Areas of Study

The HILS academic areas shown represent the depth and breadth of current thinking in the life sciences. Prospective students can learn more about our programs and connect to them by clicking the links below. 

 

 

 

Academic Benefits

 Full access to faculty throughout the University – approximately 500 life sciences faculty – and to training resources of the entire University.

  • abundant opportunities to participate in new interdisciplinary areas of study as
    they develop
  • freedom to move among programs, subject to specific program requirements
    and lab availability
  • integrated research opportunities, including seminars with top faculty
    and workshops

 

 

Degrees Offered

 

The PhD

The PhD degree signifies mastery of a broad discipline of scientific learning together with demonstrated competence in a specialized life sciences field within that discipline (the discipline is specified on the diploma).  PhD study in a HILS member program requires full-time residency along with the completion of a dissertation, and takes approximately 4-5 years to complete.  Specific requirements for the PhD vary considerably from program to program, and even within a given discipline.  These requirements are published in program description booklets, and are also outlined in Chapter VI of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.
 

The MD/PhD

Basic science students in this program combine their Harvard Medical School studies with graduate studies in science or engineering. Their PhD work may be carried out in HILS, in another GSAS science or engineering program, or in a program housed within the Schools of Science and Engineering at MIT. Some students apply for admission into the MD/PhD program at the same time they apply to medical school. A limited number of these positions are available each year. Others decide to join the program after matriculation at Harvard Medical School and become members of the MD/PhD program at the time of their acceptance into a PhD program.

For more information about the MD/PhD program, go to www.hms.harvard.edu/md_phd.

 

Biological and Biomedical Sciences

The PhD Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) offers concentrated graduate student training in the fundamentals of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, pathology, microbiology, structural biology, pharmacology, translational medicine, virology, computational biology, and developmental biology.  BBS training is interdisciplinary; a variety of methods and experimental approaches are used to address questions within these areas range from the techniques of molecular biology, protein chemistry, cell biology and biophysics to those of molecular and developmental genetics.

BBS is an interdepartmental program, and its faculty members are drawn from all of the basic science departments of Harvard Medical School –Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology (BCMP), Cell Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Genetics, Microbiology and  Immunobiology, Neurobiology and Systems Biology – and from many of Harvard’s affiliated teaching hospitals.   BBS has also incorporated faculty from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) as part of its effort to build new initiatives in graduate training.

Additional information on the BBS Program’s academic requirements, areas of concentration, application process, and graduate study timeline can be found at the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) pages on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

More than 350 faculty members participate in the BBS graduate program, and the diversity of topics under study by them provides unparalleled research options for graduate work.  A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the PhD Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's BBS listing.  Another comprehensive list of BBS faculty members appears at the BBS website.


 

 

Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine

The Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine (BSDM) Program, leading to the PhD degree, is located at Harvard School of Dental Medicine and is offered through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University.  It provides graduate students with a unique opportunity to investigate the processes relating to human health and disease while working alongside research faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and dental and medical students.  Applicants should be interested in pursuing a career in basic or patient-oriented science in the areas of skeletal biology, cell biology and development, immunology, or microbiology leading to a PhD degree.

The BSDM program combines faculty from the Department of Developmental Biology and other Harvard School of Dental Medicine departments with faculty from basic science departments at Harvard Medical School and faculty from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University. The program offers advanced study in the molecular, supra-molecular, cellular, and supra-cellular processes that provide the intellectual basis for dental medicine. 

For detailed information on the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine Program’s academic requirements, research facilities, and admissions process, go to the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine (BSDM) Program's page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty serving on the Standing Committee affiliated with the Biological Sciences in Dental Medicine Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's BSDM listing.

 
 

Biological Sciences in Public Health

Located within the exceptional intellectual setting of the Harvard School of Public Health, the program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH) trains PhD students in individual fields of biological research with a focus on prevention and better treatment of diseases affecting large populations.  Students in the BPH program obtain a broad interdisciplinary knowledge of both mechanistic and quantitative approaches to biomedical research. The program prepares graduate students for research in the following areas: molecular and integrative physiology; nutritional biochemistry; cellular and organismal metabolism; cancer cell biology; gene regulation in human disease; gene-environment and cell-environment interactions; inflammation and stress response; immunology; infectious diseases involving protozoa, helminths, viruses and bacteria.  All of these subjects are studied with an emphasis on cellular and molecular biology and genetic approaches to disease mechanisms.

BPH research, whether basic or translational, is relevant to human health.  Because progress in disease prevention is optimally promoted by a close interaction between scientists from diverse disciplines such as genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, physiology, systems biology and epidemiology, the interests and expertise of the Biological Sciences in Public Health program’s affiliated faculty extend across the biological, quantitative, and social sciences--and provides a distinctive, rich investigative environment for its graduate students. 

For detailed information on the Biological Sciences in Health Program’s academic requirements, program of study, undergraduate preparation, and disciplinary areas, go to the Biological Sciences in Public Health (BSPH) Program's page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Biological Sciences in Public Health Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's BPH listing.

 

 

Biophysics

The Biophysics PhD Program prepares investigators with diverse backgrounds for successful, independent research careers in which the animating concepts and methods of the physical sciences are applied to the solution of biological problems.

Biophysics research at Harvard University is interdepartmental in nature, and has a long history of important achievements. Faculty members from departments including Physics, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Molecular and Cell Biology, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Division of Medical Sciences (Genetics, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Cell Biology, Neurobiology, Systems Biology, and the Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology), the teaching Hospitals (Children¹s Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital), and the Dana-Farber Cancer institute participate in the training of students in the Biophysics Program.  Faculty affiliated with the Harvard-MIT program in Health Science and Technology (HST) can also serve as research advisors.

Graduate students may accordingly pursue their research on Harvard’s Cambridge campus (including within the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, and Physics, and in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences) or its Boston campus (including the Harvard Medical School, Division of Medical Sciences, and the 11 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals).

The program is flexible, and special effort has been devoted to minimizing formal requirements.  For detailed information on the Biophysics Program’s admission requirements, suggested undergraduate preparation, and program of study, go to the Biophysics Program's page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Biophysics Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Biophysics listing

 

 

Chemical Biology

The goal of the Chemical Biology Program is biological discovery, and in particular the seamless integration of principles and experimental techniques drawn from both chemistry and biology.  The program prepares graduate students from varied backgrounds for independent research careers in which the fundamental concepts and methods of chemistry are applied to biological problems; they leave the program with the ability to identify important unsolved problems in biology, and with the skills choose problems for which chemical approaches will be productive.

The focus of chemical biology is on biology, which distinguishes it from traditional chemistry, and it uses chemical tools, which distinguishes it from traditional biology. The field also has deep connections with medicine and pharmacology.  The Chemical Biology Program spans Harvard’s Cambridge and Boston campuses and engages Harvard Medical School (HMS) faculty from the Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Microbiology and Genetics, Systems Biology, and Cell Biology Departments; Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) faculty from the Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Molecular and Cell Biology Departments; and affiliated institutions, including Brigham and Women's Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT.

For detailed information on the Chemical Biology Program’s admission requirements, degree requirements, coursework, and lab rotations, go to the Chemical Biology Program's page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Chemical Biology Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Chemical Biology Program listing

 

 

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB) has a rich tradition of research and scholarship in the molecular sciences as well as the interdisciplinary frontiers of the life and physical sciences. Our research community is strong and diverse, with collaborative exchanges among other Harvard departments and outreach activities to the Harvard student body and the greater Cambridge/Boston area and beyond.  CCB offers a program of study leading to the degree of doctor of philosophy in chemistry, in the special fields of biological, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry. A PhD program in chemical physics is also available.

The entering graduate student at Harvard joins an active research center as a co-worker during his or her second term. The Department’s faculty and its affiliated student scientists share a fundamental knowledge of the distinctive tools of chemical inquiry and a commitment to pioneering scientific investigation at the molecular level. Doctoral research, based on the student’s own interests and those of the chosen faculty supervisor, is concerned with problems of intrinsic interest and importance at the frontiers of chemical science.

For detailed information on the CCB Program’s admission procedures and departmental requirements, go to  the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Program's page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with CCB can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Chemistry and Chemical Biology Program listing

 

 

Immunology

Recent advances have rapidly transformed immunology from an adjunct to the diagnosis and control of infection into a major field of biology and medicine. The compelling problems posed by studying the immune response and its role in inflammation and resistance to malignancy and infection attract scientists from every discipline. Harvard’s Immunology PhD Program (embedded link) offers cutting-edge education and research in a wide range of areas, including molecular genetics, cell activation, immunochemistry, cellular immunology, allergic inflammation, immunogenetics, immunoparasitology, and immune deficiency.

The Immunology Program is a joint effort of more than 110 faculty affiliates representing a broad area of research interests including transplantation, neuro-immunology, autoimmunity, stem cell biology, infection and immunity, human translational immunology, tumor immunology, immunobiology and mucosal immunity.  Training facilities are extensive, including the facilities of various groups doing immunology research at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School and its hospitals.

Additional information on the Immunology PhD Program can be found on its home website and at the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) pages on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

 A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Immunology Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Immunology Program listing

 

 

Molecular and Cellular Biology

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) provides students with a sophisticated and rigorous training in a multidisciplinary environment, enabling them to become independent, creative, and productive life sciences researchers. 

MCB is the host department for the interdisciplinary Molecules, Cells and Organisms (MCO) PhD training program.  Faculty participating in the Molecules, Cells, and Organisms training program come from the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and Physics. In addition, members of the FAS Center for Systems Biology, the Center for Brain Science, the Microbial Science Initiative, and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute are active MCO participants.

Foundational coursework in the first year prepares students for research in one of four tracks: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolutionary Biology; Cellular, Neuro-, and Developmental Biology; Biochemistry, Chemical and Structural Biology; and Engineering and Physical Biology. MCO trainees spend the first year exploring a broad sweep of fundamental problems at every level through a set of core courses representing the program tracks, followed by deep immersion in focused areas. The objective of the MCO training program is to prepare students for a future in science that will require interdisciplinary breadth, as well as depth in specific disciplines.

The Engineering and Physical Biology (EPB) track of MCO trains a new generation of scientists to view living systems through the lens of physics and engineering. Students work comfortably in both the life sciences and the physical sciences, and applicants may have their primary undergraduate training in either area. Program components combine flexibility with rigor, place a priority on independence and imagination, and emphasize extensive individual faculty-student interactions.

For additional details on MCO as well as more information on the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology see the MCB page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of the faculty members affiliated with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's MCB listing

A comprehensive list of MCO faculty members appears at the MCO website.    

 

 

Neuroscience

The Neuroscience PhD Program offers comprehensive training across the exciting spectrum of the neurosciences, ranging from cellular and molecular processes at the foundation of neural function and development, to integrative processing in the central nervous system, and mechanisms and treatment of human neurologic disease.  The Program’s mission is to provide graduate students with the instruction, research experience, and mentoring they need to become leaders in neuroscience research and education.

PhD students in the Neuroscience Program have access to neuroscientists across the entire university, including a large group of clinical and basic science faculty at Harvard Medical School, Harvard-affiliated hospitals and research centers, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.  The enormous number and diversity of labs and faculty affiliated with the program allows graduate students a wide range of options in choosing research experiences.  The faculty’s diverse research interests include neurophysiology and biophysics, neurochemistry, neuroanatomy, genetic and molecular biological approaches to the nervous system, immunology, psychiatry, diseases of the human nervous system, and related areas.

Additional information on the Neuroscience PhD Program can be found at the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) pages on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

 A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of the faculty affiliated with the Neuroscience Program can be found at  the HILS Faculty Directory's Neuroscience Program listing

 

 

Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

Members of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) share a primary commitment to train scientists pursuing a greater understanding of the evolution of the earth's life processes. More than ever before, human activity places species and ecosystems at risk, and the need for research addressing environmental issues of global proportion has never been more urgent. Together, OEB faculty and graduate students examine significant biological processes which span a continuum from single cells to entire ecosystems.  The research interests of the OEB faculty include the flow of energy and material through ecosystems, the development and structure of communities and populations, the diversity of plant, animal, and microbial groups, and the mechanisms that have permitted diversity to evolve. 

The department's programs, many of which are interdisciplinary or linked to research in other departments, constitute a frontier of scientific vision in organismic and evolutionary biology. Modern research facilities, combined with the world-class natural history collections and libraries of the Harvard University Herbaria and the Museum of Comparative Zoology, provide exceptional opportunities for meeting the challenges inherent in this pursuit.  Other available resources include the Concord Field Station of the MCZ, the Harvard Forest, and the Arnold Arboretum

For detailed information on the OEB Program’s academic requirements, admission procedures, teaching obligations, and dissertation guidelines, see the OEB page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A comprehensive list of OEB faculty members appears at this departmental website, as well as the HILS Faculty Directory's OEB Program listing. 

 

 

Systems Biology

Systems biology seeks to illuminate how higher level properties of complex biological systems arise from the interactions among their parts. This dynamic new field requires a fusion of concepts from many disciplines, including biology, computer science, applied mathematics, physics and engineering.  Students with backgrounds in any of these disciplines are encouraged to apply to the PhD Program in Systems Biology.

A small and collegial program, Systems Biology spans Harvard’s Cambridge and Boston campuses, and engages affiliated faculty from Systems Biology, Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology (BCMP), Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), Chemistry and Chemical Biology (CCB), Cell Biology, Genetics, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB), Physics and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).  Through coursework and collaborative research, the program enables students to combine experimental and theoretical approaches to develop physical and quantitative models of biological processes.  Graduate students will be introduced to the new investigative tools available to the field, and will be able to select important unsolved problems in biology that are now possible to address using cutting edge quantitative and theoretical approaches.

For detailed information on the Systems Biology Program’s admission requirements, degree requirements, coursework, advising, and lab rotations, go to its page on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Systems Biology Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Systems Biology Program listing. 

 

 

Virology

The Program in Virology provides students with unique opportunities to conduct graduate study for the Ph.D. degree in this important, rapidly developing area of biomedical science.  Virology researchers at Harvard University are working on crucial biomedical problems associated with the emergence of new viruses such as SARS and H1N1 influenza as well as the re-emergence of viruses such as Ebola Chikungunya and West Nile.  They are also conducting basic research that is defining new molecular structures of viruses and virus-encoded enzymes, new mechanisms within cells for molecular and organelle trafficking and function, and new mechanisms that control cell growth. Harvard researchers are among the world leaders in the design and testing of AIDS, genital herpes, and small pox vaccines.

The Program  in Virology is a joint effort of faculty affiliates from throughout Harvard University whose specific research areas include molecular genetics, molecular biology and molecular pathogenesis of latent, persistent, or cytolytic virus infections, the characterization of virus-receptor interactions and the mechanisms of cell entry, structural studies of viruses and viral proteins, mechanisms of cell growth control, transformation, signal transduction, and transcriptional regulation, the use of viruses vectors for heterologous gene expression and for gene therapy, the interaction of viruses with innate immunity, the pathogenesis of viral infection and rational antiviral drug design.

The relatively small size of the Virology graduate program and faculty make this program ideally suited for students interested in collegial student-student and student-faculty interactions.

Additional information on the Program in Virology can be found on its home website and at the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) pages on the GSAS website.

Participating Faculty and Their Research Interests

A complete directory (searchable by research interest, name, and title) of faculty affiliated with the Virology Program can be found at the HILS Faculty Directory's Virology Program listing.