Human Evolutionary Biology

Professor Richard Wrangham, Head Tutor

Dr. Carole Hooven, Co-Head Tutor

The concentration in Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB) provides students with the skills and knowledge they need to investigate and answer questions about who we are, how we got here, and what makes us unique. Research in human evolutionary biology is increasingly influencing medical science, economics, linguistics, psychology, and political science, and HEB concentrators learn how to use an evolutionary perspective to help solve real world problems. Human evolutionary biologists use data at every level of biology, from genes to bodies to people in their ecological contexts, to answer questions such as:

  • Why do humans walk upright?
  • Are humans adapted to eating cooked food?
  • What is the role of the gut microbiota in energy metabolism?
  • How did human societies expand from small hunter-gatherer bands to vast nation states?
  • Are culture and language uniquely human?
  • What are the genetic bases for uniquely human traits?
  • What is the role of hormones in human competition?
  • How can an evolutionary perspective be used to improve public health?
  • What has been the impact of environmental change on our human ancestors?

Human Evolutionary Biology (HEB) provides a general foundation in human and organismic biology as part of the life sciences cluster of concentrations.

Students in HEB use the lens of evolution to understand and think about human biology, behavior, and culture.  Students learn to think critically as evolutionary biologists, to understand how and why key aspects of human biology (from genes to behaviors) are the way they are, and to appreciate the larger, practical relevance of these perspectives and bodies of knowledge for real world problems.

All HEB concentrators receive a core introduction to basic evolutionary biology as well as human and nonhuman primate genetics, physiology, anatomy, behavioral biology, and paleontology. HEB courses also explore interactions between genes and environments, and the co-evolution of biology and culture. 

Students interested in human cognition or psychology, who want to understand the evolutionary influences on our thoughts and behaviors, may pursue the thesis honors Mind, Brain and Behavior track within HEB (“MBB Track”). Requirements are below.

We encourage our students to get involved in research in HEB, and we offer many small, advanced courses for students to work intensively with members of the faculty. Opportunities vary from primarily lab-based research—such as in behavioral endocrinology, primate and human cognition, evolutionary genetics, physiology, anatomy, or nutrition—to field-based work—such as studying primates in East Africa. Our faculty work closely with undergraduates on research projects of all kinds, for senior theses, research seminars and tutorial classes.

HEB offers a rigorous background in human evolutionary biology while encouraging interdisciplinary work. We offer students three options:  the basic non-honors degree, thesis honors, and non-thesis honors. All students take Life Sciences 1a, Life Sciences 1b, the sophomore tutorial, and a junior research seminar.

 

REQUIREMENTS
Basic Requirements: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required Courses:
    1. Life Sciences 1a (or LPS a) and 1b (normally in freshman year).
    2. Five courses, selected from those offered in HEB. Three of the five courses must fulfill distribution requirements in behavior, evolution, and anatomy/physiology. Courses are selected in close consultation with advisers.
    3. Four additional courses in related fields, to be chosen from: Integrative Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, Chemistry, Physical Sciences, Math, Statistics, and approved courses from Psychology, History of Science, and more.
  2. Tutorials (All letter-graded)
    1. Sophomore year: Sophomore tutorial (ordinarily taken in the spring term of the sophomore year). This seminar introduces the major issues and methods of human evolutionary biology through weekly readings and discussions, and provides a shared experience for all concentrators.
    2. Junior year: Junior research seminar. Normally taken in the junior year (may be taken senior year), including an independent research component. Students may choose from a number of qualifying seminars.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information:
    1. Pass/Fail: Ordinarily all courses must be taken for a letter grade. All tutorials are letter graded. Freshman seminars and other courses that are appropriate for concentration credit and that are graded Sat/Unsat—such as courses taken while studying abroad—may count toward the concentration with the approval of a concentration adviser.
    2. Languages: No requirement.

Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 15 courses (60 credits)
Thesis Track Honors

  1. Required Courses: Same as Basic Requirements.
  2. Tutorials (All letter-graded):
    1. Sophomore year: Sophomore tutorial (ordinarily taken in the spring term of the sophomore year). Same as Basic Requirements.
    2. Junior year: Ordinarily thesis candidates take a thesis research-related course, either a junior research seminar or a supervised reading and research course (91r).
    3. Senior year: HEB 99a and HEB 99b (in the Fall and Spring, respectively), culminating in the submission of a senior thesis, followed by an oral examination on the thesis.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.

Non-Thesis Track Honors

  1. Required Courses: Same as Basic Requirements, plus:
    1. Two additional courses in HEB or related fields approved in advance by a Concentration Adviser. These courses are ordinarily advanced lectures, seminars, or supervised reading courses on a focused topic.
  2. Tutorials:
    1. Sophomore year: Same as Basic Requirements.
    2. Junior year: Junior research seminar. Same as Basic Requirements.
    3. Senior year: None.
  3. Thesis: None.
  4. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements. Honors recommendations are based on concentration GPA.

Human Evolutionary Biology/Mind, Brain, and Behavior Track
15 courses (60 credits)

  1. Required Courses:
    1. Life Sciences 1b (normally in freshman year).
    2. Science of Living Systems 20 or HEB 1280, Human Nature.
    3. MCB 80.
    4. SLS 16 plus two courses to be chosen from HEB.
    5. Two additional courses in Mind, Brain, and Behavior.
    6. Three additional courses in related fields. Qualifying courses same as for Basic Requirements.
  2. Tutorials (All letter-graded):
    1. Sophomore year: Sophomore tutorial (ordinarily taken in the spring term of the sophomore year). Same as Basic Requirements.
    2. Junior year: One MBB-approved seminar course.
    3. Senior year: HEB 99a and HEB 99b (in the Fall and Spring, respectively), culminating in the submission of a senior thesis, followed by an oral examination on the thesis.
  3. Thesis: Required.
  4. General Examination: None.
  5. Other information: Same as Basic Requirements.

Portal Courses for exploring HEB:

Fall:

HEB 1280: Human Nature

Life Sciences 2: Life Sciences: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy

Spring:

HEB 1310: Hormones and Behavior

Science of Living Systems 16: Human Evolution and Human Health

ADVISING

HEB concentration advisers (contact information below) are available to provide guidance on matters such as course selection, research, concentration requirements, summer plans and career goals. The Head Tutor and members of the HEB faculty also provide mentoring on academic and career issues.

For up-to-date information on advising in Human Evolutionary Biology, please see the Advising Programs Office website.

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Concentration advisers:  Dr. Carole Hooven, Peabody 52F, hooven@fas.harvard.edu; Dr. Brenda Frazier, bfrazier@fas.harvard.edu; Richard Wrangham, Head Tutor, wrangham@fas.harvard.edu. For more information, visit the Life Sciences website.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators20082009201020112012201320142015
Human Evolutionary Biology13213013313815613310599
Human Evolutionary Biology + another field11110110
Another field + Human Evolutionary Biology00000000