PhD Research Advisors, Committees, and Meetings

[Part of the Policies of the CHD, August 2019]

Selecting a Research Advisor: Spring of G1 Year

During the second semester of study, the student will focus on identifying a specific research area and a potential Ph.D. research advisor.  The potential research advisor may be the same person as his/her field advisor, but not necessarily so.   Students are required to finalize their research advisor by early spring of the G1 year to be making satisfactory progress to degree.  The Office of Academic Programs will communicate about the specific deadlines and forms required as part of the selection process.

Occasionally, the potential research advisor may not be a SEAS faculty member, but ordinarily must be a Harvard faculty member.  The appropriate Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) must approve in advance if the student wishes to have a primary advisor who is not a member of the SEAS faculty. Every Ph.D. student with a non-SEAS primary advisor must have an active SEAS co-advisor; some degree areas, e.g., Computer Science, stipulate that the SEAS co-advisor must be in that area.  The SEAS co-advisor will communicate with the student’s primary research advisor, the CHD, and the Office of Academic Programs about academic or financial issues as needed. The SEAS co-advisor will chair the qualifying exam committee and the research committee, meet with the student at least once each semester to be updated about degree progress, sign off on the annual student progress report, advise the student about coursework and program requirements as needed, lift the student’s advising hold when primary research advisor is not a member of the FAS faculty, allow the student to register for their 300-level research course and submit the necessary grades at the end of the semester when primary research advisor is not a member of the FAS faculty, and communicate with the student’s primary research advisor about the student’s progress on a regular basis (at least once each semester).

Note that Ph.D. students who have a non-SEAS primary advisor have their G2 tuition paid for by the non-SEAS advisor rather than by SEAS.

Research Committee

Once the qualifying examination has been passed, the final stages of the path to the Ph.D. are initiated by the nomination by the research advisor of a research committee to oversee the student's dissertation research.  The committee monitors the student's research progress and approves the final dissertation.  The Designation of Research Committee form, signed by the research advisor and indicating the other members of the proposed research committee, must be submitted to the Office of Academic Programs, ordinarily within one week after the qualifying examination.   Typically the research committee is comprised of a subset of the members of the qualifying committee.  Subsequent changes in the composition of the research committee must be approved by the CHD or by its representative.  A duly constituted research committee must be in place throughout the rest of the student's graduate career.

The research committee normally consists of three or four Harvard faculty members, with the research advisor as chairperson.  MIT faculty members or other technical professionals of comparable stature from the local area may be included with the approval of the CHD.  At least two SEAS faculty members, at least one of whom is a senior faculty member (i.e. full professor), must be included.  If the research advisor is not a Harvard faculty member, the SEAS co-advisor will chair the research committee.

G3+ Committee Meetings

Starting in the 2019-2020 academic year each SEAS Ph.D area has specific expectations regarding Ph.D. students to meet with their committee members at least annually.  Students in Applied Physics and in Electrical Engineering are to meet 1:1 with each committee member.  The Computer Science faculty hold annual “PhD Review Days” in which the full faculty meet to review each individual student’s situation; students in Computer Science are required to respond to surveys requesting information for the Review Days.  Students in other areas are to meet with their full committee at the same time.  Specifics will be communicated over email and published on the SEAS website as they are finalized. 

The final oral examination may be considered to be the committee meeting for that year at the discretion of the research advisor (or the SEAS co-advisor, if applicable), provided the Office of Academic Programs is duly notified.

Students who are in-between advisors

Students who are in-between advisors have the length of one full semester to identify a new advisor. Students are expected to find external funding or to serve as TF at a half-time (0.5 FTE) appointment for their funding in the Fall or Spring terms.  The TF covers the monthly salary and all tuition/fees. The monthly salary is equal to the RA salary.  There are not TF opportunities over the summer and SEAS does not provide summer funding.  Note a student must be in good standing in order to qualify to serve as a TF and receive funding. Students who cannot identify a new advisor at the end of one full semester will be asked to withdraw from the program based on a lack of progress to degree.

Considerations when an advisor or committee member is away from or leaves Harvard

There may arise situations in which the research advisor is temporarily absent on leave or ceases to be a Harvard faculty member while a Ph.D. candidate is engaged in dissertation research.  When the research advisor is temporarily absent for a substantial period, another member of the research committee ­-- ordinarily a SEAS senior faculty member -- should be designated by the research committee as chairman, and the Office of Academic Programs should be notified accordingly.  If another member of the research committee ceases to be a Harvard faculty member, the committee should be reconstituted.

Faculty members normally should not agree to serve as research advisors unless they expect to see the research through to its conclusion.  Should the research advisor cease to be a Harvard faculty member before the Ph.D. candidate completes the requirements for the degree, the research committee must be reconstituted.  The student may wish to find a new research advisor.  If the original research advisor and the student wish to continue their research collaboration, two situations arise.  If the original research advisor remains in the local area and the research can be carried out primarily at Harvard, the previously stated rules shall apply.  If the original research advisor does not remain in the local area or the research cannot be carried out primarily at Harvard, the rules stated below regarding dissertation research in absentia shall apply; these require that a SEAS faculty member assume the formal role of research advisor.