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Honors Q&A session recording, September 9, 2020

Deadlines for students graduating in 2022

Statement of Intent: September 30, 2021

Faculty Mentor Approval: October 11, 2021

Honors Thesis Submission: February 11, 2022 This is a rolling deadline so you may submit at any time up to this date. Earlier submission is encouraged.

Faculty Mentor Evaluation: February 11, 2022

Honors Exams: Spring 2022


The Honors in a Special Field Program affords 4th year students the opportunity to earn the MD Degree with Honors in a Special Field (cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude) and requires submission of a thesis and its defense at an examination. Students may pursue Honors in a Special Field in any research discipline.  Students apply to the program in the fall through a Statement of Intent. In February, students submit their honors theses. Typically between February and April, students sit for their honors oral examination. Students are notified of their honors status just prior to graduation.

  • The Honors thesis must be distinct from any prior or concurrent graduate-level thesis. Work that students have submitted to fulfill program requirements for another graduate degree (e.g., masters or doctorate) at Harvard or any other university is not eligible for Honors in a Special Field. An Honors thesis, however, may build on work that students have conducted in the course of earning another degree as long as the Honors thesis only includes work that was not described in the other thesis or dissertation.
  • Pathways/New Pathway students may write an Honors thesis based on their scholarly project or other research.
  • HST students may write an Honors thesis based on their HST thesis research or other research.
  • Thesis preparation will require a significant commitment of your time and effort, as well as considerable input from your faculty mentor and other faculty members. Do not submit a Statement of Intent unless you expect to have sufficient time to complete and submit a thesis.
  • Prior to submitting the Statement of Intent, the student should consult with their SIM Fellow or Advisor to learn more about the scope of what is required for the Honors thesis. The student should only submit the Statement of Intent if the SIM Fellow concurs that moving forward is appropriate.
  • Faculty mentor approval is required as part of your honors Statement of Intent and your thesis submission. Be sure to discuss your honors submission with your research mentor before applying.

Questions? Visit the Honors FAQ site.

Statement of Intent

Complete the Honors Statement of Intent application. Preview a copy of the Statement of Intent here.

The following documents must be submitted as part of the application:

  • Your project proposal/manuscript
    • HST students submit their HST MD Thesis Proposal Form
    • New Pathway and Pathways students submit their Scholarly Project Proposal
    • In lieu of the HST MD thesis or Scholarly Project proposals, you may submit an abstract, or a manuscript representing your Honors research that is published, in press, undergoing peer review, or that will be submitted for peer review
  • The abstract of any prior graduate thesis on a related topic or discipline
  • A resume or CV

Your Statement of Intent paperwork will go to a SIM Fellow to review. The SIM Fellow will provide comments about your proposal's strengths and weaknesses. This review is intended to help prepare a cogent, defensible thesis.

After your SOI is approved, the the Office of Scholarly Engagement will begin scheduling exams in late 2021/early 2022. Exams are held in February-April of 2022.

Mentor Approval and Evaluation

Mentor Approval: The faculty mentor who has supervised the research must:

  • Review the proposal before you submit your Statement of Intent
  • Write to to indicate approval of your plan to submit and defend a thesis
  • Provide a list of four HMS faculty who may be invited to serve as an examiner for your thesis exam. The suggested examiners should not be members of the student's research group, department, or collaborators.

Mentor Evaluation: After the work for your thesis is complete, your mentor must complete the Mentor evaluation form.

Honors Thesis Submission

  1. Please review the honors thesis guidelines to prepare your thesis.
  2. Final theses should be emailed as a PDF to no later than February 11, 2022. 
  3. Send your mentor the evaluation of your work on the theses.
  4. Your thesis examination will be attended by three to four faculty members:
    • Two experts in the student's research field who are assistant professors or above
    • A member of the HMS Honors Committee
    • A representative of your academic society may also be present

Honors Exam

Honors exams last approximately 90 minutes and take place in Spring of 2022. The Honors Committee chair will go over your exam evaluation with all reviewers. A copy of the exam evaluation is here.

  • Introductions: You will meet the exam committee members. An honors exam chair will be present to explain the process to other examiners.
  • Opening presentation: You will begin the exam by presenting a ten-minute overview of your research. You should limit your presentation to the essential information that you can explain in 10 minutes. There will be plenty of time to discuss the details of your work.
  • Questions and discussion (45-60 minutes): The examiners will ask questions that may cover thesis content, the general thesis research field, or methods, including statistical analysis, instrumentation, and materials.  You should be able think on your feet, acknowledge the limitations of your work, and relate it to the larger research field.  It is understood that an Honors thesis is not a PhD dissertation.
  • Exam committee deliberations: You leave at the end of the exam and the examiners discuss your thesis and examination. The exam chair writes a summary evaluation that is provided to the full Honors Committee.  Decisions regarding Honors are made after all the Honors exams have been conducted, which is generally during the third week of April.
  • Successful candidates will be notified in May prior to graduation and will receive the MD Degree with Honors in a Special Field.

Contact if you have questions.

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