Curriculum & Core Subjects

The CSB Ph.D. curriculum has two components: the core subjects and advanced electives. Core subjects provide foundational knowledge of both biology and computational biology. Advanced electives are chosen by each student to generate a customized program of study, in close consultation with members of the CSB Ph.D. Graduate Committee and the student's thesis advisor. The goal is to allow students broad latitude in defining their individual area of interest, but at the same time to provide oversight and guidance to ensure that they receive rigorous and thorough training.

Core Subjects

The core curriculum consists of three classroom subjects plus a set of four two-month rotations in different research groups. The classroom subjects fall into three areas:

Topics in Computational and Systems Biology (One Subject): All first-year students in the program are required to participate in this literature-based exploration of current research frontiers and paradigms. Papers for discussion are selected from a broad range of topics in computational and systems biology, with an emphasis on the integration of experimental and computational approaches to understanding complex biological systems. This subject is limited to students in the CSB Ph.D. Program in order to build a strong community among the class. It is the only subject in the program with such a limitation. 

CSB.100 Topics in Computational and Systems Biology

Modern Biology (One Subject):

A semester of modern graduate-level biology at MIT strengthens the biology base of all students in the program. Subjects in molecular biology, neurobiology, biochemistry, or genetics fulfill this requirement. The particular course taken by each student will depend on his or her background and will be determined in consultation with members of the CSB Ph.D. Graduate Committee. Subjects that can fulfill the biology requirement for the CSB Ph.D. degree include:

Principles of Biochemical Analysis (7.51)

Genetics for Graduate Students (7.52)

Molecular Biology (7.58)

Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience: The Brain and Cognitive Sciences III (7.68/9.013J)

Computational Biology (One Subject): 

Foundations of Computational and Systems Biology (20.490J) fulfills this requirement. This subject takes a comprehensive view of computational biology, giving broad coverage to the field with emphasis on sequence, structure, and systems analysis. The focus is on the fundamental basis for current tools, rather than merely on how to use them. Please see website for course specifics.

An approved substitute for 20.490 is 6.878/HST.507 J Advanced Computational Biology: Genomes, Networks, Evolution. This course additionally examines recent publications in the areas covered, with research-style assignments. A more substantial final project is expected, which can lead to a thesis and publication


Research Group Rotations (three rotations):

To assist students with lab selection and provide exposure to a range of research activities in computational and systems biology, students are required to participate in three research rotations during their first year. Through this process, students gain experience in both experimental and computational approaches from different disciplines. Prior to choosing first lab rotations, students can learn about the many labs here on campus through faculty talks occurring early in the fall semester.