Microbial Sciences

Microbial sciences is an interdisciplinary approach to studying the impact of microbes at scales from global ecosystems down to single-celled microenvironments. The academic program emphasizes the joint study of species diversity, metabolic function, geochemical impact, and medical and pharmaceutical applications of microbial sciences. Faculty affiliated with the Microbial Sciences Initiative (MSI) include members from the Departments of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Chemistry and Chemical Biology; the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Harvard Medical School; Harvard School of Public Health; and the Forsyth Institute.

The MSI secondary field is intended to provide a strong foundation in interdisciplinary microbial sciences to students who have sufficient preparation in other natural sciences, mathematics, or engineering. In particular, the MSI curriculum is intended to (i) be interdisciplinary, (ii) not be specifically biomedical, and (iii) incorporate elements from physical sciences as well as life sciences . An important aspect of the MSI secondary field is the laboratory component, which provides hands-on experiential learning to all students.

Requirements: 6 half-courses

  1. Two MSI cornerstone courses. All secondary field students will take LS 110: A Microbial World and LS 100r: Microbial Sciences Laboratory Projects or OEB 100: Evolution in Action. Other research project courses, such as those numbered 91r or 99r, may be allowed to substitute for LS 100r, if they have the appropriate microbial emphasis. No substitutions will be accepted for LS 110.

  2. One introductory half course. All secondary field students will take one approved introductory half-course below the 100 level. The eligible courses will be selected from departmental offerings in FAS that contain material relevant to providing a foundation in microbial sciences. Examples include EPS 8: History of the Earth, CHEM 27: Molecules of Life, MCB 52: Molecular Biology. A list of approved courses is available on the MSI website.

  3. Three additional MSI half-courses at the 100-level or above. A list of acceptable courses is available on the MSI website. Examples include EPS 137: Biogeochemistry, OEB 192: Microbial Evolution, HMS 209: Molecular Biology of Bacteria.

  4. MSI tutorial: non-credit. Students are encouraged, but not required, to attend the MSI chalk-talk series, which is offered every Friday from 8:45-9:30 am. The location is announced weekly at http://www.msi.harvard.edu/fridays.html.

Other Information

All courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to count toward secondary field credit, and normally C is the minimum acceptable grade. The only exception is approved Freshman Seminars, which are graded SAT/UNS.

Of the one introductory half-course and three additional MSI half-courses, two must be significantly outside the student's primary area of concentration, providing each student substantial interdisciplinary experience.

Some courses for MSI credit may have hidden prerequisites. Students should plan appropriately, as a prerequisite cannot be counted for MSI credit unless it satisfies requirement 2 above.

Students may receive credit for LS 100r twice and/or for LS 100r plus OEB 100. Students electing to do this may count one semester towards the Microbial Sciences secondary field and one towards their concentration, or they may count the second semester as one of their three 100-level electives in the secondary field. A single semester of LS 100r may not be double-counted.

Courses from study abroad or Harvard Summer School could count toward secondary field credit if approved by the MSI Steering Committee prior to the student's enrollment in these courses. The student must petition the MSI Steering Committee in the semester prior to their intended enrollment in such courses and must provide a syllabus or detailed course summary to the committee. A petition to retroactively consider substituting one relevant Freshman Seminar for one of the three 100-level elective courses also may be considered.  

Advising Resources and Expectations

Students will submit an MSI form to apply for the secondary field no later than the Study Card due date of their penultimate term. This application form is available on the MSI website. Hard copies are available from the MSI Education Coordinator. Additionally, students must file online with the Registrar's Office through the secondary fields web tool.

Students are encouraged to participate actively in all aspects of the MSI community. Secondary field students will be invited to all MSI events and activities. Undergraduate participation will provide opportunities to get acquainted with graduate students, post-docs, and members of the faculty.

Students interested in pursuing a secondary field in Microbial Sciences should contact MSI head tutor Ann Pearson (pearson@eps.harvard.edu, 617-384-8392, Hoffman Labs 303 ) or MSI education coordinator Christy Herren (herren@fas.harvard.edu, 617-495-8643).