PhD in Biomedical Informatics

The PhD program in Biomedical Informatics is part of the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences. Students are trained to employ a scientific approach to information in health care and biomedicine. Students may only enroll full-time, as required by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). The first two years are generally devoted to coursework and research. Subsequent years focus on independent research that culminates in a dissertation. 

Our PhD students come from top universities in the country and around the world. The group is dynamic and engaged, breaking new ground in informatics research as evidenced by their strong publication records. Our students are highly collaborative, frequently assisting on each other’s projects, sharing ideas, and supporting each other.

The program consists of core courses that are required of every student and provide a foundation in general biomedical informatics methods, techniques and theories, while electives enable students to apply these methods to one or more areas of specialization in bioinformatics, translational, clinical informatics, clinical research informatics, or public health informatics. In addition, students conduct research, assist in teaching (if PhD or postdoctoral trainees), and attend colloquia.

Degree Requirements

Courses: A minimum of 60 points of Columbia University graduate (4000 level or above) coursework, 6 residence units, consisting of:

  • Research each term (BINF G6001, BINF G9001)
  • 5 core classes
  • 2 domain (specialization) courses
  • 3 educational objectives courses
  • 1 ethics course (spring term of first year)
  • serving as a TA for 2 classes (or 1 class for MD-PhD students)
  • 1 research seminar each term

Students must complete a minimum of 60 points of Columbia University instruction at the 4000 level or higher, address any admission deficiencies, and complete DBMI degree requirements. In years three and above, research is the primary focus of the student’s degree program, and the number of hours spent on research increases with each year in the program. Students enroll in BINF G6001 fall and spring terms as follows: a) 6 points each term year one, 9 points each term year two, 12 points each term years three and above. Students enroll in BINF G9001 in lieu of BINF G6001 the term following successful completion of the Oral II/Depth Exam. In their final term of enrollment, students will also register for BINF G9999 Doctoral Dissertation for 0 points. Students should pursue five goals when conducting research, and the grade earned in the required research classes (BINF G6001, BINF G9001) will reflect how well the student has achieved these goals: 1) understand the nature of informatics research 2) master intellectual and technical skills necessary for research 3) read and apply the scientific literature, 4) develop skill in scientific writing 5) demonstrate a responsible working attitude.

Ethics: PhD students are required to enroll in CMBS G4010 Responsible Conduct of Research and Related Policy Issues in their second term in the program.

Teaching Assistantship: Students are required to serve as teaching assistants (TAs) for two courses in the department. In order to earn credit for TA responsibilities, students need to register for two points of BINF G8010 MPhil Teaching Experience each semester in which they serve as a TA. Students and faculty are solicited in spring term for their top 3 preferences. The Training Committee assigns TAs based on faculty and student preferences and departmental needs. The assignments will be communicated to students and faculty by the Graduate Program Manager. PhD students are required to TA two courses. Two-year postdoctoral research fellows TA one course; three-year postdoctoral research fellows TA two courses. MD-PhD students TA one course.

Seminar: PhD students are required to enroll in the weekly DBMI seminar. PhD students in the bio track are required to enroll in the DBMI seminar in their first year in the program, and may substitute the Systems Biology seminar in year 2 and beyond.

Residence Units: PhD students accrue 6 residence units for the degree. They are enrolled in the appropriate residence unit category by the GSAS Office of Graduate Affairs every fall and spring term.

Milestones: There are four milestones for PhD students:

Academic progress is tracked each semester by the students and their academic advisors (see Forms page for semester forms)


Research Rotations
With the exception of MD-PhD students whose research rotation occurs between years 1 and 2 of medical school, all PhD students rotate in two different research labs their first year. Research rotations begin by the end of the change of program (add/drop) period of each term. The second research rotation begins the first day of classes of spring term. Projects should be completed prior to the start of the subsequent term. The permanent research advisor is chosen by May 15 of the first year. The Training Committee grants final approval of research rotations and permanent research advisor selections. Work with the permanent research advisor commences the next business day following the last day of final exams. A third summer rotation is possible with the Committee’s permission.

For first year students rotating with different research advisors, the Fall term dates for the first research rotation of BINF G6001 are the second week of September through the MLK, Jr. Holiday. For Spring term, the dates are the day following the MLK, Jr. holiday (the first day of classes) until the last date of final examinations (see the online University academic calendar). Work with the permanent research advisor commences the next business day following the last day of final exams.

Rotation Research Advisor
Prior to the start of the Fall and Spring semesters, first-year PhD students should contact the faculty with whom they are considering doing a rotation to request an appointment. Selection of a research rotation advisor must be official by the end of the drop/add period of each semester. Students should discuss expectations for the rotation as well as a finite project to be completed by the end of the term of the rotation with the research advisor. This prevents projects continuing into the next semester which impacts the output of the new research rotation. The project should not depend on applying for a new IRB as this will delay the research into the subsequent semester, which is ill-advised. The Training Committee grants final approval of research advisors.

Register for research credit and a letter grade (6 points in fall and spring of first year, 9 points in fall and spring of second year, 12 points in fall and spring all subsequent years).

PhD students and postdoctoral fellows are expected to make submissions to publications and conferences each year. The frequency and appropriateness of these submissions are decided by the research advisor. No student or fellow may submit work to any publication or conference without the expressed prior approval of their research advisor. Prior to submission, the research advisor must review final versions of all papers and abstracts submitted to journals, conferences, books or other publications. This policy applies to all publications, regardless of authorship, that deal with work that has been done at DBMI, Columbia University, or any affiliated institution(s).

More information about funding sources and fellowships is available in the Student Funding page.​