MCB To Revamp Requirements, Programming, and Concentration Name

The Molecular and Cellular Biology concentration will revamp its requirements and extracurricular programming to allow concentrators greater flexibility and incorporate recent “astonishing changes in biomedical research,” MCB head tutors Susan Mango and Rachelle Gaudet announced in an email to concentrators on Monday.

MCB, one of the nine concentrations that make up the Life Sciences cluster, will also undergo a name change to reflect these revisions, which, along with the other changes, will take effect this coming fall. Mango and Gaudet will solicit recommendations from faculty, concentrators, and other members of the Harvard community as they search for a “more accurate name,” Mango said.

“We thought it would be fun to change it because we have made such sweeping changes to the concentration,” Mango said. “We will crowdsource to get suggestions and then think about what would be a good descriptor of our new curriculum.”

The culmination of a year and a half’s work, the revisions to MCB’s course offerings aim to emphasize the link between basic research and its practical applications to biomedicine and human disease. Updates to the MCB programming follow the release of the Life Sciences Review, an evaluation of the cluster six years after its formation.

To increase flexibility for concentrators, MCB will offer a modified gateway course for sophomores in the fall, MCB 60: “Cellular Biology and Molecular Medicine,” which will replace MCB 52: “Molecular Biology.” Instead of requiring concentrators to take MCB 54: “Cell Biology,” concentrators can choose from a broader selection of four intermediate courses, which will make up the newly created MCB 60 series. Each class will have a slightly different disciplinary focus, ranging from cell biology to physical biochemistry.


“We’re trying to provide a spectrum of options that progressively increases, so there is more flexibility in the new curriculum,” Gaudet said.

The new MCB concentration will also accept summer research experience for credit instead of the current system, in which all concentrators are required to complete term-time research.

“We’ve realized we have so many outstanding summer programs, and summer programs are full-time immersion into research,” Gaudet said. “They are just as valuable as a course where you spend a quarter of your time immersed in research.”

Since they no longer need to take a research class during the semester, concentrators will have an opportunity to take an additional intermediate, advanced, or research course, further increasing the amount of choice students have in their plan of study. Recognizing summer research for academic credit will also encourage students to take advantage of well-established fellowships like the Harvard College Program for Research in Science and Engineering and other approved programs.

“Having a summer experience is more than equal to a term-time research position,” MCB concentrator Yucheng Pan ’15 said.

In addition to academic changes, MCB will also provide greater extracurricular opportunities for students to engage with related areas of biology and the MCB community. Concentration advisors will work to facilitate student-faculty relationships through dinners in undergraduate houses and other mentorship events. Mango and Gaudet cited movie nights and debates about conflicting research papers as examples of related new programming.

“We want students to have the skill of being able to keep current,” Mango said. “It’s the informed citizen concept, whether they become scientists, or doctors, or go into policy.”

—Staff writer Jessica A. Barzilay can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jessicabarzilay.


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