Graduate Student Handbook

Departmental resources

The office is 406 Schermerhorn Hall (mail code 5501). The main telephone number is 212-854-3608, and the FAX is 212-854-3609. Maria Dilbert is the Director of Finance and Administrative Services. She has her own office in the front of 406 and she knows everything. Always be very, very nice to everyone in the front office - you will soon discover how much you need their cooperation to get anything done around here.

When you arrive in the city, stop by in the office right away. Not only will you meet these critical people, and let them connect your charming face with your name, but they will have stacks of goodies for you (photocopy cards, and most importantly, tax and stipend disbursement forms).

Every student has a mailbox located in the faculty office area on the 4th floor, through the double doors next to 406. All faculty mailboxes are also located there. If you receive any outside mail (i.e. UPS, Fed-Ex, or Post Office mail), the office staff will either place it in your department mailbox or leave you a phone message in your office, so you can pick it up in the main office.

Every graduate student has the option of an office space every year. We will let you know which office space you have been assigned for your first year during Orientation. Offices are shared (by as few as 2 or as many as 4 students), and you'll have to work out who sits where once you've met your office-mates. In your office you will be guaranteed a desk (and may be lucky enough to also get such amenities as bookshelves or windows). Every office has a phone, complete with voicemail, and you'll need to ask either the main office or an office-mate for the voicemail codes for your phone. A phone directory for the department will be published sometime in mid-September and placed in your mailbox. Until then, just ask around for the numbers you need.

Once you've selected an advisor, you will also be given some lab space, perhaps with a computer (depending on the resources of your advisor). Many students find these spaces more comfortable for doing actual research, but it's nice to have some space of your own (esp. good for holding office hours when you are TAing). Quite a few students have found that the only time they use their space is for office hours, and so this option works well for certain people. You will have the option to keep your office space or give it up after your first year.

The first thing you will need is access to Schermerhorn Hall itself. To get into Schermerhorn Hall after hours or on weekends, you will need swipe access on your CU ID. Once you have your ID, take it to the main office and tell them that you need to have it activated. You need to tell them specifically what areas you need access to: everyone needs access to the main door, 200B and 200C (the computer labs). Psychobiology students also need access to the psychobiology wing. Make sure to follow up on your request if your card isn't working by the time you were told to expect it, go back to the office immediately and offer to walk over to the main security office yourself. You WILL get access, but it may require a little persistence.

Next, you will need to ask for keys to the following doors:

  • your office (if it doesn't have a combination lock)

  • your lab (if it doesn't have a combination lock)

Sometimes the office will ask you to go get the keys made yourself. They will give you the office copy and a letter to take to Academy Hardware or Columbia Hardware on Broadway where you will be able to have copies made. You will usually be reimbursed for the money you spend on keys.

You can ask Jon Werst at the front desk for the combinations to the combo locks in the department. Obviously we can't write the numbers down here, but you should get them from a current grad student and write them down for yourself. There are combination locks for:

  • Social psychology area (where mailboxes are located)

  • computer labs (200B/C)

  • outer door

  • kitchen and rotunda

  • some labs

  • some offices

The copying policy in the department is rather complex, so please read this carefully!
Most copying jobs you'll have will fall into one of three categories. If you're unsure which of these applies to you, staff will be able to help you.

Graduate Student Copies
Each graduate student is assigned an account at the beginning of the fall semester with 1500 copies on it, to be used for your personal research and your coursework. At the end of each academic year, unused copies will rollover to the following year's account. You can pick up a card with your account number in the main office. The code is valid for the copier in room 404C (please see Jon for the code to enter room 404C). This machine also has a scanner which can be used any time and requires no code.

Course-Related Copies
If you are making copies for a course you are teaching (or serving as a TA), bring your materials to Jon in the main office and fill out a form with the specifics of your copying job. Please allow a reasonable amount of time for your request to be completed and be aware that high-volume times like the start of the semester and exam periods may require extra time. You can also email Jon with the details of your job, however if you do not hear back within an hour or so, please stop by the office to be sure your request was received.

Research Lab-Related Copies
Lab-related copy requests are not processed in the front office, but are sent to Village Copier. Please stop by the office and fill out a form for Village Copier with the details of your order and a project number to charge for the job. You can then either take the form over to Village Copier yourself or arrange for pickup and delivery (a small fee may be charged for small copy jobs). Whichever method you choose, please be sure to bring a copy of your invoice back to the office since this will make our billing process much easier.

All psychology students have two email accounts with Columbia: one Columbia account and one Psychology account. You can activate your Columbia account at ACIS (click on "create an account"). You may want to make this account forward to your psychology account. The Columbia server is This is the server that you will dial-in to if you connect from home.

To set up your psychology account, you need to see Louis Waweru, our resident computer guru. He'll set up your account and generally help you with computer problems/questions. She is a wonderful person and all of our research would grind to a screeching halt without her. The psychology server is

On the second floor there are two Macintosh computer labs (200B and 200C). You will need a combination for the outer door to these labs, and swipe access to the individual rooms. You must reserve this space if you wish to use it for TA activities, or any other event. These labs serve many purposes during the academic year and their #1 priority is to serve courses meeting in them. More information on reserving and using these labs: link to 200B/C info can be found in the section on schedulers.

Throughout the department webpage, you will find other useful information as well as useful links. Graduate students write their own bio info about their research interests and current work. Graduate students may also create their own web pages within their Cunix directories. Click here to learn more about creating a personal webpage or blog through CUIT. Most labs and courses also have their own home pages. If you need to update your student or faculty profile, contact Joanna in the main office for assistance.

University resources

First of all, you should know that the recommended course load for students is 2-3 courses a semester (depending on whether you are TAing that semester). This may seem ridiculously low for those of you unfamiliar with the research life. Believe us, this is reasonable advice! Not only are you attending colloquia, area meetings, lab meetings, and individual appointments with your advisor, you are expected to be reading extensively and preparing a program of research. If you have time to take more than 3 courses, you probably aren't spending enough time on research! Feel free to register for as many courses as you like - students always do - then they usually adjust their schedules as they progress through their first semester.

You will find a wealth of information regarding our courses on the department website. Start with the general index to the Psychology graduate course listings. To register for courses you will need their call numbers, available via the official Directory of Classes.

You will register for classes using Student Services Online (SSOL) during assigned appointment times. You MUST register for something during this period to avoid late fees. For registration, drop off periods and other important dates please refer to the academic calendar on the Office of the University Registrar website. If you are TAing for a Fall course, be aware that you will need to stay in the City to grade the final exam during exam week.

In addition to the "real" courses you register for, graduate students should also register for a number of other credits:

  • A Residence Unit/Extended Residence Unit/Matriculation & Facilities (more on the registration requirements can be found here - Please read it carefully to make sure your registration is accurate!)
  • Colloquium (G9999)
  • Supervised Teaching (G6500) during the semester in which you are a TA
  • Supervised Research (G6600) during both Fall and Spring terms (please note that W3950 is an Undergraduate Supervised Research)
  • Area Seminars (G9397x or G9398y for social)
  • Lab Seminars (if they receive credit, ask the professor)

    Courses may be taken for a letter grade, pass/fail (requires a C- to pass), or "Registered" (like auditing). You may switch the status of a course only until the end of the drop period. All courses taken to fulfill the program requirements must be taken for letter grades. After that, it's up to you.

    You may take courses in other departments, schools affiliated with Columbia (such as Barnard or Teachers College), or even NYU or CUNY, if the course is related to your work in the program. However, you must receive approval from the Director of Graduate Studies and your advisor before registering for the course. Once you receive approval, simply look up the call number in the CU Directory of Classes, and enter it along with your other courses when you register. If you need a Dean's signature, the system will let you know. If you'd like to take a course at CUNY or NYU, the procedure is a bit more involved, but not impossible.

    The Registrar's office is located in the basement of Kent Hall. You will only need to visit them if you need to drop a course, add a course, or argue about registration fees (that is, you will probably be there at least once a semester, if not more).

    You will receive a student account statement roughly twice a semester. Tuition, basic health insurance, and most of the other fees will be paid by the department (and not always on time, but don't worry, they handle that). You will need to pay the student activities fee, and any fees that you have voluntarily acquired (such as the additional cost of comprehensive health insurance, lab fees for coursework, and other such things).

    You will need to pick up a student ID card from the ID office in Kent Hall room 204 when you first arrive. Every semester, you'll need to go back to this office to get a new sticker. Once it's been activated, your ID will give you access to Schermerhorn and the 200B/C area. It will also allow you to check out books at any of the University libraries and use the gym. It will also give you free admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other cool things (they'll give you a brochure when you get your ID).

    The first place you will want to visit when you arrive in the City is the housing office, where you will get the keys to your apartment and sign your lease. The housing office is located at 400 W 119th St., between Amsterdam Ave and Morningside Dr., telephone: 212-854-9300. Be sure to call to make an appointment before you arrive ask if your super will be available. He is the one who will let you in, and you don't want to show up during his lunch break!

    Rent is due every month, and you will receive a bill close to the first of the month. The official due date for your rent is the 10th of the month. You can expect your rent to go up slightly every year. No matter when you first signed your lease, all leases end on May 31st. You will be asked if you want to renew at that time. Remember: if you leave the Columbia housing system at any time, it will be very difficult to get back. If you do not wish to renew, you may also transfer to another apartment in the University system. Talk to the housing office about how to do this.

    The local phone service is provided by Verizon (although other choices are starting up) and the local cable service is Time Warner. You may have difficulty getting any television reception at all without basic cable. If you have requested that the housing office assign you an apartment, the office usually doesn't let you know where you are living until a few weeks before your estimated arrival. You may also look at several apartments through a lottery system if you prefer to have some choice in selecting an apartment.

    With the graduate student fellowship, you are entitled to the Basic Health Plan (the cost will be covered by the department every semester, including summers). This plan is underwritten by Aetna Life Insurance and administered by Chickering Claims Administrators. It is one of two plans offered by the University. The Comprehensive Plan is (not surprisingly) more comprehensive and more expensive. When you receive enrollment forms from UHS, if you choose the Comprehensive Plan, you will be expected to pay the difference in the two plans yourself. Information about the insurance plans and UHS services will be mailed to you over the summer. The number to call if you need to make a primary care appointment is 212-854-2284.

    If you need to take out loans while you are a graduate student at Columbia, the Graduate Financial Aid office is located on the ground floor of Low Library. You are only eligible for about $1500 in subsidized loans (because of the fellowship), but you can certainly request more in unsubsidized loans.

    The International Students and Scholars office (ISSO) assists students with their questions about admission and placement, immigration matters and social and cultural activities, adjustment to a new academic and cultural environment, personal and family services. They offer orientation programs in late August and September, and present a full calendar of events during the year. Over the summer the ISSO will mail international students information, forms, and visas. If you have any questions, you can contact the office by calling 212-854-3587. You can also visit the website for ISSO.

    Since our department has international students from all over the globe, you should be able to find someone to answer questions you might have (but don't ask us about taxes) or, more often, direct you to those who might be able to answer them. The ISSO is very helpful but often crowded near the beginning of the year, so don't go there if you're in a hurry. If you would like to contact a student over the summer for more information, you can email the graduate student representatives. 

    The University Bookstore is now run by Barnes and Noble and is located in the basement of Alfred Lerner Student Center.

    The many libraries at your disposal can be easily found on any Columbia University map. Your Columbia ID will get you in, but you will need a different kind of photocopy card to make your copies:

    Among America's largest 10 cities, NYC has the lowest crime rate - it tops the list of the safest big cities (FBI crime stats - 2004)! The University provides many services to help make our neighborhood safer. Campus Security is located on the ground floor of Low Library. There are security cameras throughout campus, and security guards who routinely patrol the area. Columbia University also hires its own police force to patrol our neighborhood. Little yellow call boxes that directly dial campus security are located all over. There is also a security escort service provided during the night hours. To find out more about Columbia Security, see the relevant chapter in your copy of Facets.

    It is important to maintain good security within the department by always locking doors behind you when you leave even if it is only for a moment. DO NOT let unauthorized persons use the computer labs. DO NOT reveal the combinations for lab offices to lab non-members.

    The fitness center is open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight weekdays during the school year. Summer hours are slightly more restricted. The center contains two gymnasiums, a pool, an indoor track, weight rooms, aerobics rooms, tennis courts, squash and handball courts, and two saunas. Your Columbia ID card will give you swipe access to all Dodge facilities. Additionally, each semester a wide range of classes are offered for a nominal fee.

    When it comes to on-campus eating, there are many on-campus cafes and cafeterias for you to choose from. The closest is Uris, the business school building located directly next to Schermerhorn. Other popular spots include Avery, Wein, Mudd, Lerner, and Faculty House. Don't worry; you'll get to know them all.

    The major banks in New York City are Citibank, Commerce, Wachovia, Washington Mutual, Bank of America, and Chase Manhattan. These banks have cash stations all around the city. Citibank offers a special student account for Columbia students. To enroll in a student account with Citibank, you must either sign up during the promotion week in the fall, or call the Citibank 800 number and enroll over the phone (the local branches do not have the forms). If you have direct deposit, this account gives you free checking and e-banking. There are Citibank cash stations on campus in Lerner and on Broadway at 111th street. The nearest Chase Manhattan ATM is only a few blocks south of campus (at 113th) on Broadway. Within 6 blocks are Washington Mutual, Commerce Bank, and Banco Popular.