The Division of Biological Sciences is an umbrella organization encompassing the HSPH Departments of Environmental Health, Genetics and Complex Diseases, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and Nutrition. In most of these departments, two doctoral degrees are offered: the doctor of philosophy (PhD) and the doctor of science (SD). The PhD programs generally center on laboratory-based investigation in the biological sciences, whereas the SD programs emphasize epidemiological analysis. The PhD program is administered by the Division of Biological Sciences.

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences in Public Health

Students wishing to study cellular and molecular biology or physiology as it pertains to major problems in public health should apply to the PhD Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH). This program offers the PhD degree through the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Graduates ordinarily assume positions as faculty members and research scientists in graduate schools, medical schools, research institutes, or schools of public health. Career opportunities in the biological sciences as they apply to public health are expected to grow both in academia and in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.

To qualify for admission, applicants must demonstrate strong enthusiasm and capacity for the vigorous pursuit of scientific knowledge. Minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree and undergraduate preparation in advanced-level biology and chemistry (both physical and organic), calculus, and physics appropriate for mastery of the biology material. Those deficient in one of these areas may be admitted provisionally on the condition that appropriate courses will be taken before and/or after entering the program. Applicants are required to take the GRE general test in time to meet the December application deadline. Please note that Graduate School of Arts and Sciences application forms must be used when applying to the PhD Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health.

The BPH program offers a firm foundation in the basic biomedical sciences, as well as in epidemiology and biostatistics. The program also features interdisciplinary training, with students taking courses in several different departments to meet their individual requirements. All students complete courses in a minimum of four of the seven core areas (molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology, toxicology/cancer cell biology, immunology/ infectious diseases). Other requirements for the first two years of study include the following: courses in epidemiology, biostatistics, and the conduct of science; three ten-week laboratory rotations; and two critical-reading courses. Elective courses taken during the first two years cover principles of toxicology, introductory cancer biology, genetic toxicology, cell response to mutagens and carcinogens, human physiology, advanced respiratory physiology, advanced topics in physiology, immunology, cellular and molecular biology of parasites, and the science of human nutrition. At the end of the second year, students must take a preliminary qualifying examination to assess their ability and preparation for an original, laboratory-based scientific investigation. Students must also write and defend a dissertation, generally within five or six years of beginning the program.

Participating HSPH departments offer PhD programs in the following areas:

  • Genetics and Complex Diseases (molecular mechanisms of adaptive responses to stress; molecular and cellular toxicology; radiobiology; nutritional biochemistry; genetic and molecular mechanisms of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer)
  • Environmental Health (molecular and integrative physiological sciences)
  • Immunology and Infectious Diseases (immunology and molecular biology of parasitic and other infections)
  • Nutrition (biochemistry; cardiovascular biology)

All students admitted to the PhD program receive a stipend, as well as tuition and health insurance support. Students are encouraged to apply for fellowships from outside sources since certain external fellowships provide higher stipends.  Harvard University presidential funds can support international doctoral students. A university-wide fellowship program provides funding to qualified underrepresented minority students in the sciences.