Courses and Requirements

The DRB requirements are simple and adhere to three basic principles. First, all DRB students must adhere to the requirements of the BBS program. Second, all DRB students must engage in coursework and research that will enhance their understanding of fundamental questions in developmental and regenerative biology. Finally, all DRB students should participate enthusiastically and regulary in the extra-curricular opportunities created by DRB.

Below is a bulleted list of key requirements to keep in mind as you organize your graduate career.


All students who participate in DRB must be students of the Biological and Biomedical (BBS) graduate program, and must fulfill program requirements. The BBS program requires that all students take 8 full-semester courses to complete your degree. These 8 courses can be completed by taking half-courses, quarter courses and nanocourses:

Half Courses – Half courses are semester-length, lecture-based courses that are at the introductory level. (Full courses are taught at the undergraduate Cambridge campus and span two semesters). All half courses offered through DMS fulfill the BBS requirements. However, half courses through FAS may be considered too beginner for graduate students to receive credit. Please ask DMSBBS, or the DRB administration about whether an FAS course fulfills the BBS requirement.

Quarter Courses – Quarter courses are upper-level reading courses that focus on a very specific topic and meet once a week for half a semester. They are designed to give students ample exposure to the seminal and current literature within a certain sub-discipline. Two quarter courses are the credit equivalent of one half course. To answer even more questions, see a current list of quarter courses or to register for one, please visit this site.

Nanocourses – Nanocourses are six-hour long courses which have both a lecture and discussion component. Because of their abbreviated nature, nanocourses cover a very specific and current topic in biomedical sciences. Six nanocourses are the equivalent of one half-course. Please check with BBS on how many nanocourses can be used to fulifill BBS course requirements. To answer even more questions, see a current list of nanocourses or to register for one, go to

Required Courses for DRB

In addition to the BBS required courses we require all DRB students to complete either DRB 330qc (Experimental approaches to Developmental Biology) or DRB 331hc (Critical Anlaysis and Experimental Approaches in Developmental Biology) in their G1 or G2 year. DRB Boot Camp courses are open to all first-year students, but priority will be given to those who are interested in the DRB track. 

These courses, which span 2 weeks during mid-January, are organized into "mini-rotations" in which students spend a day or more in a number of labs across the Harvard campuses and affiliated hospitals. In these settings, students are able to engage with faculty and develop a working sense of the tools, techniques, and methods used in their research. For further information please visit the course i-site here

Typically, DRB Boot Camp is limited to first-year students; G2s are also encouraged to take the course. Students beyond their first year who are interested in the course must seek permission of the course director prior to registration.

Reccomended Courses for DRB

The DRB program also offers the following courses of interest to our students:

Cell Biology 207: Vertebrate Developmental Biology 
Cell Biology 226: Concepts in Development, Self-renewal and Repair
We also strongly urge DRB students to take Genetics 201: Principles of Genetics; BCMP 200: Molecular Biology; and Cell Biology 201: Molecular Biology of the Cell.

For a list of all suggested courses for the DRB, please click here.

We encourage our students to engage in the intellectual life of the university throughout their graduate careers, and reccomend that our students take at least one nanocourse per semester.

Go here for a complete listing of all courses offered through the Division of Medical Sciences (DMS). You can also take courses through FAS.

Remember that the rest of the course requirements can be filled with quarter courses and nanocourses in addition to full-semester or half-courses. View our Program Overview page.

DRB Student Commitment Form
To become an official DRB student and be eligible for certain opportunities and awards, you need to complete a DRB Student Commitment Form in the summer following your G1 year. Click here to download.

DRB Faculty Adviser
Students who have decided to join the DRB will be assigned a DRB faculty adviser (this adviser is distinct from the Program Adviser assigned via BBS). The DRB faculty adviser will serve as a secondary mentor who will help guide students through the program at all levels and can address questions about research interests, curriculum, and extracurricular development opportunities (e.g., data/journal clubs and seminar series). Each student in DRB will thus have mentor that is available to them throughout their graduate careers, and perhaps beyond. Assignment of a DRB adviser will be mutually agreed upon by both the student and the DRB Director.

Preliminary Qualifying Exam
The preliminary qualifying exam ior PQE is taken in Spring of your G2 year. Go to the BBS website to download a PQE Proposal Form.

One semester of non-paid teaching assistant is required by the BBS program. To fulfill this requirement, the DRB recommends that its students work with DRB faculty in related courses. However, there are other ways to fulfill this requirement. Go to the BBS website to learn more about the Community Education Initiative.

Extracurricular Activities
It is essential that DRB students hone skills necessary for success away from the bench. These include presentation skills, networking and collaboration. We have devised some exciting and unique ways to practice these skills. As such, DRB students are expected to participate in DRB Data-Journal Club once per year (junior students will present papers and also to give a research presentation once a year (for example, senior students can give this in DRB Data-Journal Club). Other DRB activities include interviewing faculty and students for Highlights on the website, attending DRB Faculty Seminars (and introducing a speaker!), and participating in retreats, symposia, and other DRB events. Visit our recurring activities page or find out about opportunities to advance your career and have fun doing it!

Dissertation Defense
If you are reading this section, then congraulations! You have survived and are ready to prepare to defend your dissertation. To prepare for this exciting time vist at the BBS website and read the section on 'Dissertation Preparation and Defense'. This is also a good time to talk with your PI and DRB faculty advisor about plans for after graduation. Finally, once you have your defense date set, let us know. We will make an announcement on the DRB website and help you celebrate.

Am I on the right track?
DRB cares about you and we want you to succeed (it makes us look good). So to make it easier for our students to figure out if they are on the right track, we have come up with a list of skills and accomplishments that you should use to self-assess your progress. If you feel you are lacking in any of these areas, then let your advisors know! We will work to make sure that you leave our program a well-rounded scientist of the highest caliber.


For a year by year list of checkpoints so that you can assess your own progress, please see this chart.