The dissertation is the capstone project for PhD students. It is perhaps the most important and far-reaching undertaking in the entire doctoral program, having an impact that extends well beyond graduate studies.

Requirements and Deadlines

Every PhD candidate is required to successfully complete and submit a dissertation to qualify for degree conferral. Since each department maintains specific requirements for the content and evaluation of the dissertation, you should review your department's guidelines prior to beginning the process. The Form of the PhD Dissertation provides general information on formatting, submission, and publishing and distribution options. Students who do not follow the formatting specifications noted in this publication will not be eligible for conferral of their degree and will need to apply for the next available degree period after corrections are made.

Degrees are awarded in November, March, and May. Dissertation submission deadlines are noted in the Degree Calendar section of the GSAS Student Handbook.

Students submit their dissertations through ETDs @ Harvard, Harvard’s electronic thesis and dissertation submission system. 

Publishing Options, Costs, and Embargoes

Students are given complete control over the accessibility of their work. Upon final approval, the dissertation becomes part of multiple Harvard and non-Harvard downstream systems based on the permissions and publishing options selected during the ETDs @ Harvard submission process. Consult “Your Publishing Options” in The Form of the PhD Dissertation for more information.

Once submitted, a bound copy of the dissertation is automatically sent to the Harvard University Archives and, if required, to students’ department or program; students do not need to take action for these copies to be sent. After applying for the degree through my.harvard.edu, students will see a $37 charge per copy added to their term bill. Students who apply for the degree but do not meet all requirements for the degree period will not be charged when submitting future applications.

An electronic copy of the dissertation is added to Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard (DASH), the open-access repository of scholarship produced by members of the Harvard community. Dissertations are also deposited with ProQuest’s databases and become accessible to subscribers of ProQuest Dissertation & Theses Global.

If necessary, students may request to delay the release of (“embargo”) their work when submitting their dissertation to ETDs @ Harvard. Embargo requests greater than two years are reviewed by the relevant director of graduate studies and by the University Librarian; students are notified by e-mail if their request has been approved. Embargo requests apply to both DASH and ProQuest.

Help with the Dissertation

Students can find support with planning and preparing to write the dissertation from their academic advisors and programs. Additional resources are available through the GSAS Center for Writing and Communicating Ideas and the Bureau of Study Counsel. GSAS also provides assistance to students seeking dissertation completion fellowships via the Fellowships Office.

Dissertation: Nuts and Bolts

On March 7th, 2014, the GSAS Office of Student Affairs hosted a two-part “Nuts & Bolts” session focusing on the electronic dissertation both philosophically and practically, detailing preparation, publishing decisions and actual online submission of the work.

We are pleased to make audio of this session and presentation slides available online below.

  • Introduction (2:47)
    Garth McCavana, Dean for Student Affairs
  • Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) (28:53)
    Colin Lukens, Repository Manager, Harvard Libraries
    Kyle Courtney, Copyright Advisor
  • Copyright and Fair Use (24:50) *
    Jonathan Hulbert, Office of the General Counsel
  • Submitting Your Electronic Dissertation (24:42)
    Maggie Welsh, Associate Registrar
    Kathy Hanley, Enrollment Coordinator
  • Recent Alumni Panel (16:21) *
    Jing Yang, PhD (’14), Applied Physics
    Gina Rivera, PhD (’13), Music
    Moderated by Garth McCavana

Presentation Materials

Video feat. Gary King from OSC 
Video begins at 9:30 in the audio.

* No slides used during these presentations.