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 three 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 Fall 2020, VIRTUAL

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) Fall 2020, VIRTUAL

Genetics for Graduate Students (7.52) Fall 2020, VIRTUAL

Molecular Biology (7.58) Spring

Eukaryotic Cell Biology: Principles and Practice (7.61/20.561J) Fall 2020, VIRTUAL

Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience Core II (7.68/9.013J) Spring

Computational Biology (One Subject): 

Foundations of Computational and Systems Biology (20.490) 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. Spring 2021

There are three approved substitutes for 20.490.  

  1.  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, Fall 2020, VIRTUAL
  2. 7.81/8.591 J Systems Biology  This graduate level course explores more in depth cellular and population-level systems with an emphasis on synthetic biology, modeling of genetic networks, cell-cell interactions, and evolutionary dynamics. Fall 2020, VIRTUAL
  3. 6.874/HST. 506J Computational Systems Biology: Deep Learning in the Life Sciences Presents innovative approaches to computational problems in the life sciences, focusing on deep learning-based approaches with comparisons to conventional methods. Not offered 2020-2021

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.

CSB.110 Research Rotations in Computational and Systems Biology