Academic Requirements

HASTS provides rigorous training that prepares students to define the future of the fields in which they establish their careers. HASTS students work closely with faculty members to take on questions that impact every aspect of contemporary life.

Over the course of approximately five to six years, HASTS students dive deeply into their area of study. They analyze existing research while developing their own lines of inquiry, and often publish their resulting scholarship. Course requirements and program milestones are built to provide the foundation students need to embark on their archival and/or ethnographic field research for their dissertation the summer after their third year.

Course Requirements+-

HASTS students are required to take 10 subjects plus STS.840 HASTS Professional Perspective.  Three of the 10 subjects must be the following required core subjects, which are normally taken within the first year:

21H.991 Theories and Methods in the Study of History

STS.250J/21A.859J Social Theory and Analysis

STS.260 Introduction to Science, Technology, and Society

HASTS students are encouraged to take at least one of these two subjects as part of their 10:

21A.809J Designing Empirical Research in the Social Sciences

21A.819 Ethnographic Research Methods

The remaining subjects should be chosen in consultation with the advisor, and fit into a coherent course of study. Ordinarily, all required coursework (with the exception of STS.840) is completed in four semesters.

Program Seminar+-

The HASTS Program Seminar is an important part of all HASTS student’s professional development and training.  In addition to being a place for students to workshop work-in-progress, the Director of Graduate Studies and Academic Administrator intentionally plan sessions of the seminar to guide students on what they need to know for major program milestones (such as general exams and grant proposals) and their overall academic and professional success (such as sessions on writing, or career conversations with alumni). Read more about the HASTS Program Seminar here.

Advising Structure+-

Principal Advisor

All doctoral students have a principal advisor – a tenure-line faculty member in STS, History, or Anthropology – with whom they work closely while planning and throughout their graduate studies. The principal advisor should be chosen by the end of the first year and no later than July 1 in the summer after their first year. It is the student’s responsibility to initiate contact with prospective advisors and to ultimately request the desired advisor’s assent to serve in this capacity. The selection of a principal advisor by the end of the first year is important; the student arranges an academic program of studies and prepares for general examinations in consultation with this faculty member.

Committee Members

Students are expected to develop working relationships with faculty members other than their principal advisor and to create a committee to guide their work at the dissertation level. HASTS students are required to form two committees: the general exam committee and the dissertation committee. The general exam committee may or may not be identical to the dissertation committee, but there is usually significant overlap between them.

It is recommended for students to select their general exam committee members by the end of their second year and members of their dissertation committee by the end of their third year.

Committees must have three members, two of whom must be HASTS faculty members.

First Year Paper+-

The first-year paper comes out of one of the subjects taken during the student’s first year in the Program. The paper should be roughly 20-25 pages and demonstrate the student’s ability to write in a clear, organized, polished fashion and to develop a sustained argument, marshaling appropriate evidence and literature. This paper, as with later required writing in the Program, may not be co-authored. This paper should be submitted to the instructor and Director of Graduate Studies by the end of the spring semester of their first year and must be accepted by both of these readers by July 1.

Second Year Paper+-

The second-year paper should be a substantial research paper of publishable quality.  Students should write the second-year paper in consultation with their advisor.  It should not be a revision of the first year paper.

Papers are evaluated by the principal advisor and at least one other faculty reader chosen by the student. Students should submit their papers to their readers no later than the end of the fourth semester and finish all revisions and receive final approval no later than August 15 immediately following the second year. Under no circumstances will a student be allowed to take general examinations until the first and second-year papers are approved.

General Examinations+-

The general examination tests students’ knowledge of the areas they have chosen to study, and measures the necessary interpretative and synthetic skills for writing an original dissertation.

Students should plan to complete their general examination sometime during their third year, ideally by January.  Normally students read for at least a full semester with each of their three committee members at the pace of a regular graduate level class in order to prepare for the exams, and register for independent study subjects with them accordingly.  Students should start talking with their advisor in the fall of their second year to map out when they will start reading each of their lists and to determine who their committee members will be.

The examination has both a written and oral component. The written component of the general examination consists of three parts:

Field 1:  Primary field usually to be read with the main advisor (e.g., the history of modern biology; the social study of information technologies).  This exam ordinarily anticipates the area of the student’s doctoral dissertation.

Field 2:  Secondary field which contextualizes or broadens a field of history or the social sciences.  This examination probes the student’s mastery of a field of history (e.g., Imperial Russian and Soviet history) or a field of one of the social sciences (e.g., theory and method in the study of culture).

Field 3:  Students prepare by reading from the MIT HASTS Common Exam List. This list encompasses the areas of social, historical, and cultural perspectives on science and technology. This field can be taken with any faculty member within the HASTS program.

The three written exams are taken over a one- to two-week period, with each exam lasting seven hours during a business day. The oral exam takes place within a few days of the final written exam and is scheduled for two hours in length.

Research Grant/Fellowship Proposal+-

In conjunction with preparation of the dissertation proposal, students should prepare at least one proposal for dissertation research funding from outside MIT during their third year in the program. Although we do not expect all students to obtain outside funding for their research, we expect all students to submit proposals because grant writing is an important learning experience for anyone going on to a career in academia, and can be particularly relevant while developing a dissertation proposal. Students should work with their principal advisor when writing their proposal to identify appropriate funding sources, and proposal format. Students may want to register for STS.880 Proposal Writing in HASTS to account for the time that they most intensely work on their research proposals—typically in one semester of their 3rd year.

Dissertation Proposal and Proposal Presentation+-

Students should submit their dissertation proposals by the end of their third academic year so that they may embark on their fieldwork and/or archival research by the summer after their third year. The proposal should be between ten and twenty pages long, and accomplish three goals: introduce the dissertation topic, explain briefly the scholarly significance of the topic (including a brief review of the relevant literature), and indicate a general plan of work. A significant research grant proposal (such as to the NSF) may meet the written portion of this milestone if the student’s primary advisor deems it sufficient.

The Academic Administrator will schedule a dissertation proposal presentation day by May each year during which students will orally present the proposal to HASTS faculty members and students. The presentation should be fifteen minutes in length and will be followed by questions and comments from the audience. This presentation provides an opportunity for feedback from HASTS faculty and students and it formalizes the submission of the dissertation proposal.

Professional Perspective Requirement+-

Recognizing that students may have a variety of professional goals as individuals, and that intentional development of professional experiences should be part of a student’s PhD program, the HASTS program includes a Professional Perspective Requirement.

This requirement encourages students to identify the professional skills that will be most useful for their intended career path, and seek hands-on experience beyond the classroom.

Students carry out a professional experience from one of the following categories where that experience is directly related to their academic program/major field of study. Further professional opportunities beyond those listed below may be accepted for completion of the requirement, with prior approval of a student’s advisor and HASTS DGS and/or Academic Administrator.

1. Internship
2. Teacher Training
3. Conference or seminar organizing
4. Publishing
5. Managing a Research Project
6. Public Academic Engagement

Dissertation and Dissertation Presentation+-

Students generally do their dissertation fieldwork and/or archival research during their fourth year. It may extend into the beginning of the fifth year, but that is also when dissertation writing normally begins. Some students may be able to complete the dissertation by the end of the fifth year, but the program goal is to finish by May of the 6th year. Once the final draft of the dissertation has been accepted by the student’s dissertation committee, the student must hold a presentation. The dissertation presentation is a two-hour open meeting consisting of a twenty-minute summary of the dissertation by the student, followed by questions from the student’s committee and the audience. The Office of the Dean for Graduate Education lists Institute requirements for thesis completion at MIT.

Timeline and Course Loads+-

Ordinarily, all coursework is completed in four to five semesters. Pursuit of a graduate degree at MIT on a part-time basis is not permitted, and HASTS students are required to take a full course load in order to remain eligible for financial aid. International students are required to consistently register fully and within the deadlines, in order to maintain their legal visa status. A full course load is usually defined as three subjects (36 units) per semester, although students who are working as Teaching Assistants may count that towards 12 units in that semester.

Required Element/Deadline

First-Year Paper: July 1 after 1st Year

Selection of Advisor: July 1 after 1st Year

Second-Year Paper: August 15 after 2nd Year

General Examinations: May 31 of 3rd Year

Research Grant Proposal: August 15 after 3rd Year

Dissertation Proposal & Proposal Presentation: May 31st of 3rd Year

Professional Perspective Requirement: Recommended by end of 4th year; required by penultimate semester of PhD completion

Dissertation: Spring of 6th year