awarded in October, February, and May. Check the academic calendar for specific deadlines for the final deposit of the dissertation. (You may, however, call yourself “Dr.” as of the day of your deposit, since that date will appear on your official transcript.)