Dissertation & Defense

The doctoral dissertation is the culmination of scholarly work in graduate school. Every PhD candidate in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is required to successfully complete and submit a dissertation to qualify for degree conferral. The dissertation must be submitted in one of two formats.

  • The traditional format is described in detail here.
  • The three-paper format consists of:
    1. Three articles describing original empirical research that the dissertation committee deems “of publishable quality.”  The student must be the first author on each paper or obtain approval from their committee to include papers for which they are not the first author. At least one of the three papers must be under review, in press, or published in a peer-reviewed journal. 
    2. An introductory chapter that thoroughly reviews the literature relevant to the three papers.
    3. A concluding chapter that describes what was learned from the three papers.

Post-prospectus changes:  If students would like to make substantive changes to the content and/or format of the dissertation after prospectus approval, they must revise their prospectus and obtain approval of the revised version from all committee members. Another meeting of the prospectus committee may be required if the changes are substantial.

If students would like to make changes to the composition of their dissertation committee after prospectus approval, they must obtain 1) approval from the primary advisor/ committee chair to make the change, and 2) approval of the prospectus by any new committee member(s). If the new member doesn't approve of the prospectus as written, the prospectus may need to be revised. If the revisions are substantial, students may need to have another full prospectus meeting to ensure the revised version of the prospectus is approved by every member of the committee.

Dissertation Committee:  The Dissertation Committee comprises of the three members of the prospectus committee and an additional member—the outside examiner—who was not a member of the prospectus committee. The outside examiner must be approved by the CHD. Any tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the Psychology Department is automatically approved as an outside examiner. Outside scholars require approval from your primary advisor and from the CHD. Students may ask the Graduate Program Coordinator if a particular scholar had already been approved in the past; if so, there is no further action needed by the student. If they have not been, students should petition the CHD via email to the Graduate Program Coordinator; describe briefly why you are requesting the scholar and what they will add to the committee, i.e. "for their expertise in..." and include a copy of the scholar's CV.

Dissertation Approval:  The dissertation must be approved by the student’s advisor before it is submitted to the dissertation committee. After the student sends the dissertation to the committee, they will have three weeks to read and assess the work. Each committee member should complete a Dissertation Approval Form and return it to the student and Graduate Office within three weeks. 

The committee members will receive an evaluation form, where they select among these options:

  1. Not acceptable in current form and cannot be corrected without major revisions and consultation of committee.
  2. Needs considerable revision, to be seen by me again.
    Needs committee consultation: [yes/no]
  3. Is acceptable with a few minor revisions, to be seen by me again.
  4. Is acceptable with voluntary minor revisions.
  5. Is acceptable as is.

If substantive revisions are required, the student will need to respond to these revisions, distribute a revised version to the committee, and the committee will have two more weeks to read and assess the revised version. All committee members must approve "as is" or "with voluntary minor revisions" before the defense can proceed.

Dissertation Defense Date: Students are responsible for coordinating the schedule for their dissertation defense date. Due to the difficulty of coordinating schedules for several faculty, students are encouraged to find a mutually agreeable tentative date and time (we recommend a 2-hour duration) for the defense and ask committee members to pencil it in. However, it is crucial to recognize that this date will be confirmed only when the student has received approval from all members of their committee. In addition, the department must advertise the defense for two weeks before the date it can be held. Therefore, we strongly recommend the dissertation be submitted to the committee ten weeks before tentative defense date to accommodate time for rounds of revisions. The date will be pushed back if the student has not received approval from all members

Defenses can take place at any point in the year, as long as the committee agrees to convene. However, note there are deadlines to complete the defense in time for November, March, and May degree conferrals. The Department recommends that the defense be held at least 1-2 weeks prior to the dissertation submission deadline for that degree period. Deadlines for the current year can be found online in GSAS Policies in the Degree Calendar tab.

To submit: Email your dissertation as a single Word Doc or PDF file (or both) to your committee, cc’ing the Graduate Program coordinator. The Graduate Program Coordinator will follow up on this email by distributing the Dissertation Approval Form.

Oral Defense:  Once the dissertation committee has approved the written dissertation, the student should book a room for the defense and send an abstract to the Graduate Office, which will announce the defense to the Department. WJH 1550 and 105, and NW 243 are the most common choices for a room. Students should submit a room request through FAS RoomBook. Committee members may participate remotely, if necessary, via Zoom or speakerphone. The Building Operations Office can lend a conference phone for this purpose. The Department does not have a budget to fly in committee members from other institutions except for former Harvard Psychology faculty members, although students should consult with their individual advisors to determine whether they would cover travel costs. We can provide a parking pass for committee members at nearby institutions.

The oral examination is moderated by the student's advisor, who is the Committee Chair. The advisor will introduce the student. The student gives a talk about the work, and then the advisor will ask for questions from the committee. Talk times vary depending on area; please check in with your advisor to confirm. If there is time, the advisor may also choose to invite questions from the audience. The defense is a public event open to all. At the conclusion of the examination the candidate and audience are dismissed, and the committee meets to make a final evaluation of the student's candidacy for a PhD. In cases of a positive evaluation, the committee members sign the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate

Dissertation Acceptance Certificate (DAC):  Students must complete a dissertation acceptance certificate (DAC), which includes the title of the dissertation and signatures of at least three readers approved by the student’s program. Prior to the oral defense, the Graduate Office will prepare a DAC, which includes the title of the dissertation, student name, and signature lines for each committee member The title on the DAC must read exactly as it does on the title page of the dissertation. A copy of the signed DAC should appear before the title page of the online dissertation submission; no page number should be assigned to the DAC. The DAC will be included in all copies of the dissertation.

Dissertation Submission:  Following the successful oral defense, students must submit their dissertation in PDF format to the FAS Registrar’s Office through ProQuest ETD by the deadline established for each degree conferral date (see the GSAS Degree Calendar or the Registrar’s Office website). Please carefully review the dissertation formatting before submitting online. Formatting errors may prevent students from receiving their degree. The GSAS provides this helpful Dissertation Submission Checklist. The DAC must additionally be uploaded as a separate "Administrative Document" when submitting the electronic dissertation. The Registrar’s Office will review the dissertation for compliance and will contact the student to confirm acceptance or to request alterations. More details on the dissertation submission process can be found here.

dissertation_approval_form.pdf97 KB
dac_fillable_pdf.pdf595 KB