An Integrated Student Experience

Woman sits in front of science equipment

Jess Kanwal, PhD '19 in neuroscience, presented her research on how the brain combines taste and smell at the annual Harvard Horizons symposium.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) at Harvard University provides exceptional opportunities for study across the depth and breadth of the life sciences through the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) federation. Whether you are interested in conducting research on virus structures at the atomic level or on environmental impact in large ecosystems, you will find a good fit for your academic goals through HILS.

The HILS federation is comprised of 13 PhD programs of study across three Harvard faculties—Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School. HILS offers flexibility, including options to take courses, do laboratory rotations, and even choose a dissertation advisor from across the HILS federation, subject to specific program requirements and lab availability. However you customize your training, HILS is with you every step of the way.

Choosing a Life Sciences Program

While HILS students can access training resources and facilities from across Harvard University, individual PhD programs vary in their areas of focus, size, curriculum, and degree requirements. The research environments also vary. Some programs offer research opportunities in one of the many Harvard University-affiliated hospitals while others offer research opportunities at Harvard's world-class museums. Your application will be stronger if you plan ahead and tailor your application to the program(s) that most closely fit your academic interests. Before applying, we recommend that you:

  1. Explore each program's website (listed below).
  2. Use the HILS faculty database to explore the research interests and program affiliations of the 800 HILS-affiliated faculty at Harvard. For prospective students and non-Harvard affiliates, please visit this page. For current students and Harvard affiliates, please visit this page.
  3. Carefully review the application requirements on the GSAS website.

HILS Programs

Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics

The PhD program in Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics (BIG) emphasizes computational analysis and mathematical modeling of data, including the integration of clinical and population data from electronic health records. BIG provides graduate students with the tools to conduct original research and the ability to develop novel approaches and new technologies to address fundamental biological questions.

Biological and Biomedical Sciences

The PhD program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) offers a broad choice of research topics and labs. The program is sub-divided into nine research communities: biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology, cancer biology, cell biology, developmental and regenerative biology, genetics, human biology and translational medicine, microbiology and immunobiology, stem cell and regenerative biology, and therapeutics.

Biological Sciences in Public Health

The PhD program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH) emphasizes interdisciplinary basic research spanning from molecular biology to human populations. 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.


Three scientists examine a research poster

At the 2019 reunion for the biophysics program, students and alumni exchanged ideas, inspiration, and practical advice.

The PhD program in Biophysics trains students with strong quantitative skills for independent research careers in which the concepts and methods of physical science are applied to the solution of biological problems. The biophysics curriculum provides an introduction to five diverse areas of biophysics: structural molecular biology, cell and membrane biophysics, molecular genetics, physical biochemistry, and neuroscience.

Chemical Biology

The PhD program in Chemical Biology combines the rigor and quantitative aspects of traditional chemistry and biochemistry programs with the excitement and medical relevance of modern molecular, cellular, organismic, and human biology. The chemical biology program equips PhD candidates with the experimental and theoretical knowledge to use chemical tools to understand biological processes.

Chemistry and Chemical Biology

The PhD program in Chemistry & Chemical Biology (CCB) provides a rich training in the unique tools of chemical inquiry and a commitment to scientific investigation at the molecular level. Research and training opportunities are offered in many subdisciplines of chemistry, including chemical biology, inorganic, organic, physical, and theoretical.


The PhD program in Immunology offers students sophisticated training in immunology, and exposure to the immunological and non-immunological problems of disease. Through multidisciplinary training, students are exposed to traditional fields of medical biology as well as to all major areas in the expanding field of immunobiology, including transplantation, neuro-immunology, autoimmunity, stem cell biology, infection and immunity, and tumor immunology.

Molecular and Cellular Biology

Matt Smith pipettes a liquid in a lab

Matt Smith, PhD student in molecular and cellular biology, is active in the GSAS Minority Biomedical Scientists of Harvard student group.

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) hosts the molecules, cells, and organisms (MCO) graduate program that trains future leaders of scientific research in all areas of modern biology. Research and teaching in the MCO graduate program are organized along four tracks: biochemistry, chemical, and structural biology (BCSB); cellular, neuro and developmental biology (CND); genetics, genomics and evolutionary biology (GGE); and systems and computational biology (SCB). MCB also hosts a program in engineering and physical biology (EPB).


Krissy Lyon in the lab

Krissy Lyon, PhD student in neuroscience, is working on cross-disciplinary research with a lab in the Department of Genetics.

The PhD program in Neuroscience (PiN) offers graduate students comprehensive training across the spectrum of neurosciences, ranging from cellular and molecular processes at the foundation of neural development and function, to integrative processing in the central nervous system, and mechanisms and treatment of human neurologic disease. Training is designed to support the next generation of neuroscientists to be able to draw from, synthesize, and advance the knowledge and experimental approaches born from fields spanning genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and biochemistry to physics, computer science, and engineering.

Organismic and Evolutionary Biology

The PhD program in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (OEB) is committed to training scientists who pursue a greater understanding of the structure, function, variation, and evolution of biological systems. Faculty and students examine significant biological processes that span a continuum from single cells to entire ecosystems, conducting field and laboratory studies that are key to understanding the evolution of organisms, how biodiversity is generated and maintained, how organisms work, and how organisms interact with their environment.

Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology

The PhD program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology (SHBT) provides multidisciplinary research training in basic, clinical, and applied approaches to the study and treatment of all aspects of human communication and its disorders. The strength of the program lies in its unusual coupling of knowledge and skills from acoustics, engineering, computer science, cellular and molecular neuroscience, psychophysics, cognitive science, linguistics, and clinical practice to understanding how humans communicate through speech and hearing.

Systems, Synthetic, and Quantitative Biology

Student puts her hand into a machine

Silvia Cañas Duerte, PhD student in systems, synthetic, and quantitative biology, studies bacterial resistance.

The PhD program in Systems, Synthetic, and Quantitative Biology engages graduate students in explaining how the higher-level properties of complex biological systems arise from the interactions among their parts. Students are trained to combine experimental and theoretical approaches to develop physical and quantitative models of biological processes relevant to important unsolved problems in biology.


The PhD program in Virology provides students with opportunities to conduct graduate study in a range of areas relating to this exciting field, including structural studies of viruses and viral proteins, studies of virus/host interactions and viral pathogenesis, use of viral vectors in gene therapy, interactions of viruses with the immune system, and rational drug design.


Applying to a Program Affiliated with the HILS Federation

All HILS programs strive for inclusive excellence, based on the belief that diversity in every dimension makes our programs stronger. While each program has its own admissions requirements and committee, all HILS programs take an integrated look at each application, holistically evaluating all aspects of the application rather than relying on any single factor to determine admission.

If you are interested in applying to a program affiliated with the HILS federation, be sure to review the specific application requirements for your program of interest and the general GSAS application instructions. GRE scores are not required by any HILS program, however, some do allow submission of scores if you choose to do so.

Applying to Multiple Programs in the HILS Federation

While prospective students are encouraged to carefully choose the HILS program that best fits their academic goals, interested applicants may apply to up to three programs and pay only one application fee. If you elect to apply to three programs, only two may be programs in the Division of Medical Sciences (these programs are bioinformatics and integrative genomics, biological and biomedical Sciences, immunology, neuroscience, speech and hearing bioscience and technology, and virology). The fee waiver for additional applications is ONLY available for those applying to multiple programs in the HILS federation. See Completing Your Application for information about fee waivers related to financial hardship.

You may begin and work on multiple applications through the application home page. Each application must be unique, containing a separate statement of purpose, transcripts, recommendations, and test scores. Please note that if you use the same recommenders for multiple applications, they must upload their letter of recommendation to each application.

After you submit your first application and pay the application fee, the fee will be waived for subsequent submissions.

You may submit a maximum of three applications to GSAS during the course of your academic career, which includes applications to multiple programs in the HILS federation, regardless of whether you submitted them under a single application fee.

Learn More About HILS Programs and Students

Enhancing Your Research Experience before Applying

We are looking for creative people from a variety of backgrounds who are passionate about the life sciences. Most incoming PhD students in HILS federation programs have enjoyed a previous research experience. GSAS and Harvard University offer a range of exciting and challenging summer research and internship programs designed to help current undergraduates boost crucial research skills.

Learn more about Research and Internship Programs

A Diverse Scholarly Community

Different points of view are critical to life sciences research, where advancing knowledge often requires bringing a new perspective or approach to a problem. At GSAS, we strive to create an inclusive community where all students can thrive and grow academically and personally. The School is proud of its diverse community representing many races, ethnicities, belief systems, nationalities, physical abilities, genders, and sexual orientations and welcomes applications from all groups underrepresented in graduate education, particularly Black and African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, and native Pacific islanders.

Learn more about Diversity at GSAS

Why Choose Harvard?

Students gather around beakers and cooking equipment

Students apply their lab skills to haute cuisine in the annual HILS Science and Cooking Challenge.

GSAS offers PhD students guaranteed full financial support, including stipends and grants for tuition and health insurance. Funding for HILS students comes from a range of sources, including Harvard University, training and research grants, and student-won fellowships. In addition, GSAS and Harvard University offer a wealth of resources to support you academically and personally throughout your graduate experience.

Learn more about GSAS and Harvard University Resources



October 22, 2018
How Silvia Cañas-Duarte uses systems biology to explain bacterial behavior.Read More
October 19, 2018
Krissy Lyon, PhD candidate in neuroscience, studies neurotransmitters and aggression.Read More
October 9, 2018
Matt Smith’s life is full of acronyms. “My PI is part of OEB. And my grad program is MCO, which is... Read More