Molecular and Cellular Biology

Professor Vlad Denic, Head Tutor 
The Molecular and Cellular Biology concentration emphasizes the intersection of modern research in cellular biology with medicine and society. It is rooted in the investigation of biological processes based on the study of molecules and their interactions in the context of cells and tissues, and in understanding how the vast information context of the genome orchestrates the behavior of the cell. MCB is therefore ideally suited for students who wish to study molecular and cellular processes at the heart of both normal physiology and disease. It focuses on fundamental principles of modern biology at the hub of nearly all life science sub-disciplines, and integrates many different methodologies ranging from chemistry and genetics to computer science and engineering, as well as fundamental concepts in physics and mathematics. 
MCB concentrators will acquire an understanding of scientific logic and approaches as they explore a wide range of contemporary subjects, spanning biochemistry, cell biology, genomics, systems biology, developmental biology, immunology, cancer biology, molecular medicine, the microbiome, global health and infectious disease. Students will also have the opportunity to tackle subjects of a more applied nature, such as drug design, personalized medicine and biotechnology. 
Through coursework and hands-on research, students in the concentration will have the opportunity to explore many of the central questions in modern biology and medicine. The MCB faculty is dedicated to supporting undergraduate research, and we encourage students to join the laboratory of an MCB faculty member or a laboratory in one of the affiliated Centers, at Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, and affiliated institutes. We consider the senior thesis to be the capstone academic experience, and the concentration will provide extensive support to seniors to make thesis writing an enriching experience. 
MCB graduates will be informed citizens who can understand and evaluate the impact of new research discoveries in the life sciences, discoveries that are unfolding at a breathtaking and accelerating pace. Both courses and programs that promote interactions with faculty members link basic, mechanistic insights with human disease and show how the study of disease leads to fundamental biological discoveries. Graduates of the MCB concentration will stand poised to pursue a wide range of careers, including biological and medical research, public and global health, science policy, law and intellectual property, business, education, and science writing. 
The Board of Tutors in Biochemical Sciences, which was established in 1926, runs the Tutorial program for the Molecular and Cellular Biology concentration and the Chemical and Physical Biology concentration. The tutorial program offers individualized instruction to all concentrators beginning at the time of declaration. Concentrators typically meet with their tutors every two weeks and discuss primary research literature in a small group or one-on-one setting. Mentoring on career choices, the research experience, and other academic matters is a logical extension of the tutorial. The tutorial is not taken for credit and therefore does not appear on the my.harvard crimson cart or transcript. The Head Tutor and Concentration Adviser make all tutorial assignments and are available throughout the academic year to answer questions from students or their tutors. A handout that describes the history, goals, and format of the tutorial program is available on the web
Basic Requirements: 12-13 courses (48 -52 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. Life Sciences: Two courses. Life Sciences 1a (or Life and Physical Sciences A) and Life Sciences 1b. 
    2. Biology: Two courses. MCB 60 and one additional course selected from MCB 63, MCB 64, MCB 65, MCB 68 or MCB80. 
    3. Chemistry: Two courses. One of these courses should be general chemistry, such as Physical Sciences 1, and the remaining course should be organic chemistry and may be chosen from Chemistry 17 or Chemistry 20. See items 3b and 3c below. 
    4. Mathematics and computational skills: One or two courses. In addition to mathematics, statistics and computational skills are increasingly important in our discipline. According to a student’s preparation level, this requirement can be fulfilled in two ways. One path is to take Mathematics 1b and one of the following: 
      1. Mathematics 19a or higher 
      2. Statistics 102 (or 110 or 111 or an approved alternative) 
      3. Computer science such as CS 50 or an approved alternative 
      4.  Note: An alternative path is to demonstrate competency beyond the Mathematics 1b level by taking: 
        1. Mathematics 19a or higher, or 
        2. An approved calculus-based statistics course (such as Statistics 110 or 111) 
      5. Note: Students are encouraged to discuss which path is most appropriate for their preparation level and interests with the concentration advising team. Please note that students who are able and choose to meet the mathematics/computational skills requirement using only one course may need to take one additional course to meet the minimum course requirement for the concentration. 
    5. Physics: Two courses. One course in mechanics (Physical Sciences 2 or equivalent) and one course in electricity and magnetism (Physical Sciences 3 or equivalent). 
    6. Advanced courses: Two courses above the introductory level, including at least one MCB 100-level course. All 100-MCB courses and certain advanced courses in related fields may be used to fulfill this requirement. A list of non-MCB courses that fulfill the advanced course requirement is available online
    7. Research experience: The requirement for a research experience can be fulfilled by at least one semester of research (LS 100r, MCB 91r or MCB 99) or a summer research experience in an approved program. To fulfill the research requirement, a summer research experience ordinarily: (i) consists of at least 8 weeks of full-time research; (ii) is sponsored by a Harvard-affiliated faculty member; (iii) is broadly related to the field; and (iv) culminates in a capstone experience (substantive written report, poster or oral presentation outside of the host lab). A list of approved programs that fulfill these requirements is available from the concentration office. Students doing thesis work ordinarily enroll in two terms of MCB 99 in their final year at the College, one of which is sufficient to fulfill this requirement. 
  2. Tutorial: The tutorial program is an important component of the concentration. It provides a mechanism for students to engage in mentorship relationships with the MCB faculty and members of the Board of Tutors in Biochemical Sciences. The goals are to (1) provide opportunities for discussions about science and its role in the larger community, (2) provide students with the foundation to apply their education and the scientific method to life outside of the classroom and Harvard and (3) advise and inform students on curricular and pre-professional choices. The tutorial is a non-credit program that spans the whole length of time the student is part of the concentration. 
  3. Other information
    1. Pass/Fail: All courses for concentration credit must be letter-graded. 
    2. The total number of concentration courses taken during the student’s college career (including approved study abroad or transfer credits) must be at least 12 (14 for honors eligibility). Students who place out of particular concentration requirements based on their preparation level should choose additional courses appropriate to their intellectual interests and skill level in consultation with the concentration advising team. Similarly, students who fulfill their research requirement in the summer may need to take an additional course to meet the minimum course requirement. 
    3. General Chemistry: We highly encourage students who start with Chemistry 17 or Chemistry 20 (rather than Physical Sciences 1) to take a course containing elements of inorganic and/or physical chemistry (such as Chemistry 40 or 60, MCB 65 or 199, Physical Sciences 10 or 11, or equivalent), especially if they are considering a career in research or medicine. 
    4. Courses offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and by the Division of Medical Sciences may be counted for concentration credit wherever appropriate. Please consult the concentration office for more information. 
Requirements for Honors Eligibility: 14-15 courses (56-60 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. Same as Basic Requirements items 1-3 above. 
    2. A second semester of organic chemistry (Chemistry 27 or Chemistry 30 or equivalent). 
    3. One additional advanced course (see item 1f above). 
  2. Thesis: Optional for award of Honors or High Honors in Field, but required for Highest Honors in Field. To be considered for highest honors, a thesis based on independent laboratory research is required. Students intending to write a thesis should plan to enroll in two terms of MCB 99 in their final year at the College. One term of MCB 99 counts toward the requirements for a research experience (see item 1g, above) and the other term counts as one of the three upper-level courses required for honors eligibility (see item 1f, above). 
Students wishing to pursue a joint concentration with MCB must fulfill the MCB Honors course requirements and complete a senior thesis that is at the intersection of the two fields of study. While a variety of joint concentrations are possible, quantitative fields such as statistics and computer science may be particularly appropriate. Owing to the significant overlap in requirements, a joint concentration in MCB with any of the other life science concentrations (Neuro, CPB, HDRB, IB, HEB, BME, Chemistry, Psychology (Life science track)) are not allowed. 
Joint concentrations are evaluated and approved on a case-by-case basis. The process for evaluation, approval and advising for joint concentrations is as follows: 
  1. The potential joint concentrator submits a form. Early submission facilitates advising and concentration requirement oversight by both potential concentrations, but the form must be submitted at the latest by March 15th of their Junior year. Form submission is followed by a mandatory, in-person meeting with the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies. The purpose of the form and meeting is to map out the study plan for a joint concentration (n.b. MCB course requirements is unaffected whether MCB is the primary or the allied concentration). The deadline is intended to give students sufficient time to develop and submit their thesis proposals during the month of July preceding their senior year. The Head Tutor, in collaboration with the ADUS, will review the application for a joint concentration and respond with a decision accompanied by feedback within a month from the time of submission. Students whose applications are denied can address the comments in the feedback and resubmit by the final deadline of March 15. 
  2. A joint concentration degree will not be awarded if any thesis or coursework requirement was not met. 
  3. The student is responsible for mediating communications with the two concentrations to obtain approval of the thesis proposal and establish a plan for evaluation of the joint thesis by both concentrations. 
  4. Joint concentrators are required to discuss their progress at the start of each semester by meeting with advisers from both concentrations. 
The MCB Concentration Adviser, Dr. Dominic Mao is available to concentrators and pre-concentrators to provide guidance on course selection, laboratory research, and the fulfillment of concentration requirements. 
A tutorial reference library is housed in the MCB Undergraduate Office at 7 Divinity Avenue (95 Sherman Fairchild building), which contains books and hard copies of past senior theses (thesis titles from 2011-present can be viewed here). Four rooms in the upper level of the undergraduate office are used by concentrators for tutorial meetings and as study spaces. 
The Head Tutor for the Molecular and Cellular Biology concentration is Professor Vlad Denic, and the Concentration Adviser is Dr. Dominic Mao ( or 617-495-4106). Visit or contact Dr. Dominic Mao ( or 617-495-4106) for more information. 
Number of Concentrators as of December
Molecular and Cellular Biology