Welcome to the MIT Computational and Systems Biology PhD Program (CSB)

The program seeks to train a new breed of quantitative biologists who can take advantage of technologies at the leading edge of science and engineering to tackle fundamental and applied problems in biology. Our students acquire: (i) a background in modern molecular/cell biology; (ii) a foundation in quantitative/engineering disciplines to enable them to create new technologies as well as apply existing methods; and (iii) exposure to subjects emphasizing application of quantitative approaches to biological problems.  Our program and courses emphasize the logic of scientific discovery rather than mastering a specific set of skills or facts.  The program includes teaching experience during one semester of the second year.  It prepares students with the tools needed to succeed in a variety of academic and non-academic careers.

The program is highly selective with typical class sizes 8 to 10 students. About half of our graduate students are women, about one quarter are international students, and about 10% are under-represented minorities.

Students complete most coursework during the first year, while exploring research opportunities through 1- or 2-month research rotations.  A faculty academic advisor assigned in the first year provides guidance and advice. Students choose a research advisor in spring or early summer of year 1 and develop a Ph.D. research project in with their advisor and input from a thesis committee chosen by the student.

Average time to graduation is 5½ years. 

The Program in CSB is committed to increasing opportunities for under-represented minority graduate students and students who have experienced financial hardship or disability.

Latest News:

New model helps identify mutations that drive cancer

June 20, 2022

Image: Dylan Burnette and Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, National Institutes of Health, edited by MIT News

The system rapidly scans the genome of cancer cells, could help researchers find targets for new drugs.

Cancer cells can have thousands of mutations in their DNA. However, only a handful of those actually drive the progression of cancer; the rest are just along for the ride.

Distinguishing these harmful driver mutations from the neutral passengers could help researchers identify better drug targets. To boost those efforts, an MIT-led team has built a new computer model that can rapidly scan the entire genome of cancer cells and identify mutations that occur more frequently than expected, suggesting that they are driving tumor growth. This type of prediction has been challenging because some genomic regions have an extremely high frequency of passenger mutations, drowning out the signal of actual drivers.

“We created a probabilistic, deep-learning method that allowed us to get a really accurate model of the number of passenger mutations that should exist anywhere in the genome,” says Maxwell Sherman, an MIT graduate...

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