Biophysics 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 Biophysics Program at Harvard seeks to attract students who have strong undergraduate backgrounds in quantitative sciences (especially physics and mathematics) and who are interested in a deep dive into biological and biomedical research. The program provides broad training in the biophysical, chemical and molecular concepts and techniques that are required to address outstanding problems in biology and biomedical sciences. This interdisciplinary graduate program offers training in approaches to explore the structure, function and interactions of key macromolecules of the cell, the control of cellular and multicellular processes at the molecular and genome-wide levels, as well as the development of methods to image and model these processes. The Program comprises a community of faculty and their labs, providing opportunities for collaborative research and training opportunities. Students apply their training to research areas such as studying macromolecular structure or folding, developing new imaging or measurement tools, or to building models that explain how biological systems transform energy, matter, or information. Some trainees will also learn to use this information to diagnose, understand, prevent or cure human diseases. Biophysics is part of Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS), a federation of 14 life sciences PhD programs, departments, and subject areas that facilitates cross-disciplinary academic and research collaboration. The program is administered by the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biophysics, which is comprised of senior representatives from the departments of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, molecular and cellular biology, chemistry and chemical biology, physics, genetics, and pathology.
Students are directly introduced to faculty members and their research, enabling them to make a considered choice of research advisor, and learn about the diverse areas of biophysics through laboratory experiences and coursework. In the first two years, students receive the background that informs the second part of the program: training to be an independent scientist through intensive research that culminates in publication and a PhD.
Owing to the interdepartmental nature of the program, students may pursue research on the Cambridge campus in the departments of molecular and cellular biology, chemistry and chemical biology, physics, and at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, or on the Boston campus at Harvard Medical School, the Division of Medical Sciences, and the 11 Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals, which include the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The general test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and GRE subject tests are not accepted. Applicants whose native language is not English, must demonstrate English proficiency.
The application deadline to the Biophysics Program follows the HILS guidelines, and is set as 5:00 p.m. on December 1 of the year prior to anticipated fall entry.
After being accepted for admission, applicants are encouraged to email or call the department at 617-495-3360 to arrange a visit. Generally, the program will invite admitted students to a specific interview visit weekend that includes meetings with individual faculty and current students. The interview visit weekend usually takes place in early February.
Students with an MD
Students who already have an MD will find an opportunity to improve their knowledge of basic science in either of two ways:
- Opportunities may be available to engage in investigations as a research fellow under the direction of a member of the faculty. No university credit toward a degree is given for such work. Questions concerning the appointment of research fellows should be directed to the faculty members.
- Under special circumstances, students who have received an MD may become candidates for a PhD in biophysics, providing their qualifications for admission are approved and providing they are prepared to fulfill the normal requirements for the degree.
Combined MD/PhD Program
GSAS enables PhD students to coordinate their studies for an additional advanced degree. Visit the MD-PhD program at Harvard Medical School to learn how to combine an MD with a PhD in biophysics. This program may be of particular interest to prospective medical students with a strong background in physics and to students enrolled in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. An application to the biophysics program occurs in the fall of the second year of MD studies, and includes a “pre-application” for initial review prior to the December 1st application deadline to determine the appropriateness of an MD-PhD student’s full application to the program by the December 1st deadline.
Suggested Undergraduate Preparation
The courses below provide a guide for undergraduates considering graduate studies in biophysics. These are examples only of the types of courses student applicants may take as preparation for entry into the Biophysics Program, dependent on undergraduate degree. Please note: no applicant is expected to have taken all of these courses, they are simply provided as a loose guideline. Harvard course numbers are provided for comparison.
Introduction to Calculus, Calculus, Series & Differential Equations (Math 1a & Math 1b)
Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra and Differential Equations (Math 21a and 21b)
Complex Function Theory (Math 113)
Data Structures and Algorithms (Computer Science 124)
Introductory Mechanics and Relativity (Physics 15a)
Introductory Electromagnetism (Physics 15b)
Wave Phenomena (Physics 15c)
Quantum Mechanics I and II (Physics 143a and 143b)
Introduction to Biophysics
Organic Chemistry (Chem 20 and Chem 30)
Physical Chemistry and Statistical Thermodynamics (Chem 160 and 161)
Principles of Organic Chemistry (Chem 17)
Evolutionary Biology (OEB 53)
Cell Biology (MCB 54)
Physical Properties of Macromolecules (MCB 56)
Neurobiology of Behavior (MCB 80)
Molecular Biology (MCB 52)
An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Chemistry, Molecular Biology, and Cell Biology (Life Sciences 1a)
An Integrated Introduction to the Life Sciences: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolution (Life Sciences 1b)
All students accepted into the program are awarded full support, including a stipend, full tuition, and health fees contingent on continued satisfactory progress. Teaching fellowships are available. Second-year students must teach one term as part of their academic requirements and are responsible for finding a position in participating science departments. Students in their third year and beyond and who are engaged in full-time research become the financial responsibility of their faculty mentors.
Students are strongly encouraged to apply for outside awards, especially predoctoral fellowship opportunities for US citizens provided by the Ford Foundation, the Hertz Foundation, the National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship Program, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, which are available on a competitive basis to graduate students in biophysics. Applications for those fellowships should be made directly to the appropriate agencies.