​Microbiology and Immunology

Laboratory Rotation

In the first year, students are expected to complete three laboratory rotations of three months duration each. In summer, students begin their doctoral research, or in exceptional circumstances, complete a fourth rotation. The function of the rotation is not only to enable the student to select a laboratory, but also to experience a diversity of experimental approaches and systems. We require that the first rotation be in the home department. To facilitate the selection of rotations, students attend faculty presentations where ongoing research is described. The Microbiology, Immunology and Infection doctoral program of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology is one of the specializations in the Integrated Program in Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Studies of the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. As such, students are free to join the laboratory of any faculty member of the Integrated Program.


  • First year fall semester: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology I and Microbial Molecular Genetics
  • First year spring semester: Biochemistry & Molecular Biology II and Introduction to Immunology
  • Second year fall semester: Advanced Topics in Microbiology & Immunology I and Introduction to Computational & Quantitative Biology
  • Second year spring semester: Advanced Topics in Microbiology & Immunology and Responsible Conduct of Research and Related Policy issues

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination tests the ability of each student to formulate and present a research project. These exams are given in the fall of the second year. The student prepares a 5-page single-spaced written proposal that describes their dissertation research progress and future plans. The proposal is distributed to the Qualifying Examination Committee, a panel of four faculty members, one week before the scheduled Exam date. At the Qualifying Exam, the student explains and defends the proposal to the Qualifying Examination Committee. Dr. Saul Silverstein is the Director of Qualifying Exams.

Dissertation Research

At the beginning of the second year, the student must choose a laboratory for his or her thesis research. The student and the thesis advisor then select a Thesis Research Advisory Committee of three members, including the advisor. The function of the Thesis Research Advisory Committee is to follow the student's research progress until its completion. This is accomplished by at least once yearly meetings of the Committee and the student. Prior to these meetings, the student prepares a brief written progress report and an outline of future objectives and planned experiments. These meetings are often held shortly after the student has presented his or her work to the Department in the Friday seminar series.

The Department of Microbiology & Immunology expects that all graduate students will complete their thesis research within five years of entering the dissertation laboratory. When the student, thesis advisor, and Thesis Research Advisory Committee agree that the student has completed work of sufficient novelty and quality to merit the PhD, the student prepares a dissertation.


The Microbiology & Immunology Department hosts an outside speaker each Wednesday and a student or postdoctoral speaker each Friday of the week. We believe these seminars are crucial to the training program, and therefore all students are required to attend in the form of a two-credit course entitled Seminars in Microbiology & Immunology.

Students also serve as hosts for the Richard C. Parker Memorial Lecture, which is held once each year in memory of a former faculty member of the Microbiology & Immunology Department. Third year students select the speaker and arrange a schedule that provides the opportunity for all students and postdoctoral fellows to meet with him or her. In connection with this lecture, an outstanding student near completion of the PhD thesis is selected each year to receive the Richard C. Parker Memorial Award.

The development of speaking skills is crucial for the ultimate success of scientists. The Department recognizes this need and provides many meaningful opportunities for trainees to speak about their research in a seminar format. After completing their PhD qualifying examination, students are asked to present a seminar at least once a year in the Department's Friday seminar series.

Microbiology & Immunology Retreat

In the fall of each year, the Microbiology & Immunology Department holds a departmental retreat away from the campus. All departmental faculty, students and postdoctoral fellows are invited to attend. The retreat begins on Friday afternoon and lasts until Sunday afternoon. There are three sessions of 10-15 minute research talks, and a poster session. The level of participation is extraordinary, the scientific discussions, both formal and informal, are excellent, and the ability to spend leisure time with colleagues has enhanced the collegiality of the department.