III. Orientation, Registration, and Advising


Prior to their arrival on campus, new students are provided with a wide range of information intended to facilitate a smooth adjustment to the PhD program. The GSAS website (under “New Students”) has a host of informative pages covering all aspects of the first-year experience. In addition, the department's Graduate Program Coordinator prepares, for the new students, a packet of department related materials.

Another very handy page is “Harvard Speak,” a list of common acronyms and abbreviations you are likely to encounter as a Harvard student.

The week before classes begin, students are invited to attend a number of special orientation events. These include a general GSAS orientation and “Septemberfest” information fair, providing an introduction to the opportunities offered at the Graduate Student Center at Dudley House and a rare chance to eat lunch in a tent in Harvard Yard.

If they have not already done so, many students get their Harvard ID photographs processed this day. Later that week, there is also a Department Orientation luncheon with the Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, Graduate Coordinator, some faculty members, and a few current students. An introduction to the Harvard-Yenching Library may also happen. At the first Friday afternoon “happy hour” there is a chance to meet continuing students in the program and find out more about the activities organized by the EALC Graduate Social Committee.


There are two kinds of registration. The first is registration in GSAS at the start of each academic year, which is an onlne process. You will be able to access the registration tool by logging into my.harvard.edu with your HUID and PIN and selecting the "Student Home" tab. There will be a registration link listed under the "To Do" section of the Student Home. You will click the link and follow the instructions to register.

Note, however, that incoming international students must report first to the Harvard International Office, located on the 8th floor of the Smith (formerly Holyoke) Center, to present their passports and evidence of immigration status.

The second kind of registration is registration for classes, or enrollment, and is an online process. There is no pre-registration for classes at Harvard. Instead, at the very beginning of the term students are free to “shop” for classes that best suit their needs and interests. If you are thinking about taking a certain class (whether in FAS or in another school), you can simply go to that class, sit in, and then decide whether to enroll or not. In some cases, it is necessary to get the permission of the instructor – in the form of an approval on your Study Card – before formally enrolling. It is highly recommended that in devising your course plan you consult your academic advisor (see below).

Four graded courses is considered a normal academic load (see Section V, “Coursework”). You must sign up for the equivalent of 4 four credit courses every term to be considered a full-time student. For most students, this will include a mix of language courses, subject seminars, and perhaps the occasional lecture course. More advanced students may sign up for independent “Reading and Research” with a professor (indicated by a 300 number) or for a placeholder course, according to type:

EASTD 301 for acting as a teaching fellow

EASTD 302 for course-related work

EASTD 303 for acting as a research assistant, or doing independent research work

Note that both 300-level courses and placeholder courses are ungraded (SAT/UNSAT) courses and do not normally count toward department requirements. The 300-level courses are often used by students preparing intensively for the general examinations.

A complete list of all classes is found in the online Courses of Instruction, published annually by FAS. 

Graduate courses (in EALC, 200-level or higher) are indicated as such in the catalogue, but some undergraduate courses may be taken for graduate credit. There is no distinction between graduate and undergraduate courses in the language curriculum.

If you are interested in courses outside of FAS, you will need to consult the online listings for those schools (e.g., Business School, Law School, Divinity School, etc.).

About one week after classes have started you are required to commit to a specific set of courses by filing a Study Card, approved electronically by your advisor, with the Registrar. If you advisor is not available, the DGS can approve instead.

There are fines for late registration, both with GSAS and with the Registrar. To keep deadlines in mind, it is useful to refer to the online GSAS Academic Calendar.



Primary advisors and advising committees constitute a crucial resource for students as they move forward in the program, but students are not confined to their advisors or advising committee members for advice or mentoring. Students have the right to reach out to other faculty members in the department and across the university. The advising relationship is a crucial one that extends well beyond graduate school. Primary advisors, committee members, and other faculty members will be important advocates, collaborators, and colleagues throughout your career, as you start your first jobs, navigate the tenure process, and develop your research and publications. They also direct students to resources for help and counseling if and when students need them (e.g., medical issues, personal emergency, changes in life circumstances, psychological wellbeing, etc.).

The Department is committed to protecting individuals from retaliation for speaking out, for engaging in good faith reporting or objecting to any activity by a community member that they believe to be unlawful, unethical, or in violation of university policies. Faculty should take the initiative in discussing their commitment to this policy and creating an environment of free and open discourse.

It is important to develop a good working relationship and set mutual expectations early on. Prospective students are entitled to make inquiries about advising protocols and prospective advisors are expected to respond to these inquiries in good faith. Once admitted into the program, it is the shared responsibility of students and advisors to have an open discussion in order to establish expectations, boundaries, and channels of communication. To facilitate this discussion, we suggest the following examples as some of the topics of conversation that faculty members are expected to clarify and students are entitled to ask directly:

*choice of courses and fields of study

*students’ entitlement to free expression of their views

*the sense of community among graduate students

*the advisor’s philosophy of graduate student teaching

*the ways whereby advisors and students can build a relationship of trust and maintain honest and open communication

*frequency of meetings outside of courses

*expectations regarding feedback on graduate student written work

*the advisor’s own graduate experience and reflections on how this may influence the advisor’s teaching and advising style

*the process whereby students arrive at their research/dissertation topics

*students’ freedom in choosing fields of research and dissertation topics

*teaching opportunities and pedagogical training for graduate students

*expectations regarding the duties and rights of teaching fellows

*the advisor’s current advisees and their research directions

*the advisor’s sabbatical schedule over the next few years

*the advisor’s research interests, especially in relation to possible course offerings

*the advisor’s administrative duties and other commitments that may affect his or her availability

*the process of applying for outside grants and fellowships

*the best ways to prepare for the job market

*professional training

*preparation for giving papers and publications


Some general guidelines:

  1. Prompt response to communication is important. Both faculty members and students should respond to emails in a timely manner.
  2. Students can expect to receive comments on their papers within two weeks after submitting them according to agreed-upon deadlines. Students and advisors should discuss and agree upon a set of shared expectations for reading and commenting on dissertation chapters. As a general guideline, students should expect comments on new chapters, or substantially revised chapters, within one month.
  3. Request for recommendation letters should not be last minute. Students should make requests and send the relevant materials (e.g., writing sample, application letter, grant proposal) at least two weeks before the deadline.
  4. It is the responsibility of faculty to ensure that students have the freedom as well as the guidance to develop their ideas in a supportive environment.
  5. Students have the choice of changing their advisors or members of their advising committees. They can also seek resources from other departments or outside the university when they are considering a third or fourth reader for their dissertations.
  6. Retaliation against students for voicing complaints or for changing their advisors or members of their advising committees will not be tolerated.

Years 1 and 2

Based on the areas of interest that entering students listed on their applications for admission, all doctoral students will have the option of having an advising committee consisting of a primary advisor and two other faculty members. The DGS will meet with incoming students in the week before the semester begins to discuss the composition of this committee. Students can request changes to their committee whenever they want. The primary advisor will be in the student’s subfield (and may become the student’s dissertation advisor in the future). Students who decide not to take advantage of the group advising option are strongly encouraged to get to know at least one or two faculty members in addition to their primary advisor so that they can begin to develop a strong network of faculty support.

The primary advisor is responsible for signing the Crimson Cart on my.harvard, but students can choose to consult with all members of their advising committee about their plan of study. The primary advisor or the advising committee will guide students toward the choice and definition of general examination fields.

Second-year doctoral students may decide to keep the same advising committee, but they can also request changes as their intellectual interests develop. The DGS and/or the primary advisor can help students identify the faculty members who best fit their interests. If students experience difficulty with any of their advisors, they should contact the DGS or the Chair. If students experience difficulty with both the DGS and the Chair, they are encouraged to speak to a trusted tenured faculty member. They can also contact the dean of student affairs and the executive director of the student center at GSAS (currently Patrick O’Brien and Danielle Farrell).

First-and second-year doctoral students have the choice of setting up a meeting with their entire advising committee at the end of the fall semester or the beginning of the spring semester to discuss their progress in the program and their plan of study. Students can also choose to just discuss their progress with their primary advisors.

Years 3 and 4

By the end of the second year, students are expected to have identified the three or four faculty members who will form the general examination committee. It is possible to request to have a faculty member from another institution serve on the committee. These faculty members will constitute the advising committee, with one of them serving as the primary advisor or two of them serving as co-advisors. For example, two faculty members whose research overlap can be both responsible for one of the generals fields. The general examination /advising committee will counsel students about reading lists, preparation for the general examination, teaching, and fellowship opportunities. Students usually meet with members of this committee every two or three weeks to discuss the readings for the respective fields of their general examination.


After passing their general examination, students will choose a faculty member to serve as the dissertation advisor and other faculty members (usually two) to serve on the prospectus and dissertation committees. A co-advising arrangement whereby a student works with two faculty members with overlapping research interests as primary advisors is also acceptable. Students should meet with the entire prospectus committee to discuss their prospectuses before presenting them in the Prospectus Conference. The prospectus committee often overlaps with the dissertation committee, but it does not have to be the case. Students may choose to reconfigure a different dissertation committee as their research changes and develops.

Students and dissertation advisors are expected to meet at least three times per semester. For students who are not on campus and advisors who are on sabbatical leave, they will have virtual meetings following the same general guidelines.

In the dissertation-writing stage, students may submit chapters to all members of the dissertation committee, or they may choose to first submit chapters to their primary advisors and incorporate their feedback and then approach other committee members. After completing two chapters (before or shortly after applying for the DCF), students (with the help of the Program Administrator) should set up a meeting with the dissertation committee to discuss their chapters and plans for progress towards completion.

Advisors and dissertation committee members will read chapters in a timely fashion (within four weeks of submission) and will provide substantial comments on drafts of the prospectus and subsequent dissertation chapters.  Advisors counsel students on the application for fellowships and jobs. They offer help by commenting on drafts of application letters, writing samples, and job talks.

Students are always free to make changes regarding their dissertation committee, but they have to consult with either the DGS and/or the dissertation advisor before doing so.  Any changes should be reported to the Program Administrator in order to keep records updated.