Human Evolutionary Biology

Professor Richard Wrangham, Co-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 unique to humans?
  • What are the genetic bases for human traits?
  • What is the role of hormones in human competition and gender identity?
  • How can an evolutionary perspective be used to improve public health?
  • What has been the impact of environmental change on humans in the past and present?

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

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 or working on paleoanthropological excavations. 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 (or their equivalents), the sophomore tutorial, and a junior research seminar.

REQUIREMENTS
Basic Requirements: 13 courses (52 credits)

  1. Required Courses:
    1. Life Sciences 1a (or LPS and 1b (normally in freshman year) or LS50a/b.
    2. Five courses, selected from those offered in HEB. Three of the five courses must fulfill subfield requirements in behavior, evolution, and anatomy/physiology. Courses are selected in close consultation with advisors.
    3. Four additional courses in related fields, to be chosen from: Integrative Biology, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, Chemistry, Physical Sciences, Math, Statistics, Computer Science, Archaeology, and approved courses from Psychology, History of Science, and more.
  2. Tutorials (All letter-graded)
    1. Sophomore year: Sophomore tutorial (HEB 97, 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 and participation in a thesis conversation with the advisor and other HEB faculty.
  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 two additional courses in HEB or related fields approved in advance by a Concentration Advisor. 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) or LS50b.
    2. Science of Living Systems 20 or HEB 1280, Human Nature.
    3. MCB 80 or equivalent.
    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
LS 2: Evolutionary Human Physiology and Anatomy
HEB 1328: Evolutionary Medicine

Spring:
HEB 1330: Primate Social Behavior
SLS 16: Human Evolution and Human Health
HEB 1420: Human Evolutionary Anatomy

ADVISING

HEB concentration advisors (contact information below) provide guidance on matters such as course selection, research, concentration requirements, summer plans and career paths.

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

HOW TO FIND OUT MORE

Concentration advisors: Dr. Carole Hooven, Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies (Peabody 52F, hooven@fas.harvard.edu) and Dr. Bridget Alex, Associate Concentration Advisor (Peabody 52B, balex@fas.harvard.edu)

Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies: Dr. Richard Wrangham, (wrangham@fas.harvard.edu)

For more information, visit the HEB page of the Life Sciences website.

ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December

Concentrators 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
Human Evolutionary Biology 132 130 133 138 156 133 105 99 105 95
Human Evolutionary Biology + another field 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 0 0 0
Another field + Human Evolutionary Biology 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0