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Graduate Special Activities

Special Activities

The MCO Program features many activities to enhance a student’s academic understanding, to build a supportive community, and to have fun.

  • Journal Club
  • Nanocourses
  • Model Systems Jamboree
  • Writing Workshop
  • TGIF
  • Retreats & Symposia
  • Rhino League (Volleyball)


Reading and discussing scientific papers is an integral part of the MCO training curriculum. In consultation with two faculty coaches, students give two presentations in the spring of their first year on recently published papers in biology. Because Journal Club presentations are publicly advertised and open to all members of the Harvard community, students learn to convey findings even to non-specialists and develop a verbally and visually engaging presentation style that excludes the use of PowerPoint. Coaching emphasizes historical context (Was it important?) and future consequence (Will it matter?). Students receive verbal feedback after each talk from a rotating group of faculty that includes their coaches. Please click below to see some MCO graduate students presenting at Journal Club!



The MCO Program offers a continuing series of intensive nanocourses on a range of topics from time-management to the latest technologies in microscopy. Most nanocourses are taught by MCO faculty in their fields of expertise and are designed to explore cutting-edge methods and trends in research biology. However, experienced students may themselves lead nanocourses in the January term. Past student-led nanocourses have included linear algebra and calculus review for first-years and an introduction to Matlab.

View the most recent nanocourse listing on the MCB website. (Note: These courses are updated after the semester begins.)


The Model Systems Jamboree is a unique, hands-on opportunity for students to sample the variety of animal models available to modern research biologists.

Each fall, a group of faculty mentors, assisted by more senior graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, offer a series of lectures and lab or facility workshops, each of which focuses on a specific animal model such as zebrafish, c. elegans, microbes, mice, bacteria, and yeast. These highly interactive and enriching workshops introduce alternative design choices to first-year students who may have arrived to the program with a single model system in mind.


On Friday afternoons, MCB hosts a department-wide pizza and beer hour to relax with friends and colleagues at the end of a hard week. When the weather is friendly TGIF is held in the courtyard outside the Biological Laboratories flanked by the MCB Rhinos. When the weather turns ugly, we head indoors to the Calla Lilly lounge at the entrance to the building from 16 Divinity Avenue.


Each fall, the MCB Department holds a community-wide, off-campus retreat full of science, community-building activities, and lots of fun! Highlights include a G1 vs Faculty volleyball tournament, poster sessions, research talks, a G3 skit, guest speakers and more!

In addition, the MCO program holds a student-run scientific retreat, which offers students another valuable opportunity to present and receive feedback on their data as well as experience organizing and executing a scientific event.

Two student-elected guest speakers give talks and observe and comment on student research, while other highlights include a poster session and Journal Club presentation.

Volunteers from the G3 cohort plan the retreat from top to bottom–from choosing and inviting guest lecturers to devising the lunch and dinner menu–with help and guidance from MCB staff members and MCO faculty mentors.


Each year, lab members (of all skill levels) play in a summer-long volleyball league. As the Harvard Gazette describes it:

Like any good summer sports league, Harvard’s Rhino Cup volleyball tournament features sun, sand, sweat … and scientists.

For more than 20 years, the inhabitants of Harvard’s labs have ducked outside after Commencement, playing weekly games through the end of August.

Science comes first for most of the year, but when warm weather rolls around, wins and losses on the volleyball court give lab results a run for their money.

source: Harvard Gazette, “Where Sand and Sun Meet Science”