Patient Oriented Research

The MS in Patient Oriented Research (MS/POR) offers training in the fundamentals of clinical investigation to prepare young investigators for independent careers as clinical and translational scientists.

This two-year, 30-credit Master’s degree program is comprised of an interdisciplinary series of courses and colloquia—some of which were developed exclusively for the POR program. The program emphasizes strong quantitative training as well as critical thinking skills and practical strategies for addressing the complex challenges of clinical and translational research, with the overall goal of enabling its trainees to compete more effectively for peer-reviewed research funding.

Program requirements include a Master’s essay in the form of an NIH-style research grant application, written under the supervision of program faculty. Graduates earn a Master of Science degree in Patient Oriented Research.

The program was originally funded by a K30 Clinical Research Curriculum Development Award from the NIH and is now affiliated with Columbia's Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (funded by a CTSA grant from NIH). A limited number of partial scholarships are awarded to the most highly qualified applicants each year.   

All MS/POR candidates must have completed a doctorate in a clinical/translational discipline prior to enrollment. Students begin study during the summer of their year of admission thereby completing the degree within 2 years.

Patient Oriented Research Competencies

In addition to achieving the core competencies of the MS programs offered by the Department of Biostatistics, MS/POR graduates will be able to:

Data Analysis and Computing

  • Apply the basic tenets of research design and analysis for the purpose of critically reviewing research and programs in disciplines outside of biostatistics;

  • Differentiate between quantitative problems that can be addressed with standard methods and those requiring input from a professional biostatistician; and

Public Health and Collaborative Research

  • Discuss basic laboratory methods commonly used in patient oriented research.

"Columbia University Medical Center is steeped in a rich tradition of clinical investigation and a strong institutional commitment to the study of human disease. We teach the methods that lead to results and improved health for all."

Melissa D. Begg, ScD

Admission Criteria

Candidacy in the POR program is open to anyone who holds any of the following doctoral degrees: MD, DDS, DMD, DO, DC, ND, or DNSc. PhDs who want to become involved in clinical research may also be eligible.

We encourage candidates from a wide range of patient oriented research fields and specialty areas to apply. Uniformity, however, is ensured by the fact that all candidates must be engaged in either direct care of or research with patients.

Applications are due on April 15th to begin studies the following July.  Admissions decisions are made and scholarships awarded in early May.

Critical evaluation of each application will involve in-depth review of all components of the Mailman School of Public Health application, including transcripts from college and graduate school; a curriculum vitae; a personal statement detailing the applicant's reasons for seeking clinical research training; three letters of reference, one of which should be a statement of support from applicant's program director ensuring sufficient time off to commit to the completion of this degree. Proof of quantitative and analytic ability, as evidenced by good scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), is required. For international applicants, a TOEFL score evidencing English language proficiency is also required.

One of the applicant's 3 letters of reference must come from his/her direct supervisor. This letter must confirm that if accepted to the program:

  1. The candidate will continue to receive salary support during the two years that he/she will be enrolled in the training program; and

  2. The candidate must be permitted to attend classes full-time for 6 weeks during the first summer of study in order to participate in the CSRI (Columbia Summer Research Institute) program; and allowed to take courses for up to 7-9 hours per week during subsequent semesters.

Scholarships and Funding Opportunities

A limited number of partial scholarships, generously provided by the CUMC Clinical Trials Office and the Mailman School, are available to highly qualified candidates. Awarding of these scholarships is determined by the POR Advisory Board during the admissions review process. At the first step, the Board ranks applicants who meet the requirements for admission by these criteria:

  • promise in clinical and translational research

  • superior academic transcripts

  • prior involvement in clinical research projects

  • letters of reference

  • publication record

Next, an academic subcommittee assesses the candidates' perceived strengths and weaknesses and forwards this information, along with the application and their recommendations, to the full POR Advisory Board for final approval.

Applicants ranking highest among all admitted candidates in a given year are offered POR Scholarships for two years of study, partially covering a portion of 30 credits of coursework and research. A candidate's department or division is also expected to help cover tuition costs.

The Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research has funding opportunities for eligible post-doctoral candidates. To learn more about the research training program and application instructions, please go to the Irving Institute’s website.

Master's Essay

As part of Patient Oriented Research training, each student is required to complete a Master’s essay consisting of the construction of an NIH-style grant application, considered one of the cornerstones of the MS/POR program.  students are supervised by a Project Sponsor from biostatistics and by a Clinical Mentor from his or her own clinical field. At the fall term of year 2, each student will submit a research grant proposal, following NIH guidelines for applications. Each proposal will be reviewed by the program leaders, followed by a formal presentation to the POR Advisory Board.



Time Commitment

The program may be completed in just under two years. Courses are generally scheduled with the clinicians' limited time in mind. Many classes are scheduled in the mid-to-late afternoon, and we try to keep it down to three partial days per week in school.

Students begin the program by completing 10 of the 30 required credits by participating in the Columbia Summer Research Institute (CSRI). The CSRI is an intensive 5-week program in research design and statistical analysis and requires a full-time committment for the duration of the program.

A survey of program graduates indicates that the program requires 12-20 hours per week on average, including lectures, readings, and homework.

While the POR program is considered part-time, some semesters, just like some courses, are heavier than others. Applicants can expect to carry as little as three and up to eleven credits per semester, depending on how they sketch out their requirements.


The Patient Oriented Research (POR) training program produces effective, successful, and competitive clinical and translational investigators. Students are trained in the design, conduct, and evaluation of clinical and translational research studies, with close supervision and support from the program's directors. With expert guidance, each POR student will craft a research proposal that will be carefully assessed by faculty and peers in the program. In addition to gaining better skills, successful students will leave the program with a Master of Science degree in Biostatistics - Patient Oriented Research Track (for those starting the program in 2009 or earlier) or a Master of Science degree in Patient Oriented Research (for those starting in 2010 or later), a valued credential on curriculum vitae.

The POR curriculum consists of 30 credits in total, including required and elective coursework. Through specially focused coursework and a supervised Master’s essay, candidates for MS/POR will receive formal training in the following areas:

  • Design of clinical research studies

  • Laboratory methods for measurement of clinical indicators

  • Conduct of observational & randomized studies

  • Applied statistical methods

  • Standards for scientific conduct

  • Pursuit of research funding

  • Critical review of the literature

  • Use of software packages for data management & analysis 

While the curriculum is designed to provide an introduction to a broad array of topics, candidates are free to choose two or more elective courses during their training period, thereby affording them the opportunity to develop expertise in a particular specialty area (e.g., quantitative, translational, or epidemiologic methods).

Required Courses

The required courses are listed below.

Interdisciplinary Core Requirements

Course No. Course Name Points
P6104Introduction to Biostatistical Methods3
P6400Principles of Epidemiology I3
P8102Basic Laboratory Methods: Tools for Translational Research1
P8103Colloquium on Patient Oriented Research2
P8120Analysis of Categorical Data3
P8182Writing a Successful NIH Grant Application1
P8568Decision Analysis for Clinical and Public Health2
P8750Race and Health1
P9165Master's Essay in Biostatistics: Patient Oriented Research0
G4010Responsible Conduct of Research & Related Policy Issues1
M9780Funding for Research Activities: Basic Issues in Obtaining Support1
89260Building Interdisciplinary Research Models2


Restricted Electives

In addition to the 13 courses listed above, students are required to take at least one of the following courses:

Course No. Course Name Points
P6385Principles of Genetics and the Environment3
P8119Advanced Statistical & Computational Methods in Genetics3
P8180Research Data Coordination: Principles and Practices3
P8307Molecular Epidemiology3
P8308Molecular Toxicology3
P8319Biological Markers of Chemical Exposure3
P8405Genetics in Epidemiology3
P8771Community Based Participatory Research3
P8792Dissemination and Implementation Science3
M7208Precision Medicine3
G4001Introduction to Computer Applications in Health Care and Biomedicine3
G4500Cancer Biology I3
G6003Mechanisms in Human Disease I4.5

Elective Coursework

Students will choose 2-3 courses from the lists below, or from the list of restricted electives above. (Note that 30 credits are required in order to graduate with the MS degree.) Courses are grouped according to particular fields of emphasis. Students may select two or more courses from a certain grouping or from different groups, depending upon their interests. All selections must be approved by the Program Director. Students are permitted to take electives that do not appear below, but only with the Program Director's approval.

Electives in Clinical Research

Electives in Biostatistics

Course No. Course Name Points
P6110Statistical Computing with SAS3
P8100Applied Regression I3
P8110Applied Regression II3
P8140Introduction to Randomized Clinical Trials3
P8142Clinical Methodology3
P8144Pharmaceutical Statistics3

Electives in Epidemiology

Course No. Course Name Points
P8404Epidemiology and Genetics of Aging3
P8406Infectious Disease Epidemiology3
P8414Cancer Epidemiology3
P8417Selected Problems of Measurement in Epidemiology 3
P8432Environmental Epidemiology3
P8438/9Epidemiology II: Design & Conduct of Observational Epidemiology3
P8450Clinical Epidemiology3

Electives in Health Policy

Course No. Course Name Points
P6503Introduction to Health Economics3
P6530Issues & approaches in health policy & management3
P8541Technology assessment & economic evaluation3

Electives in Translational Research

Electives in Environmental Sciences

Course No. Course Name Points
P6330Radiation Science3
P8312Fundamentals of Toxicology3
P8307Molecular Epidemiology3
P8308Molecular Toxicology3
P8319Biological markers of chemical exposure3

Electives in Health Disparities & Community Health

Course No. Course Name Points
P8750Race and Health3
P8762Chronic Disease and Community Health3
P8771Community Based Participatory Research3
P8711A Systems Approach to Obesity and its Comorbidities3

Electives in Translational Research

Electives in Public Health

Course No. Course Name Points
P6385 Principles of Genetics and the Environment I3
P6386 Principles of Genetics and the Environment II3
P6330Radiation Science3
P8312Fundamentals of Toxicology3
P8308Molecular Toxicology3
P8307Molecular Epidemiology3
P8319Biological Markers of Chemical Exposure3

Electives in Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Course No. Course Name Points
W4008The Cellular Physiology of Disease3


Sample Schedules

Candidates for the MS/POR degree must complete all program requirements (30 credits) within 2 calendar years, taking 2-4 courses per term. Coursework commences during the summer term of the first year of study. To become a POR Scholar, you MUST be able to start the program in JULY of year one.

Students begin the POR program by participating in the Columbia Summer Research Institute, an intensive 5-week summer program. CSRI participants earn 10 credits over 5 weeks of full-time effort, completing two introductory-level required courses (epidemiology and biostatistics) and four mini-electives (NIH grant writing, development of clinical guidelines, health disparities research and decision/cost-effectiveness analysis).

Note: Course schedules change from year to year, so that class days/times in future years may differ from the sample schedule below. While we work very hard to ensure clinicians are not in class more than three partial days per week, we do not offered classes at night or on weekends. Many required classes are offered in the mid-to-late afternoon.

Year 1Course No. Course Name Points
Summer Semester
(July- early-Aug.)
P6104Introduction to Biostatistical Methods3
 P6400Principles of Epidemiology I3
 P8182Writing a Successful NIH Grant1
 P8590Decision Analysis for Clinical and Public Health Practices2
 P8750Race and Health1
Fall Semester
(September through December)
P8102Basic Laboratory Methods: Tools for Translational Research1
P8103POR Career Development Colloquium0.5
Spring Semester
(January through May)
G4010Responsible conduct of research and related policy issues1
 P8103POR Career Development Colloquium0.5
 P8120Analysis of Categorical Data3
 89260Building Interdisciplinary Research Models2


Year 2Course No. Course Name Points
Summer Semester
(mid-May through end of June)
M7208Precision Medicine3
Fall Semester
(September through December)
P8103POR Career Development Colloquium0.5
P9160Master's Essay in Biostatistics: Patient Oriented Research0
  Restricted Elective 3
Spring Semester
(January through May)
P8103POR Career Development Colloquium0.5
 M9780Funding for Research Activities: Basic Issues in Obtaining Support1
  Elective Course(s)3-6


Our Students

 Of 48 POR Scholars admitted through 2005, most enter the program as Post-doctoral Fellows or Assistant Professors.
 Women and men are admitted in about equal proportions.
There is broad representation from a number of race/ethnic groups (self-identified).
Most scholars are from the Departments of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Neurology.
And those in Medicine represent a broad range of sub-specialty areas, as well as housestaff.


Thirty-five of the 48 (73%) have successfully completed all programs requirements and have graduated. Another 13 are actively working towards completion of their degrees. All are employed in research positions, with approximately 94% holding academic appointments, and the rest in private research foundations and the pharmaceutical industry.

In the short time since the program launched its first graduates in 2001, 12 POR Scholars out of 48 (25%) have succeeded in obtaining independent grant awards (both career and research awards) from the NIH. In addition to success in garnering NIH funding, several have secured peer-reviewed awards from private foundations and the corporate sector. Overall, approximately 33% of POR Scholars have succeeded in obtaining independent research funding over the past five years.

…and What They Say About the Program

We measure the value and success of the MS/POR program not just in terms of course and faculty evaluations, but by the written feedback on the program received from some of the POR graduates:

"When I included Biostatistics course work in my K24 grant as part of my career development plan, it was largely due to grantsmanship. At the time, I thought that Biostatistics was a hopelessly elusive body of knowledge that I could never really hope to understand. In retrospect, I could never have possibly imagined how much my lack of understanding of basic statistical concepts was holding back my career. This program was the single most important thing that I have done since completion of my fellowship training. I know that the program has already substantially improved my grant writing and my manuscript preparation and will continue to do so in the future."
"The POR Track provided me with the training and insight that will allow me to finally approach my goals of using knowledge gained from study of the placenta to improve understanding of the process and burden of obstetric disease, and to point in the direction of potential improvements to mother and child care that may echo throughout the life course of the mother and her family."
"Completing the POR program has been an essential step in my research career and has already had a significant impact on my research work and grant writing. I anticipate that it will increase my chances to obtain federal funding and to reach my goal of becoming a successful clinical researcher."
"... I appreciate my POR education on a daily basis... "

POR Graduate Survey Results

We also appreciate these additional comments obtained by anonymous survey of our graduates from 2001-2003:

"Amazing camaraderie between my classmates developed – best learning experience of my life."
"The Master’s essay in NIH format is a definite strength. I have since submitted an R01 based on my Master’s essay to the NIH."
"The NIH grant was a valuable experience in learning the necessary skills to obtain funding. It also was a nice application of the knowledge gained from the program in study design, epi and stats."
"I found the Master’s Essay very helpful. It was directly applicable to my research interests. I also learned a tremendous amount by evaluating the research proposals of my classmates."
In addition, of those responding to the survey, 94% agreed with the following statement: "Since completing the POR track, I am better able to generate a research proposal and compete for research funding." A full 100% agreed that "I would recommend the POR track to a colleague with similar interests."

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does the program take to complete?

Just under two years, from July of the first year through May of the second year. Students begin the program by participating in the Columbia Summer Research Institute through which they complete 10 credits of the 30 required. This intensive 5-week program begins in early July and ends in early/mid-August. 

How much homework is there?

Our students tell us that, on average, the program requires about 12-20 hours of their time per week.

Are classes offered at night or on weekends?

No. While we work very hard to ensure clinicians are not in class more than three partial days per week, we do not offered classes at night or on weekends. Many classes required are offered in the mid-to-late afternoon.

What are the differences between the Patient Oriented Research (POR) and the Clinical Research Methods (CRM) tracks?

POR program is 30 credits, while the CRM is a 30 credit degree. The POR program offers a limited number of partial scholarships, while there is currently no scholarship support for the CRM track. The POR program culminates in a master's essay that consists of an NIH-style grant. The master's essay for the CRM program comprises a research article with comprehensive data analysis of publishable quality. In both programs, research projects are supervised by faculty from biostatistics and by mentor(s) from the student's own clinical field.

Advisory Board

Program Director

Melissa D. Begg, ScD
Vice Provost for Academic Programs, Columbia University
Professor of Biostatistics

TRANSFORM Advisory Board Members

Lee Goldman, MD, MPH
Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine
Muredach Reilly, MBBCH, MSCE
Florence and Herbert Irving Endowed Professor of Medicine
Director, Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research
Henry N. Ginsberg, MD
Herbert and Florence Irving Professor of Medicine
Director Emeritus, Irving Institute
Wendy Chung, MD, PhD
Kennedy Family Associate Professor of Pediatrics
Daichi Shimbo, MD                                                                      
Associate Professor of Medicine
Director, Columbia Summer Research Institute
Elaine Abrams, MD
Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology
Elizabeth Cohn, PhD, RN
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Nursing
Katherine Crew, MD
Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
Karina Davidson, PhD
Professor of Behavioral Medicine in Medicine and Psychiatry
Vice Dean for Organizational Effectiveness of P&S
Peter Dayan, MD, MS                                                       
Professor of Pediatrics                                                 
Thomas Diacova, MD
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology and Cell Biology
Donald Edmondson, PhD, MPH
Associate Professor of Medicine
Mitchell Elkind, MD, MS, MPhil
Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology
Pam Factor-Litvak, PhD, MS, MPhil
Professor of Epidemiology
Associate Dean for Research
Ali Gharavi, MD
Jay Meltzer, M.D. Professor of Nephrology and Hypertension
David Goldstein, PhD
John E. Borne- Professor of Medical and Surgical Research (in Genetics and Development)
Nancy Green, MD
Professor of Pediatrics
Dawn Hershman, MD, MS                                                  
Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology                               
Elaine Larson, RN, PhD, FAAN, CIC
Anna C. Maxwell Professor of Nursing and Professor of Epidemiology
Associate Dean of Scholarship and Research
Joel Lavine, MD, PhD
Professor of Pediatrics
David Lederer, MD, MS
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Epidemiology
Bruce Levin, PhD
Professor of Biostatistics
Guohua Li, MD, DrPH, MS
Mieczyslaw Finster Professor of Anesthesiology and Professor of Epidemiology
José Alejandro Luchsinger, MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology
Karen Marder, MD, MPH
Sally Kerlin Professor of Neurology
Mathew Maurer, MD
Professor of Medicine
Harold Pincus, MD
Professor of Psychiatry
Jaime S. Rubin, PhD
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Vice Chair for Investigator Development
Neil Schluger, MD                                                                
Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology and Environmental Health Sciences
Elizabeth Shane, MD
Professor of Medicine
Steven Shea, MD, MS
Hamilton Southworth Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology (in Biomedical Informatics)
Senior Vice Dean, College of Physicians and Surgeons
Gregg Stone, MD
Professor of Medicine
Ron Wapner, MD
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology 
More information on Admission Requirements.