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Student Handbook: Doctor of Philosophy in Education (Ph.D.) Program Policies

Requirements for the Ph.D. in Education involve coursework, comprehensive examinations (written and oral), research and scholarly training (research apprenticeship and Teaching Fellowships), and the dissertation (proposal and defense). The manner in which an individual candidate fulfills these requirements must be approved by the student’s adviser, the Degree Programs Office and the Ph.D. Steering Committee. Ph.D. candidates should read this section carefully and consult with their adviser(s) and the program staff concerning any questions that may arise. They should also read the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Student Handbook and the Ph.D. Student Guide, available on the programwebsite, for further help in planning and carrying out their graduate study.

Coursework and Residence 

All students are required to complete at least 64 credits for the Ph.D. degree, with at least half of their total credits at HGSE. Students who have graduated with an Ed.M. or C.A.S. within three years of enrolling as Ph.D. students may receive doctoral credit for up to 16 credits completed during their Ed.M. or C.A.S. course of study. Transfer credit from other institutions is not accepted. 

Ph.D. students are not ordinarily permitted to take Foundations courses. In exceptional cases, they may be permitted to enroll with permission of the Doctoral Studies office and course instructors.

Annual Academic Progress Review 

HGSE requires that all Ph.D. students maintain academic standards and complete their degree within seven years. Ph.D. students’ academic progress will be reviewed by the Ph.D. Steering Committee on an annual basis at the end of each academic year. Additionally, the Ph.D. Steering Committee will conduct a mid-year academic review of students with fall semester directives established by the Ph.D. Steering Committee. At the end of the spring semester, each student will be required to submit a written statement of his/her progress, academic achievements, and plans for the coming year.

Students who do not meet relevant early benchmarks or who demonstrate difficulty meeting the program’s academic and conduct standards — including the Standards of Conduct in the Harvard Community outlined in this handbook — will be informed of the faculty’s concern about their progress. The purpose of this notification is to provide early warning and intervention for students who may be struggling in the program. Ph.D. students receiving federal financial aid should refer to the Financial Aid section of the GSAS handbook for additional satisfactory progress policies. 

A student who is experiencing academic difficulty will receive a letter from the program Faculty Director explaining the reasons for the Committee’s concerns and specifying a probationary period in which the student should work with his/her adviser to return to good academic standing. The student will be expected to report back to the Faculty Director about his/her progress within the time specified in their letter. If there is insufficient evidence of adequate performance, or if there are serious concerns about a student’s conduct, behavior, or capacity to succeed, the Steering Committee may vote to terminate the student’s degree candidacy.

Criteria for satisfactory performance used in these reviews include the following: satisfactory performance in and completion of required coursework, number of years in the program, comprehensive examination results, timely progress toward all Ph.D. program milestones, and adherence to the Standards of Conduct in the Harvard Community outlined in this handbook. Ph.D. students must maintain at least a B+ average in their courses. (See HGSE Grading System section of this handbook for an explanation of the grading system and how averages are calculated.) 

Earning an Ed.M. or A.M. 

Candidates for the Ph.D. in Education degree may apply eight courses/32 credits of their doctoral program toward an A.M. in passing from GSAS. Ph.D. in Education students may apply for a master’s only after they have completed at least 16 courses (64 credits) since enrolling in the Ph.D. program. 
Students who wish to receive the A.M. in passing must file with the GSAS Registrar’s Office. While the department does not admit candidates for a terminal A.M. degree, students who have met all the course requirements may petition to be awarded the A.M. in Education. Students must have a B+ average to receive an A.M. in passing.

Comprehensive Examinations 

The written and oral examinations for the Ph.D. in Education focus on the breadth and depth of students’ knowledge and reasoning. They are administered with three goals in mind:

  1. To ensure each candidate’s proficiency in the broad theoretical, empirical, and methodological domains that comprise the interdisciplinary field of education, as well as their particular concentration of study
  2. To ensure each candidate’s command of their chosen discipline or field of study within education, and to assess their ability to design, develop, and implement an original research project that contributes to knowledge within this domain
  3. To engage each candidate in a constructive, critical examination of their work that considers how their specific program of research advances educational research, policy, and/or practice

The written examination, administered in of the summer following the second year of Ph.D. study, is designed to address the first goal. The oral examination, administered in the third year of Ph.D. study, is designed to meet the second and third goals. Students must pass the written examination to be eligible to advance to the oral examination.

Dissertation Proposal, Dissertation, and Dissertation Defense 

Once a Ph.D. student has completed all required coursework and comprehensive examinations, the next step in the degree progression is to formulate the independent research that provides a foundation for the dissertation. Most Ph.D. students will pass their dissertation proposal (“DP”) and begin writing their dissertations during their fourth or fifth year of study. All Ph.D. in Education students are required to have an approved DP by the end of their fourth year of study.

The formal process of this doctoral research, described in detail in the Ph.D. Student Guide (available on the program website), begins with a committee-approved dissertation proposal, either before or after the official Dissertation Committee Meeting (DCM) with the student’s appointed committee. After the DP and DCM are complete, students begin the work of generating the dissertation. Once the dissertation has been read by all committee members and deemed acceptable by the chair, the student engages in the Dissertation Defense. Following the defense, the student makes any final revisions, and then submits the dissertation electronically for inclusion in a public database accessible to scholars and practitioners worldwide.

Research and Scholarly Training 

In addition to coursework and comprehensive examinations, all Ph.D. in Education students have opportunities to engage in research and scholarly training during their time at Harvard. Along with conducting independent research that results in a dissertation, the program requires students to attend colloquia, engage in research apprenticeships and serve as Teaching Fellows (minimum of four "slots" at HGSE). For more information about specific research and Teaching Fellow requirements, please review the Ph.D. Student Guide, available on the program website