Cellular and Molecular Physiology & Biophysics


Laboratory rotations provide an opportunity for each student to participate actively in ongoing research projects at Columbia, allowing the student to become familiar with techniques, literature and current questions in a variety of research areas. Rotations also provide the opportunity to identify a mentor with whom to pursue thesis work. Each graduate student will undertake three laboratory rotations (3–4 months in duration) during his or her first year. At the beginning of their second year, students choose research mentors and begin planning their thesis topics. Rotations are from Sept - Dec., Jan. - March, April - June.

Qualifying Exam

  • Timing: Students are expected to pass this examination by the end of their second year.
  • Format: The exam consists of two parts: a written proposal and an oral defense of that proposal before an Examination Committee.
  • Qualifying Examination Committee: The Examination Committee will consist of the student’s thesis advisor and two or three additional faculty, one of whom must have a primary appointment in the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics. The student will consult with the thesis advisor and the Co-Directors of Graduate Studies in establishing an Examination Committee.
  • Research Proposal: The research proposal is in the style of an NIH fellowship proposal (≤7 pages, not including references). The subject may be in any area but must be approved by the Co-Directors of Graduate Studies, and could be directly related to the student’s thesis research. The Qualifying Exam document should be written and arranged into Specific Aims, Significance, Approach, and References sections. The research proposal must be distributed to all members of the Examination Committee at least one week prior to the oral exam.
  • Oral Defense: The student will deliver a 15-20 minute presentation of the written proposal to the Examination Committee with an open panel discussion following. Though questions by the Examination Committee may initially focus on the proposal itself, this is a comprehensive examination where the student is expected to demonstrate an appropriate background in Physiology and an understanding of underlying principles.
  • Outcome: The Examination Committee may pass the student, fail the student, or request a second examination consisting of an oral defense of the original proposal, an amended proposal, or a new proposal. Should a student fail the initial or the re-examination, the matter will be referred to the Graduate Studies Committee, which will determine whether or not the student is to continue in the doctoral program.

Thesis Committees

Following successful completion of the Qualifying Exam, each student, together with the thesis mentor, will assemble a thesis committee. Thesis committees meet at least once a year to provide scientific input and assess student progress.The thesis committee advises on readiness of the student to defend the thesis and, together with an outside expert, presides at the defense.

Seminars, Journal Club & Department Retreat

Students attend the weekly Departmental seminar series. All other departments at Columbia University Medical Center also hold weekly seminars at which our students are welcome. A Physiology graduate student-led Journal/Data Club meets monthly and provides students with a forum for informal discussion of the literature and of one another's work.

Each year, the Physiology Graduate Students nominate and host a speaker within the Physiology Seminar Series. Students are invited for a private lunch with the speaker after the seminar. Such events provide students with opportunities for personal interactions with senior scientists of their choice, to seek career advice etc.

At the annual Departmental Retreat, each student delivers a platform or poster presentation. This all-day event provides opportunities for scientific feedback, informal interactions and fun for all faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics.

Translational Cardiovascular Research Training

The graduate program in Cellular and Molecular Physiology & Biophysics includes an optional program for students interested in pursuing advanced graduate training in cardiovascular biomedical research. The Translational Cardiovascular Research Training Program is conceived to enhance and ensure the development of cardiovascular scientists with broad-based knowledge in the fields of Cardiovascular Cell Biology, Biophysics, Genetics and Genomics, Bio- and Tissue-Engineering and Clinical Sciences.