Dissertation Advisory Committee

The purpose of the Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) is to follow the progress of the student, providing advice on the conduct of the dissertation research and ultimately deciding when the student is ready to complete their research and write and defend a dissertation.

Each student should form and meet with their Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC) within 6 months of completion of the PQE and every 12 months thereafter until year 5 when meetings convene every 6 months. 

Composition | Meetings | DAC Chair Role | For Students | Decisions on Completion of Dissertation Research


  • The dissertation advisory committee includes 3 faculty members (in addition to the dissertation advisor) whose areas of concentration relate closely to the projected direction of the dissertation project. A list of potential committee members will be compiled by the joint decision of the student and dissertation advisor. 
  • The list must then be approved by the head of the Virology Program before faculty members are contacted.  The program head will work with the student and advisor to choose the best committee, then the student may contact faculty members to serve on the DAC. 
  • DAC members are usually members of the Harvard faculty, but may also come from other area faculties.  The faculty should be broadly representative of relevant disciplines.
  • When there is a major shift in direction or new methodologies are to be employed, current members should be replaced or additional members enrolled.
  • The chair of the committee, who should be a member of the Committee on Virology, may not be the dissertation advisor.


  • The dissertation advisory committee should meet at least every 12 months; additional meetings should be called as needed.  In cases in which a student's studies have not been completed by the end of year 4, the committee will meet at least every 6 months until the dissertation is completed.  Meetings may be called by the student, the committee chair, or the dissertation advisor.
  • The student should provide a report to the members of the committee no later than 7 days prior to each meeting, copied to virology@hms.harvard.edu.   This report should include:
    • Introduction and Background
    • Hypothesis(es)
    • Progress Report
    • Proposed Experiments
  • The DAC meeting will consist of private meetings of the student and the advisor with the DAC followed by presentation of research progress and a summary of proposed future experiments.  The meeting should conclude with the gathering of consensus regarding future priorities and experiments.
  • Immediately after each meeting, a written report of the assessment of approach and progress should be prepared by the chair of the dissertation advisory committee.  The report should include overall assessment and specific comments on the student’s progress as well as an assessment as to whether the research direction and/or progress can plausibly lead to a dissertation.  The report form is now in electronically writable format to ensure that the report can be easily read.  The report will be signed electronically by the chair.  The completed report should be sent to the Committee on Virology administrator at virology@hms.harvard.edu.  The administrator will then send a copy to the student, the student’s advisor, the Division of Medical Sciences, the head of the Virology Program, and the dissertation advisory committee members, with a copy to the chair of the committee.

DAC Chair Role

  • When the DAC meeting begins, you should ask the student to step out of the room so you may discuss the progress of the student with the dissertation advisor.  Please be brief.  Once the student returns to the room you should ask the dissertation advisor to step out briefly.   This will provide an opportunity for the student to mention anything they are uncomfortable discussing with the dissertation advisor present.  Please summarize the comments of the advisor and student on the report.
  • Please ask the dissertation advisor if the Conflict of Interest form has been discussed with the student and ensure that it has all the necessary signatures.
  • Please make complete notes for your description of the dissertation progress at the meeting so that all members can note their approval.  Immediately following the meeting the form should be completed electronically and emailed to the Virology Program office at virology@hms.harvard.edu.
  • Please notify all DAC members that they should report any concerns not included in the summary recommendations to the program office or directly to the program chair.
  • The DAC should also provide career advice to the student in the later stages of the dissertation research period.

For Students

  • With the help of your dissertation advisor you should choose DAC members whose areas of concentration relate closely to your dissertation topic.  These names should be submitted to the program chair for approval before the potential members are contacted.
  • You should form and meet with your DAC as soon as possible after your PQE, but in all cases, within 6 months of the PQE.  You are urged to not delay in setting up your first DAC meeting.  Even though you may not have fully developed your dissertation project or feel you do not have much data to show, it is not advisable to postpone your first meeting.  Past experience shows that it’s best to begin scheduling meetings 2 to 3 months before your deadline. The meeting is for your benefit and will help you explore possible projects.  You are not expected to have all your plans in place.  
  • DAC meetings should be scheduled once a year during years 3 and 4.   You should meet at least every 6 months after year 4.  You can call a meeting anytime you feel it is necessary. 

Decisions on Completion of Dissertation Research
One of the major contributions of the dissertation committee comes in assisting the dissertation advisor and the student in reaching the decision to close off further experimentation and begin writing the dissertation.