About the HEB PhD

A Message From the Department Chair


Welcome! Virtually unique in the world, Harvard’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology is built around a fundamental question: “What makes us human?” We represent a bold effort to create a new field that integrates insights, methods and evidence from across the natural and social sciences. Together, we are constructing a broad evolutionary framework that explores our species’ deep history, genetics, physiology, anatomy, psychology, culture and behavior. In both our laboratories and far-flung field sites, from the Congo Basin to the Fijian archipelago, our faculty, post-docs and students study an immense diversity of topics, ranging from the crucial interconnections between our cooking practices, microbiome and physiology to what the domestication of wolves into dogs can teach us about human brain evolution

Alongside our core questions, many members of our department are also interested in why evolution matters for practical and policy issues. Key questions revolve around health, exercise, immunity, innovation and the construction of more effective institutions.

As a highly interdisciplinary enterprise focused on building a holistic picture of our species, we embrace and encourage diversity in all its forms and cultivate a free exchange of ideas. In our research, we integrate insights on contemporary biology, physiology, genetics, anatomy and behavior from around the globe and well back into our evolutionary past. In building our community of scientists, including our students, we actively seek to expand our diversity, seeking people from different backgrounds, countries, cultures, experience and training. Together, such diversity builds what I’ve called the Collective Brain, which drives more rapid innovation and deeper insight. If you come from an underrepresented background and are interested in HEB, we strongly encourage you to you contact us and consider applying!

HEB is proud to continue a century-long tradition of training the future leaders in understanding humans from an evolutionary perspective. Our graduate students receive generous funding for their entire degree program and get hands-on training in teaching and both laboratory and field-based research. In addition to the extraordinary resources within the department, HEB graduate students also benefit from the unparalleled resources of Harvard University, including strong collaborations with departments such as Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Economics and Psychology as well as the Broad Institute, Harvard Medical School, Kennedy School and the Peabody Museum.

-Joseph Henrich, Department Chair, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology


About the HEB Doctoral Degree

The objective of the PhD program in Human Evolutionary Biology is to provide students with comprehensive training necessary to address the question “How did evolution make humans the way they are?” Our interdisciplinary approach thus includes field and laboratory programs in many sub-disciplines including:

  • Reproductive endocrinology
  • Human behavioral biology and ecology
  • Ape behavioral ecology and biology
  • Human and primate paleobiology
  • Experimental biomechanics
  • Human physiology
  • Genetics and genomics of humans and primates
  • Developmental biology
  • Human and non-human primate cognition

HEB welcomes PhD candidates from diverse backgrounds, including undergraduate degrees in biology or anthropology. HEB’s PhD program is typically six years. The first two years are a combination of classwork and research. Ordinarily, students define a PhD topic in the third year, and then finish by the sixth year.

All HEB students receive five years of full funding, including tuition and stipend plus substantial departmental support for research. Training to teach is also an important component of the PhD.