Degree Requirements

In the first two years of the program, graduate students in Human Evolutionary Biology are required to take a proseminar in evolutionary theory (HEB 3200: Graduate Seminar in Human Evolutionary Biology) and to fulfill course requirements in the four foundation areas by taking one course in each of the four areas below. One of these courses would include the student’s primary research area.

  1. Human Evolution
  2. Genetics
  3. Physiology
  4. Behavior and Culture

An advanced statistics course is also required, unless waived by the faculty based on student’s academic preparation. Depending on the nature of the dissertation research to be undertaken, the faculty may prescribe additional skills, such as more quantitative skills, programming skills, advanced lab skills, or fluency in a field language.

Qualifying exams consist of the final exams in each of the four foundational areas (taken in the term that the course is given) plus a mock-NSF research proposal written and submitted in spring of the second year.



First two years: Coursework in the four identified foundation areas is taken during the first two years, in conjunction with courses that provide opportunities to begin research, and coursework to acquire the theoretical grounding and technical skills necessary to conduct the dissertation research later on. Qualifying exams in each foundation area are given at the end of the term in which the course is taken. The proseminar (HEB 3200) is usually taken in first year. A mock NSF research proposal is submitted by early April of the second year. The mock NSF proposal can but doesn’t have to be related to the student’s intended dissertation research topic.

Third Year: A thesis prospectus committee, appointed by the faculty in consultation with the student, usually by the fall term of the third year, ordinarily approves the student’s thesis prospectus by the end of the third year. After the thesis prospectus has been approved, third-year students prepare and submit grant proposals to relevant funding agencies (e.g., National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation, L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, etc.) to support their doctoral dissertation research.

Third, Fourth and Fifth (or Sixth) Years: Research and writing. During these years, students conduct the bulk of their doctoral dissertation research (lab and/or field research), data analysis, and write up chapters of their dissertation in the form of publishable papers. Students also do some teaching during these years.

Final Year: Completion and defense of the dissertation (with no teaching in the final year).



Other Points about the HEB PhD Program


Master of Arts (AM)

Human Evolutionary Biology PhD students may apply for a non-terminal Master's degree (AM) in their second or third year, after they have passed eight half-courses, including the proseminar and four foundation area courses, and have satisfactorily completed the mock-NSF requirement.


As part of their professional training, graduate students in Human Evolutionary Biology are expected to teach in one or more terms during their careers at Harvard, with assistance from the Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Normally, graduate students do not teach until the third year, and they do not teach in their final “dissertation write-up” year.

First-time teaching fellows must participate in the Bok Center teaching orientations.

Students in their third and fourth years have priority for teaching fellowship awards.


Upon admission, students are assigned two faculty advisors within the department based upon compatibility of research interests. After two years, a Thesis Prospectus Committee is formed which evolves into a Doctoral Dissertation Committee in later years. The faculty annually assess the progress of each student in the graduate program.