Nomination for Distinction
The PhD Committee will review annually all dissertation defenses nominated in the preceding year for the award of "with distinction". That nominee must also meet the existing GSAS requirement of a unanimous secret vote. This vote is to be taken electronically before submitting the nomination to the PhD Committee, and only if requested by the sponsor, with each member responding privately via email to the department's Doctoral Program Officer.
Due to GSAS' deadline for printing the convocation program, only students who defend prior to April 1st in a given academic year can be considered for distinction honors at that year's May convocation. Students who defend April 1st or later must be deferred for consideration the following year.
Last Updated February 10, 2012.
Distinction will no longer be awarded after the May 2012 commencement.
Here is the official notice from GSAS:
Awarding Distinction to Dissertations:
Columbia is rare among our peers for formally granting distinction to
dissertations; we are singular in doing so centrally, that is, through
the Graduate School. Dissertations are nominated by the examining
committee in a letter to the dean, and GSAS is supposed to maintain
vigilantly a 10% distinction rate over disparate ad hoc dissertation
committees within a department as well as across all Ph.D. programs at
the university. In practice it has proven impossible to maintain that
stricture, with the result that currently recommendations for
distinction range from 0% to nearly 25% across departments.
The Executive Committee of GSAS voted recently to do away with formal
distinction. Departments may choose to award dissertation prizes or
employ other internal methods to note exceptional work. Both more
reliable and more closely aligned with our Ivy peers, recognition of
superior academic work will be now strictly a matter of departmental
expertise, administration, and accountability that will not involve GSAS
centrally. The Graduate School commends departments to recognize only
truly extraordinary work should they decide to institute such
recognition, and will offer guidance if necessary.
This change will go into effect after Commencement 2012, May 16, 2012.
Dissertations defended after that date will only be eligible for
departmental distinction--should a department institute such
recognition. Dissertations defended before Commencement but not
deposited until afterward will be eligible for distinction if so
recommended at the time of their defense.