Master of Arts (AM)


  • Minimum one year residence of full-time study.
  • Eight half-courses or the equivalent are required. These must include the half-course Salon (History of Science 310hf), two half-courses offered “Primarily for Graduate Students” (not including “Graduate Courses of Reading and Research”)in the history of science, one half-course offered “Primarily for Graduate Students” (not including “Graduate Courses of Reading and Research”)outside the department, and two additional half-courses in the history of science. The remaining two half-courses may be chosen from offerings in science, history, the history of science, or other related fields. All courses must be selected from offerings designated in Courses of Instruction as being “for both undergraduates and graduates” or “primarily for graduate students” or from appropriate courses through cross-registration. An average of B must be maintained throughout the year.
  • An essay of 7,500-10,500 words (roughly twenty-five to thirty-five pages), exclusive of bibliography, on a subject to be determined in consultation with the student’s advisor. This must be submitted to the Department toward the end of the second term, but no later than the last day of reading period. Principal sources must be consulted in the original language, not in translation. Ordinarily a paper written for a graduate seminar or independent study in the History of Science is revised or expanded for this requirement.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


  • Minimum two-year residence of full-time study.
  • Sixteen half-courses or the equivalent, of which ordinarily a maximum of four may be graduate-level reading courses in the history of science or in other divisions, departments, or committees. With the exception of introductory and intermediate language courses (see below), these courses should be chosen from those listed under the rubrics, “Primarily for graduate students” and “For undergraduate and graduate students” in Courses of Instruction. A candidate who maintains a record of high distinction in the first term in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences may petition for academic credit of up to four half-courses for graduate work of high quality in relevant fields done at another institution. This number may be reduced in the case of students taking introductory- and intermediate-level term-time coursework in languages other than English, usually designated as “Primarily for undergraduates.” In order to ensure that students have a strong background in fields covered by the department, students may ordinarily receive credit for no more than a total of four half-courses, between introductory and intermediate language study, on the one hand, and graduate courses at another institution, on the other. Introductory and intermediate language courses taken in the Summer School, while encouraged, will not be counted toward the sixteen half-courses required for the degree. See section on the Language Requirement below.
  • Eight of the sixteen half-courses required for the degree must fulfill the following requirements: the half-course Salon (History of Science 310hf); six additional half-courses in the history of science, of which at least two must be courses offered “Primarily for Graduate Students” (not including “Graduate Courses of Reading and Research”); one half-course seminar offered “Primarily for Graduate Students” (not including “Graduate Courses of Reading and Research”)outside the department.* Students who receive credit for graduate work done at another institution may petition to waive a maximum of two of the course requirements outlined here; the Salon (History of Science 310hf) may not be waived.
  • *Courses in the history of science include courses taught in other departments by members of the history of science department, courses cross-listed under the history of science, and graduate courses in Science, Technology and Society offered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; of these a maximum of three may be taken at MIT. All other courses count as outside the department.
  • During the first year, four full courses must be passed at a grade level of B or above.
  • Students writing dissertations on a post-1800 topic are required to take two courses in the history of science on pre-1800 topics, and vice versa for students writing dissertations on pre-1800 topics.
  • By the end of the fourth semester, students must have earned a grade of “A-” or above on two significant research papers (9,000-12,000 words exclusive of notes and bibliography), at least one of them for a departmental course. The student’s advisor should read and discuss at least one of the papers with the student, whether or not the paper was produced for the advisor’s course.
  • Students must plan their course distribution requirements, their language studies, and the three or four “fields of study” that they intend to submit for the general examination (see section on the General Examination below). Study programs, courses, seminars, and fields of study are selected in consultation with the faculty advisor assigned to the student at the beginning of the first year of residence. By the end of the first term, but not later than the end of the second term of residence, all students must complete with their advisor a written plan for fulfilling the department’s requirements. At the end of each year, the student’s progress is reviewed by the department, and a determination is made of the student’s qualification for continuing graduate work in light of both departmental and GSAS requirements.


The grade of Incomplete is given only in extraordinary circumstances. The work must be completed and the grade converted to a letter grade before the end of the next registration period. Before a student is permitted to teach, all courses must be graded.


All students must demonstrate proficiency in at least one language other than English by the end of their third year. The language(s) in question should reflect their research interests and ordinarily will be agreed on in consultation with their advisors at the beginning of their first year of graduate study; the list may be revised as necessary to reflect students’ changing intellectual trajectories. Some students may enter with all the language preparation they will need for graduate study in their chosen fields. Others may have an elementary or intermediate knowledge of a language or languages and may improve on that knowledge by taking additional coursework, including first-, second-, or third-year language courses and/or the reading courses offered by some departments and designated as French Ax, German Ax, Spanish Ax, etc. in Courses of Instruction.

Students can demonstrate proficiency in various ways, but most often by taking third-year coursework in a language other than English and/or using non-English-language texts in one or more seminar papers or in the preparation of their general examination fields and prospectuses. The development of oral skills is also encouraged. Proficiency should be documented by a note from the student, co-signed by the advisor, to be submitted with the dissertation prospectus; this should describe the language(s) in which proficiency has been achieved and the ways by which this has been demonstrated. Proficiency is assumed in the case of native speakers and bilingual students, as long as they are skilled in both reading and speaking; the language in question must be relevant to their research fields. If no one in the department is capable of assessing a student’s proficiency in a language, the department will make other arrangements.

As students’ fields of study develop, they may find that they need to acquire new languages or further develop their skills in ones they already know. This should be discussed by students and their advisors on a regular basis as part of the advising process.


As part of the program for preparing students for careers in teaching and research, after the first two years, the department requires each student to participate as a teaching fellow or course assistant in at least one course offered by members of the department faculty.

A note on teaching after receiving a Dissertation Completion Fellowship:To be eligible to teach in the Department after being a recipient of Dissertation Completion Fellowship (DCF), a student must be on track to be recommended for the PhD to be awarded in November following the DCF year. It is GSAS policy and also the policy of the department not to grant teaching fellowships to those who have received the DCF but have not completed the dissertation.


A student entering the program is assigned a preliminary, provisional advisor, who serves as her or his primary advising resource during the first two or three semesters. In addition, all first year PhD candidates will be assigned a continuing graduate student (post-generals), who will act as a peer mentor during the first year, helping the candidate to acclimatize to departmental expectations and routines. Within the first semester of the first year, the Director of Graduate studies will meet with each student to assess “fit” with her or his provisional advisor. Students may change advisors by securing the approval of the new advisor and notifying the administrative coordinator of the graduate program.

Once the fields for the general examination have been set, the three or four faculty members who will be working with the student to prepare her or him for the examinations are consolidated into a formal Generals Advising Committee, chaired by the student’s primary advisor. The Generals Advising Committee shall comprise no more than four faculty members. Following the successful completion of the general examination, the student will constitute a Dissertation Prospectus Committee in consultation with his or her advisor. Once the student’s dissertation prospectus has been vetted by the Dissertation Prospectus Committee and approved by the full department faculty, a Dissertation Committee will be set up. While students continue to work closely with their primary advisors, the other members of these two committees act as an additional intellectual resource. On the membership of these committees, see the section on the Dissertation below.

The director of graduate studies and the department chair are available at all times to provide additional support and advice at any stage of the graduate student program. Students are encouraged to seek help from either or both of these individuals if any part of the advising process seems not to be working as it should.

General Examination

The general examination, which is oral, is to be taken at the end of the fourth term, or the very beginning of the fifth term. No encyclopedic command of detail is expected. Rather, the general examination committee will seek evidence of an understanding of the main intellectual developments within a field of science, familiarity with the chief historiographic traditions associated with a particular content area, and the ability to set a particular field of science or the science of a particular period within its institutional, political, and social contexts.

The general examination includes ordinarily three or, occasionally, four fields. The number and definition of the fields is determined by the student in consultation with her or his advisor. At least two (2) fields should be in history of science and directed by faculty in the department or people otherwise designated by the Department. All general examinations must include at least one outside field. Possible combinations include (but are not limited to):

  • Two fields in history of science and one field in history
  • Two fields in history of science and one field in literature
  • Two fields in history of science and one field in sociology
  • Two fields in history of science, one in philosophy of science, and one in science
  • Two fields in history of science, one in history and one in anthropology
  • Three fields in history of science, and one in history

Fields for the general examination are submitted for approval in the third term of residence and must be approved by the director of graduate studies and the faculty of the department.

To pass the General Examination, a passing mark must be earned in each field.


Dissertation Prospectus

The student discusses a draft of the prospectus with the Dissertation Prospectus Committee, which gives its recommendation for the approval of the dissertation, subject to specified revisions. Within six months after passing the general examination, the student must submit the revised prospectus to the administrative coordinator for graduate studies. The coordinator of graduate studies will arrange for the whole faculty to review the prospectus at a faculty meeting.

A prospective fourth-year student must have obtained approval of a prospectus.

Dissertation Committee

When the whole faculty approves the prospectus, the selection of the dissertation director and other members of the committee is ordinarily also approved at the same time. Dissertation committees comprise at least three members. The names of faculty members available for the direction of the PhD dissertation are listed in the course catalogue under History of Science 300. The director of the dissertation must be an eligible member of the department. The department requires that two members of the committee be members of the department. Students in the History of Science are encouraged to include junior faculty on their dissertation committees.

After the prospectus has been approved, the student, in conjunction with her or his advisor, is required to submit a brief annual report on the progress of the dissertation each year. The annual report form is due by October 15 following a discussion between the student, the advisor and, ordinarily, at least one other member of the committee. The administrative coordinator for graduate studies is available to assist with scheduling.

Ordinarily the dissertation committee has the opportunity to review the dissertation in its middle stage. In any case, the review must be completed no later than three months prior to the departmental deadline for submission of the final unbound copy, so that the student is able to meet the registrar’s deadlines for submission of the dissertation.

Dissertation Submission

A final unbound copy of the dissertation is submitted to the dissertation director and each of the additional readers for acceptance by the first Monday in April for a May degree, the first Monday in August for a November degree, and the first Monday in December for a March degree. The dissertation along with the dissertation acceptance certificate is submitted online according to the deadlines and procedure established by the Registrar.

The dissertation should be an original contribution to knowledge. It must conform to the online description, The Form of the PhD Dissertation.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense will ordinarily take place after the dissertation has been approved by the members of the dissertation committee.

Duration of Graduate Study

Work for the degree must be completed within a total of five years, or in certain fields where additional preparation is necessary, a total of six years. An extension is considered only upon submission of a petition to the department, showing just cause.

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