Committees and Advising

Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)

The DGS has overall responsibility for administering the graduate program. Currently, the DGS is Charlie Conroy.  Serving as an important connection between GSAS and academic programs, the DGS plays a critical role in helping GSAS students navigate the resources available to help them thrive in graduate school. The DGS serves in some capacity on the Admissions Committee, chairs the Committee of Academic Studies (CAS; see below), is a member of the Student-Faculty Council (SFC), proctors the Astronomy Assessments, and makes certain that all graduate students are on track towards accomplishing their education and research goals and PhD thesis.  The DGS regularly reports at the faculty meetings on issues of importance discussed by the CAS. The DGS is the first point of contact between the Dean and Associate Deans of Students at GSAS. 

Committee on Academic Studies (CAS)

The DGS chairs the CAS, which monitors the academic progress of all graduate students. The CAS is composed of the DGS, the department chair, and four additional members of the teaching and research staff. Current members of the CAS are: David Charbonneau, Alyssa Goodman, Lars Hernquist, and John Kovac.  Daniel Eisenstein as Department Chair is ex officio.  

The purpose of the CAS is to ensure that students receive adequate guidance at various stages of their graduate study, to see that uniform academic standards are applied, and to define the professional qualifications expected by the department for advanced degrees in astronomy and astrophysics. At regular intervals the CAS reviews the progress of each graduate student. It also reviews and approves study plans, arranges the astrophysical inventory and oral exam, and appoints and maintains contact with a students advisory and exam committees.

Student-Faculty Council (SFC)

The SFC provides an important linkage between the graduate students and the faculty on matters of academics, student wellness, departmental/CfA initiatives, and other areas of concern.  Current members of the SFC are Charlie Conroy, Daniel Eisenstein, John Johnson, Doug Finkbeiner, Olga Borodina, Vedant Chandra, Osase Omoruyi, Chris Shallue, and Jasmine Gill.  The SFC meets twice per term, or as needed.  Public minutes are available here.

Advising Committee (AC)

An initial academic advisor is assigned to each incoming graduate student to help the student make informed decisions about coursework and research opportunities when registering in My.Harvard for the first time.  By mid-January of the first year, each first-year student should choose a research advisor who will assist in selecting a project and the submission of a research proposal and then supervise the actual research leading to the student’s research exam.  Each student is free to choose a new advisor at any subsequent time, but should inform the department administrators of such changes immediately after obtaining the new advisor’s consent.

Once each student has registered his or her research advisor with the office the CAS will assign each new student an advising committee which will provide the principal guidance and mentoring throughout a student’s graduate program. The membership of this committee, composed of faculty and SAO scientists at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) or other Harvard University departments, will shift as a student’s projects and thesis topics shift. Members of this committee could also form part of a student’s thesis defense committee.  Postdocs are not allowed to serve on advising committees.  Students must meet once per semester with their advisory committee and all students will email the date of their semesterly meetings on or before November 1 and April 1 to the office.  The Research Exam counts as one of these meetings as does the PhD Defense.

It is the responsibility of the chair of the advisory committee to be an engaged mentor to the student, supplementing the mentorship role of the primary research advisor.  This includes offering research and career advice.  The chair should plan to meet every other month with the student, or more frequently if the student prefers.  It is the student's responsibility to schedule and organize these meetings.

The policy pertaining to SAO advisors can be found here.

Advising Committee Meetings

Students should meet twice per year with their AC.  These meeting should typically last an hour (often longer for the first thesis committee meeting).  In each meeting, the student should describe the scientific objective of the research, including relevant background material.  Each meeting should include an update of new work completed, roadblocks encountered, and any significant changes to the research plan since the previous meeting.  A timeline containing expected completion of all relevant department milestones (courses, TF requirement, research exam) should be included.  For students who have completed their research exam, an expected PhD defense year should be included as well.  The student should also list talks given, conferences attended, and papers completed (both first-author and others).  For students who have completed their research exam, the plan for their public outreach project should also be described.