Graduate students in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) are members of an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary training program called Molecules, Cells, and Organisms (MCO). MCO’s unique approach to the biological sciences PhD cultivates versatility as well as depth of expertise by exposing its students to the full spectrum of modern biology. The MCO PhD training program features an unparalleled range of research areas within the biological sciences, including biochemistry, biophysics, cellular biology, chemical and structural biology, computational biology, developmental biology, engineering, evolutionary biology, genetics, genomics, microbiology, molecular biology, neurobiology, physical biology, stem cell biology, and systems biology. The program contains an unusually diverse group of outstanding scientists, involving faculty from MCB as well as the departments of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, Physics, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Program faculty and students are also members in specialized initiatives and centers, including, the Microbial Sciences Initiative, Quantitative Biology, the Center for Brain Science, Cellular Dynamics, Origins of Life initiative, and Engineering and Physical Biology.
The program’s mission to advance biological research beyond traditional boundaries is motivated by a passion for discovery and is supported by innovative research centers and state-of-the-art facilities on Harvard’s Cambridge campus. It is this interdisciplinary and collaborative culture that makes the MCO Program an exciting place to study the unsolved questions in biology. Graduate students are trained to be the next generation of life scientists: creative, independent, and productive researchers working in academia, medicine, industry, law, business, or the non-profit sector.
Students complete at least three five-week lab rotations before selecting a thesis lab by the middle of the second semester of the first year. The rotations offer students the opportunity to explore divergent fields of scientific research and collaborate with faculty affiliated with five departments, providing an interdisciplinary foundation intended to inform ultimate paths of research. In addition to lab rotations, students complete a series of rigorous foundation courses as well as two electives. Participation in the MCO Student-Faculty Journal Club and one required term as a teaching fellow hone the communication skills and critical thinking vital to a successful scientific career. Students take the PhD candidacy exam at the beginning of the second year by defending their proposed dissertation project to a committee of faculty. Candidates devote the following years to full-time laboratory research, completing their dissertation, and earning their doctoral degree by the end of the fifth year.
Harvard University’s lively Cambridge campus accommodates a close-knit community of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty from diverse personal and academic backgrounds. Interdepartmental volleyball tournaments, weekly student-hosted TGIF socials, and annual student-organized retreats (past locations include the New England Aquarium and the Boston Museum of Science) contribute to a vibrant sense of community among peers at MCO.
Entering students should have a record of introductory courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. While the following courses should not be regarded as prerequisites for admission to graduate study, most admitted students have completed these courses as undergraduates:
- Biology (at least one general course in biology and two terms of biology at a more advanced level)
- Organic Chemistry
- Physical Chemistry
- Physics (a general course)
- Mathematics (a basic knowledge of differential and integral calculus). Competence in elementary programming is also desirable.
- Laboratory in Biology, Biochemistry, or Instrumental Analysis.