Inside OEB

Check out the Course Catalog Link to course catalog for OEB listings. Q guides course evaluation data (Harvard PIN required) are helpful if you are interested in student feedback about courses.


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An Interdisciplinary Life Science Training Program

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Courses Outside OEB

Here are some thoughts on Courses outside of the biology departments. Some of these courses may fulfill prescription requirements.

REMEMBER: We have a cross-registration policy with several other schools including MIT. There is also the Harvard Medical School and the School of Public Health as well as night courses offered through the University. Before enrolling in a non-Harvard course to fulfill a prescription, check with the graduate committee.

NOTE: The list of courses shown below is being reviewed and will be updated soon. (August 24, 2011)

Anatomy 204ab. Functional Human Anatomy--Med. School (aka HST 010):

A full course taught in the fall. Formerly taught by our own Prof. F. A. Jenkins, Jr., and now by Prof. Lee Gehrke from the HST program. This is an in-depth anatomy course taken by all students in the HST program as well as bioengineers, OEB graduate students, and a variety of interesting special students. The course takes a lot of time, but is well worth the effort; lectures are superb, clinics are relevant and entertaining, and cadavers are fun, too. In addition to being the most interesting way to really learn anatomy, this course leads to many graduates' first jobs. Warning--do not try to take this course during your first year or while teaching or taking more than one course. The course begins before Harvard classes start, so contact Dr. Gehrke during late spring or summer for more information. "It is unquestionably the best course I have ever taken. Never before have I worked so hard or learned so much. I can't recommend it too highly for anyone serious about vertebrate anatomy, but I would caution them to not try to take or teach anything else at the same time, because of the time commitment (1h lecture, 4+hrs of dissection 3 days a week, plus LOTS of reading and reviewing in between to do the thing properly). Also, be prepared to smell of embalming fluid for an entire semester." (Kate Jackson)

MCB 169 – (Molecular and cellular immunology).

"Great class if you are interested in cell or molecular biology (immunology, too). Hidde Ploegh is a hi-quality lecturer - engaging, energetic, enthusiastic, etc. I had to concentrate hugely throughout the lectures because there was so much going on - totally worth it - lots (and lots and lots) of details that he sews together into a coherent story." (David Hewitt)

Biological Sciences 52 (Molecular Biology)

"At first I was a little reluctant to take this 300 pre-med undergraduate student class, but it turned out to be a great class!!! The class meets 3 times a week for the lecture (plus one lab section per week as well) and it covers the basic principles of molecular biology. The course is usually taught by Richard Losick. He is an amazing lecturer! There is a reasonable amount of work in this class but it is worth every minute. If you had this class assigned as a prescription, do not hesitate, just enjoy. It is a lot of fun and you learn a lot. At least I did." (Tiago Quental)

MCB 150 Developmental Genetics and Genomics

"This course consists of lectures taught by Craig Hunter and small discussions led by teaching assistants about assigned research articles. Lectures are not the most exciting, but they do give the basics of genetic control of development in C. elegans, Drosophila, the zebrafish, and mouse. Five half-page article summaries (with the opportunity to rewrite some), one report on a single research article, and a mini-review style paper are required. Identify the line of questioning that molecular biologists tend to follow (which is not always logical for an organismal biologist) and you will save yourself some time when writing summaries." (Breda Zimkus)

Biological Sciences (Intro to Biochemistry)

"This course should be avoided at all costs. Be prepared to join over 300 ultra-competitive Harvard undergraduate pre-meds in a poorly organized and poorly taught course. An excruciatingly painful experience." (Ryan Oyama)

"Yah, it was not the most fun I've ever had. There did not seem to be much continuity in the lecture topics, and the work load was very high -- equivalent to two classes. Make sure you drink coffee during the lectures." (Susannah Porter)

Biochemistry for Graduate Students--MIT:

"7.05 General Biochemistry at MIT (Spring half course) gives you a basic understanding of various mechanisms of biochemical reactions. The course is very competitive; 400 pre-med undergraduate students are enrolled. No labs. The exams are open-book, and thus, extremely applied and hard. The teaching assistants and the weekly review sessions, however, are very helpful. Overall, I learned a great deal that will be useful in my research, and thus, I recommend this course to the others, if you are willing to put up with such a large undergrad course." (Akiko Okusu)

Chemistry 17 & 27--Organic Chemistry and the Chemistry of Life:

"These courses are a good way to make up an organic/biochemistry prescription. Both are very mechanism based so you get a feel for "how things work". Both require a lot of time and energy and the competitive pre-med flavor can be a drag. Only one semester of lab (in Chem 17) must be endured. Chem 27 differs from Biochem 10a (Biological Sciences 10) in that Chem 27 focuses more on concepts and the underpinnings of biochemical systems rather than on specific pathways. It, therefore, may be a better general introduction to biochemistry for those whose research won't take them into the world of enzymes." (Nan Arens)

Earth and Planetary Sciences 20b.

"This is a comprehensive, advanced calculus course that emphasizes the application of mathematical techniques in different scientific disciplines. However, the main focus is on physics, which can be frustrating. It is well lectured and well taught but much of the material is covered quickly. The course assumes knowledge of a large chunk of calculus and linear algebra, and so taking the previous course, EPS 20a, may be a good idea. Weekly problem sets help you understand the material covered in lectures and count for over half the final grade. Most of the students taking the course are undergrads, and still have the 'super-keen' mentality (!), but if you can deal with that, the course could be interesting and generally relevant." (Sebastian Catovsky)

"Not having glimpsed an integral since introductory calculus 5 years ago, I went into EPS 20b with considerable trepidation (read: outright dread). The course covers many fundamental mathematical methods that at first glance seem totally irrelevant to evolutionary biology, but in reality may be useful in certain situations. The workload consists of weekly problem sets, which are easy to do well on if you are willing to join the throngs of mark-hungry undergrads hounding the TF for answers. If you are prescribed this course, I recommend that you sit in on EPS 20a beforehand to get up to speed, and on your final exam write "GRADUATE STUDENT" in big letters across the top. The bottom line is, if I got through it, you probably can too." (Rick Ree)

Earth and Planetary Sciences 80

"Surface processes and the biosphere, taught in past years by Paul Hoffman. If there's one geology course you should take it is this one. It is a good survey of sedimentary geology, stratigraphy, and earth and life through time. I loved this course! It was absolutely fascinating, and extremely well taught by one of the studliest geologists around. There is not a big enrollment -- there were only about five of us, so there's lots of personal attention. There is a weekly lab and two very cool field trips, which means that this course can be time consuming -- but you can always audit it and just come for the fabulous lectures, complete with breathtaking slides (I did). I didn't have much of a background in geology when I took it, and some of the U-grads had even less. Probably an intro level course would help, but if you're willing to work hard and ask lots of questions, no background is probably fine." (Susannah Porter)

Math E 15 (Harvard Extension School course)

"My only prescription upon arriving at Harvard was calculus. Imagine my horror. I hadn't taken math in a million years. I had heard through the grapevine that taking the course with the undergraduates was pure torture, so a friend suggested taking the calculus class offered through Harvard's Extension school. I highly recommend doing it this way! You can use some of your first year funds to pay for the class (~$600) and it is a once a week night course. If you are going to go this route, try to take the course with Eric Towne. He was an excellent instructor and he gives fair exams. Many OEB students have taken calculus with him. He is great! I passed the class and even liked calculus by the end!" (Corrie Saux-Moreau)

Stat E 102, Biostatistics (Harvard Extension School course)

"The benefit of this course is that it only meets once a week in the evening for two hours. This frees up time in your daily schedule. Downsides: it costs a fair bit of money ~$700, it can screw up evening plans, it is extremely boring (that may just be statistics in general), it is geared toward those in the public health field with no examples of how to use statistics for things practical to OEBers. If you have to fill the statistics requirement, it's a fairly easy course to do well in (I stopped going to the lectures half way through and just looked at notes put on the web and read the book to complete homework assignments) and it generally doesn't take too much time out of one's week. Of course it would be ideal if there were a stat course designed specifically for students in our department, but there's not. If you're interested in specifics of statistics for evolutionary biologists, you're better off taking courses taught by faculty that specialize in population genetics, systematics, ecology, etc." (Anji Ballerini)

Physics 123: Laboratory Electronics

"Physics 123 is like electronics boot camp, or immersion school, or some other crazy form of instruction where you are not able to do anything but work and stay miserable for a period of time. Anyone who has experienced a foreign language immersion will tell you that it is a great way to learn, and this class is no exception. The instructors skip the chemical and physical minutia about semiconductive materials and electron dense regions and get right to learning practical rules for designing and building practical circuits, first with resistors and capacitors and then op amps and microcontrollers. So if you really want to build a gadget that will do something for you, then this is a terrific class. Do not take it just for the experience, or to dabble. It is practical training for real-world applications. A few warnings: the textbook is not a textbook, per se, it is more of a reference manual, and reads as such. The labs take approximately twice as long as the time alloted, so plan on spending much more extra time in labs if you are a thorough person that can't stand to miss things. The problem sets do not start with easy questions to build your confidence - actually, my confidence for the whole class was shattered after reading the first question on problem set 1. However, I was motivated by a desire to build a circuit, so I spent extra hours working with my TF and finishing labs, and the instructors have a reasonable late policy (offering partial credit for late problem sets), so by the end of the course I was able to catch up. The instructors move really fast and modify their diagrams on the fly, and as the lectures are not videotaped I recommend taking notes with a blackboard and chalk and just remembering everything. I don't recommend being married when you take this class. But ask me about my portable data logger some day, because I am proud of my struggle and proud of the results." (Carlos Moreno)

Machine Shop Physics

"The Physics department offers a nice "course" on the use of metal shop machinery. After a one-hour introduction given the first week of every month (details at you get individual instruction in your own time on making a small project (like a vise or a steam engine). After completing your project you get unlimited use of the shop but only during shop hours (not the 24-7 that the Physics students get). There's a $350 fee for the class that you can pay for with your departmental funds." (Alexander Platt)

School of Public Health Courses

BPH 212. Cellular and Molecular Biology of Parasites

"I found this course very stimulating and rewarding, but it is really only for people who are interested in the molecular biology of human protozoan parasites (malaria, sleeping sickness, chaga's disease, giardia, etc). There is a fair amount of genomics, some genetics. The strength of the class is that you read from, and become well aquainted with, the recent literature.

Following a discussion of the week's papers among the students and faculty, the authors are actually invited as guest speakers to give a talk to the class. The class is always small, there are no exams, and the focus is on discussion and student interaction with the faculty and guest speakers. This class would most likely give someone new to the field an excellent basis in the broad understanding of molecular parasitology, both older works and the newest material.

Be warned, however, that the School of Public Health classes run on a different schedule and that usually means taking classes when everyone else at GSAS has off.

Auditing can be arranged, but the instructors try and keep it to a minimum, to keep the class small. They are open, however, to anyone coming to the guest lecturer portion of the class only." (Martine Zilversmit)