It is expected that students will take approximately five years to complete their Ph.D. The following is a general outline of the various stages of the Ph.D. program.


First Year


The first year of study will include most of the required coursework. Students take courses mainly from offerings of the Division of Medical Sciences, which coordinates medical education at Harvard Medical School. Tuition exchange programs also allow all DMS students to select courses offered at Harvard University and MIT. Students must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 (B).


It is important to get to know faculty members and their research interests so that students can choose an advisor with whom to work. It is also important that the advisor be someone with whom the student can interact. Students are expected to attend seminars, dinners, poster sessions, retreats, journal clubs, etc. to meet the faculty. The laboratory rotation serves as the best way to select a dissertation advisor.


Students complete three lab rotations during the first year. Students select their advisor by September of their second year. An advisor can be anyone listed as a participating faculty member of the immunology program. Click here to review the list of Faculty and Research Interests.


Students are strongly encouraged to attend the weekly Wednesday Immunology Seminars. Click here for further details about Immunology Seminars.


Second Year


By September, students have selected and joined their dissertation lab. During the second year,  students will serve as a Teaching Assistant for an Immunology course in an unpaid position, as well as complete their Qualifying Exam.


Qualifying Exam


By the end of December of the second year, students must successfully complete a proposal-based preliminary qualifying exam (PQE). The goal of the PQE is to evaluate the student's potential and ability to think independently and creatively in laboratory experimentation. The written proposal will be presented to the exam committee in an oral presentation and defense format. Within 6 months of this exam, students will have their first Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) meeting.


Dissertation Advisory Committee


The student, in conjunction with the Head of the Immunology Program and their Dissertation Advisor, nominates a Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC), consisting of at least one faculty member of the Immunology Graduate Committee. Students meet with their DAC at least twice a year throughout Graduate School during the dissertation research phase of the program. The purpose of the Committee is to approve the research topic as to its adequacy in fulfilling requirements for the desired degree, and to critically evaluate research progress. The review committee can be extremely helpful in offering the individual the expertise of its members and their unbiased opinion. Prior to each meeting with their review committee, the student must prepare a 2-page progress report summarizing the status of his/her research project since the last meeting.


Third and Subsequent Years


Students take optional courses in elective areas.


G-3, G-4 and G-5 year students are required to team-teach the G1 Immunology-Nanocourse equivalent courses, participating in one 3 hour teaching session every year. G-3 and above students may attend all of these courses if they so choose.


Students should be well along on their dissertation work. As the dissertation comes to a conclusion, the dissertation advisor and the dissertation advisory committee members must approve the quality, quantity and originality of the work before the student may write the dissertation.


The final dissertation defense includes a public lecture and a formal dissertation defense before a panel of four ad hoc experts, including one member from outside the university. Notices are emailed by the university to all faculty and students within the Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard University two weeks in advance of the dissertation defense.

Meet our Current Students

Click here to meet our current Immunology students & featured research projects


Timeline to Degree


G-1 Year: Coursework and Lab Rotations


G-2 Year: Lab declaration, Teaching Requirement, Complete PQE & Set up DAC


G-3 Year: DAC meeting by the end of August of 3rd year


G-4 Year: DAC meeting by the end of May of 4th year


G-5 Year: DAC meeting by the end of December or within 6 months of previous DAC.


G-6/Above: Meet every 6 months with DAC


Final DAC Meeting: 

Any year, but typically 4/5 years total enrollment & no more than 6/7 years: The DAC decides when student should begin writing the thesis. A suggested endpoint for graduation, though this is at the discretion of the individual DACs, is two submitted manuscripts


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