Why MIT Biology?

Student in lab coat pipetting

Graduate training at MIT Biology is an intense and collaborative program designed to provide students with the research and communication skills required for a successful career as a scientist.

What makes our program special:

But don’t take our word for it. Hear what our students have to say.

The office of institutional research provides admission, demographic, and time-to-degree data for MIT programs. Learn more.

Hear Grad Students Tell Their Stories

Biology Graduate Admissions and COVID-19

In response to the challenges of teaching, learning, and assessing academic performance during the global COVID-19 pandemic, we have adopted the following principle: our admissions committee will take into account the significant disruptions that the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020-2021 has had on our applicants. This will factor into how we review students’ transcripts and other admissions materials. This is consistent with our long-standing practice of performing individualized, holistic reviews of each applicant.

In particular, as we review applications now and in the future, we will respect decisions regarding the adoption of Pass/No Record (or Credit/No Credit or Pass/Fail) and other grading options during the unprecedented period of COVID-19 disruptions, whether those decisions were made by institutions or by individual students. We will also take into account lost research opportunities during the pandemic.

Ultimately, even in these challenging times, our goal remains to form graduate student cohorts that are collectively excellent and composed of outstanding individuals who will support and challenge one another.

“MIT Biology encourages graduate students to get a flavor of different sub-areas within biology, and that was the fit that I was looking for. I have come to realize that the program is all I expected and so much more.”
Shalini Gupta, Bell Lab

Broadening Participation

We are strongly committed to promoting diversity and inclusion as one of our core missions. We welcome and encourage talented individuals of all cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientations, including individuals with disabilities, to apply to our graduate program. Our faculty value teaching and mentoring and are committed to providing a supportive, caring, and inclusive environment for all students. The department sponsors multiple programs and activities to promote community building and to encourage open communication between students and faculty.

In addition to department level efforts, MIT has a number of dedicated offices and student organizations as well as substantial infrastructure to support and serve a diverse student population with a spectrum of needs.

View Graduate Program Diversity Stats

“There’s a culture of collaboration and multidisciplinary research. A lot of the best ideas I’ve had came from talking to my labmates and leveraging their knowledge.”
Lauren Cote PhD ’19, Reddien Lab

First-Year program

The first-year program provides rigorous coursework that teaches fundamental concepts and approaches to research; students engage with peers studying core subjects. Most first year students take four subjects in the fall semester and three subjects in the spring semester in addition to participating in spring lab rotations.

As a first-year student, you will be assigned a faculty mentor with whom you will meet regularly to discuss subjects, lab selection, graduate student life, overall progress, and any concerns.

You will get broad exposure to our department and ongoing research before choosing your rotations and your thesis lab.

Lab rotations

  • An introduction to lab environments and research in our department.
  • In January of your first year, talks presented by each faculty member, poster sessions, and individual meetings with faculty will introduce you to the range of available research options.
  • During your second semester, you will sample different lab environments and styles during three four-week laboratory rotations.
  • After completing three rotations, you will choose a lab by the end of May and begin full-time research.

Course work

Core Curriculum

Our subjects are designed to strengthen your scientific background, provide broad training in the approaches and concepts of modern biology, and expose you to contemporary thinking in specific fields.

Required subjects:

One of the following subjects focused on computational and quantitative biology:


Elective subjects are chosen from a wide range of topics offered in either lecture or seminar format.

View the Course Catalog

“The courses-only first semester and introduction to the faculty during IAP create a tight-knit cohort of graduate students, integrating them into the greater biology community.”
Gunter Sissoko, Cheeseman Lab

Additional Requirements and Training

After the first year, your focus will be on learning to perform rigorous research and to develop new project ideas or directions, and you will have opportunities to present your work in informal and formal settings. In addition, we require the following:

Responsible Conduct in Research Training

Instruction in the responsible conduct of research (RCR) is integrated into student experiences throughout our training program, however, during your second year, you will complete 7.935 Responsible Conduct in Research. This course involves interactive discussions led by students on a set of topics that change in response to both student input and the changing landscape of Biology.

Qualifying Exam

For your qualifying exam you will submit a proposal describing a research project related to your interests, and defend this proposal before a small group of faculty. This allows you to hone your communication skills and to demonstrate an understanding of the intent and intellectual foundations of your thesis research.

Teaching Assistantships

All graduate students are required to serve as a teaching assistant for two semesters to improve communication and interaction skills that are essential for success in any career. Students typically complete this requirement with one semester in year 2 and one semester in year 4.

Individual Development Plans

All students in their second year and above are required to complete the Individual Development Plan (IDP) process and submit a signed form to the Biology Education Office. This process is designed to help students self-evaluate their progress and goals and then discuss these and other issues with their advisors and other mentors. Second-year students complete the IDP by October 31. Third-year students and above complete the IDP by May 31.

Departmental Colloquium

All first-year students are expected to attend departmental colloquium on Tuesdays from 4-5 PM.

Science and Society Series

In January, the graduate committee organizes a series of lectures and discussion focused on understanding and exploring the current and historical intersections of class, race, and gender with scientific research. This series is open to all departmental members, but first year graduate students are required to attend and participate in the discussion.

Professional Development Requirement

Students entering the program in 2019 and beyond are required to complete 24 hours of professional development training before graduation. This requirement can be completed in a variety of ways, including participation in career info sessions offered by the department and MIT, attendance at scientific meetings, and participation in a biology-related internship.