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Biochemistry Biophysics Cell Biology Neuroscience Development Evolution Genetics Genomics Structural Biology Engineering
molecules, cells and organisms

Molecules, Cells and Organisms is an innovative doctoral program that trains future leaders of scientific research in all areas of modern biology. MCO hosts faculty members from five departments on Harvard University’s Cambridge campus – Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and Physics – in addition to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences where students work in close collaboration with both faculty and peers.

MCO News


MCO’s unique approach to the Biological Sciences Ph.D. cultivates versatility as well as depth of expertise by exposing its students to the full spectrum of modern biology. During the first year, students will complete a minimum of three 4-6-week lab rotations before selecting a thesis lab during the second semester. Lab rotations offer students the opportunity to explore divergent fields of scientific research and collaborate with faculty affiliated with five departments and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, 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 term as a Teaching Fellow hone the communication skills and critical thinking vital to a successful career in the sciences. Students take the Candidacy Examination at the beginning of the second year and conclude their preparatory studies by proposing their dissertation subjects to a committee of faculty members. Candidates devote the following years to full-time laboratory research, completing their dissertation, and earning their doctoral degree by the end of the sixth 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 lab-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.



Prospective Students – Please join us at the following Virtual Open Houses:

HILS Virtual Open House: Tuesday, October 3, 5:00-7:00 PM, Registration link: https://harvard.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_zNQ09CrJS3yQaupq59Wfpg

HILS Virtual Open House: Wednesday, November 1, 5:00-7:00 PM, Registration link: https://harvard.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_2odU9_xjT2qXYUJrW3Kz3A

We hope you will join us to:

Learn about life sciences PhD programs at Harvard

–Connect with current faculty, staff, and students

–Learn about how to put together a strong application


5:00-6:00 PM EST (GMT -4:00): PhD Admissions Panel

6:00-7:00 PM EST (GMT -4:00): Breakout Session Q&As with HILS PhD Programs

At the end of the Admissions Panel, you will receive Zoom links for the individual breakout sessions for all 13 of the HILS PhD programs.

An experiment at MCO

Program Structure

These areas group together similar areas of research where MCO faculty frequently collaborate and support each other. Collaboration also takes place  with the broader Harvard scientific community.

Each area is represented by faculty members who serve on the Executive Committee as experts. During a student’s first year and beyond, the committee will advise and guide trainees on coursework, lab rotations, lab joining, and also teaching.

The MCO graduate program consists of ten broad areas of research and teaching organized along the following key areas:

  • Biochemistry, Chemical, and Structural Biology (BCSB)
  • Cellular, Neuro and Developmental Biology (CNDB)
  • Genetics, Genomics and Evolutionary Biology (GGEB)

Students can also participate in the following research communities: 

Our Students

MCO has a ton of different events to help keep the community close, from weekly happy hours to the yearly retreats and summer volleyball league.

Nicole Bush, G6, Hunter Lab

The research environment of MCO is really special to me in two ways: the professors deeply care about our academic success and well being, and the students are very collaborative and supportive.

Roya Huang, G5, Ramanathan Lab

MCO provides enviable resources for any grad student looking to become an independent scientist. Boston is the best place in the world to be a biologist, and MCO provides an exceptional environment for training.

Chris Bakerlee, PhD ’21, Desai Lab

Thomas Dial

The best resources and professors available, the best funding opportunities, an amazing city, all mean the fewest limitations on possible research.

Thomas Dial, PhD ’20, Lee Lab


MCO hosts faculty members from five departments on Harvard University’s Cambridge campus – Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology, and Physics in addition to the School of Applied Sciences and Engineering where students work in close collaboration with both faculty and peers.


(l to r, back row) Carlos Rivera-Lopez, Adriana Aguilar-Maldonado, and Claire Ang. (l to r, front row) Camila Cersosimo, Camila Bodden, Karissa Mennes, Yoland Victor, Kristal Stevens, and Natnael Belay (not shown)


The MCO Program is proud to provide an atmosphere that is supportive and inclusive of students from all backgrounds. From year to year, about 15-18% of the MCO student body identifies as members of underrepresented minority groups, which attest to the program’s dedication to a diverse student body. The MCO Program also strives to ensure that any student with a disability has equal access to the educational opportunities, facilities and resources available in the program.

MCO also works closely with the MCB Department’s Community Task Force (CTF) on Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB), as well as many of the various resources at GSAS and Harvard.

The links below provide some useful information:


MCB Community Task Force





Molecules, Cells and Organisms (MCO)

To apply to the Program in Molecules, Cells and Organisms, prospective students should complete the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Online Application. Application materials sent in any other form will not be reviewed.

When filling out the GSAS Online Application, on the “Program Selection” page please indicate “Molecular and Cellular Biology” as your Program and “Molecules, Cells and Organisms” as your Area of Study.

MCO invites applications from prospective students who have received a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in the United States or its equivalent from an international institution. First year graduate studies begin at the start of the fall semester.

Although both the MCO program is comprised of faculty from several departments, MCB is the administrative host of the program. When submitting an application, prospective students must indicate the program as well as department to which they are applying.


In addition to being a training program comprised of faculty from five departments, The Program in Molecules, Cells and Organisms is a member of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) consortium, a federation of Harvard life sciences PhD programs, departments, and subject areas that facilitates cross-disciplinary academic and research collaboration.

For additional application details and information about the GSAS online application system, please visit the GSAS admissions website.

Why MCO?