SHBT Doctoral Dissertation Guide


Important Deadlines & Requirements

Years 1 - 2


Year 3


Year 4


Year 5



These policies are intended to help keep students on track as they progress through their PhD program. Experience shows that students make more rapid progress towards graduation when they interact regularly with a faculty committee and complete their Dissertation proposal sooner rather than later.

Beginning Dissertation Research

Students may choose their doctoral dissertation topic in virtually any research area relevant to speech and hearing at the interface of physical science/engineering and the biomedical sciences.

Students are encouraged to begin research activities early in their graduate program; research work towards the dissertation may be done at Harvard, MIT or affiliated hospitals.  SHBT encourages students to explore areas that are relevant to clinical medicine.  The candidate pursues the dissertation under the direction of a dissertation advisor and is guided by a DAC.

[Friendly advice: If you are having trouble selecting a research area and/or advisor, invite several faculty who you know best to join you in a brainstorming session.]


The Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC)

Committee Composition and Function
Students perform doctoral dissertation research under the guidance of a DAC consisting of at least three faculty members (including a chairman and a dissertation advisor) who will help guide the research and act as readers of the dissertation.  Faculty members with relevant expertise from outside Harvard may serve on the DAC if approved by the Division of Medical Sciences.  At least two members of the DAC must be formally affiliated with the SHBT program; at least one member must not be affiliated with the Program in order to provide an outside perspective.

Students are required to declare two tentative DAC members by the end of the second year of registration, and declare a final DAC by the end of the third year of registration. The SHBT student tracking committee must approve the composition of the DAC; this is done when the DAC Declaration Form (see below) is approved.  In order to avoid conflicts of interest, a student's dissertation advisor cannot simultaneously be either the academic advisor or the DAC chair.  In the event that an academic advisor becomes the dissertation advisor, a new academic advisor will be found.

[Friendly advice: In addition to covering all the areas of expertise needed to do your Dissertation research, your committee should also be diverse. It should include people from various departments and labs. It is often very helpful to include at least one person who is likely to view your problem from a very different perspective than you and your supervisor.]

[Friendly advice: Although there is no maximum committee size, three or four is considered optimal. Committees of five members are possible, but more than five is unwieldy.]

DAC Meetings
Students must meet with their DAC at least once each semester beginning in the third year of registration.   At the end of the meeting, the DAC chair completes a DAC Report which is submitted to the Division of Medical Sciences.

[Friendly advice: Begin meeting with your proposed committee even before this. Group discussions can be a very effective for generating new ideas and developing a clear research plan.]

Dissertation Advisor
The dissertation advisor is responsible for overseeing the student's dissertation project, providing a supportive research environment, and mentoring the student. The dissertation advisor is chosen by the student and must be a faculty member of Harvard University.  The Division of Medical Sciences may approve other individuals as dissertation advisors on a case-by-case basis.

DAC Chair
Each DAC is headed administratively by a chair, chosen by the student in consultation with the dissertation advisor. The DAC chair is responsible for overseeing the committee meetings that are convened at least once each semester to review research progress; submitting a report after each DAC meeting; conducting the Dissertation defense; and, with the committee, reviewing the Dissertation. The DAC chair must be a Harvard faculty member and must be well acquainted with the academic policies and procedures of DMS. The dissertation advisor may not simultaneously serve as DAC chair


The Dissertation Advisor and DAC Declaration Forms

Students must submit two forms to propose a Dissertation Advisor and a DAC, respectively.   It is recognized that the advisor and/or DAC may change as the research evolves.  If so, a dissertation advisor/DAC change form should be submitted with the revised information.

The Dissertation Advisor Declaration Form should propose a general area of dissertation research and a dissertation advisor, and identify two tentative DAC members.  The form must be submitted to the Division of Medical Sciences by the end of the second year of registration.  This form should specify the area of expertise of the dissertation advisor.  It should also indicate whether IRB approval (Institutional Review Board; for research involving human subjects) and/or IACUC approval (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; for research involving vertebrate animals) will be required and, if so, from which institutions.  The research description should be no longer than 100 words.  The student and dissertation advisor must sign the form.


The DAC Declaration Form should address the same issues as the earlier form and also specify the faculty members who will serve on the DAC.   At least one member of this committee must be eligible to serve as DAC chair.  The form should also confirm the dissertation advisor and general area of dissertation research.  The DAC Declaration Form must be signed by the student, dissertation advisor and DAC members.  It must be submitted to the Division of Medical Sciences by the end of the third year of registration.

Students are strongly encouraged to identify tentative DAC members and begin meeting with them as early as possible.  Following submission of the DAC Declaration Form, students are required to hold at least one meeting per semester with their DAC. The role of the committee is to offer advice in formulating the research.

It is recognized that the research direction may change in the process of developing a formal dissertation proposal. The research topic and DAC are only considered final after the Dissertation proposal (see below) has been approved.

[Friendly advice: Be sure to take responsibility for obtaining the necessary signatures and submitting the forms to the Division of Medical Sciences.]


Dissertation Proposal and Proposal Presentation

Proposal Document
Each student must present a dissertation proposal to their DAC and submit an approved proposal to the SHBT Student Tracking Committee by the end of the fourth year of registration.  


The only exception is for students who substantially change their research focus after submitting their original Dissertation Advisor Declaration Form; in those cases the dissertation proposal must be submitted within three semesters of joining a new lab.

The proposal should be no longer than 4500 words, excluding references. This is intended to help students develop their proposal-writing skills by gaining experience composing a practical proposal; the length is comparable to that required for proposals to the NIH R03 Small Research Grant Program. The proposal should clearly define the research problem, describe the proposed research plan, and defend the significance of the work. Preliminary results are not required.

Proposal Presentation
The student must formally present the written dissertation proposal before the full DAC.


Following the presentation, the student must correct any deficiencies in the proposal identified by the committee, and the committee then reviews the amended proposal.  Once the committee approves the proposal, the student should obtain the signatures of the DAC members on the forms described below as part of the proposal submission package.

[Friendly advice: As a professional courtesy, be sure your committee members have a complete version of your dissertation proposal at least a week in advance of the proposal presentation.]

[Friendly advice: Be sure to take responsibility for obtaining the necessary signatures and submitting the proposal to DMS. The proposal serves as a contract between you and your committee, but not until it is approved by the SHBT Tracking Committee.]

Submission of Proposal Package
When the DAC deems the proposal acceptable, the student submits the proposal package to the head of the SHBT Student Tracking Committee for final approval. The Tracking  Committee has responsibility for final approval of both the proposal and the composition of the DAC.

The proposal package includes the following:



Dissertation Document and Dissertation Defense

When the dissertation document is substantially complete and fully acceptable to the DAC, a public dissertation defense must be scheduled at which the student presents his/her research to the DAC and other members of the research community. The dissertation defense is the last formal examination required for receipt of a doctoral degree. To be considered "public", a defense must be announced at least five working days in advance. Through the defense, the DAC judges the adequacy of the dissertation research. Once the dissertation is satisfactorily defended and the signed final dissertation document is submitted to the Division of Medical Sciences, the student's Dissertation requirement will have been fulfilled.

Dissertation Defense Procedures