HMS Virology

Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) Guidelines

The purpose of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) is to follow the progress of the student, provide advice on the conduct of the dissertation research, and, ultimately, decide when the student is ready to complete the research and write a dissertation.

Each student should form and meet with his/her Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) as soon as possible after the qualifying exam is completed, but in all cases, by six months following completion of the PQE, and every 12 months thereafter until the beginning of year 5 when meetings should convene once every six months.
  DMS rules require G5 and higher students to meet every six months.


  • The dissertation advisory committee includes three faculty members (in addition to the dissertation advisor) whose areas of concentration relate closely to the projected direction of the dissertation project.  Three faculty members will be chosen by the joint decision of the student and dissertation advisor. 

  • The list of possible faculty members must be submitted to the head of the Virology Program before faculty members are contacted.  The program head will work with the student and his/her advisor to choose the best committee.  Once approved, the student may then contact faculty members to serve on the DAC. 

    • DAC members are usually members of the Harvard faculty, but may also come from other area faculties.  The faculty should be broadly representative of relevant disciplines.
    • When there is a major shift in direction or new methodologies are to be employed, current members should be replaced or additional members enrolled.
  • The chair of the committee, generally a member of the Committee on Virology, should not be the dissertation advisor.


  • Each student's dissertation advisory committee should meet at least every twelve months; additional meetings should be called as needed.  In cases in which a student's studies have not been completed by the end of year four, the committee will meet at least every six months until the dissertation is completed.  Meetings may be called by the student, the committee chair, or the dissertation advisor.

  • The student should provide a report to the members of the committee no later than one week prior to each meeting.   This report should include:
    • Introduction and Background
    • Hypothesis(es) 
    • Progress Report 
    • Proposed Experiments

  • The DAC meeting will consist of private meetings of the student and the advisor with the DAC followed by presentation of research progress and a summary of proposed future experiments.  The meeting should conclude with the gathering of consensus regarding future priorities and experiments.

  • Immediately after each meeting, a written report of the assessment of approach and progress should be prepared by the chair of the dissertation advisory committee.  The report should include overall assessment and specific comments on the student’s progress as well as an assessment as to whether the research direction and/or progress can plausibly lead to a dissertation.  The report form is now in electronically writable format to ensure that the report can be easily read.  The report will be signed electronically by the chair.  The completed report should be sent to the Committee on Virology administrator at  The administrator will then send a copy to the student, the student’s advisor, the Division of Medical Sciences, the head of the Virology Program, and the dissertation advisory committee members, with a copy to the chair of the committee.

Role of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) 

For the DAC Chair

  • When the DAC meeting begins, you should ask the student to step out of the room so you may discuss the progress of the student with the dissertation advisor.  Please be brief.  Once the student returns to the room you should ask the dissertation advisor to step out briefly.   This will give the student the opportunity to mention anything he/she is uncomfortable discussing with the dissertation advisor present.  Please summarize the comments of the advisor and student on the report.

  •  Please ask the dissertation advisor if the Conflict of Interest form has been discussed with the student and ensure that it has all the necessary signatures. 

  • The student should bring a copy of the writable DAC form to each meeting and send an electronic copy to the chair.  Please make complete notes for your description of the dissertation progress at the meeting so that all members can note their approval.  After the meeting, the form should be completed electronically and emailed to the Virology Program office at, as noted above.  Please notify all members of the DAC that they should report any concerns not included in the summary recommendations to the program office or directly to the program chair.  The program administrator will email copies of all DAC reports to the student, the student’s advisor, the Division of Medical Sciences, the head of the Virology Program, and the dissertation advisory committee members, with a copy to the chair of the committee.  

  •  The DAC should also provide career advice to the student in the later stages of the dissertation research period.

For Students

  • With the help of your dissertation advisor you should choose DAC members whose areas of concentration relate closely to your dissertation topic.  These names should be submitted to the program chair for approval before the potential members are contacted.

  • You should form and meet with your DAC as soon as possible after your PQE, but in all cases, within six months of the PQE.  You are urged to not delay in setting up your first DAC meeting.  Even though you may not have fully developed your dissertation project or feel you do not have much data to show, it is not advisable to postpone your first meeting.  Past experience shows that it’s best to begin scheduling meetings two to three months before your deadline.  The meeting is for your benefit and will help you explore possible projects.  You are not expected to have all your plans in place.  

  • DAC meetings should be scheduled once a year during years three and four.   You should meet at least every six months after year four.  You can call a meeting anytime you feel it is necessary. 

Decisions on Completion of Dissertation Research

One of the major contributions of the dissertation committee comes in assisting the dissertation advisor and the student in reaching the decision to close off further experimentation and begin writing the dissertation. 

                                                                                Updated April, 2013


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