Research Courses

students in the labOne of the best ways to learn science is to engage in research!  A variety of research opportunities are open to you, regardless of whether you concentrate in science.  At Harvard, you can gain hands-on laboratory experience in a variety of ways:  1) Courses with a lab component, 2) Courses devoted almost exclusively to research, and 3)  Research with a faculty member.

The foundational life sciences courses (e.g. LS 1a, LPS A, LS 1b, and LS 2), as well as many intermediate-level courses (e.g. MCB 60, MCB 65, and MCB 68) and some upper-level classes (e.g. MCB 121), include a lab component that allows you to gain hands-on experience while exploring concepts from class.

You can immerse yourself in original research in a variety of courses.  Some of the options include:

  • Freshman Seminar 25o: Building a Living Cell One Brick at a Time
    • Freshmen explore synthetic biology in this hands-on course.
  • Life Sciences 100r: Experimental Research in the Life Sciences and Chemistry 100r:  Experimental Chemistry and Chemical Biology
    • Small groups of students undertake a semester-long research project derived from a faculty member’s current work.

The listing below highlights some of the research-based courses in the life sciences.  However, it is by no means comprehensive.

Experimental courses in chemistry include:

  • Chem 135: Experimental Synthetic Chemistry
  • Chem 145: Experimental Inorganic Chemistry
  • Chem 165: Experimental Physical Chemistry

For students interested in human development and regenerative biology, the SCRB Department offers several laboratory-based courses, including:

  • SCRB 160:  Experimental Embryology [not offered in 2014-15]
  • SCRB 162:  Experimental Regenerative Biology
  • SCRB 165:  Directed Differentiation of Stem Cells

The HEB Junior Research Seminar is a small course taught by an HEB faculty member in which students learn techniques for and conduct original research. This may involve work, for example, in an endocrinology or anatomy lab, running psychology experiments, or writing an in-depth research paper. Research is closely supervised by the instructor, and may be carried out as part of a group project. Normally, students also read and discuss relevant research articles in small groups. A list of classes that count for Junior Research Seminar credit can be found here.

Students can investigate neurobiology research questions in a number of courses, including Life Science 100r and OEB 131:  Neuroethology.  In OEB 131, students study the adaptive behaviors of fruit flies, flatworms, and cockroaches.

A number of OEB classes take students to the field over spring break to study biological diversity.  Recent examples include:

  • OEB 51 (Biology and Evolution of Invertebrate Animals): Panama
  • OEB 167 (Herpetology): Costa Rica [Not offered 2014-15]
  • OEB 190 (Biology & Diversity of Birds): Panama [Not offered 2014-15]

OEB classes that emphasize original research include OEB 121:  Research in Comparative Biomechanics and OEB 131:  Neuroethology.

All psychology concentrators must enroll in at least one research-based course; visit the psychology website for a list of offerings. 

Many students join a faculty laboratory during their time at Harvard; visit the Research pages for more information.  If you do research with a faculty member, you can volunteer, receive payment, or receive academic credit. 

Each concentration offers independent research courses, such as BE 91r, CPB 91r, or Neuro 98r, in which students conduct research with a faculty member.  If you enroll in one of these research courses, you typically are expected to spend 15-20 hours per week doing research and then write a research paper at the end of the semester.  Many students also choose to write a senior thesis as a culmination of several years’ of original research.  While you can begin research at any time, thesis writers usually begin their thesis project no later than spring of the junior year and spend the summer before senior year working on their project.  The Student Handbook for Undergraduate Research in the Life Sciences has a wealth of useful information about conducting research at Harvard!