IX. Dissertation Requirements

The dissertation, which must make an original contribution to knowledge, may deal with any subject approved by the dissertation committee. The dissertation must be written in English and must demonstrate the student’s capacity to make critical use of source material in one or more East Asian languages.

There is no departmental requirement regarding the length of the dissertation. As a rule, however, most dissertations fall somewhere between 300 and 500 typed, double-spaced pages. Shorter dissertations may be accepted; students are encouraged not to exceed 600 pages.

Dissertation Research and Travel

Though it is not a requirement, many, if not most, EALC and HEAL students find that they need to travel and reside for some period of time in East Asia in order to carry out the research for the dissertation. Please note that the Department is not able to fund student dissertation research abroad. Students are therefore strongly encouraged to seek out funding sources for which they are eligible, both those within the University and those from outside granting agencies. Further information on dissertation research grants and fellowships may be found by consulting with advisors and by approaching the relevant offices in the different regional institutes, the Asia Center, and the Graduate School (see Section II, “Financial Aid”). It is the student’s responsibility to keep abreast of application requirements, deadlines, etc.

Dissertation Writing

There are numerous campus resources available to assist students who have begun to write the thesis. Many students find that joining a dissertation writing group provides helpful support and structure. Within the Department, such groups are student-led and form each year. If you are interested in joining or forming such a group, you may do so simply by contacting other senior students and/or your advisor.  are sometimes available to support dissertation writing groups. Applications must be submitted by a faculty member.

Candidates should not expect members of the dissertation committee to perform the duties of a copy editor. Both native and non-native speakers of English often find it helpful to solicit editorial assistance in the final stages of dissertation writing. Such assistance may be provided by peers in the program or by professional editors.

There is a wealth of resources to help you with your writing while at Harvard, a comprehensive list of which may be found here.

Dissertation Completion Fellowship

The Graduate School offers one year of full financial support to all PhD students who are engaged in the final stages of dissertation writing. The application is available on CARAT, and the Graduate Program Coordinator will notify eligible students of the year’s deadlines once these are announced by GSAS.

This support ordinarily cannot be split between two academic years, but must be held continuously in one academic year, i.e., sequential fall and spring terms.

To be eligible for a GSAS Dissertation Completion Fellowship (DCF), a student must meet the following requirements:

a) the student must have completed work on two substantial chapters of the dissertation by the departmental deadline in the early spring term prior to the grant year.

The completion of the dissertation drafts must be confirmed by the dissertation advisor and a second advisor in a signed confirmation form. Note that this form replaces the formerly required letters of recommendation. The student will also need to submit a dissertation abstract (one-page double-spaced) along with a Table of Contents indicating progress status for each chapter or article. More information may be found here. 

Students who have accepted a GSAS Dissertation Completion Fellowship should be aware that GSAS rules require them to complete the dissertation by the end of the grant year. For students who hold the DCF, one additional year of enrollment may be permitted.

Questions about these requirements should be directed to the Graduate Coordinator.

G10 Limit

It is the Department’s expectation that students will have completed all requirements for the PhD, including submission of a satisfactory thesis, by the end of the G8 year (G7 year for transfer students from RSEA). Students who have received Dissertation Completion Fellowships are held strictly to this time limit.

As mentioned in Section IV, pursuant to GSAS regulations, any student who has not completed the dissertation by the end of the G10 year will be withdrawn from the PhD program. Students thus withdrawn may continue to work on the thesis and will be formally readmitted to the program once they have finished in order that the degree may be conferred.

Hooding Ceremony

The department has instituted a Hooding Ceremony that takes place the day before commencement, when the graduates receive their academic hoods. The special ceremony adds to the graduation experience by making it possible to focus on the degree candidates and their accomplishments. It is an opportunity for each graduating student to be recognized individually, and it allows faculty, staff, family and friends a chance to witness the ceremonial hooding of the graduate student in a more intimate setting.

Completion of Degree Statement

The Department requests that graduating PhDs  file a Completion of Degree . This asks for basic information about the thesis and about the graduate’s immediate professional plans, including information on jobs and post-doctoral fellowships. The Department uses this information to stay in touch with graduates and to furnish information to GSAS as to how EALC and HEAL PhDs fare in academia. This form may be downloaded from the Department website.

Approval of the Dissertation

Students nearing completion of the thesis must inform the Graduate School of their plans to finish. GSAS awards degrees three times during the year, in March, May, and November. Most students choose to graduate in May, but any of the three dates is acceptable. The required Degree Application will be on the my.harvard portal, under "My Program".  

Students who have formally been awarded the degree in the preceding November and March are invited to take part in Commencement ceremonies in May, together with May degree recipient (more on Commencement below).

A minimum of three readers is required for final dissertation acceptance; under most circumstances, readers are drawn from the student’s dissertation committee. At least two readers must be within FAS (this includes emeritus/emerita members of the faculty).

In order to receive the degree, all members of the dissertation committee must have read and approved the thesis by signing the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate, available from the Graduate Coordinator. To allow sufficient time for the committee to read and comment on the dissertation, for the student to implement revisions, and for the committee to approve the revised dissertation, the student must submit the final draft of the dissertation to the committee no less than six weeks before the Registrar’s deadline. For Academic Year 2021-2022, these deadlines are:

EALC Dissertation Final Draft Submission Deadline

Registrar’s Dissertation Submission Deadline


July 7, 2021 

September 8 or 9*, 2021 (November 2021 degree)

*Students who submit their dissertation electronically on September 9 will retain the Student Health Fee and the Student Health Insurance Plan through January 31, 2021, and will be charged accordingly. 

November 9, 2021

January 18, 2022 (March 2022 degree)

April 1, 2022

May 12, 2022 (May 2022 degree)

The dissertation advisor and members of the Committee should send their comments and suggestions to the student within two weeks of receiving the final draft. In the remaining four weeks, students should implement the revisions, submit the revised dissertation for final approval by the Committee, and have the dissertation ready for submission to meet the Registrar’s deadline.

The dissertation is to be submitted electronically to the student's committee, the Director of Graduate Studies and the EALC Graduate Program Coordinator by 5:00 p.m. of the deadline date.  Students who miss the deadline will have to apply for the degree in the next cycle. 

After the submission of the final draft of the dissertation, the student should contact the Graduate Program Coordinator to request that the Registrar's "Dissertation Acceptance Certificate" be prepared. The student should provide the exact title as it appears on the dissertation, including capitalization and punctuation, along with the names of the committee members.

Dissertation Defense

To qualify for the degree of doctor of philosophy, students are required to present their dissertation at a public defense no later than one week before the Registrar's dissertation submission date. The defense is intended to provide an opportunity for constructive discussions concerning the achievements as well as any remaining shortcomings of the dissertation, together with possibilities for future research and ideas on revising the thesis for publication. It is open to faculty and graduate students as well as friends and family of the student. Those who intend to participate in the discussion are expected to have read the dissertation. One week prior to the defense the student must provide an electronic version to be made available on the EALC Intranet.

The defense should be scheduled after the student’s committee has granted approval of the dissertation. The defense committee consists of the student’s dissertation committee, and preferably, one additional member from the EALC department, another Harvard department, or an institution outside of the University. The student’s primary advisor decides when the dissertation is ready for the committee’s perusal. All readers must approve the dissertation as is, or approve it with voluntary minor revisions in order for the defense to proceed. Prior to the defense, two readers’ reports on the dissertation by the primary advisor and the next closest advisor on the committee will be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies and Coordinator. Once the approvals are received the defense will be advertised to the department via e-mail, with the inclusion of an abstract.

The defense will last approximately two hours. The exact format of the defense proceedings is left up to the student’s primary advisor, who also acts as chair of the defense. A typical defense may proceed as follows:

The student gives a brief statement summarizing the major arguments or contributions of the thesis, which may also include an account of the project’s genesis and development. Each member of the committee will then have approximately twenty minutes to pose questions to the candidate. Questions typically begin with the most external reader and make their way toward the advisor. Questions are based on the dissertation itself, rather than the field as a whole. If there is time and the chair decides, the audience can be invited to ask questions after the faculty finishes. The audience and the candidate are then dismissed and the committee consults. The candidate is then brought back into the room to receive any further advice or comments the committee may wish to offer in private.

In preparation for the defense, the student must declare the members of the dissertation committee by the start of the academic year in which they intended to finish by informing the Director of Graduate Studies. Students should consult closely with their primary advisor about the committee and the inclusion of anyone from outside of the University, whose presence at the defense will require budget approval.

Because finding a mutually agreeable time for all faculty members can be difficult and time consuming, the student should make every effort possible to aid the Graduate Coordinator in scheduling the defense.

Submitting the Thesis

Online submission of the dissertation via ProQuest ETD is required by the Graduate School. (GSAS is no longer using ETDs @ Harvard.) Dissertations must be received by 11:59 pm on the deadline date for the given degree period. NO EXTENSIONS TO THIS DEADLINE ARE PROVIDED.

Dissertations should be submitted in their final format, in accordance with the guidelines listed in the Formatting your Dissertation page on GSAS' website, and ready for publication. The Registrar’s Office will review the document for formatting compliance. Formatting errors may prevent the conferral of the degree and the student may need to apply for the next available degree period. A sample dissertation as well as the Top Ten Common Errors are provided for your convenience.

In addition to the electronic dissertation submission, the original complete and signed Dissertation Acceptance Certificate must be delivered to the Registrar's Office, on the fourth floor of the Smith Campus Center by the appropriate dissertation deadline. **As of summer of 2020, electronic signatures are still acceptable on the final Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. Students are required to upload their final signed DAC to the “Administrative Documents” section of ProQuest ETD during dissertation submission.   This certificate should be typed, printed on watermark paper, and match the dissertation title page exactly. It must be signed by a minimum of three readers, two of whom must be members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The student name must match the legal name on file at the Registrar's Office.


  • Delayed Release/Embargos: If students would like to request a delayed release of their dissertation of greater than 2 years, they will be prompted to upload a signed document to the “Administrative Documents” section of ProQuest ETD showing Director of Graduate Study approval of this request. If students do not have a document when submitting their dissertation, they will be asked to have the DGS contact the Registrar’s Office at enrollment@fas.harvard.edu, acknowledging approval of the delayed release request.




The end of the academic year is marked by a graduation ceremony, called (after the Latin) Commencement. Ceremonies consist of Morning Exercises, a colorful procession of dignitaries, deans, professors, and degree candidates through Harvard Yard, followed by the GSAS Diploma Awarding Ceremony in Sanders Theatre. Details become available on the GSAS website in the spring.

Families are invited to these events, with a limited number of tickets available for the Sanders Theatre ceremony. The Department can sometimes help with extra tickets. In addition, GSAS hosts a luncheon for all graduates and their families following the PhD awards ceremony.

Graduating PhD candidates who plan to take part in Commencement are required to wear the appropriate academic regalia, which may be purchased or rented from the Harvard Coop.