The First Two Years Courses

Students must complete successfully at least sixteen half-courses, passed with distinction. No more than twelve half-courses of research (300 level) taken under the direction of members of the faculty will count toward fulfilling the academic requirements.

In consultation with each incoming student and the advisor, the graduate committee will determine, on the basis of the student’s prior training, courses that must be taken (prescriptions) prior to the qualifying examination. Prescriptions must be completed with a grade of B- or better.


Upon admission, students will be assigned a faculty member in the department to serve as a dissertation research advisor.

Every student must have an advisor who is a faculty member in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) at all times. Failure to make arrangements for an advisor may result in dismissal from the department.

A student may request to change research advisor(s) by filling out a change of advisor form available in the departmental office. Students are encouraged to consult freely with any staff member on matters pertaining to their programs and may change to another advisor at any time, subject only to the approval of the new advisor and notification to the departmental office.

Change of advisor forms are available in the departmental office.

In the third year, the student, under the consultation of the advisor, will set up a dissertation committee consisting of the advisor and two other members of the department. Additional members affiliated with other departments or institutions may be approved by the director of graduate studies.

Qualifying Examination

An oral qualifying examination is taken before the end of the second year of graduate study.

The examination committee will consist of the student’s advisor as chair and three additional faculty members from Harvard University, at least two of whom must be in OEB. Permission to allow faculty from other institutions may be requested. The overall committee composition must be approved by the director of graduate studies.

The student, after consultation with the advisor, should submit a potential examination committee plus three broad topics for the qualifying examination to the graduate committee by the end of fall term final examinations. The topics should be pertinent but not restricted to the specific topic of the proposed or ongoing dissertation research. One month prior to the qualifying examination, the student must submit to the chair of the graduate committee and to the OEB departmental office the formal Notice of Qualifying Examination with the time and location of the examination. Once approved by the director of graduate studies, a qualifying examination notice will be sent to all OEB faculty members.

Preparation should include a dissertation proposal and a syllabus outline for three potential courses that could be taught corresponding to the three topic areas. These materials should be presented to the committee at least two weeks prior to the examination.

During the qualifying examination, the student’s knowledge of at least two of the three chosen areas will be appraised. In addition to this evaluation, the examination committee will determine whether the student has satisfactorily completed the prescribed studies stipulated by the prescription committee.

Deficiencies revealed in the course of the qualifying examination may require:

1) that the student be re-examined at a later date, or 2) that the student not be admitted to candidacy for the PhD degree.

Master of Arts (AM)

The Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology does not admit students whose sole purpose is to study for the master of arts degree. However, graduate students admitted to any PhD program at Harvard University may apply for the AM degree if they fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Six graded half-courses in the department (or approved by the director of graduate studies), with no grades lower than B- and an overall grade average of B or better.
  2. At least three of the six courses must be below the 200 level.
  3. At least two of the six courses must be at the 200 level.
  4. TIME and 300-level courses will not ordinarily be accepted toward the AM degree.
  5. AM candidates must submit a written report based on original research conducted under the guidance of a faculty member in the department.


The Dissertation Conference

The dissertation conference is an opportunity to review the proposed dissertation, its progress and potential, with the advisor and the dissertation committee.

The dissertation conference should be held annually, with the first conference taking place in April of the student’s third year. The student should arrange the conference in March of the fourth year of study, and then in the month of February for all subsequent years.

One month prior to a conference, a one-page abstract of proposed and/or completed work, and the time and location of the conference, should be submitted to the OEB departmental office.

At a conference the student should present a brief account of the results obtained, plans for additional research, and the anticipated timetable for completion. In the advanced stages of a dissertation, the committee may give a preliminary assessment of the acceptability of the dissertation and suggest modifications.

The Dissertation

The dissertation is written under the supervision of the student’s research advisor and will be read by members of the dissertation committee. The dissertation committee will consist of the student’s advisor, who will serve as chair, and at least two other members suggested by the advisor and approved by the director of graduate studies. Three members of the committee must be members of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

Prior to the dissertation examination, the candidate will prepare a summary of the dissertation for distribution to members of the committee. Final copies of the dissertation must conform to the standards described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation.

PhD candidates are required to present the subject matter of their dissertation at an open seminar in the department to which the dissertation committee and all members of the OEB faculty are invited. This presentation shall occur before the dissertation examination by members of the dissertation committee.

The Dissertation Examination

The oral dissertation examination is held at least one month before degrees are conferred. Two weeks prior to the public presentation, the candidate must submit two copies of the final dissertation (unbound) to the dissertation committee and a third copy to the OEB departmental office for review by other members of the faculty. After the examination, the committee will decide whether the candidate passes, fails, or passes on condition of specific modifications to the dissertation.

Print this Page