Dissertation Defense

When the dissertation is complete, students must defend it to the entire Research Committee at a public presentation. All members of the student’s research committee must be physically present for the defense. If a member cannot be present, the student is expected to reschedule the defense. In extenuating circumstances, the student may petition via a general petition to have a member participate in absentia.

Scheduling the Defense

  1. Print the Dissertation Scheduling Form.  A hard copy of the form is available from the Registrar’s Office.
  2. Schedule a room for the dissertation defense with the assistance of your academic administrator.
  3. Obtain the signatures of the dissertation advisor and the department chair(s). These signatures signify the approval of the student’s scheduling of the defense.
  4. Submit the Dissertation Defense Scheduling Form to the Registrar’s Office at least three weeks prior to the scheduled defense. Arrangements then will be made by the Registrar’s Office, for the announcement of the defense to be placed on the school Events calendar. The defense is not valid without this, and the student cannot be recommended for the degree without this public announcement. Students who schedule their dissertation defense less than three weeks prior to the defense date must post notices outlining the date, time and place of the defense and the dissertation title in departmental offices and on the first and ground floors of Kresge, making certain that the Registrar’s Office receives a copy of the posting. These notices must be posted at least one week prior to the defense.
  5. Submit copies of the dissertation to the committee at least three weeks prior to defense.
  6. The dissertation advisor picks up (and returns) the student’s Report of the Dissertation Committee Form to the Registrar’s Office on the day of the defense. This form must be completed by the examiners at the end of the exam and returned to the Registrar’s Office immediately after the student’s defense.
While the dissertation defense is a public forum, examination of the student during the presentation is limited to the members of the Research Committee.  The public may ask questions once the presentation and examination by the committee has completed.


After Successful Completion of the Defense
Students must submit their dissertation electronically via ETDs@Harvard by the dates listed below.

  • November degree candidates          September 25, 2015
  • March degree candidates                 January 15, 2016
  • May degree candidates                     April 22, 2016

On the recommendation of the department/s and the Research Committee, the CAD recommends the student for the degree to the faculty who then votes to award the degree to the student. After the degree has been voted by the faculty, it is voted by the Harvard University Governing Board.