Organizational Behavior

Program of Study

The PhD degree in Organizational Behavior is awarded by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) at Harvard University.

Students will work with faculty in the Harvard Business School (HBS) and the Department of Sociology within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

Each candidate’s program of study will be developed in consultation with the Faculty Chair of the program and the Doctoral Programs Office at HBS. The normal program is outlined below.

The First Two Years

Advising

Regular guidance through contact with faculty advisors is an essential component of doctoral education. Students should maintain close contact with their official advisor(s) throughout their enrollment in the program. Students are encouraged to develop informal advising relationships with several faculty members in addition to their official advisor. 

The first-year advisors provide aid during the initial stages of the program but do not necessarily advise the student throughout their studies. Students are matched with initial advisors based on their research interests. As students familiarize themselves with program faculty during coursework, research work, seminars/workshops, and other activities, they may change their official advisor(s) as their academic and research interests develop. During the early years of study, students should become acquainted with many program faculty members to identify advisors who share their research interests.

Coursework

Micro-Organizational Behavior Track

  • Two one-semester courses in foundations of psychology
  • Two additional one-semester graduate-level courses in psychology
  • One graduate level elective course in the Social Sciences (“workshop” courses do not fulfill this requirement)
  • Two term-length Organizational Behavior courses
  • Two courses in quantitative research methods (FAS courses; sequential courses)
  • One course in qualitative research methods
  • One course in research design
  • Two one-term MBA Elective Curriculum courses (see below)

Sociology Track

  • Two one-semester courses on sociological theory
  • Two additional one semester graduate-level (200-level) Sociology electives (“workshop” courses do not fulfill this requirement)
  • One graduate level elective course in the Social Sciences (“workshop” courses do not fulfill this requirement)
  • Two term-length Organizational Behavior courses
  • Two courses in quantitative research methods (FAS courses; sequential courses)
  • One course in qualitative research methods
  • One course in research design
  • Two one-term MBA Elective Curriculum courses (see below)

MBA Courses

All Organizational Behavior students are required to complete 2 MBA Courses in HBS’ Elective Curriculum (EC) to help them identify managerially relevant research opportunities. Doctoral students will also benefit from learning with the MBA students in their courses, who bring practical real-world perspectives to the classroom conversation. In addition, students will develop relationships with faculty instructors to discuss pedagogy and the integration of research in the classroom.  

Additional requirements for doctoral students in MBA Classes

In addition to completing all regularly assigned course requirements, Organizational Behavior students are required to meet with their MBA Instructors at least twice during the semester to discuss connections between course materials and research opportunities. Students will be responsible for setting an agenda and scheduling the meetings during faculty office hours.

Teaching Fellowships in MBA Curriculum

Students may elect to complete one of the two MBA Course requirements by participating as a Teaching Fellow (TF) in an MBA course. Students are eligible to TF in both Required Curriculum (RC) and EC courses. In order to fulfill an MBA course requirement, the TF is required to:

  • attend all class sessions;
  • meet with the instructor to discuss connections between the course material and research, as well as to discuss pedagogical decisions made in the classroom.

Note: Being a TF in an MBA course may count as one of the student’s MBA courses as well as the student’s teaching requirement if the student fulfills all dimensions of the teaching requirement. The teaching requirement may be fulfilled in the MBA program by either teaching in three course sessions (either cases or lecture style) or by teaching review sessions (required or optional sessions).​

Research Requirements

Micro-Organizational Behavior Track

REsearch Apprenticeship Requirement  

By the end of the second year of study, students should complete a research apprenticeship with a faculty member affiliated with the program. This research apprenticeship may or may not be a paid position; a typical time commitment would be approximately 100 hours of work. The research work performed during the research apprenticeship should involve the student in the formulation, design, and conduct of a research project in a substantial professional capacity. It should not be limited to routine research tasks typically performed by a “research assistant,” though it may involve some exposure to such work. Students should complete the research apprenticeship requirement not later than the end of the second year of study.

Qualifying Paper Requirement

Students must prepare a qualifying paper that makes a new contribution to knowledge in social psychology, sociology or organizational behavior. It may (but need not) be based on work begun as part of the research apprenticeship, it may be based on a term paper developed in connection with coursework, or it may be based on a student’s independent research activities. Though the qualifying paper is prepared in conjunction with the advice of a faculty committee, it must be original work prepared principally by the student.

The qualifying paper may offer an original interpretation of existing facts, provide new facts in support or disconfirmation of existing interpretations, or both. Its length and quality should resemble that of a research paper suitable for submission for publication in some form. Indeed, the Program’s aspiration is that students will submit their qualifying papers for publication upon completing this requirement.

The student should consult regularly with the chair and other committee members while planning and conducting the research for the qualifying paper, and writing the paper itself. It is typical for qualifying papers to undergo several cycles of revision before they are approved. The paper is acceptable when committee members agree that it is of sufficient quality to merit review for publication in some form, be it as a chapter in an edited work, a specialty journal, or a general journal in organizational behavior or a related discipline.  

The qualifying paper is supervised by a committee consisting of three faculty members, one of whom is designated as the committee chair. The chair will often, but need not necessarily, be a student’s official advisor in the program (see Advising above). Students are encouraged to form a committee in consultation with their advisor, and to include both HBS and FAS faculty among their committee members. Qualifying paper committees must include at least one member of the HBS faculty, and typically will include more than one. The qualifying paper committee needs to be formed and finalized no later than the end of September in the third year.

Students should begin to work on the qualifying paper requirement by the second year of study.  To be considered in good standing, students should submit the qualifying paper for approval by the end of January in the third year of study. Students who do not complete the qualifying paper by the end of their third year of study are considered to be making unsatisfactory progress and may be withdrawn from the program.

Sociology Track

RESEARCH APPRENTICESHIP REQUIREMENT 

By the end of the second year of study, students should complete a research apprenticeship with a faculty member affiliated with the program. This research apprenticeship may or may not be a paid position; a typical time commitment would be approximately 100 hours of work. The research work performed during the research apprenticeship should involve the student in the formulation, design, and conduct of a research project in a substantial professional capacity. It should not be limited to routine research tasks typically performed by a “research assistant,” though it may involve some exposure to such work. Students should complete the research apprenticeship requirement not later than the end of the second year of study. 

Qualifying Paper Requirement

Students must prepare a qualifying paper that makes a new contribution to knowledge in social psychology, sociology or organizational behavior. It may (but need not) be based on work begun as part of the research apprenticeship, it may be based on a term paper developed in connection with coursework, or it may be based on a student’s independent research activities. Though the qualifying paper is prepared in conjunction with the advice of a faculty committee, it must be original work prepared principally by the student.

The qualifying paper may offer an original interpretation of existing facts, provide new facts in support or disconfirmation of existing interpretations, or both. Its length and quality should resemble that of a research paper suitable for submission for publication in some form. Indeed, the program’s aspiration is that students will submit their qualifying papers for publication upon completing this requirement.

The student should consult regularly with the chair and other committee members while planning and conducting the research for the qualifying paper, and while writing the paper itself. It is typical for qualifying papers to undergo several cycles of revision before they are approved. The paper is acceptable when committee members agree that it is of sufficient quality to merit review for publication in some form, be it as a chapter in an edited work, a specialty journal, or a general journal in organizational behavior or some related discipline.

Students should begin to work on the qualifying paper requirement by the second year of study. To be considered in good standing, the qualifying paper should be approved by the end of January in the third year of study. Students who do not complete the qualifying paper by the end of their third year of study are considered to be making unsatisfactory progress and may be withdrawn from the program.

Organizational Behavior students on the Sociology track should follow procedures for meeting the qualifying paper requirement for graduate students in Sociology as outlined in the Committee on Higher Degrees Procedural Handbook from the Department of Sociology. The chair of the student’s qualifying paper committee must be a member of the Sociology faculty, as must one other committee member. For Organizational Behavior students on the Sociology track, the third member of the qualifying paper committee should be a member of the HBS faculty. Sociology track students may, at their discretion, enroll in the Sociology Department’s qualifying paper workshops (Sociology 310a and Sociology 310b) while working on their qualifying papers.  These workshops are not, however, required of Sociology track Organizational Behavior students and do not satisfy departmental course requirements.

Examinations and Reviews

Micro-Organizational Behavior Track

Organizational Behavior (OB) Examination

This examination completes the student's preparation for work on the doctoral dissertation. It is usually taken after all doctoral coursework requirements have been completed; and may be completed at the end of the first or second year. Students who fail the OB examination requirement may retake the exam one time; the exam requirement must be satisfied no later than the end of the student’s third year of study in the Program. The organizational behavior examination requires students to demonstrate conceptual skill and knowledge of existing empirical findings and the ability to move back and forth between theory and practice. 

Third-year dossier review:

Soon after completion of the qualifying paper, and in no case later than the end of the third year of study, students undergo a dossier review by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor, one member of the Policy and Admissions Committee (PAC), and one other faculty member. The members of the review committee are selected by the chair of the PAC after consultation with the student and the student’s official advisor.

Students submit a dossier consisting of their CV, qualifying paper, at least two other research papers prepared during their graduate studies at Harvard, and a brief (4-page maximum) statement indicating their plans for future research, including thoughts about their dissertation topic.  The additional papers in the dossier may be term papers prepared in connection with coursework, or papers based on independent research (e.g. prepared in conjunction with the research apprenticeship requirement or other work with faculty). Papers submitted for the dossier review may be coauthored, but the student should be the sole or first author of at least two of the papers submitted for the review.

After the committee reviews the dossier, its members meet with the student to discuss the papers submitted, the student’s future academic plans, plans for the dissertation, or any other matters pertinent to the student’s professional development. The review is intended as a constructive stock-taking of the work the student has conducted in the program to that point, and an occasion to discuss his or her progress toward meeting the program’s aspirations, as well as plans for proceeding through its final phases.

Upon completion of the dossier review, the student submits a signed Dossier Review form to the Associate Director for PhD Programs in the HBS Doctoral Programs Office.

Students should be mindful from the beginning of their studies that they must present a dossier consisting of at least three papers for this review by the end of their third year of study.

Sociology Track

Organizational Behavior Examination

This examination completes the student's preparation for work on the doctoral dissertation. It is usually taken after all doctoral coursework requirements have been completed; and may be completed at the end of the first or second year. Sociology track students often opt to complete as part of general examination. Students who fail the OB examination requirement may retake the exam one time; the exam must be satisfied no later than the end of the student’s third year of study in the program. The organizational behavior examination requires students to demonstrate conceptual skill and knowledge of existing empirical findings and the ability to move back and forth between theory and practice. 

Written General Examination Students on the Sociology track take the written examination offered by the Department of Sociology, following procedures and on the schedule set by the Department, as specified by its Committee of Higher Degrees (CHD) — see the Committee on Higher Degrees Procedural HandbookThe exam takes place in August after the first year. In place of one of the two optional areas of the exam, students are required to take the micro organizational behavior section.         

Third-year dossier review:

Soon after completion of the qualifying paper, and in no case later than the end of the third year of study, students undergo a dossier review by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor, one member of the Policy and Admissions Committee (PAC), and one other faculty member. The members of the review committee are selected by the chair of the PAC after consultation with the student and the student’s official advisor.

Students submit a dossier consisting of their CV, qualifying paper, at least two other research papers prepared during their graduate studies at Harvard, and a brief (4-page maximum) statement indicating their plans for future research, including thoughts about their dissertation topic. The additional papers in the dossier may be term papers prepared in connection with coursework, or papers based on independent research (e.g. prepared in conjunction with the research apprenticeship requirement or other work with faculty). Papers submitted for the dossier review may be coauthored, but the student should be the sole or first author of at least two of the papers submitted for the review.

After the committee reviews the dossier, its members meet with the student to discuss the papers submitted, the student’s future academic plans, plans for the dissertation, or any other matters pertinent to the student’s professional development. The review is intended as a constructive stock-taking of the work the student has conducted in the Program to that point, and an occasion to discuss his or her progress toward meeting the Program’s aspirations, as well as plans for proceeding through its final phases.

Upon completion of the dossier review, the student submits a signed Dossier Review form to the Associate Director for PhD Programs in the HBS Doctoral Programs Office.

Students should be mindful from the beginning of their studies that they must present a dossier consisting of at least three papers for this review by the end of their third year of study.

Research Seminar and Presentation

Starting in the second year, Organizational Behavior students are required to attend a weekly research seminar, where students present their ideas, such as the Work, Organizations and Markets (WOM) seminar or the OB Lab.

Teaching Requirement

Students are required to complete a teaching engagement of one full academic term that includes at least 8 hours, or 3 class sessions, of front-of-class teaching experience and at least 16 hours of teaching preparation time. 

The Dissertation

The doctoral dissertation is the culminating event in the program through which the student develops a substantial original contribution to knowledge in the field of Organizational Behavior. Dissertations may take the form of an extended study of one topic, or a set of three or more related research papers. Students should consult with their advisors and with the PAC about the format of their dissertation. Dissertation requirements are identical for students on the Micro-Organizational Behavior and Sociology tracks of the program.

Prospectus and Dissertation Committee

The dissertation committees consist of a minimum of three faculty members, but larger committees are common.  

Micro-Organizational Behavior track committees are ordinarily chaired by a member of the HBS or FAS faculty, and students should consult the chair of their committee while choosing other members. Committees must include at least two Harvard faculty having ladder appointments, at least one of whom must be from HBS. Ideally dissertation committees will include both HBS and FAS faculty. 

Appointments of non-ladder faculty or scholars outside Harvard as additional committee members require the approval of the chair of the PAC. Any subsequent changes in committee composition also must be approved by the chair of the PAC.

Sociology track committees must include at least one member from the HBS faculty and at least one from the FAS faculty. They are typically chaired by a member of either the HBS or the Sociology faculty, but in unusual circumstances, other Harvard faculty members may chair them with the approval of the chair of the PAC.

Students should consult the chair of their committee while choosing other members. Membership of dissertation committees must be approved by the chair of the PAC. The prospectus committee continues as the student’s dissertation committee after the prospectus is approved. Any changes in committee composition that may be requested by the student or by a committee member must be approved by the chair of the PAC.

Once the prospectus is approved, the student should submit the prospectus approval form, countersigned by all committee members, to the Associate Director for PhD Programs of HBS Doctoral Programs at Wyss Hall. This provides protection for the candidate: if the work outlined in the prospectus is satisfactorily completed, the dissertation will be acceptable—even if the membership on the dissertation committee changes between the prospectus defense and the dissertation defense, e.g., because one or more members leaves the University.

The student then conducts the dissertation research. During this process, he or she should keep all committee members abreast of developments, especially if they lead to substantial adjustments in the direction or scope of the dissertation work; such adjustments are relatively common. In some instances, interim meetings of the dissertation committee to discuss the progress and direction of the research may be held.

The Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense is the culmination of the student’s work in the program and should be a celebration of the scholarly achievement and original contribution of the dissertation. The defense takes place before the candidate's dissertation committee and is open to all interested faculty and students.

Students who wish to receive their doctoral degrees at a given November, March, or May graduation must submit a complete draft of the dissertation to all members of their dissertation committee no later than six weeks prior to the GSAS filing deadline for that graduation. Students will be informed annually of these program deadlines.

After submitting the draft dissertation, the student must ascertain from members of the dissertation committee that the student may schedule the final defense. The committee may require that students make revisions to the draft, either prior to scheduling a defense or after the defense but before filing the approved dissertation with GSAS.

The student must arrange a mutually agreeable date, time, and location for the defense, allowing at least two hours for presentation, discussion, evaluation by the committee, and feedback to the student. It is the student’s responsibility that the dissertation defense be advertised widely and well in advance of the defense so that interested students and faculty will have the opportunity to arrange for their participation. The chair of the PAC and the Doctoral Programs Office at HBS must be informed of the scheduled time for the meeting, at least two weeks in advance.

The defense is chaired by the chair of the dissertation committee. It consists of a brief (roughly 20 minute) presentation of the dissertation by the candidate, followed by a period of questioning by the dissertation committee, and then general discussion and questions from all in attendance. The defense ends with an appropriate celebration of the candidate’s accomplishment.

The student must file appropriate forms, countersigned by all members of the dissertation committee, certifying the successful completion of the dissertation defense with the Associate Director for PhD Programs of HBS Doctoral Programs, and with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

CONTACT INFO

Harvard Business School
Doctoral Programs Office
doctoralprograms@hbs.edu
617-495-6101