Graduate Student Handbook

Information in this handbook is addressed to current students; for the most part, it does not repeat the GSAS website or other sections of the Slavic Department website.  Information about programs of study and requirements is found here.

GSAS Guides and Resources

The GSAS website provides a comprehensive guide to graduate study.  

The Policy Handbook contains crucial information about academic life, including the academic calendar, registration, grading, degree requirements, satisfactory academic progress, good standing, and forms that students must file at various stages.

Students should be sure that they comply with GSAS rules and regulations concerning progress to the degree and academic standing.  Failure to comply with GSAS rules about “time to degree” will jeopardize their fellowships.

For fees, finances, fellowships, funding, see the Financial Aid Toolkit

The Student Guide also covers topics such as immunization requirements, leaves of absence, parental accommodations, grievances, summer session. 

Students should be aware of the opportunities for doing coursework or research at other institutions, in the area and further afield. They can be found here.

The Graduate Life website covers information about Health (the Columbia Health Fee, medical insurance), and about the Graduate Student Center and the Writing Center. 

New students should consult the New Student Guide, which covers housing, health, and information for international students.  

We urge all graduate students to familiarize themselves with the contents of the GSAS website and consult it regularly.  They should also read GSAS newsletters and memos, which contain helpful announcements about deadlines, regulations, and opportunities.

Below we offer information specific to the Slavic Department on a variety of subjects.  It complements the detailed descriptions of our academic programs and department that are set forth elsewhere on the Slavic Department website.

In today’s job market candidates should have native or near-native proficiency in the language of their specialty. Many graduate students who receive the Ph.D. degree and look for teaching positions find them in small language and literature programs, where they often teach both language and literature.

All incoming students take a written placement test and have an oral interview in Russian or their major Slavic language.  Recommendations will then be made for developing and maintaining the language skills needed.  

Language learning is a continuous process.  Students are encouraged to take courses that help them develop and maintain their language skills.  At this stage, the best language learning often occurs outside the classroom. Graduate students should try to spend as much time as possible in the country of their target language, and, while on campus, they should make every effort to speak that language with faculty members and fellow graduate students who are native speakers.

If necessary, students can work on their language skills in summer programs. The Department recommends the Russian Practicum at Columbia University, the Russian School at Middlebury College, the Slavic Workshop at Indiana University, ACTR Summer Programs, and the CIEE Summer Russian Program.

Students can take language courses as well as other courses toward their degree during the Summer Session.  Doctoral students on fellowship receive Summer Tuition Credit

Knowledge of a second Slavic language and literature is not a requirement for the Ph.D. degree, but students are encouraged to develop fluency in at least one of these languages as well, since in the current job market graduates with a command of two Slavic languages have a definite advantage.  The Department offers coursework in Russian, Czech, Polish, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, and Ukrainian.

The language requirements are covered under Programs of Study

Language courses, including French and German, may not be taken for R credit.


The Director of Academic Administration and Finance (DAAF): The DAAF is in charge of the Departmental Office. The DAAF is responsible primarily for managing the Departmental budget and payroll, supervising and training support staff, and scheduling classes. The DAAF can also help graduate students with special registration problems, applying for degrees, scheduling dissertation defenses, and other paper work.

The Administrative Assistant (AA): The AA provides support for the Chair and the department. The AA’s responsibilities include assisting the DAAF with financial affairs, supervising the work-study students, greeting visitors, handling telephone inquiries.  Any academic related inquiries should be directed to the AA via email.

Please note that the best way to submit requests is by email, so that the DAAF and AA can keep track of them.

Department Equipment

Photocopier: You may use the machine in the Department Office for teaching materials.  First-time users should ask the AA for orientation on using the machine. No user of the machine should attempt any repairs. The Department has a service contract, which provides speedy and efficient service.

Computer Equipment: Computers and printers are available free of charge for graduate student use in the Slavic Reading Room. Please report any problems immediately to the AA. Do not attempt any repairs of any equipment.

Mail Distribution

The official address of the Slavic Department is:

Department of Slavic Languages
Columbia University
1130 Amsterdam Avenue
Mail code 2839
New York, NY 10027

Please instruct those who are sending you mail to use this address if you wish the mail to be collected by the Slavic Department. Each student has a mail slot in 708 Hamilton Hall, and mail is sorted by the Slavic Department staff.

E-mail Accounts and Listservs

Please set up your Columbia e-mail account as soon as possible.  Please note that without a Columbia e-mail account you may miss important University, Graduate School, and Department communications.

All graduate students will be added to the appropriate department listservs, including "Slavstud" (Slavic Department faculty, staff, and graduate students) and others.  Students who wish to be added to listservs of the Harriman Institute or other institutes on campus should contact staff members there.

Students are encouraged to subscribe to SEELANGS, an unaffiliated listserv for discussion of Slavic and East European languages and literature that distributes announcements of job openings and of fellowship opportunities, calls for papers, and other important information.

Reading Room

The Department has a Reading Room located in 713 Hamilton Hall. Each graduate student is entitled to a Reading Room key. Please see the AA. Books in the Reading Room are non-circulating. Re-shelve the books after use. Please keep in mind that the Reading Room is a common workspace and should be kept clean and quiet.

Library Carrels and Office Space for Teaching Fellows

The Department is currently assigned a limited number of library carrels in Butler Library to provide advanced students with space to work on their dissertations. A formal request must be made to the Department by submitting an application, which can be obtained from the Department. Graduate students can occupy that space until their dissertations are deposited or they have exceeded seven years of registration, whichever comes first, after which, the carrel must be vacated and the keys returned. Please keep in mind that we have limited carrel space, and that there is a waiting list for use of the carrels.

Doctoral students who are Teaching Fellows will be assigned to shared offices on the eighth floor of Hamilton.  This is where they hold office hours.

Emergency Loans

Emergency loans are available to students who, for one reason or another, do not receive paychecks or fellowship stipends on time. A loan must be repaid (either in a lump sum or in installments) during the semester in which it was received. Note that the loan process must be initiated either with the Chair or the Director of Graduate Studies.

Any student should feel free to ask any faculty member for advice. However, certain problems are more easily addressed by consulting the appropriate person. Furthermore, at specific stages of their graduate careers, students work closely with specific faculty members, such as the Proseminar instructor, the first reader of the M.A. essay, the mentor, and the dissertation adviser.

Department Chair

The Chair is the chief academic and financial officer of the Department. The Chair is elected by the full-time faculty for a term of three years, and may be re-elected to a second term (but rarely beyond that). The Chair oversees the Department's teaching responsibilities at the graduate and undergraduate level, periodically reviews the program and proposes changes, and presides over searches for new faculty members. In consultation with faculty colleagues, he or she oversees the awarding of grants to graduate students, and makes nominations to teaching positions in the Department and the Core Curriculum of the College. The Chair transmits the Department's needs and wishes to the central administration, negotiates details of the annual budget with the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and draws up plans that will shape the Department's profile in the years to come. In turn, he or she serves as the channel through which the administration communicates with the Department as a whole. The Chair is also responsible for presenting an accurate image of the activities of the Department to other Slavic Departments throughout the world, to the academic community at large, and to non-academic interests such as the media.

The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

The DGS is appointed by the Chair from among those members of the joint Department who have been tenured at Columbia (or, in the case of a term professor, at a comparable institution).  The DGS is responsible for advising graduate students on requirements and courses. The DGS is well placed to represent each student to the faculty when it comes to matters like fellowship aid, teaching, advanced standing, exemption from certain requirements, and leaves of absence. A meeting with the DGS is required of all students in the M.A. and M.Phil. programs at the beginning of each semester, before students register for classes.

Proseminar Instructor

The faculty member who teaches the Proseminar is an important resource for students in the first year of graduate studies. He or she helps students to choose their M.A. topics and, together with the DGS, assigns the First Reader for the M.A. essay.

M.A. Essay Readers

While writing the M.A. essay, each student works with a first reader and a second reader, chosen by the student in consultation with the First Reader. The two readers confer on the grade for the essay.


Students in M.Phil. programs (between conferral of the M.A. degree and defense of the dissertation prospectus) work with a faculty mentor assigned to them by the Chair and the DGS in consultation with the student. Mentors are available to help plan a student’s individual course of study and examinations, advise on conference papers and publications, and attend students’ classes to assess their teaching.

Comprehensive Examination Coordinator

The DGS or another member of the faculty will serve as coordinator for the comprehensive exams for the M.Phil. degree. The exam coordinator will: a) advise students preparing for the exam (in addition to the more specific advising provided each student by the mentor); b) ask faculty members to provide questions, read answers, and comment (in 1-2 sentences) on the student's performance in each section; c) discuss the results with the student. The task of preparing and reading the exam and serving on the oral component will always be divided among several faculty members, so that there will be at least two comments provided for each section.  The Comprehensive Exams for the M.Phil. degree are described under Programs of Study.  The exams take a different from for students doing the Certificate in Comparative Literature.

Adviser in the Minor Field

A student’s principal adviser for the Minor Colloquium should be a specialist in this field. This adviser helps a student plan the examination, select the committee members, and serves as one of the members of the examination committee. When this principal adviser is not a member of the Slavic Department faculty, the student’s mentor or another member of the Slavic Department familiar with Slavic Department procedures serves as coordinator. 

Dissertation Advisers

Post-M.Phil. students choose a faculty member, who normally becomes the Sponsor (or First Reader), to help them prepare their dissertation prospectus. The students, in consultation with the Sponsor, choose their Second and Third Readers, both of whom will normally be members of the Slavic Department.

GSAS requires students writing a dissertation to hold a Dissertation Progress Meeting once a semester.  

When the Sponsor deems it appropriate, the dissertation is passed to the Second Reader for comment. From then on, the Sponsor and Second Reader work together to help the student prepare a complete version of the dissertation that is nearly ready for defense. At that point it is passed to the Third Reader for final comment. Once all corrections and revisions have been made, the three Departmental readers approve the dissertation as being ready for the defense.

About a month before the scheduled defense, the student distributes the dissertation. At this point, the three departmental readers, plus the Fourth and Fifth Readers, receive the final copies, on which they will comment at the defense itself.  The additional committee members are selected by the sponsor, in consultation with the Chair and DGS, according to GSAS guidelines.

Throughout the process, students should follow the procedures and timelines set forth in the GSAS guide to writing and defending a dissertation.

Placement Officer

The Placement Officer is appointed by the Chair from among the full-time members of the Columbia and Barnard Departments holding a professorial rank (preferably tenured). He or she works with the graduate students who are currently applying for jobs or are planning to do so in the near future.

The Student-Faculty Curriculum Committee serves as the main formal channel of communication between students and faculty, raising issues such as the shape of the curriculum, advising, and student life. The Committee consists of three graduate students (one nominated by the faculty and two nominated by the students) and three faculty members (one nominated by the students and two nominated by the faculty). The Department Chair participates ex officio.

For invaluable general information on professional development, students should familiarize themselves with the GSAS Toolkit.  Below is additional information, specific to our field.

Local Institutes, Centers, and Initiatives

Students are encouraged to become involved in professional and intellectual life beyond the department.  They should explore the activities of the centers and institutes at Columbia.

The Slavic Department cooperates closely with the Harriman Institute, which focuses on Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.“Legacies of Empire and the Soviet Union: The Legacy of Russia”(History/Political Science GR8445), a graduate course usually taught in the fall by the Director of the Harriman Institute, provides students with a multidisciplinary introduction to study of the region. Interested students may want to pursue the Harriman certificate.  Every semester, the Harriman Institute provides a list of courses in various disciplines with subject matter relevant to the region.  The Harriman Institute supports graduate students in a number of ways.

The Harriman Institute hosts the East Central European Center and programs in Balkan Studies, Ukrainian Studies, Central Asian Studies, Russian Studies and Policy, and the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations.

The Black Sea Networks is a teaching and learning initiative led by Professor Valentina Izmirlieva of the Slavic Department.

New York University’s Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia is another local resource.  Through the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium, doctoral students may cross-register for courses at NYU and other local institutions.

Local Libraries and Archives

For help navigating, the Russian, Eurasian & East European collections at Columbia University Libraries, students should consult Robert Davis, Librarian for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies

Another important resource is the Bakhmeteff Archive, housed in Butler Library.

 In addition to the collections at Columbia, New York City and the Metropolitan area offer many other opportunities for research, including  the New York Public Library. Students can obtain access to the collections of peer universities (Cornell, New York University, Princeton, Yale, and others). For those interested in medieval or religious studies, the libraries of Union Theological Seminary and St. Vladimir’s Seminary (in Crestwood, NY) are indispensable.

Membership in Professional Associations

Students are strongly urged to join, as soon as possible, the three main professional organizations in our field: ASEEES (Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies), AATSEEL (American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages), and MLA (Modern Language Association). All three offer special student rates. Membership includes subscriptions to the journals published by these organizations. Furthermore, membership ensures that students will be listed in the organizations' directories, will receive announcements from them, and will be eligible to attend conferences and publish articles in the journals of these organizations. Membership is an essential part of professional preparation and development.  Students should also join professional organizations in their other areas of interest.

Professional Conferences

Students should make every effort to take an active part in professional conferences and seminars, including those held at Columbia and other institutions. Each of the three professional organizations mentioned under Membership in Professional Associations has local chapters, and their meetings, which are held annually in addition to the national conferences, are a good place to begin acquiring experience in the art of presenting a paper.  For advice on writing a paper within the time limits of a conference-panel (usually fifteen to twenty minutes), and locating an appropriate panel or conference, consult your faculty adviser (M.A. or Ph.D. advisers, faculty mentors, or any other member of the faculty).

Students should also participate in smaller conferences and symposia and eventually consider organizing their own. Calls for papers are often circulated on SEELANGS and in newsletters. 

The costs of travel to conferences can often be at least partly defrayed by the Department and the Graduate School, or even wholly covered if the conference is not too distant from New York. Doctoral students in the Slavic Department can receive, in the course of their studies at Columbia, a total of $1,200 from the Department in support for conference participation.  Some of the professional organizations, such as ASEEES, also offer support to graduate students for conference participation.


It is essential that students begin scholarly publishing as soon as possible. The best way to begin is with a good course paper or a chapter from your M.A. essay. For advice, consult your faculty adviser (M.A. or Ph.D. first readers, faculty mentors, or any other member of the faculty).

The Graduate Student Forum

The Graduate Student Forum convenes to critique a presentation by a current student. Presentations typically include articles being prepared for publication or conference papers. The Forum is entirely student-run.

Dissertation Workshops

These provide graduate students in the process of writing their dissertations an opportunity to present their work.  Each dissertation writer will be invited to present once a year. All students and faculty members are encouraged to attend.  Dissertation Workshops are scheduled on Thursdays, from 4 to 6 pm. 


Ulbandus is a graduate student-run, peer-reviewed Slavic journal with international distribution. Graduate students are invited to contribute to and participate in the production of this publication

The Pushkin Poetry Prize

The Pushkin Poetry Prize is awarded annually for the best translation of a Russian poem into English. Submissions (originals included) should be addressed to the Chair, who appoints the committee and announces winners at the end of each academic year. The size of the prize depends on the current amount of money in the fund bequeathed by Dr. John Paul Mihaly.

The Job Placement Officer helps you with every stage of the job search process. You can also consult any member of the department.  

Students should also take advantage of the services and opportunities listed in the GSAS “Professional Development Toolkit”.  UC Berkeley has a famously helpful set of pages with advice and sample documents for the academic job search: see

Where to look for information

New positions, both part-and full-time, are announced in the MLA's Job Information List (JIL), which is published four times a year (October, December, March and June; the Department has a subscription.  To check the JIL online, obtain the Department's ID and password from the DAAF or the Graduate Placement Officer); and in the newsletters of ASEEES and AATSEEL (available to members of those organizations). MLA and AATSEEL also post jobs on their web sites. The Department’s web page provides links to those sites. Students are also encouraged to subscribe to the SEELANGS listserv, where job announcements in  the field frequently appear.

When to apply

Many of these positions require a Ph.D. in hand, or one close to completion. But there is much to be said for trying to secure interviews even if you do not feel fully qualified on paper. The interview experience is useful as a way of learning how to conduct yourself in a challenging academic situation, and as a way of bringing yourself to the attention of other departments, who may well remember you favorably when you are better qualified. (In addition, such "dry runs" have been known to result in a job offer!)  However, students should keep in mind that being on the job market is time-consuming and may slow down progress on the dissertation.  Weigh your options carefully and, if in doubt, seek advice from a faculty member.

Where to apply

It is essential that you consider all opportunities and make your search as broad as possible, both geographically and institutionally.


As soon as you begin giving serious thought to going onto the job market, you should establish a dossier with Interfolio. Follow their instructions. Interfolio will mail your dossier to potential employers at your request. For prices, see their web page. This dossier will contain letters of recommendation, usually from members of the Slavic faculty. You should request letters from people who know your work well and can speak candidly about it.

Recently, many institutions use or their own web sites to manage applications, including letters of recommendation. Make sure your recommenders know where to send/upload their recommendations.

Columbia's Center for Career Services offers information and counseling on academic and non-academic jobs for Ph.D. degree holders. Contact the Center for more information. The Center is located on East Campus, Lower Level; their telephone number is (212) 854-3561.

Application letter

Most job announcements in the last three or four years have yielded a hundred or more applications. Of those, perhaps one-fifth make it to the interview stage. Consequently, it is vital that in the cover letter accompanying your application you present yourself as clearly, specifically, and accurately as possible. This letter should not exceed two pages (remember that your C.V. will be attached). Though most of the letter’s contents will be repeated in each of the letters you send out, you should try to speak to the stated needs and requirements of the department to which you are applying: the selection committee should not feel that it is reading a form letter with the blanks filled in. You should show why you think you are qualified for the job that is being advertised, why you are interested in University X, and why College Y should take an interest in you. Finally, you should briefly address the matter of the direction your future professional development is likely to take.

The Graduate Placement Advisor will be happy to help you with the letter, as will any other faculty member.

Curriculum Vitae

An up-to-date C.V. should be included with your application letter. It should concisely and accurately present your educational and employment history in reverse chronological order. In addition, it should include all pertinent information on your professional development: awards, publications, conference talks, internships, and the like.


It is strongly advised that you include with your application syllabi of any courses you have taught or would like to teach. Well constructed course syllabi will recommend you professionally to the selection committee. Furthermore, working on syllabi will prepare you for the questions about your teaching plans that are always asked during job interviews.

The Job Interview

There are typically two interviews. The initial interview is usually conducted at the ASEEES or the AATSEEL Convention. This interview is discussed in detail below. Of the candidates interviewed there, a few will be invited to a second interview, usually on campus. There are no general rules covering the second interview, but candidates so chosen are welcome to seek advice and direction from the Graduate Placement Advisor and members of the Slavic Department.

Any job interview is by definition stressful. However, careful preparation can help you handle the stress and even make it work for you positively. Each interview committee will of course have its needs and priorities in mind, but there are certain constants.

Present yourself as a professional, and try to regard the interview as an intellectual exchange with your peers. It will help if you can formulate, well ahead of time, an image of yourself as a professional and be prepared to talk about yourself in broad terms, with the assurance and confidence born of familiarity. Are you mainly a theorist? A close reader of texts? A literary or cultural historian? Do you find such distinctions useful or arbitrary? What do you see yourself doing professionally five and ten years from now? Now that you have completed your dissertation, how do you plan to make a book of it? What is your second book going to be? You should also have reflected on your experiences as a teacher at Columbia, and be prepared to answer questions about your teaching in the future. How would you go about designing a new major for undergraduates? How would you attract more students into Russian or Polish or Czech language courses? Which books would you include in an English-language survey course in twentieth-century Russian literature? If you were asked to teach a general humanities course, what would you do on the first day of class, when your students have done none of the required reading?

Be aware that some interviewers may play devil's advocate, pretending ignorance of a field or an author. "So you've written your dissertation on Staniukovich? Who's that? Why is he--or is it a she--worth a whole dissertation?" Or: “Hasn't everything been said about Pushkin that's worth being said?" Do not assume that such questions betray genuine ignorance: you may unwittingly show condescension or contempt.

Do not make any demands of interviewers at this stage. For example, it is usually fatal to insist that you will not teach certain authors or periods, or are uninterested in teaching language. You should not, at this stage, ask about salary and benefits or course loads; those are questions that will be raised in a second, usually on-campus, interview.

The interviewers will probably press to determine how broad and deep your knowledge is. Of course you cannot be an expert in everything, but as a well-trained graduate student you should be able to speak intelligently, if not profoundly, on any area of our field, without having to bluff or admit total ignorance.

Try to schedule your interview early in the day. Interviewers are usually very tired after 3 p.m., and may have to go on well into the evening. However, it is unwise to demand a particular time-slot as the price of the interview.

Do not mention other schools that may be interested in you. It is considered bad form on the part of interviewers to ask you, but some may; if so, try to be vague.

Part of the interview will probably be conducted in Russian. If your spoken Russian is rusty, you should begin practicing it several months before interview time, concentrating on professional vocabulary and idiom. Make sure you can describe in Russian the kind of scholarly work you are doing now, and plan to do in the future. Furthermore, be prepared to answer a question on whether you can teach a course in Russian, particularly to a mixture of non-native, native, and heritage speakers. The problem of native and heritage speakers and their integration into a language program currently seems to be one of the most urgent in the field.

At your request, the Department will be happy to set up a dry-run of your job talk and/or a mock interview for you shortly before you encounter the real thing. The Center for Career Services usually offers mock interviews (separately from the Department) in early December.