Dissertation Advisory Committee

The DAC has three main missions:

  • First and foremost, the DAC is a scientific advisory committee that will provide expert advice on all aspects of the dissertation, extending from experimental paradigms to project feasibility within the time frame of a PhD dissertation and to the scientific impact of the work.
  • Second, the DAC will help monitor student progress to ensure that the major objectives and standards (discussed below) for completion of a PhD dissertation are being met in a timely fashion. In this capacity, the DAC determines whether the student’s research meets the program requirements and the student may begin writing the dissertation. In addition to evaluating completed experiments and manuscripts, progress will also be considered with respect to maturity in scientific judgment.

Forming the DAC

Students must declare a DAC and submit the DAC form within three months after passing their qualifying exam, no later than Feb of G3 year.

The DAC should be formed in consultation with the Dissertation Advisor and the SHBT Academic Advisor.  The composition of the DAC needs to be first approved by either the Program Director or the Director of Student Affairs. The next step is to have the SHBT student tracking committee approve the composition of the DAC; this is done by the approval of the form submitted with the dissertation proposal. The Dissertation Proposal Form should be submitted to the SHBT Program Administrator.

The committee should have at least three members, not including the advisor. A DAC Chair should be identified who will be responsible for reporting on each DAC meeting. The DAC Chair must be a Harvard Faculty member and must be well acquainted with the academic policies of DMS. Faculty members with relevant expertise from outside Harvard may serve on the DAC if approved by the SHBT tracking Committee.  It is recommended that two members of the DAC be formally affiliated with the SHBT Program and one member not be affiliated with the Program, in order to provide a broad perspective. Deviations from this recommended pattern may be allowed if approved by the SHBT Tracking Committee. When in doubt about the DAC composition, the student should consult the Program Director or Director of Student Affairs prior to submitting the DAC form.

The student's Dissertation Advisor as well as other faculty collaborators cannot serve as formal committee members or committee chair – although the Dissertation Advisor is expected to attend all meetings.

The Chair of the DAC committee is expected to serve as examiner for the dissertation defense, Other members of the DAC committee cannot do so.

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 and submitting a report after each DAC meeting.

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 serve as DAC Chair.

The DAC chair is responsible for making sure that the views of the DAC are effectively communicated to the student and that any major concerns of the DAC are effectively communicated to the advisor and to the SHBT Director of Student Affairs via the Program Director.

The DAC chair is responsible for the preparation and submission of the report, which should be approved by all committee members immediately upon conclusion of the meeting. Immediate submission of the DAC report is important, not only so potential problems can be remedied quickly, but so student registration status is not jeopardized. 

Dissertation Proposal and Initial DAC Meeting

The initial DAC meeting must be held within 7 months of the QE, by June at the latest. 

Students are responsible for scheduling their DAC meetings. Helpful web-based scheduling services include Doodle  and When is good. Scheduling also includes reserving a room.

Before the first DAC meeting, the student submits a written dissertation proposal which is formally presented at the meeting. The proposal should clearly define the research problem, describe the proposed research plan, and articulate the significance of the work. The length is comparable to that required for NIH F31 applications. An NIH F31 approved for funding or equivalent funded fellowship application may serve as the dissertation proposal.

Students should consult their Dissertation Advisor on the proposal before submitting it to the DAC.
Following the presentation, the student must correct any deficiencies in the proposal identified by the DAC until the DAC approves the proposal.

Submission of Proposal Package for the initial DAC Meeting

The proposal package (no longer than 7 pages of 11-point font with single line spacing and 0.5” margins) includes the following:

  • Abstract (<300 words)
  • Specific Aims (1 page) 
  • Concise description of the proposed work, which can be read independently of the full proposal. 
  • Research Strategy (6 pages max).
  • Background and Significance: Concise review of relevant scientific literature and brief description explaining why the work is important.
  • Scientific Premise & Preliminary Results: Data relevant to the proposal generated by the student and/or other members of the laboratory.
  • Approach: Methods proposed to study each Specific Aim, including methods of analysis. Includes hypotheses and statistical procedures to test hypotheses. Also includes potential problems and pitfalls.

Timing, Frequency of subsequent DAC meetings 

Subsequent meetings (through G4): Subsequent DAC meetings must be held every 9 months, and in some cases more frequently (e.g. every 6 months), depending on DAC recommendations. G5 and after: It is recommended that DAC meetings be held every 6 months or more frequently pending DAC recommendations.

Final DAC Meeting

In preparation for the final DAC meeting, the student must submit to the committee the general outline and content of the dissertation. With the student, the committee will discuss the general outline and content of the dissertation. Students must have the final dissertation advisory committee report on file in the Division of Medical Sciences office stating that the student may begin writing the dissertation with approval of the general outline and content of dissertation prior to processing dissertation defense paperwork. (For this form, see your program administrator or visit the Division of Medical Sciences website at https://dms.hms.harvard.edu/

After receiving approval and permission from the committee to write the dissertation, students should contact the DMS Dissertation Coordinator, dmsphddefense@hms.harvard.edu, to schedule a dissertation packet meeting and review dissertation requirements and regulations. Additionally, the expectation is students will defend their dissertation no later than 4-6 months from the date of permission to write.