Flexible Curriculum

The BBS curriculum gives you the flexibility to choose from a variety of course subjects and formats to fulfill the Ph.D. degree requirements. 

Analysis of the Biological Literature and Experimental Design (BBS 230A/B), Principles of Genetics (GEN 201), Principles of Molecular Biology (BCMP 200), and Principles of Cell Biology (CB 201) are required because they provide an experimentally-focused, graduate-level view of fundamental concepts critical for success in all areas of biological and biomedical research. These 16 credits/classes account for half of the 32 credits needed for graduation. The remaining 16 credits come from courses of the student’s choosing to fill knowledge gaps and explore areas of interest in more detail. Much of the BBS skill and core course content is supported by our outstanding group of curriculum fellows dedicated to innovating and maximizing the effectiveness of each class.

Assemble a curriculum that fits your goals:


Core Content Courses (4 credits each)

Principles of Genetics (GEN 201): An in-depth survey of genetics, beginning with basic principles and extending to modern approaches and special topics. Examples are drawn from a variety of experimental systems, including yeast, Drosophila, C. elegans, mouse, human and bacteria.
Principles of Molecular Biology (BCMP 200): An advanced treatment of molecular biology and biochemical concepts critical for all biological researchers. Key concepts related to the molecular basis of information transfer from DNA to RNA to protein are covered, using examples from eukaryotic and prokaryotic systems. The course is taught in the format of lectures and research seminars and students meet in small groups of 6 students to discuss experimental design problems in an interactive chalk talk format.
Principles of Cell Biology (CB 201): An advanced course covering the molecular basis of cellular compartmentalization, protein trafficking, cytoskeleton dynamics, mitosis, cell locomotion, cell cycle regulation, signal transduction, cell-cell interaction, cell death, and cellular/biochemical basis of diseases. The course has a methodological focus on current approaches in cell biology including quantitative tools with an emphasis on experimental design.

Skills Course (4 credits each)

Analysis of the Biological Literature and Experimental Design (BBS 230A/B): This is a year-long course. In the fall, students participate in intensive small group discussions focused on the critical analysis of basic research papers from a range of fields including molecular biology, genetics, and cell biology. Papers are discussed in terms of key elements required for successful publication of research, including their background, significance, working models or hypotheses, experimental methods, data quality, and interpretation of results. In the spring (BBS 230B), the topic of the course turns to analytical tools and elements of novel experimental design and project development. Students will be asked to propose future research directions, to generate new hypotheses and to design experiments aimed at testing them.

Professional Skills Courses

Conduct of Science (Medical Sciences 300qc)
This is a discussion-based course covering topics on aspects of responsible conduct of research and the ethical and moral principles that underlie research. Training in the responsible conduct of science is a required part of the BBS PhD program in the Division of Medical Sciences.  Not only is such training a necessary element in the academic development of everyone who will become a responsible member of the scientific community, it is also mandated by the National Institutes of Health.  This requirement falls outside of (i.e. in addition to) 8 semester-long course equivalents needed for Ph.D. completion.
Critical Thinking and Research Proposal Writing (BBS 330) - Elective
A small group tutorial systematically guiding students in the writing of original, hypothesis- or technology development-driven research proposals from initial topic selection through completion of a final draft.

Additional "Half" Courses (4 credits) and "Quarter" Courses (2 credits each)
"Half" courses (including the core courses) span an entire semester (~16 weeks or half the academic year, usually 32 hours of class time and ~ 64 hours of work outside of class) and "quarter" courses span half that (~7 weeks or one quarter of the academic year, 18 hours of class atime and ~ 32 hours outside of class). Students choose from a range of half courses and quarter courses that are focused on topics of special interest to a particular research area. New courses are continually being developed and launched.  Browse the course catalog.

Elective Course List
Another resource is the list of elective courses students have taken over the last 5 years, in order of most to least enrolled - See this document for more information.  Please note that 100 level courses in Harvard College do NOT count for course credit (per GSAS rules).

Nanocourses (3 nanos = 2 credits)
Nanocourses allow for maximal versatility in our curricular offerings at Harvard Medical School.  Nanocourses are 6-hour courses taught over two days (6 class hours and 6-12 hours outside of class), in which two to three (2-3) faculty members deliver highly specialized content.  Day 1 of each nanocourse is open to all members of the Harvard community.  Day 2 is designed for registered students of the class, where lecturers lead students through hands-on activities and assignments that allow practice of the content introduced in the previous session. The format of this second session is flexible, and may include discussion of relevant papers, brainstorming about future research, or other activities chosen by the course director to assess student progress. See some examples.

Boot camps (2 credits each)
Boot camp courses merge hands-on lab experience with lectures over a one to three week period. These courses typically run during the January term, and provide students the opportunity to interact with several different faculty in their labs spanning a range of experimental and biological topics. Most of the research communities that make up the BBS program organize or participate in one or more boot camps. A quantitative biology boot camp using MATLAB is also offered to incoming students in the summer prior to orientation. Learn more about boot camp courses.

Additional Courses at Other Harvard Schools and Partner Institutions
In addition to the core content courses, a range of advanced course offerings are provided by the various departments and programs within Harvard Medical School. Students may also choose from many graduate-level courses offered at Harvard College in Cambridge, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and MIT. Browse the course catalog.