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Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine

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Satisfactory Progress

Until attainment of the PhD degree, satisfactory progress is required for Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine (BSDM) students to continue enrollment in the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. BSDM determines progress by considering the following: performance in courses; satisfactory performance on the preliminary qualifying examination; demonstration of adequate research ability and/or level of improvement; and acceptable ethical conduct.

The First Two Years

First-Year Advisors

Each first-year student is assigned two faculty advisors: one serves as their program advisor and another serves as the back-up faculty advisor. Advisors will be assigned by matching research interests from among the members of the Standing Committee for BSDM.

Courses and Grades

The particular courses a student is required to take may vary based upon their academic background. In addition to the Core curriculum some students are required to take additional courses to ensure a broad background in basic science. Harvard Griffin GSAS states that the minimum standard for satisfactory work in the Graduate School is a B average in each academic year.


Laboratory rotations are required to ensure some breadth of research experience and exposure to different research areas and laboratories in BSDM. Students are expected to have completed satisfactory rotations in at least two labs prior to fulltime dissertation research. Any student who begins their dissertation work in a new lab (one in which they have not done a rotation) must consider the first three months as a rotation. This allows for evaluation by both the student and the mentor. The choice of rotation must be approved by the program director.

The Conduct of Science
Medical Sciences 300, The Conduct of Science, is a discussion forum on ethics and the proper conduct of science. It is designed to provide discussion among new and continuing students and faculty on matters of responsible scientific practice and ethics. All students in the BSDM program must register to take this course when it is offered either in their first or second year.

Introduction to Research
This weekly, two-hour course meets from September through December, and is required for all first-year BSDM students. These weekly meetings include discussions of the many practical and philosophical/ethical issues related to biomedical research, and provide a useful forum for stimulating interactions between PhD students and other Doctoral candidates and dental students interested in basic research. Participation in this course ensures that students get to meet several members of the BSDM and other graduate training program faculties.

Laboratory and Radiation Safety Course
All incoming BSDM graduate students are required to take the Harvard University Laboratory and Radiation Safety Courses before beginning any type of lab work at Harvard. Students who have already completed these Harvard courses will not be required to repeat them. All students entering a dissertation lab not located at Harvard School of Dental Medicine or Harvard Medical School must report to their department administrator’s office at that institution for additional information on training.


Advising of students is multi-layered, distributed among advisors, committees, the director of Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine, the program coordinator, and Harvard Griffin GSAS. First- and second-year students are monitored by their program advisor and also have a backup advisor. After a student selects a dissertation laboratory, a dissertation advisory committee is formed. Together with the dissertation advisor, it monitors the student’s progress, offers assistance, and determines when the student can write and defend the dissertation.


Each student is encouraged to serve as a teaching fellow (unpaid) for one term. Students may undertake additional teaching or tutoring responsibilities, but only with permission of their dissertation research advisor, if they have one, and permission of the director of Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine. Students may meet the teaching expectation through extensive participation in an outreach program for students in Boston-area schools.

Preliminary Qualifying Examination

Each student is required to pass a preliminary qualifying examination administered by BSDM. Each student should follow the BSDM program’s preliminary qualifying examination procedures. This examination is usually given in the second year. The examination consists of a written proposal that is defended orally. Any student who has not attained a clear pass after a second examination will be asked to withdraw from the BSDM program. A student is not allowed to register for the fourth year if they have not passed the preliminary qualifying examination.

Year Three and Beyond


Selecting a Dissertation Advisor

Selection of a dissertation advisor is a two-step process: Before a student may officially begin dissertation work in a laboratory, they fill out a Dissertation Advisor Declaration Form (available from the BSDM program office) and obtains approval from the director of the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine Program.

Dissertation Advisory Committees (DAC)

An important policy of Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine is that each graduate student establish a dissertation advisory committee (DAC) to provide timely and considered advising. The DAC helps set logical goals for the completion of the dissertation and monitors progress toward completion of degree requirements. This method of dissertation advising works well—but only if the DAC meets and reports on a regular basis.

The student’s DAC should be formed in consultation with the student and the student’s dissertation advisor. The committee should have three members not including the advisor. The dissertation advisor may be an ex officio member. The student bears primary responsibility for setting up the DAC and ensuring that it meets in timely fashion. The students should meet with their committee as soon as possible after the preliminary examination, but in all cases by the end of graduate year three and each twelve months thereafter. Beginning with the fourth graduate year, students will be allowed to register for the upcoming year(s) only if their DAC has met and filed a formal report within the past twelve months.

The DAC will meet as a group and report annually. Beginning no later than the fifth year, the DAC will ask if the research project is heading toward a plausible dissertation. The DAC may decide to meet more than one time a year for students in their fifth year and above, or in special circumstances.

The chair of the DAC is responsible for preparation of the report, which should be signed by all committee members immediately upon conclusion of the meeting. The chair will submit the report to the program coordinator, who distributes copies to the student, to members of the DAC, and to the student’s dissertation advisor and program advisor. Immediate submission of the DAC report is important, not only so potential problems can be remedied quickly but so the student’s registration status is not jeopardized.

Preparation for the Dissertation Defense

The FAS Registrar specifies deadlines by which the dissertation must be submitted and the dissertation examination passed to receive the PhD diploma in November, March, or May of each academic year. The BSDM program coordinator will provide a dissertation information packet specifying the steps to be taken when the student is ready to apply for the PhD degree and the various forms that need to be submitted. The information packet will be thoroughly reviewed with the student by the program coordinator. The first step is completion of two forms: the Application for Degree form and the Program Approval form. The deadline for submitting these forms can be more than three months before the student expects to receive the degree.

Students must have a DAC report on file in the BSDM office stating that the student may begin writing the dissertation prior to processing dissertation defense paperwork.

The dissertation must show original treatment of a fitting subject, contain a scholarly review of the pertinent literature, give evidence of independent research, and be clearly, logically, and carefully written. Students are expected to give a public seminar on their dissertation research.

Attributions to Dissertation

The PhD dissertation is expected to contain a substantial amount of independent research work of publishable quality. In addition to chapters of research, each dissertation must contain introduction and conclusion chapters that present the themes of the dissertation and summarize the accomplishments. In some cases the student has done all of the work in the dissertation; more often portions of the dissertation result from collaborative research. In all dissertations containing collaborative results, the dissertation should indicate concisely who contributed the work.

It is permissible for more than one student to include work from the same collaboration or publication as long as the required attributions are clear, justified, and complete.

Individual chapters can be reprints of published articles as long as there are comprehensive introduction and conclusion chapters written by the student. See Policies for information on the use of copyrighted material.


The student and the student’s dissertation advisor must select at least four examining committee members: an examination chair, usually the chair of the DAC, and three examiners. If an alternate examiner is required, then the alternate must receive a copy of the dissertation and be available on the date of the defense.

The director of Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine will approve the members from a list submitted by the candidate and their advisor (Proposed Dissertation Examiners form). All proposed examiners must be a rank of assistant professor or higher, full time. At least one member of the examination committee and the chair of the examination must be faculty from Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine and/or the Division of Medical Sciences; the dissertation advisor is not eligible to be an examiner or the chair, but usually attends the examination ex officio. To broaden the examination and enhance its significance, one member of the Examination Committee must be from outside Harvard University. Candidates are required to have one, but not more than one, member of the DAC become a member of the Examination Committee. The Examination Committee chair, in most cases the chair of the DAC, does not function as a voting examiner but may participate in the questioning of the candidate.

BSDM Vacation Policy

Graduate study in Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine is considered a full-time endeavor. Students are entitled to official student holidays and vacation days observed by the University or the institutions at which their dissertation laboratories are located. Graduate study is a year-round activity that continues between terms and throughout the summer months. Students planning to be away at times other than official vacations may do so only with the approval of the director of Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine, designated program advisor, or their dissertation advisor if they are in a dissertation research laboratory.

Contact Info

Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine Website

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