The Third and Fourth Years

Year Three

General Examinations

After the satisfactory completion of two years of full-time study, the modern language requirements, and the Second Year Review, a student prepares for the General Examinations. The student will consult with his or her primary advisor in formulating the plan for the exams and deciding upon examiner(s). Ph.D. students usually take their general examinations at the end of the third year.

Students are expected to take their general examinations no later than the end of their third year in the program. There are usually four written examinations that ordinarily take the following form: 1) a language translation examination, without dictionary, from a text of average difficulty, 2) a translation examination, with dictionary, of texts in the student’s special field with a discussion of textual problems or thematic issues, 3) a broad examination in South Asian Studies based on reading lists put together by the student in consultation with the advisor, and 4) an examination in the student’s special field.

Students may also take an optional fifth exam in a secondary field or discipline, often involving a faculty member from another department. Upon passing the qualifying exams students will be expected to complete a Dissertation Prospectus within a year.


While teaching is not required for the degree,* doctoral students are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities for teaching at Harvard. These opportunities include teaching South Asian Studies courses, General Education courses, other FAS departments' courses, and junior and senior tutorials in the undergraduate concentration.

Generally, students who wish to teach are able to secure positions. In addition to its financial benefits, teaching is considered integral to the program of doctoral studies at Harvard.

Students usually begin teaching in the third year. Normally first-year and second-year students are not allowed to teach. Students seek out Teaching Fellow positions by approaching faculty with whom they would like to work, and providing a resumé and cover letter indicating experience and courses they are interested in teaching. Teaching Fellow training and workshops are held throughout the year at the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. To serve as a tutor in the Undergraduate Program, student's should contact the department's Director of Undergraduate Studies.

*Please note: Ph.D. students are guaranteed teaching in the third and fourth year as part of their admissions packages. Students are still expected to follow the above measures to secure teaching positions during these years.

Year Four

The Dissertation Prospectus

Upon passing the general examinations students will be expected to complete a dissertation prospectus within a year's time and no later than the spring term of their fourth year. The prospectus will include: 1) a clear statement of the dissertation project and its central problems and methodology, 2) its place in the context of related scholarship, and 3) its importance to the field. The prospectus will also include a chapter outline and bibliography.