Frequently Asked Questions
From a typical pool of 600-700 applicants each year the Program selects around 60 for the interview and then accepts around 30 for a final class size of around 15. The final numbers could vary depending on funding.
No, accepted applicants are only admitted in the fall semester.
A good GPA is important. But there is no hard cutoff, particularly since different schools may have different standards. It is important, though, to do well in the area you want to work (e.g. quantitative courses; math; molecular biology)
The trajectory is important. It’s OK to have poorer grades in earlier years but you must show an upward trajectory of improving grades later.
If there were extenuating circumstances: family or financial circumstances etc., it is important to mention it briefly in the personal statement.
Arguably the most important factor. Research is very different from structured undergraduate lab projects. The goal of research is to create new knowledge. It is relatively unstructured to start, and often leads to dead ends and setbacks that require perseverance and dedication to overcome. It is very important for you to have had substantive research experience before committing to a PhD, to assess if a research career is right for you.
In judging research experience the particular project is of secondary importance. Through your application, letters of recommendation, and the interview our aim in the program is to determine how intellectually engaged you were with the scientific question and / or experimental design. Can you describe the project’s underlying logic, its successes and failures? Did you troubleshoot problems and overcome setbacks? Can you think of ways to move forward with it and broaden its scope?
If you do not have research experience due to lack of opportunity it is important to spend an additional couple of years gaining that experience.
Interviews are an opportunity for both the program and for you to assess how well you fit each other. Receiving an invitation to interview at our Open House indicates that the program thinks highly of you. At the Open House you will have interviews with multiple faculty (both those you have requested, and members of the admissions committees), as well as opportunities to speak to current students.
For the program it is a chance to learn more about you and your work, and assess your engagement, motivation and comfort with research beyond your written application. [Also see the answer to, 'How important is research experience.']
Importantly, however, the interviews are also a place for you to ask questions about the program, about the research and collaborations at Columbia, about Columbia’s investment in issues you may find important such as diversity and equity, or non-academic scientific careers. Asking substantive questions is taken as a good sign by the program; it means that you are engaged and want to reach an informed decision.
The Open House interviews count substantially towards final admission selections.
While it may be useful to you to contact a faculty member with questions about their own work, it will not factor into your application evaluation whether you have contacted faculty members, nor is it expected that you have before applying. You may look through the faculty directory for contact information.
Importantly, there is NO mechanism for admission to the NB&B Program other than through the regular admission process. Individual faculty cannot admit you independently, e.g. by offering a position in their lab.
You are not allowed to apply if you have a PhD, or even progressed to the stage of the Qualifying Exam or its equivalent in a different Neuroscience doctoral program. This holds independent of whether the work was done in a US institution or outside the US.
While applicants are often interested in a particular area of work, they are not expected to have chosen a research problem or even a general research area. In fact, matriculated students are encouraged to rotate through multiple labs to get broad exposure to different topics and approaches within Neuroscience before selecting their thesis mentor.
The tuition, fees, and annual stipend are fully funded for all students. We do encourage prospective students to apply for scholarships whenever possible, however. Many of our students have received Fulbright, National Science Foundation and NIH individual fellowships either before or after entering the program. Our current students are helped with their applications to these programs.
Students might have an idea of one or more professors they would like to work with before applying or before rotations, but they cannot formally pick a lab until they have done rotations and found a good match, and unless there are openings in the lab. We encourage students to contact PIs and ask them about the likelihood of lab openings ahead of rotations. The program also surveys all mentors for lab openings the summer prior to rotations and circulates this information to new students.
While direct transfer into our program from another institution is not possible, if a student has not yet passed the Qualifying Exam stage of their studies (that is, has not started their thesis project), they may apply for admission through the standard application process. These students will be in the same pool as all other applicants and evaluated on the same timetable. If accepted, our program will determine if any of our courses may be waived and which may still be required. Whether the student qualifies for advanced registration standing is evaluated by the Dean of the graduate school. Please note that transferring from another institution will not necessarily lower the average time needed to complete the Ph.D. degree.
If a student is in the lab of an investigator whose lab is physically moving to Columbia from another institution, the same rule applies: the student must not have started their thesis project, and must formally apply and be accepted during the standard cycle. Otherwise, the student’s degree will have to be granted by their former institution. Note that these students are free to take classes and use Columbia facilities like other Columbia students.
Only upon invitation. Our policy is to review the applications of prospective students and to invite those we consider most promising to visit the Center at our expense - usually to one of our two Open Houses held in January & February.
We welcome students at all stages of life. Some of our most motivated and successful students joined the program after a career of many years in an unrelated field.
Switching your area of interest is not a problem. NB&B students come from diverse academic backgrounds including disciplines outside Neuroscience. Be sure to prominently mention both your earlier work and the area you want to enter in your personal statement. In ‘Program of study including specialization’ choose a specialization close to your earlier work so that your application can be reviewed by admissions faculty with similar interests. However, be sure to request interview faculty in your new area of interest.
The NB&B program supports collaborative projects that engage more than one lab. Co-mentorships may involve two experimental labs, two theory labs, or one theory and one experimental lab. Students may select rotation labs with co-mentorship in mind but often such arrangements spontaneously arise during the rotation period as unanticipated connections are made. When a co-mentored arrangement is sought the program will help arrange the co-mentorship to ensure shared responsibility for mentoring and student progress.
Collaborations amongst departments, institutes and facilities within Columbia are not a problem. They are in fact encouraged. Collaborations with other universities are also possible. They depend on the individual PIs and their research interests and collaborations.
Even though fellowship/grant opportunities for international students are limited (as in every other US university), international students receive the full stipend from Columbia just like fellow students who are US citizens.
Start with your goals about attending graduate school: what jobs do you think you may want to pursue after your degree, what skills do you want to gain by the end of your program? Does Columbia NB&B lead to those goals? Does it have the professional development opportunities relevant to you?
Develop a list of issues that are important to you. These could include Diversity Equity and Inclusion support. Stipend and Cost of Living. Research programs available. Funding opportunities for research, travel, conferences etc. Expectations about TA-ing.
Be sure to ask all of these specific questions, particularly if you are selected for an interview and invited to the Open House