Biological Sciences in Public Health is one of the programs in the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences, which facilitates collaboration and cross-disciplinary research. Visit HILS for additional application instructions.
The Ph.D. Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH) emphasizes basic research spanning a broad spectrum of biomedical fields, from molecular biology to population-based studies. BPH students develop individualized research projects focused on defining the molecular underpinnings of human health and disease by employing cutting-edge approaches in biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, genomics, metabolic biology, physiology, immunology, biophysics, computational and systems biology, and bioengineering. A central goal of the research in this program, whether basic or translational, is the improved understanding, prevention, and treatment of the most common and impactful global health threats
The program encompasses laboratories across the Division of Biological Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health lead by faculty mentors in the Departments of Environmental Health, Immunology, and Infectious Diseases, Molecular Metabolism, and Nutrition. Major areas of investigation include:
- The Metabolic Basis of Health and Disease: Metabolic function and dysfunction are at the core of human physiology and pathology, impacting a diverse array of chronic and infectious diseases. Laboratories within the Department of Molecular Metabolism and the Department of Nutrition are focused on metabolism research as a core element in understanding and therapeutically intervening in aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammation, obesity, and neurodegenerative diseases, among others. The control of cellular and systemic metabolism are studied through the combined use of metabolomics and metabolite tracing, proteomics, biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and animal models.
- Immunology and Infectious Diseases: Defining the complex interplay of infectious agents and microbes with their hosts is central to preventing and treating many of the world’s most widespread and deadliest diseases. Laboratory research in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases is focused on infectious and immune-mediated diseases, including HIV/AIDS, emerging viruses such as SARS-CoV2, tuberculosis, Chagas, malaria, pneumonia, enteric diseases, inflammatory bowel, and autoimmune diseases. Research projects emphasize basic pathogenic mechanisms that may lead to better diagnostic tools, the development of vaccines and other interventions for prevention and control of infection and disease, and the identification of new targets for antiviral and antiparasitic drugs.
- Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences: From gene to cell to organism, biological systems react to environmental exposures borne in our food, water, and air. Such exposures account for a major portion of the worldwide burden of disease. Laboratories in the Department of Environmental Health investigate basic biological mechanisms through which these exposures impact development, aging, cancer, repair, and, especially, asthma and other lung diseases. Within the Department, the John B. Little Center emphasizes the biology of ionizing radiation, which can cause but also treat many forms of cancer. Together, these laboratories investigate basic pathogenic mechanisms, adaptive stress responses, and other biological effects of environmental exposures on human health and disease.
The BPH program embraces the idea that meaningful progress on a given disease area is optimally achieved by close interactions between scientists with training in diverse disciplines. While the program roots cut across the entire range of biological sciences, the research also employs core quantitative disciplines (e.g. biostatistics and epidemiology), as well as approaches that bridge biology, chemistry, engineering, and computation. Students attracted to this program generally share this interdisciplinary interest and a desire to confront the most pressing health issues of our time.
The BPH program lies within the rich and diverse environment of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. The field of public health is inherently multi-disciplinary and so, too, are the interests and expertise of the School’s faculty and students, which extend across the biological, quantitative, and social sciences. From advancing scientific research to training national and international leaders, Harvard-Chan has been at the forefront of efforts to benefit the health of populations worldwide. Shaping new ideas in our field and communicating them effectively will continue to be priorities of the BPH Program in the years ahead as we serve society’s changing health needs.
Graduates of the BPH program follow diverse career paths, with some pursuing faculty positions at colleges, universities, medical schools, research institutes, or schools of public health, and others joining government agencies or consulting firms acquiring research positions in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Career opportunities in the biological sciences as they apply to global health and disease expand with each passing year.
Students in the BPH program are enrolled in and receive a PhD from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, even though they may work primarily with Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health faculty on Harvard’s Longwood Medical Campus. BPH is also one of the graduate programs in the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences.
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. Strong consideration is given to letters of recommendation, particularly to comments from individuals who have firsthand knowledge of the applicant’s research experience. Non-native English speakers who completed their bachelor’s degree in a language other than English must demonstrate English proficiency by scoring at least 100 on the TOEFL iBT Test or at least 7.5 on the IELTS test. If you have published articles, please list these in the Academic History section of the online application, citing the PubMedID.
Additional information about admissions requirements, including a list of frequently asked questions, is available on the Biological Sciences in Public Health website. The GSAS Policies page details program requirements.
Statement of Purpose
The statement of purpose is a particularly important part of the application. We suggest that applicants take time to familiarize themselves with program faculty to assess compatibility with their scientific interests and align their purpose and goals with the program. A well-crafted statement should address the following:
- A description of any past research experience
- Your current research interests
- Your motivation in seeking doctoral-level training in the BPH Program
- The BPH faculty members who most closely match your interests and why
- Your current career aspirations
Please note that for those admitted, the PhD Program in Biological Sciences begins in July each year.