Program Requirements

Students in our program follow a sequence of first year introductory coursework and research seminars, followed by three to four semesters doing fields and further research seminars while completing language requirements. After finishing fields, students defend their dissertation proposals with their committee and commence research.

Once the dissertation is complete, a student defends it as an original contribution to knowledge. Throughout their time in the department, students are expected to join in the intellectual life of the community, for example, participating in colloquia and Tuesday lunch presentations. Further details of our requirements can be found in the Graduate Handbook.

In their first year, students take a year-long survey course in the history of medicine, from classical antiquity into the twenty-first century, which provides an in-depth foundation and prepares them to teach history of medicine courses. First semester, students take the Program’s Methods seminar, and a graduate seminar. Students are expected to write at least one research paper each semester until they begin their dissertations. First year students are evaluated by written take-home exams at the end of each semester.

Second semester, students take at least one further research seminar and begin working on three fields, chosen in consultation with their advisers. A field is a course of study in a particular area, such as Modern Biomedicine or Early Modern History of Medicine. The specific requirements for such fields are set by the faculty member directing the field, in consultation with the student. These fields entail both broad and intensive reading, and may include an examination, research paper, and/or preparation of several historiographic essays. All Department students must take at least one field in the History Department; students have also done fields in Anthropology; History of Science; and the School of Public Health.

Second-year students research and write an original paper and present it at the Department colloquium. While students experience the paper as a rite of passage, the process establishes a close mentoring relationship with the adviser and provides intensive training in research, writing, and presentation of scholarly work. Many students have gone on to publish their second year papers and a number have won awards.

PhD students must demonstrate a reading knowledge of two foreign languages before being admitted to formal candidacy for the degree. They must also complete the NIH-mandated Research Ethics Training.

After completing fields, students defend a dissertation proposal with their committee, comprised of members of Department faculty and at least one outside faculty member with relevant expertise. The defense is intended to strengthen the proposal, providing constructive feedback before students embark upon substantial dissertation research.

Students can expect to spend two to three years researching and writing their dissertations. Students are encouraged to apply for outside grants and fellowships to fund their research. In addition to the first year of funding, Department support includes a subsequent year without teaching requirements, to enable research, often away from campus.

The final requirement for the PhD degree is completion of a dissertation that is an original contribution to historical knowledge, and of a standard suitable for publication. Candidates defend their dissertations at an oral examination before a committee of faculty from the Program and other departments.