The First Two Years


The formal residence requirement for the PhD is sixteen half-courses devoted to advanced study.

Of the sixteen half-courses, a minimum of nine must be courses offered by the Department of Statistics, and at least four of the nine must be on advanced topics. Statistics 210a, 210b, 211a, and 211b are required and are generally taken in the first year. Statistics 300, 303hf, and 366hf are also required.

Before registering for their fall term classes, all entering PhD students will be required to take a diagnostic test in mathematics. Performance on this test will assist the department in determining whether students need additional mathematics preparation.

Teaching and Research

All PhD candidates are normally required to teach and/or to work as research assistants beginning in their second year. A unit of teaching is normally one-quarter TIME for the first section in a course and one-fifth TIME for each additional section. A unit of research is normally one-fifth TIME. Second-year students normally do a total of four units of teaching and research, and third-year students and beyond do three units each of teaching and research. Research funding considerations may affect these normal teaching and research workloads. When research funds permit, the department aims to assign final-year students to lighter-than-normal teaching loads to enable them to make progress on their dissertations.


As almost all PhD students are involved in research from the beginning of their program, entering PhD students are assigned faculty advisors based on mutual research interests whenever possible. New students’ research interests are determined by information provided by applicants in their Statements of Purpose. Students familiar with the department are given the option of requesting a particular faculty advisor. Some students stay with the initial advisor throughout their program, including the writing of the PhD dissertation, while others opt to change advisors as their interests change or evolve.

All PhD students are encouraged to consult with the director of graduate studies or department chair, when desired, in addition to their assigned advisor.

Students in the AM program are advised by the faculty member designated by the faculty as director of graduate studies for the master’s program.

Students writing dissertations have one primary advisor and two additional readers assigned by the faculty or suggested by the student and approved by the faculty. The primary advisor is typically the same faculty member providing the student’s research support.

In the case of conflicts between advisor and student, the department chair and/or the faculty as a whole can be consulted by either party.

Qualifying Examination

All PhD students must pass a written qualifying examination in statistics, which is given annually in January. Students normally take the examination in their second year. The examination has two parts: 1) theoretical statistics, including probability and mathematical statistics, and 2) applied statistics, including statistical design and data analysis.

The two parts of the examination are graded separately. A student may receive an unconditional passing grade on one or both parts, or may receive a passing grade on one or both parts conditional on doing further work. Students receiving conditional passes will be required to complete their work by a time specified (the end of the following term, if feasible) or the performance will be considered a failure. A student who fails one or both parts of the examination must retake the examination the next time it is given. Students who fail twice must withdraw from the program.

Post-Qualifying Talks (Research Presentations)

All students are also required to attend Statistics 300: Research in Statistics. Students in their third year and above are required to present in the Statistics 300 course. The presentations, made to department faculty and students, are brief summaries of the student’s research and progress on qualifying papers or dissertation.

Qualifying Paper

The qualifying paper is intended to provide the student with an opportunity to explore a serious topic in statistics and to express the findings in a written document. The work need not be original, but it should demonstrate an independent understanding of the topic, knowledge of the tools of research, and clarity of exposition. The effort involved is expected to require no more than the equivalent of one term at one-third time. The paper should be submitted and accepted by the department as early as possible, but not later than the year following the qualifying examination. Delays in submission require permission of the department.


Each student is expected to exercise initiative in seeking out a dissertation topic, a faculty advisor who will take primary responsibility for supervising the student’s work, and two additional readers. The PhD dissertation is expected to be a research contribution of high quality, adding to the knowledge of either the theory or practice of statistics. A PhD dissertation in statistics may also consist primarily of an innovative analysis of a specific, complex body of data in some substantive field. Generally, the material in a PhD dissertation should be publishable in a referred journal.

By the beginning of the fourth year of residence, all students must submit to the faculty a preliminary title, one-page summary of the proposed topic, with names and signatures of at least two dissertation advisors. Students who encounter difficulty in identifying appropriate advisor/s should consult with their primary advisor, the director of graduate studies or the department chair. Students who wish to use as an advisor someone who is not a member of the department can and should request the approval of the department faculty.

Dissertation Colloquium

One copy of the completed dissertation must be submitted for consideration by the department faculty four weeks prior to a department colloquium on the substance of the dissertation. The faculty will consider the submitted dissertation and make recommendations, which generally lead to revisions. After the colloquium, the faculty, with the explicit advice of three or more faculty readers nominated by the department, vote on the completed dissertation as submitted in finished form, which must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation, available on the FAS Registrar’s website. The approved final dissertation can then be submitted to the registrar. The time from the colloquium to the final vote is ordinarily about a month. A prospective sixth-year or more advanced student must submit evidence of significant dissertation progress to a dissertation advisor or committee each year. This evidence of progress may, at the department’s discretion, take the form of a dissertation chapter completed, manuscripts submitted for publication, abstracts of papers delivered at professional meetings, or other evidence as specified by the dissertation director.

Master of Arts (AM)

The Department of Statistics awards terminal AM degrees, as well as AM degrees to students who are continuing in the PhD program. The department will consider for the AM degree PhD candidates in other fields at Harvard for whom a statistics minor is appropriate, well-prepared undergraduates eligible for the AB/AM program, and candidates with appropriate mathematics backgrounds who demonstrate motivation for pursuing a terminal AM degree.

  • Minimum of one year residence.
  • Requires the satisfactory completion of eight half-courses taken within the Department of Statistics and approved by the student’s department advisor, at the level of Statistics 110 and above, with at least one course at the 200–299 level. The actual course of study will vary according to the student’s interest and preparation and will be determined in consultation with the student’s advisor.
  • Statistics 110 and Statistics 111 are required; Statistics 210a may be substituted for 110.
  • The eight statistics courses must also include two courses that are at the interface of theory and application. Examples of such courses are Statistics 115, 121, 131/231, 139, 140, 149, 160/260, 183, 186, 220, 221, 225, 230, 232r, 240, 244, and 245. The department will maintain an up-to-date list of courses that meet these criteria.
  • AM students must earn a B average in Statistics courses and no more than one C.
  • With the prior approval of the advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, one 300-level (SAT/UNSAT graded) course may be allowed to count toward the degree as one of the non-200-level courses.
  • No thesis, general examination, qualifying paper, or cognate field is required for the AM degree.
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