Graduate Requirements

Requirements for the Ph.D.


Students will ordinarily take fourteen courses by the end of the third year. In their first two years, all students will normally take the three core Problems seminars: Problems in the History of Medicine and Public Health (HSHM 701 or HSHM 703), Problems in the History of Science (HSHM 702), and Problems in Science Studies (HSHM 710). These courses are committed to exploring histories of medicine and science alongside the cultural, political, and social forces that shape them. Issues of race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, and religion are integrated into discussions of medical and scientific knowledge production and praxis in Western and non-Western contexts. In addition, students are expected to take the HSHM Program seminars (HSHM 790 and HSHM 791, each one-half credit) during their third through sixth semesters. These courses meet every other week and teach skills related to research and professional development that includes careers in and beyond academia.

Students are also required to take four graduate seminars in the history of science or medicine. Two of the four must be graduate research seminars. The remaining five courses can be taken in history of science or medicine, history, science, or any other field of demonstrated special relevance to the student’s scholarly objectives.

Graduate school grading at Yale follows a qualitative rubric of Honors, High Pass, or Pass. During the first two years of study, students must achieve Honors in at least two courses in the first year and Honors in at least four courses by the end of the second year, with a High Pass average overall. At the end of each term, the director of graduate studies (DGS) will ask faculty members whether they have serious concerns about the academic progress of any first- or second-year students in the Ph.D. program. Faculty members who have such concerns will provide written feedback to the DGS at the DGS’s request. The DGS will use discretion in ensuring that feedback is provided in a clear and effective manner to any students about whom there are concerns.

Students who enter having previously completed graduate work may obtain up to three course credits toward the completion of the total course requirement, the number being contingent on the extent and nature of the previous work and its fit with intended course of study at Yale.


All students must show proficiency in two languages relevant to the student’s research interests and approved by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). Over the years, our graduate students have demonstrated proficiency in a wide range of languages, including American Sign Language, Bulgarian, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish. 

Students may fulfill the requirement in a variety of ways, including demonstrated command of a native language other than English, graduation from an approved foreign university where teaching is conducted in a language other than English, passing an approved language course for credit, or passing a language test administered by the faculty or by one of Yale’s language departments. Language tests are administered by their respective departments (such as German, Italian , French, East Asian Languages). Students should consult the DGS for additional details and options for uncommon languages.

Yale offers classes in a variety of languages, from introductory to advanced levels, as well as special summer courses for targeted reading proficiency. There are also opportunities to study languages outside of Yale’s curriculum, including funding for summer language study, and Directed Independent Language Study (DILS) for individuals who wish to study a language not offered by Yale. For more information on these programs and foreign language tutoring at Yale, please visit the Center for Language Study’s website.

Second-Year Review

At the end of the academic year, the HSHM faculty will hold a special meeting to review each first- and second-year student in the program. The purpose of the meeting is to assess students’ academic progress. In order for second years to proceed to the third year, they must demonstrate through written work, classroom performance, and participation in departmental activities that they have the ability to: (a) speak and write clearly; (b) conduct independent research at a high level; and (c) develop coherent scholarly arguments. A faculty vote will be taken at the conclusion of the review meeting to decide whether each second-year student may continue in the program. If a majority of faculty present and voting determine that a student may not continue, the student will be informed in writing and withdrawn from the program. 

Qualifying Examination

Prior to entering on their dissertation work, all students are expected to develop a broad general knowledge of the discipline. This knowledge will be acquired through a combination of course work, regular participation in the Program colloquia and workshops, and dedicated preparation for the qualifying oral examination. Students will normally spend the summer following their second year preparing for the oral Qualifying Examination, which will be taken in the third year, preferably during the first half of it.

The Qualifying Examination will normally consist of four fields, each of which will be examined by a separate faculty member:

• Two fields in the history of science and/or history of medicine.
• One field in an area of history outside of medicine and/or science.
• One field of special interest, the content and boundaries of which will be established in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Possibilities for the field of special interest include a second field in history outside of history of science or medicine, a field with a scientific or medical focus (such as bioethics, health policy, public health, medical anthropology, or medical sociology), or a field at the intersection of science, medicine, and other subjects (such as law, national security, religion, culture, biotechnology, gender, race, literature, the evironment, and so on).


During their first term in the Program, all students will be advised by the DGS. During the second term and thereafter, each student will be advised by a faculty member of his or her choosing. The advisor will provide guidance in selecting courses and preparing for the qualifying examination. The advisor may also offer help with the development of ideas for the dissertation, but students are free to choose someone else as the dissertation supervisor when the time comes to do so. Students are encouraged to discuss their interests and program of study with other members of the faculty.

Dissertation Prospectus

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their dissertation topics during the second year. They are required to prepare a Dissertation Prospectus as soon as possible following the Qualifying Examination and to defend the Prospectus orally before being admitted to full candidacy for the doctoral degree. Ordinarily the prospectus colloquium is held in the second term of the third year, with advancement to candidacy before the start of the fourth year.

Download: Guide to the Prospectus and Prospectus Colloquium (PDF).

Committee Constitution Requirement

Each Ph.D. student must have a dissertation committee, satisfactory to the student’s department and in accordance with Graduate School requirements, in order to register for the fourth year of study. Students without an approved committee will normally be withdrawn from their program.


Teaching is an important part of the professional preparation of doctoral students in the History of Science and Medicine. Typically, during the third and fourth years of study, students will work as teaching fellows, which usually means that they will lead small-group discussion sections for undergraduate courses and grade their students’ exams and papers. On occasion, however, students may work as teaching fellows in the second semester of the second year, particularly if they have received course credit for previous graduate studies, or if they choose to defer the completion of their required coursework to the first semester of the third year. Students usually work as teaching fellows for courses in the History of Science and Medicine, but they may also have the opportunity to be teaching fellows in History or other departments.

Students are also encouraged to participate in programs to develop their teaching skills, including the Certificate for College Teaching Preparation, and they may apply to design and teach their own courses in the later years of their PhD.

At least two terms of teaching are required for doctoral students to graduate from the Program in the History of Science and Medicine; four terms are required for students on Yale-supported fellowships, although students may elect to substitute one or two of these terms with research assistantships at the Yale Center for British Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, or other sites across campus. For more information, please contact the Office of Financial Aid.

Finishing the Dissertation

In the fourth or fifth year, and preferably no later than the fall term for the fifth year, students are required to submit a chapter of the dissertation (not necessarily the first chapter) to the dissertation committee. This chapter will then be discussed with the student by members of the committee, preferably in a colloquium, to give the student additional advice and counsel on the progress of the dissertation. This conference is designed to be an extension of the conversation begun in the prospectus colloquium and is not intended as another defense; its aim is to give students early feedback on the research, argument, and style of the first writing accomplished on the dissertation.

Please also see GSAS Policies and Regulations, and the Special HSHM Requirements for the Ph.D. degree

Master’s Degrees

M.Phil. and M.A. en route to the Ph.D.

Master’s degrees are normally awarded to PhD students as part of their advancement to candidacy. See the Graduate School programs and policies.

Terminal M.A.

M.A. in History of Science and Medicine (terminal).  For the terminal master’s degree students must pass seven term courses, four of which must be in HSHM.  Course work will normally include at least two “Problems” graduate seminars and two additional graduate seminar in the History of Science and Medicine.  The remaining courses are to be chosen in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies or a faculty adviser.  Honors grades are required in two courses, with a High Pass average overall.  Financial Aid is not available for this M.A. program.