The curriculum of a DDes student is highly customized according to their respective research topics. It is geared towards completion in three years, but students are able to extend their studies beyond that if needed. DDes students are required to spend four of their six semesters in residence at Harvard GSD. The following is a sequential overview of coursework and exams in a typical course of studies.

First Year

During the first year students take 32 credits of coursework to gain fundamental knowledge of their fields, and acquire the skills pertinent to their thesis topics. Each student enrolls into one required course (4 credits) and three electives (12 credits) each semester. No more than 8 credits may be from independent study and no more than 8 credits from non-GSD courses. DDes students are required to have their course selection approved by their advisors prior to registration.

Required Courses:

GSD 9691 Doctoral Program Proseminar (Fall)
Instructor: Peter Rowe

GSD 9503 Preparation of Doctoral Thesis Proposal (Spring)
Independent study with primary advisor

When choosing electives students are working with their advisors to construct an appropriate sequence of courses. DDes students may enroll in any non-studio course at the GSD, at any Harvard graduate school, and also at MIT through cross-registration.

GSD Course Catalog
Harvard University Course Catalog
MIT Course Catalog

Toward the end of the first year the student submits a well-structured literature/background review followed by written answers to questions formulated by the examination committee. Both literature review and the written answers are then subject to aural examination.

Second Year

The beginning of the second year usually involves the prospectus exam as the second part of the general examination. In preparation for the exam the DDes student authors and coordinates a thesis proposal that outlines specific issues and steps to be addressed through doctoral research. The proposal is evaluated based on originality, contribution to the field, and feasibility. The thesis committee is formed after the prospectus exam, directing and guiding the DDes candidate in the research and the preparation of the thesis (equivalent of 16 credits of thesis research each semester). DDes candidates hold regular meetings with the committee until the completion of their degree.

After passing the general exam, DDes candidates can apply for up to two semesters of leave of absence but must be in residence for at least two additional semesters, including their last semester. During their second year, DDes candidates have the opportunity to work as Teaching Fellows (TF). TFs gain teaching experience by typically supporting larger courses offered by any of the three departments at the GSD. Compensation for work as TF is normally integrated into the GSD’s financial aid package.

Thesis Preparation course:

GSD 9504 Thesis in Satisfaction of the Degree Doctor of Design
Department of Architecture, Independent Study

Third Year

In the third year the thesis research is completed and the dissertation is written. The work must be defended in a public defense, and it must be accepted unanimously by the thesis committee. When needed studies can be extended beyond the third year.

Thesis Preparation course:

GSD 9506 Thesis in Satisfaction of the Degree Doctor of Design
Department of Architecture, Independent Study