Dissertation & Defense

student in graduation gown

PiN students are required to write a thesis, present a one-hour thesis seminar, and pass an oral examination (typically scheduled for two hours) in order to graduate. PiN expects the thesis to be equivalent in standard to a peer reviewed publication. While there is no publication requirement, most PiN students will graduate with at least one first-author paper or two or more other papers. The average time to degree completion for PiN students is approximately 5½ years.

Defense Guidelines for PiN Students

Timeline & Logistics

When your Dissertation Advisory Committee has determined that you are ready to begin writing your thesis, your committee will "check your box," giving permission to write. The Division of Medical Sciences will reach out to schedule a meeting with you to discuss next steps, including dissertation & defense requirements, forming your exam committee, scheduling your defense, and preparing for graduation.


Students are required to complete their defense within 6 months of getting their box checked. Harvard awards official degrees only three times during the year: March, May, and November. However, students may defend any time during the year. 

Forming your Exam Committee

After meeting with the DMS dissertation coordinator, students form a defense exam committee in consultation with their DAC, the program director, and their thesis advisor, which should comprise three examiners, one alternate examiner, and an exam committee chairman. All examiners must hold an assistant professorship or higher academic position. PiN recommends that one examiner be from outside Harvard, and DMS requires that no more than one examiner may have served on a student's DAC. Students must request approval from the PiN director and the DMS Dean before scheduling their defense or reaching out to prospective examiners.