Faculty Roles

The Honors in a Special Field Program gives Harvard Medical School students the opportunity to earn the MD Degree with Honors in a Special Field (cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude) by submitting a thesis and defending it at an examination.

Faculty Mentor

The Faculty Mentor for a student pursuing Honors in a Special Field must understand the scope of commitment in mentoring a student. In this formal relationship, the mentor:

  • Reviews their student’s research proposal before they submit the Statement of Intent (SOI) Application 
  • Supports the student during the research stage
  • By October 15th, emails a letter to honors@hms.harvard.edu with approval for the student to submit and defend a thesis. The email must also include  a list of four HMS faculty who may be invited to serve as examiners for the student’s thesis exam. The suggested examiners should not be collaborators or members of the student's research group or department.
  • Evaluates their student’s thesis by completing a thesis evaluation form. 

Honors Examiner

For each Honor’s examination, two experts in the student's research field who are HMS assistant professors or above serve on the Exam Committee as Honors Examiners.

The Honors exam is similar to a PhD dissertation defense, but examiners should expect a lesser amount of work. The Honors thesis represents the output of a project that the candidate has done in addition to meeting the requirements for an MD degree. Candidates have generally dedicated 4 months of full-time work to this project or the equivalent, though some spend a full year on thesis research.

Examiners cannot have any direct role in the student’s thesis research or work closely with the student’s research supervisor.


Information for Examiners

  • Exams are scheduled based on the faculty experts’ availability in March or April
  • Exams last 1.5 to 2 hours and take place at the Tosteson Medical Education Center (TMEC), 260 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA or via Zoom video conferencing
  • The Office of Scholarly Engagement staff will send student theses to examiners by e-mail prior to the exam date
  • All examiners are expected to carefully read the student’s thesis before the exam

HMS Honors in a Special Field Committee

The HMS Honors in a Special Field Committee consists of 20 HMS faculty members. This committee conducts the examination and evaluate the thesis of graduating medical students who are applying for Honors in a Special Field. 

A member of the committee will chair each student candidate’s Honors Exam and write the summary evaluation on behalf of the Exam Committee.