MD Research and Thesis Requirement (HST)

HST MD students are required to become actively involved in independent research under the direction of a faculty member. Such research may be conducted longitudinally throughout a student’s medical studies, if carefully planned. Students are also encouraged to slow the rate of progress through the formal curriculum and take an extra year in order to devote more time to research. As a requirement for graduation, every HST student must present evidence of original, scholarly and creative work in the form of a thesis based on laboratory research or clinical investigation. The thesis topic is to be chosen with the advice of a member of the Faculty, who agrees to act as the thesis supervisor.

HST MD Thesis Guide

Table of Contents:

Getting Started

To fulfill the requirements of the MD degree, students must submit a thesis by the first Monday in February of their final year. The thesis should be based upon original, scholarly and creative work done either in the laboratory or the clinic. The thesis topic is to be chosen with the advice of a member of the Faculty, who agrees to act as the thesis supervisor.

Check out these resources for finding a research lab.

Thesis Commitment

The research upon which a thesis is based must involve a time commitment of at least four months full-time, or the equivalent part-time, for which appropriate credit may be requested. The actual writing of the thesis should be conservatively estimated at an additional full-time effort of at least one month for which four credits at HMS may be applied.

A copy of a PhD or MS thesis prepared by a candidate for the MD degree while in residence may be submitted in fulfillment of the HST thesis requirement.

Dates and Procedures

Year 1:

  • August – Students must attend the HST Research Assistantship (RA) and Thesis meeting and turn in an I-9 form to MIT.

  • December – Identify lab, complete RA paperwork. Includes filling out RA form, and completing online paperwork (W4, M4, direct deposit).

  • Beginning in January – Turn in RA form to Laurie Ward, MIT (this can be delayed, but RA funding will also be delayed).

  • February – Introduction to HST MD RA Spring Institute. Discussion of course objectives, and review of sample proposals from last year. Discuss structure of proposals, review sample proposals, and drafting of aims. Students will be asked to share ideas for current projects with course directors.

  • Early March – Draft of summer research proposal due. Drafts will be returned with feedback.

  • End of March – Revised summer research proposal due. We will forward final approved thesis proposals to Scholars in Medicine Office by April 1.

  • End of April – Oral Presentations Workshop. Dr. Jhaveri will go over the finer points of presenting your research information.

  • Early May – Presentations (group I and II). Each talk should take no more than 10 minutes (7 minutes presentation, 2-3 minutes questions).

Year 2/3:

  • Summer – Perform fulltime research and seek 50% of funding from PI.

  • September 1st – Introduction for HST thesis due to and to PI, who must approve. No more than 10 pages, double-spaced.

  • October 31st – MD thesis proposal due, sent via email to See HST M.D. Thesis Proposal form for formatting guidelines. Length: 3 double-spaced pages, excluding references. Includes work performed over summer. Students will receive comments from the HST M.D. Thesis Committee within six weeks of submission.

  • December 31st – Figures and methods for HST thesis due to and to PI, who must approve.

Year 4/5:

  • February – HST M.D. thesis due by 5pm, please submit an electronic copy for review to and refer to HST MD Thesis Guidelines for format. 

  • Honors – Submission through Honors Program & ETDs @ Harvard.

  • April – Final submission of thesis through ETDs @ Harvard and.

Roles and Responsibilities of:


The research supervisor is responsible for overseeing the student’s thesis project. The research supervisor is expected to:

  • Supervise the research and mentor the student;
  • Provide a supportive research environment, facilities, and financial support;
  • Evaluate the student’s various submissions, including proposal and final thesis document.

The research supervisor is chosen by the student and must be a faculty member of Harvard University or MIT, and needs no further approval. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with their RA Advisor and/or Dr. Mitchell prior to final selection.


The HST MD Thesis Committee is responsible for reviewing and evaluating the student’s thesis proposal. The committee is expected to:

  • Review, evaluate and provide anonymous comments.
  • Approve final thesis proposal.
  • Approve final thesis for submission for Honors consideration.


Following submission of the HST Thesis, two readers in the student’s field of study are tapped to review and evaluate the student’s thesis. Readers are expected to:

  • Review, evaluate and provide anonymous feedback.
  • Provide an oral examination for students submitting for Honors consideration.

Thesis Proposal

HST MD Thesis Proposal Form (pdf) – Due October 31st

Thesis Submission and Final Thesis Document

HST MD Thesis Guidelines (pdf)

Note: Examples of acceptable theses from previous years are available for perusal in the HST office at HMS, TMEC 213.

Following receipt of readers’ feedback, you will electronically submit an updated PDF copy of your thesis based on the comments through ProQuest ETD, an electronic thesis and dissertation submission system. Submission is simple, and a short video guide as well as helpful resources are available at this page to guide you through the process. 

Harvard Medical School Honors in a Special Field

HST students are encouraged to submit their theses for consideration for oral examination for Harvard Medical School Honors in a Special Field. Students must submit an intent to submit for honors by early October of their year of graduation.

Note: A PhD thesis may not be so submitted, but any spin-off work arising out of this research, which was not contained in the original PhD thesis, may be used to this end.

Students working towards a simultaneous MD/MS may submit the same thesis for honors if desired. Honors in a Special Field implies far more than just discussing one's thesis research; it includes demonstrating broad knowledge and insight in the disciplinary area(s) of that research.

Honors theses are due on the first Monday in February of the year of graduation.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What if I don’t have a lab by January?

DON'T PANIC, many students don't have a lab by January. As long as you find a lab of interest by the summer and complete full-time summer research, you can still be eligible to graduate in 4 years. Note, that it may be difficult to receive RA support in the Spring.

What if I change labs?

Even if you change labs you will still be required to submit your materials, including a proposal for approval. There is no obligation to choose from which lab you will write your work, as long as you have sufficient data for a thesis. Note however, if you change labs late without sufficient data for a thesis, you will be obligated to do a 5th year to complete your thesis and research work.

How does the schedule change if I am doing a 5th year with full-time research?

Pursuing a 5th year delays the timeline of deadlines to the following year, in which case you will participate in the process as normal. Note, if early in your decision to do a 5th year you change your mind and decide to pursue the MD degree in 4 years, you will be required to adhere to the original first set of deadlines.

Why am I being asked to submit parts of my thesis early?

The request to submit portions of your thesis early assists you in keeping track of your progress in the thesis process. Much of the thesis will be vetted and a significant portion will have already been written by the time the final draft is due in your final year of medical school.

What feedback should I expect from these submissions?

Constructive feedback is given to help address any significant issues or problems with the work. It is very important to also check-in with your advisor, who will need to read the material in detail prior to submission.

What if my advisor leaves HMS before I graduate?

If an advisor leaves prior to your graduation, she/he may still serve as the advisor to your thesis work. Note, however, that the final thesis must be signed by an HMS or MIT faculty member. Any new work can have a new PI as the advisor.