Culminating Experience


A formal culminating experience is required for graduation. The capstone consulting experience is designed to enable students to demonstrate their ability to integrate their academic studies with the role of biostatistical consultant/collaborator, which will comprise the major portion of their future professional practice. During the second spring semester, students register for P8185 Capstone Consulting Seminar, a one-semester, one-credit course. Students are required to attend at least one session of the Biostatistics Consulting Service, run by faculty in the Department of Biostatistics and present the consult to the class for discussion. The Consulting Service offers advice on data analysis and appropriate methods of data presentation for publications, and provides design recommendations for public health and clinical research, including preparation of grant proposals and manuscripts. Operating five days a week, the Consulting Service is a free biostatistical resource for public health and other health sciences researchers at Columbia University.

In addition to the capstone course, students are required to submit a written report about their practicum experience and present a poster at the Master’s Practicum Poster Symposium at the end of their second spring semester.

Environmental Health Sciences

All EHS MPH students are required to take P9300: Capstone Course Critical Thinking & Analysis in EHS. This course is taken in semester 4 (Year 2, Spring semester).

**The only exception to this Capstone requirement is for EHS GLOBAL CERTIFICATE students. Global students fulfill a practicum abroad and register for Global Research Master’s Thesis I and II (P9350 & P9351) to fulfill their capstone and practicum (refer to Global Certificate Course Guidelines).

In addition to the required Capstone course, EHS students have the option of completing a thesis. Students interested in registering to complete a Master’s Thesis must meet with Dr. Freyer prior to registering for the Thesis course (P9361 Research Master's Thesis I in EHS & P9362 Research Master's Thesis II in EHS). See the Environmental Health Sciences handbook for more information. 

Health Policy & Management

The culminating experience for HPM is a forum that connects the academic program with professional practice. HPM students participate in the Department’s Practicum Day at the beginning of the second fall semester. During the session students conduct presentations about their summer practicum experiences within small groups of peers, faculty, and alumni. Students learn about their colleagues’ experiences, give and receive valuable feedback, and practice their presentation skills. The day concludes with a wrap-up session for all participants, facilitated by the faculty seminar leader.

Practicum Day is a component of P8581 Professional Development Seminar. Prior to the session, students submit executive summaries of the practicum, which are used as the basis for planning their Practicum Day presentations.

Health Policy Analysis and Comparative Effectiveness Outcomes Research (CEOR) certificate students in the HPM Department also register for required capstone seminars in their final semester, which serve as the culmination of the students’ certificate program.

P8587 Advanced Health Policy Seminar for the Health Policy Analysis certificate

This course delves into issues related to the U.S. health care safety-net and evaluates how health care policies have shaped the evolution and performance of this system.  Students explore the impact of the Affordable Care Act and develop an enhanced understanding of the implications for access to health care and policy challenges.

P8586 Applied Methods in Health Services and Outcomes Research for the CEOR certificate

The course examines a variety of study designs, methodological approaches and concepts that are germane to health services researchers. During the course students apply these concepts through the implementation of a team-based project. Topics include common problems in health services research across disciplines, methods to address these problems, and an exploration of policy initiatives that have resulted from health services research. 


The Master’s thesis in Epidemiology is the culmination of the student’s educational experience at Mailman. The thesis is a mentored research and writing project where students work one-on-one with a faculty member of their choice analyzing epidemiology data and writing a paper in the form of a peer-review journal article. The thesis is begun in the fall of the second year and completed by mid-April of the spring semester prior to graduation.

Engaging a thesis reader early is crucial to a successful thesis experience. First readers must be Epidemiology faculty members. The thesis reader will provide content expertise and assist the student in identifying gaps in the literature, formulating a scientifically important research question and selecting a dataset appropriate for exploring the thesis question. First year students are encouraged to begin thinking about what topic they would like to research for their thesis. Resources available to them to find a thesis reader and an appropriate dataset to answer the public health question they pose in their thesis include their faculty advisor, the Thesis Director, Dr. Joyce Pressley, and in some cases their practicum supervisor or their certificate lead. Students are encouraged to have a data set in hand and an agreement with an Epidemiology faculty member that they will be their thesis reader by the beginning of the fall semester of year two. Students have the option of a second reader who is frequently someone associated with the practicum or the thesis data. The second reader can be any researcher with a doctoral degree, either from the Columbia community or from outside the institution. The second reader provides additional support and confers with the first reader on the thesis grade. The thesis class, first reader, and second reader (if applicable) jointly determine the thesis grade.

The thesis data set should be from an epidemiologic study large enough to utilize multivariable statistical methods to which the student was exposed during their training. Students often use faculty members’ datasets, publicly available datasets, or data from a practicum site if it is suitable for thesis work, although the thesis and practicum do not have to be linked. Columbia University policy on research by students requires that all theses involving human subjects research be submitted for IRB review prior to beginning data analysis.

Students register for a year long, three-credit course (for administrative purposes split into P9419 in the fall and P9420 in the spring) with the grade conferred by the faculty reader and thesis class. Dr. Joyce Pressley will orient students early in the fall semester to the thesis project, providing detailed instruction on the elements of the thesis and resources available to students throughout the year. Students will find resources on these topics on the courseworks sites for P9419 and P9420. Students receive extensive support in all aspects of the thesis from review of the literature to data analysis and thesis writing from the thesis class, online electronic help topics, workshops, and office hours. See the Epidemiology handbook for more information. 

Population & Family Health 


Students are required to complete a Capstone Paper, choosing from one of four options. 

They may:

  • Prepare a manuscript of publishable quality (e.g. a research article or a review article in journal format, or a book chapter);

  • Write a proposal narrative, including an executive summary, for a major service-based research or evaluation project aimed at a specific funding agency or foundation;

  • Write a rigorous reflective paper about the practice of public health service delivery (based upon one’s practicum); or

  • Write a paper presenting the theory-based development of an innovative educational curriculum. In this option, the curriculum itself stands as an addendum to the Capstone paper, and is based on one's practicum.

  • More a thorough description of the Capstone Paper, please see the Capstone Paper Handbook.

Sociomedical Sciences

Students in Sociomedical Sciences write a master’s thesis as their departmental capstone project and are required to register for their thesis as a threecredit, two-semester course sequence: P8707 SMS Thesis Proposal in the fall semester (1 credit) and P8708 SMS Master’s Thesis in the spring semester (2 credits). Students write their thesis under the guidance of a faculty sponsor of their choosing. 

All MPH and MS students are required to register for their thesis as a yearlong, two-part course sequence, P8707 SMS Thesis Proposal (1 credit) and P8708 SMS Master’s Thesis (2 credits). The courses lead students through the process of writing the thesis: from developing ideas and writing the thesis proposal (due during P8707) to completing the thesis (due at the end of P8708). P8707 and P8708 do not have weekly class meetings throughout the semester. Instead, there are a limited number of sessions early in each semester. Most of the work on the thesis is done by the student individually and in collaboration with her/his thesis sponsor. The purpose of registering for the course is to provide students with guidance and resources via the Courseworks site and periodic meetings. See the Sociomedical Sciences handbook for more information.