Degree Programs

Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School (DMS)

 

Programs and Disciplines

The Division of Medical Sciences (DMS) at Harvard Medical School, with the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University, offers six interdisciplinary programs leading to the PhD degree: Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Immunology, Neuroscience, Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology, and Virology. One of these programs, Biological and Biomedical Sciences, contains sub-areas of interest, which are listed above. These six programs share a common purpose: to foster a stimulating and supportive environment for research training in the biomedical sciences.

The Division of Medical Sciences was established at Harvard University in 1908. The Division was designed to provide students wishing to pursue careers in research and teaching with a broad education in basic biomedical science fields and specialization in one of them. Classroom and laboratory instruction are conducted primarily by the over 500 faculty members of the basic sciences departments and affiliated hospital laboratories of the Harvard Medical School (HMS) in Boston. The PhD degree is awarded by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) of Harvard University. For 100 years, this fruitful collaboration has spawned research achievements across the spectrum from basic science to experimental medicine. Since 1909, over 2,700 Division graduates, including six Nobel Laureates, have gone on to distinguished careers in biomedical research, university teaching, and a number of increasingly diverse careers.

Research Facilities

Located in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston, the Division brings together faculty in the biological sciences throughout Harvard University. The Medical Area, which includes Harvard Medical School, a cluster of affiliated hospitals and research institutes, the Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and the Harvard School of Public Health, comprises one of the most concentrated areas of scientific research facilities in the United States. The interaction between the various programs in the Division, through joint teaching and research as well as the contact with the affiliated hospitals investigating clinical problems, enables the Division to serve as a meeting place for the biological, medical, physical, and chemical sciences, providing students and faculty with a wider range of experience and techniques than can be found in any single discipline or department.

Many of our faculty are based in the seven basic science departments on the Medical School Quadrangle: Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Microbiology and Immunobiology, Neurobiology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and Systems Biology. Other faculty have their laboratories at:

  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Children’s Hospital
  • Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  • Harvard Institutes of Medicine (HIM)
  • Harvard Medical School
  • Harvard School of Public Health
  • Harvard University in Cambridge
  • Immune Disease Institute
  • Joslin Diabetes Center
  • Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI)
  • Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)
  • McLean Hospital
  • New England Regional Primate Center
  • Schepens Eye Research Institute

 

The main Harvard University campus in Cambridge encompasses a wide variety of strong academic departments and facilities in the humanities and sciences. The division specifically interacts with the biological sciences programs in biophysics, chemical biology, molecular and cellular biology, organismic and evolutionary biology, biological sciences in public health, and systems biology.

Programs of Study

There are many areas of biomedical research excellence in the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS). These are described for each program, and some are available in more than one program. Along with other areas, research in cancer, developmental biology and HIV, are examples that are well represented in several DMS programs. Details on these and the other themes in biomedical sciences and biology are available at the DMS website.

Academic programs fulfill needs and goals through core and advanced courses, seminars, rotations in laboratories, and a qualifying examination. Courses may be chosen from the offerings of Harvard University as well as from those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Rotations are an integral part of each program; they allow students to investigate several types of research and laboratories before choosing a dissertation laboratory. Many students choose a dissertation laboratory by the end of the first year.

Although individual programs vary, generally students take a qualifying examination at the end of their first year or during their second year. After successful completion of the qualifying examination, the dissertation advisor supervises the doctoral candidate’s research and study, with an advisory committee periodically reviewing progress. Typically, about four years of laboratory work are needed to complete the dissertation research, which is defended before three examiners. Students are expected to complete the degree in four to five years.

The Informal Curriculum

Outside of the classroom, the division sponsors a variety of activities that bring together students and faculty with a broad range of research interests. Important elements of this “informal curriculum” are the seminars, journal clubs, and retreats organized by the programs. These sessions give students the opportunity to interact with faculty and post-doctoral fellows from laboratories throughout the Medical Area, and to learn about research in diverse fields. Student-run journal clubs and seminars provide opportunities to learn how to give talks, critically evaluate scientific literature, present data, and take part in group Division of Medical Sciences at Harvard Medical School (DMS) discussions. Each year students organize their own symposium with talks and poster sessions. City-wide seminars draw researchers from all area institutions into a larger scientific community. Many students serve for at least one term as teaching assistants for graduate and medical school classes, or for undergraduate courses taught in Cambridge. The Biomedical Graduate Student Organization plans various academic and social activities, and works with other student representatives in the Graduate School and at Harvard Medical School.

Combined Degree Programs

The division, in conjunction with Harvard Medical School, offers a combined MD/PhD program to train physician-scientists to work at the forefront of biomedical research and to provide an interface between the most basic and technical research and its clinical application at the bedside. The program seeks to provide students with the most thorough and up-to-date medical education and training for research careers. Students who are interested in working toward simultaneous MD and PhD degrees should complete the application for admission to Harvard Medical School and the MD/PhD Program.

Admissions

Each year, nearly 90 students begin graduate study. Total enrollment for 2011—2012 was over 575, with affiliated faculty numbering over 500. Our students come from a variety of undergraduate institutions throughout the United States and from many foreign countries. Women account for almost one-half of the enrollment.

To qualify for admission, applicants must demonstrate strong enthusiasm and ability for the vigorous pursuit of scientific knowledge. Minimal requirements include a bachelor’s degree and undergraduate preparation in the sciences. The program in Bioinformatics requires a strong grounding in mathematics and quantitative sciences (e.g. computer sciences, physics, and chemistry). Strong consideration is given to letters of recommendation, particularly to comments from individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the applicant’s research experience. Some programs may request a personal interview.

Applicants should apply to only one of the six DMS programs. Once enrolled, degree candidates may arrange rotations in laboratories affiliated with other programs. Transfer between programs may be accommodated if justified. We welcome discussion with applicants who would like assistance in determining the most appropriate program for their interests.

Applicants wishing to do research in Biochemistry and Proteomics; Cancer Biology; Cell Biology; Cellular Imaging and Image Analysis; Computational Biology; Developmental Biology; Disease Mechanisms; Genetics & Genomics; Human Biology; Immunobiology; Membrane Biology; Microbial Biology and Pathogenesis; Molecular Biology; Molecular Neuroscience; Physiology; Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology; Structural Biology; or Therapeutics, Targets, and Discovery usually apply through the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) Program. Applicants wishing to do research in Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics; Immunology; Neuroscience; Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology (SHBT); or Virology should apply directly to the relevant program.

Applications for the 2014–2015 academic year will likely open in late September 2013. To apply, applicants should go to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences website. The application deadline is December 2, 2013, 5:00 PM EST, in order to be considered. A completed application includes submission of the online application form, statement of purpose, curriculum vitae, letters of recommendation, scores from the Graduate Record Examination (General Test), official transcripts and application fee. Applicants whose native language is not English, and who have not received a bachelor’s degree from an English language institution, must meet minimum score requirements on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). For more details on a complete application, see Important Information on the Application Process on our website.

All materials, including letters of recommendation and official reports of the GRE, must be received by the application deadline. GRE tests should be taken no later than October 2013 for official scores to arrive in time.

Harvard University’s policy is to make decisions on the basis of the individual’s qualifications to contribute to Harvard’s educational objectives and institutional needs. It is unlawful, and contrary to Harvard University policy, to discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, veteran status, or disability unrelated to job or course of study requirements.

Financial Aid and Cost of Study

Division of Medical Sciences students receive full tuition and stipend support while they are enrolled and making satisfactory progress toward the PhD degree. The division strongly encourages applicants to apply for support from extramural agencies. Students who receive competitively funded extramural fellowships, which will be used toward our student support upon matriculating to our programs, may be eligible to receive an additional educational allowance from the division.

The Longwood Medical Area

Adjacent to the Medical School are the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Countway Medical Library. The Countway is one of the most complete biomedical research collections in the country. There are also the research laboratories of the affiliated hospitals and institutes. Free shuttle buses link the area with places such as MIT, MGH, and Harvard Square in Cambridge. Many students live near the Medical School, or in neighboring Brookline. Others find affordable housing elsewhere in Boston or in Cambridge. Harvard University provides dormitories for married students and graduate students in Cambridge. University housing is also available for single students in Vanderbilt Hall at the Medical School. Vanderbilt Hall also houses some athletic facilities and a branch of the University Health Services. The Medical Education Center houses the office of the Division of Medical Sciences and its graduate student lounge.

Programs and Disciplines

The six interdepartmental programs of the Division of Medical Sciences are described briefly below. Interested applicants can obtain more information on the programs in which they are interested online.

 Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG)

The Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) Program enrolls PhD students with exceptional training in quantitative sciences and strong interest in biomedical applications. Research areas encompass computational analysis and mathematical modeling of data generated by DNA sequence, gene expression, structural, proteomics, and metabolite-assaying technologies. In applied projects, they may also include integration of clinical and population data from electronic health records. Both bioinformatics and genomics are tightly linked to the mathematical and biophysical modeling of complex biological systems and experimental validation of computational predictions. Graduate students will conduct original research in the development of novel approaches and new technologies to address fundamental biological questions, and they will acquire the skills to be leaders in the field of bioinformatics and genomics. Students will be joint members of BIG and a “home program” chosen from one of the four DMS programs (BBS, Immunology, Neuroscience, Virology). BIG students will follow the curriculum and participate in activities of the home program, which will be supplemented with BIG programmatic and curricular offerings.

 Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS)

BBS is an interdepartmental graduate training program in cellular and molecular biology. BBS faculty members are drawn from all of the basic science departments of Harvard Medical School — Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology (BCMP), Cell Biology, Genetics, Microbiology and Immunobiology, Neurobiology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, 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 cross-campus initiatives in graduate training.

The BBS graduate research training is interdisciplinary, building on a foundational curriculum in molecular and classical genetics, biochemistry and cell biology. This platform is complemented by an array of courses in more specialized areas of investigation. The methods and experimental approaches 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. Descriptions of the areas of concentration available in BBS, and lists of faculty in each area of research is provided in the faculty section of the website at.

Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology (BCMP) is home to research and teaching focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of fundamentally important life processes. BCMP offers a broad range of medical and basic research topics using the analytical tools of biochemistry, molecular biology, biophysics, chemical biology, and structural biology. The research interests of the faculty include the structure and function of proteins with particular interest in large multimeric complexes; the control of all stages of gene expression; the mechanisms of DNA replication, recombination, and repair; the organization and regulation of chromatin structure; the biosynthesis of membrane lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins; principles of antibiotic and natural product synthesis, and the induction of morphological and biochemical differentiation of cells.

The BBS concentration in Cell Biology offers a variety of excellent courses to provide its trainees with strong core knowledge as well as opportunities to expand their knowledge base throughout their training years. Half courses are intended to serve as an exploration of a broader topic of study, while quarter courses and nanocourses give insight into more specific areas of study in a condensed format. The Cell Biology program is currently being restructured to enhance the paracurricular activities that support student training and build a vibrant network of community interactions around research and mentorship. The research areas represented in Cell Biology cover an impressive range across many levels of analysis from atomic resolution to organismal physiology and disease. Areas of excellence include ubiquitin-dependent regulation of protein turnover, cancer biology and intracellular signaling, regulation of cellular and organismal metabolism, and biological imaging of dynamic processes from membrane traffic to molecular motors.

Genetics and Genomics over the last several years has seen tremendous advances both in terms of our understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying biological functions and in the genetic approaches and technologies that are now available in the laboratory to investigate these functions. While classical methods are still central to genetic studies, newer approaches, particularly in the realm of genomics, have also been developed and are now widely used, opening up entire new areas of research. As these advances have occurred, they have led to expansion of the number of laboratories at HMS and our affiliated hospitals that pursue rigorous genetic studies. Labs at HMS now study genetics in a wide range of fields using state of the art technologies, including host-pathogen interactions, development, gene expression, chromosome segregation, chromatin function, cell division, systems and networks, population genetics, human diseases, and more. In turn, this expansion has led to an increase in the number of graduate students who are interested in training in the fields of genetics and genomics.

Microbiology and Immunobiology possesses a faculty with interests that include basic research on the genetics and molecular biology of prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, microbial pathogenesis, and vaccine development. State-of-the-art facilities and a vibrant research community exist at both Longwood and the main Harvard campus in nearby Cambridge, and collegiality among different laboratories is further promoted by the close proximity of MIT, Tufts, and Boston University. In addition, world-class training in infectious disease is offered at the many hospitals affiliated with HMS, ensuring that researchers always have access to clinical expertise and the opportunity to work with physicians.

In addition, the Harvard community has a number of programs that are aimed at bringing students and researchers together from different departments and/or institutions to share their work on topics of mutual interest. For example, all of the cancer researchers from the Harvard community have united under one research organization, the Dana Farber Harvard Cancer Center. The participating institutions include Beth Israel/Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and Massachusetts General Hospital. Members of the Harvard Cancer Center collaborate to offer an area of concentration in Cancer Biology within BBS. This program seeks to provide advanced training and an integrated community for those students interested in pursuing cancer-related research. The curriculum will emphasize topics relevant to cancer biology, including signaling, basic cell biology, disease pathology, and translational research. Additional activities, including an oncology seminar series and a student data club, will provide opportunities for students to extend their studies and community beyond the classroom and thesis laboratory. Learn more at the Cancer Biology concentration page.

Another example of a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary concentration in BBS is Developmental and Regenerative Biology (DRB). The aim of this concentration is to provide a well-defined, rigorous, and innovative educational experience in developmental and regenerative biology for our students. Our program includes an exceptionally rich curriculum that will not only equip our students with a comprehensive education in developmental biology, but also provide them with mentoring and other activities that will prepare them for successful independent scientific careers. See also the DRB Guide to Students and the Leder Human Biology and Transitional Medicine website.

 Immunology

The purpose of the program is to provide education leading to a PhD in Immunology. This program is under the responsibility of the Committee on Immunology at Harvard. The committee includes 109 faculty members 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. Our goal is to educate scientists in investigative and academic medicine, preparing them to contribute to immunological research with a full awareness of the potential impact of immunology. Our program combines an education in basic biology, a sophisticated training in immunology, and exposure to the immunological and non-immunological problems of disease.

 Neuroscience

The Program in Neuroscience draws together neuroscientists from across Harvard. The program office and the student lounge are located at Harvard Medical School in the Longwood Medical Area of Boston. Most coursework occurs at the Medical School, and all first-year students receive advising here. The program offers students options for thesis research in research departments throughout Harvard, including labs at the Center for Brain Science on the Cambridge campus, and at Harvard-affiliated hospitals such as Children’s Hospital Boston, McLean Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Brigham & Women’s Hospital. The program has 120 affiliated labs, giving students a wide range of options in choosing research experiences.

 Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology

The Program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology (SHBT) was founded in 1992 with the goal of providing multidisciplinary research training in basic, clinical, and applied approaches to the study and treatment of all aspects of human communication and its disorders.

The 65 faculty associated with the SHBT Program have academic homes in many departments and laboratories within Harvard, MIT, and other Boston area institutions. The aggregate research portfolio covers virtually all aspects of speech, hearing, voice, language, and balance. Some program faculty conduct basic studies on motor control or acoustics of speech production and laryngeal function, and some carry out clinical studies of the human voice and voice disorders. Others study the mechanics, biophysics, physiology, and/or molecular biology of the middle and inner ears, or the mechanisms underlying acquired or genetic disorders of hearing. Some are developing regenerative technologies for sensory cells and neurons in the inner ear. Still others take neurophysiological or modeling approaches to study the neural codes and circuitry underlying central auditory processing, or neuroimaging approaches to study the mechanisms underlying tinnitus, or cognitive neuroscience approaches to study language processing. On the technological side, other groups design, develop, and improve hardware and software systems such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, vestibular prostheses, or systems for automatic speech recognition and language processing.

What SHBT faculty all share is 1) an interest in speech and hearing, in its broadest definition; 2) the belief that progress in today’s complex scientific environment requires the coordinated effort of engineers and physical scientists, biological scientists, cognitive scientists, and clinicians; and 3) the understanding that the real-world applications that ultimately move discoveries from bench to bedside require coupling the discoveries and the people behind them with appropriate industrial partners.

The students admitted to the SHBT program also share this vision. They come with backgrounds in physics, engineering, computer science, biology, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, audiology, etc. After their training years in the multidisciplinary melting pot of the Boston-area environment, they leave with diverse aspirations as to how to apply their graduate training to improving human communication.

 Virology

It is an exciting time to study virology! In the last decade new viruses such as SARS, H1N1 influenza, and Nipah viruses have emerged around the world; viruses such as Ebola Chikungunya and West Nile viruses have re-emerged; and the AIDS epidemic continues to sweep across sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. New vaccines for HIV, smallpox, avian influenza, and genital herpes are direly needed. New antivirals for Dengue, hepatitis C, and HIV are also desperately needed. The role of viruses such as Merkel cell polyoma virus, papilloma virus, Kaposi’s sarcoma virus, and Epstein-Barr virus in human cancer raise challenges in preventing and treating these diseases. Researchers at Harvard University are working on all of these biomedical problems as well as conducting basic research that is defining new molecular structures of viruses and virusencoded 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 Harvard Program in Virology provides extraordinary opportunities to conduct graduate study for the PhD degree in these exciting areas of biomedical science. We invite you to apply for graduate study for the 2012–2013 academic year admissions.

Division of Medical Sciences Contact Information

Admission Questions contact:

  • Division of Medical Sciences
    Harvard Medical School, TMEC 435
    260 Longwood Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    617-432-0162
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Program Addresses:

  • Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG)
    Countway Library
    10 Shattuck Street
    Boston, MA 02115
    617-432-2144
  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBS)
    Gordon Hall, Room 005
    Harvard Medical School
    25 Shattuck Street
    Boston, MA 02115
    617-432-4035
  • Immunology Program
    Harvard Medical School
    The Jeffrey Modell Immunology Center 200
    Longwood Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    (617) 432-4057
  • Neuroscience Program
    Harvard Medical School
    Goldenson Room 129
    220 Longwood Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    (617) 432-0912
  • Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology
    Admissions information: Christopher Shera
    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Virology Program
    Harvard Medical School
    Division of Medical Sciences
    TMEC 435
    260 Longwood Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    (617) 432-0162
  • MD/PhD Program
    Harvard Medical School
    Medical Education Center, Room 168
    260 Longwood Avenue
    Boston, MA 02115
    (617) 432-0991
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
    ETS Box 955
    Princeton, NJ 08541
    (609) 771-7670
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
    Educational Testing Service (ETS) Box 899
    Princeton, NJ 08541-6155
    (609) 771-7243