Biological Sciences in Public Health​ is one of the programs in the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences, which facilitates collaboration and cross-disciplinary research. Visit HILS for additional application instructions.

As part of Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the PhD Program in Biological Sciences in Public Health (BPH), established in 1993, trains students in individual fields of biological research with a focus on understanding, preventing and treating diseases affecting large populations. Students in the BPH program obtain a broad interdisciplinary knowledge of both mechanistic and quantitative approaches to biomedical research.

Major areas of investigation include:

  • The Metabolic Basis of Health and Disease
  • Immunology and Infectious Diseases
  • Gene-Environment Interactions
  • Inflammation and Stress Responses

All of these areas are studied with an emphasis on biochemical, cell biological and genetic approaches to delineating disease mechanisms. Our research, whether basic or translational, is relevant to human health. Students apply cutting-edge research technologies toward the improved understanding, treatment, and prevention of human diseases with the greatest current impact on global populations. Our program embraces the idea that progress in a given disease area is optimally promoted by a close interaction between scientists from diverse disciplines, including genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, physiology, and systems biology. Core quantitative disciplines like biostatistics and epidemiology are also fundamental to analyzing large datasets, such as those generated from “omics” approaches, and for assessing the broad impact of health problems, allowing us to look beyond individuals to entire populations. With our roots in biology, we are able to confront the most pressing diseases of our time, gaining insights into their underlying mechanisms and uncovering novel therapeutic opportunities.

Current research within BPH laboratories includes, but is not restricted to, the following diseases or disease risk factors:

  • Aging
  • AIDS
  • Asthma
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cancer
  • Chagas’ Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Environmental exposure to toxins
  • Infection
  • Inflammatory diseases
  • Kidney disease
  • Malaria
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Nutritional Biochemistry 
  • Obesity
  • Tuberculosis

The BPH program is rooted in the rich and diverse environment of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, dedicated to advancing the public’s health through learning, discovery, and communication. The field of public health is inherently multi-disciplinary and so, too, are the interests and expertise of the School’s faculty and students, which extend across the biological, quantitative, and social sciences. From advancing scientific research to training national and international leaders, Harvard Chan has been at the forefront of efforts to benefit the health of populations worldwide. Shaping new ideas in our field and communicating them effectively will continue to be priorities of the BPH Program in the years ahead as we serve society’s changing health needs.

Graduates of our program follow diverse career paths, with some pursuing faculty positions at colleges, universities, medical schools, research institutes, or schools of public health, and others joining government agencies or consulting firms acquiring research positions in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry. Career opportunities in the biological sciences as they apply to global health and disease are expected to grow in the coming years.

Students in the BPH program are enrolled in and receive a PhD from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, even though they may work primarily with Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health faculty.


To qualify for admission, applicants must demonstrate strong enthusiasm and capacity for the vigorous pursuit of scientific research. Minimum requirements include a bachelor’s degree and undergraduate preparation in advanced-level biology and chemistry (including organic chemistry), as well as physics and calculus appropriate for the mastery of diverse fields of biology. 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 can opt to take the GRE general test in time to meet the December application deadline, however the GRE general test is not required when applying. Applicants whose native language is not English and who have not received an undergraduate degree from an English language institution must score at least 100 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or at least 7.5 on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).  Please note having a master's degree from an English language institution does not exempt an applicant from taking the TOEFL or IELTS. 

Additional information about admissions requirements,  including a list of frequently asked questions, is available on the  Biological Sciences in Public Health website. The GSAS Policies page details program requirements.


The statement of purpose is a particularly important part of the application. We suggest that applicants take time to familiarize themselves with program faculty to assess compatibility with their scientific interests and align their purpose and goals with the program. A well-crafted statement should address the following:

  • Your motivation in seeking doctoral-level training in the BPH Program
  • A description of any past research experience
  • Your current research interests
  • The BPH faculty members who most closely match your interests and why
  • Your career aspirations

Please note that for those admitted, the PhD Program in Biological Sciences begins in July each year. 

Theses & Dissertations

Theses & Dissertations for Biological Sciences in Public Health