Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Life Sciences for Graduate Students

Areas of Study in Life Sciences for Graduate Students at MIT

Aeronautics and Astronautics

The Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics has strong connections to the life sciences through research in the diverse fields of aerospace biomedical engineering, human factors, aviation energy and environment, and planetary science. In the areas of aerospace biomedical engineering and human factors, researchers aim to optimize human-vehicle system safety and effectiveness by improving understanding of human physiological and cognitive capabilities, and developing appropriate countermeasures and evidence-based engineering design criteria. Research in the Partnership for Air Transportation Noise & Emission Reduction (PARTNER) Center of Excellence includes studies of alternative fuels, including biofuels, for aircraft and their environmental impacts as well as aviation climate and air quality impacts. In the Space Systems Laboratory, researchers study the atmospheres and ionospheres of Solar System planets with spacecraft radio systems and are investigating the use of space-based instrumentation to search for and characterize exoplanets (planets around other stars).

Biological Engineering

The mission of Biological Engineering (BE) is to educate leaders, and to generate and communicate new knowledge at the interface of engineering with biology. Our focus at this interface is on combining quantitative, physical, and integrative principles with advances in modern biology. Graduate level training in BE prepares students to do basic research that will: • Increase understanding of how biological systems function in terms of physical/chemical mechanisms, and of how they respond when perturbed by external factors including medical therapeutics and environmental agents. • Create novel technologies based on this understanding for a spectrum of applications emphasizing, but not limited to, human health from both medical and environmental perspectives. • Generate new biology-based paradigms for solving problems in non-biological applications of science and engineering.


The MIT Biology graduate program teaches students the intellectual, research and communication skills essential for a career as an independent scientist. The first year is structured for students with diverse academic and research experiences, providing them with a deep foundation in the principles and experimental approaches used in modern biology research through a combination of classes and lab rotations. Subsequently students pursue research projects in one of more than 60 labs headed by world renowned scientists.

Biophysics Graduate Certificate Program

The Biophysics Certificate Program is open to any graduate student who is already enrolled in a graduate program at MIT, and allows graduate students to pursue study in the exciting interdisciplinary field of biophysics in addition to their area of specialization.

Brain and Cognitive Sciences

MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences stands at the nexus of systems, cellular, computational and cognitive neuroscience. We combine these disciplines to study specific aspects of the brain: vision, movement systems, learning and memory, neural and cognitive development, language and reasoning. Our graduates gain interdisciplinary expertise, tools, and techniques to address and answer fundamental questions about how the brain works.

Chemical Engineering

The Ph.D. program in Chemical Engineering is intended for the student who is interested in obtaining a thorough grounding in the fundamental principles of chemical engineering and applying these principles to chemical or biological systems in an intensive research project. Approximately half of the students do research in biological projects, which may be directed at molecular-level processes, single cells, tissues, organs, organisms, and large-scale manufacturing in biotech processes. Research areas include tissue engineering, drug delivery systems, biomaterials, biosensors, immunology, biomedical devices, biochemical engineering, bionanotechnology, biotechnology, metabolic engineering, biofuels, biocatalysis, bioinformatics, biopharmaceuticals, protein engineering, and synthetic biology.


Chemistry graduate students working at the interface with biological sciences and engineering investigate the molecular workings of living organisms. In the course of their doctoral research, students will learn general biochemical principles and acquire training in some of the specialized techniques of their field. Among a variety of research topics, graduate students synthesize biologically active molecules, probe the mechanisms of biochemical reactions using chemical and physical probes, use chemical genetics to probe systems-level regulation of biochemical networks, design novel materials to be used in medical technology, and develop theoretical and computational models for phenomena ranging from protein folding to the immunological response.

Civil and Environmental Engineering (Environmental Microbiology)

The CEE Environmental Microbiology research group investigates environmental microbiology and microbial ecology and evolution using modern molecular, genomic and computational approaches. Aquatic ecosystems are a particular focus of the group, but studies are wide-ranging and include marine plankton, sediments, animal-microbial systems, the human microbiome, and deep-subsurface microbial habitats.

Computational and Systems Biology

The Computational and Systems Biology (CSB) Ph.D. Program prepares students to become independent, interdisciplinary researchers in post-genomic biology - including computational biology, systems biology and related fields. The program integrates coursework and research opportunities in biology, engineering, mathematics, and computer science with interdisciplinary courses in computational and systems biology. There is a strong focus on quantitative methods and modeling, experimental design and device development, and graduates of the program are uniquely prepared to develop original methods, make discoveries, and establish new paradigms.

Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

Graduate students seeking to investigate biological interactions with the environment can pursue degrees through programs in EAPS and the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) Joint Program in Oceanography. Students in these programs research geochemical and geological expressions of microbial metabolisms in modern and pastenvironments, the origin of major evolutionary events such as mass extinctions, and the influence of biological processes on climate and global chemical cycles. Through consultation with a department committee and a personal faculty advisor with mutual research interests, each student develops a specialized program of study and research tailored to his or her background, needs, and goals.

HST - Health, Sciences and Technology

The Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST) is a unique collaboration that integrates science, medicine and engineering to solve problems in human health. The doctoral program in Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) trains students as engineers or physical scientists who also have extensive knowledge of the medical sciences. Students gain this varied expertise through a curriculum that integrates a thorough graduate education in a classical discipline of engineering or physical science, in depth medical training through preclinical coursework and clinical experiences, and an interdisciplinary research project performed in labs at MIT, Harvard, and/or local academic medical centers.

Materials Science and Engineering

The field of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) researches all classes of materials (metals, ceramics, electronic materials, and biomaterials) from a unified viewpoint and with an emphasis on the connections between the underlying structure and the processing, properties, and performance of the material. All DMSE graduate students complete four core classes, considered the essential basis of what all materials scientists need to know, before pursuing electives and starting their thesis research. MSE can encompass and work with the life sciences, in areas as varied as batteries made by self-assembled viruses; medical research such as vaccines, drug-delivery systems, implants, and surgical instruments; and environmental issues related to recycling, materials processing, or water quality.

Mechanical Engineering

Our mission is to develop and implement programs that use engineering approaches to elucidate the integrative mechanics of living systems and to develop technologies that interact with living matter. This encompasses activities at multiple length scales, from molecules to cells to tissues to organisms.

Microbiology Program

The Graduate PhD Program in Microbiology is an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary program at MIT. MIT has a long-standing tradition of excellence in microbiological research, and there are over 50 faculty from approximately 10 different departments and divisions who study or use microbes in significant ways in their research. The graduate program in microbiology aims to integrate educational resources across the participating departments to build an educational community for training students in the study of microbial systems. The graduate training program aims to attract and train a talented group of students interested in a range of aspects of microbiology. The program will provide students a broad exposure to underlying elements of modern microbiological research and engineering, and will provide depth in specific areas of microbiology during the student's thesis work.

Nuclear Science and Engineering

The Department of Nuclear Science & Engineering provides educational opportunities for students interested in advancing the frontiers of nuclear science and engineering, including advanced technology for diagnostic radiology, such as brain imaging, and for radiation therapy. Department faculty and staff are pursuing new modalities of radiological techniques, such as functional nuclear magnetic resonance, and more sensitive detectors to enable greater understanding of biological systems.


The field of biophysics has experienced tremendous growth and excitement in recent years. The Physics Department at MIT provides an opportunity to combine a rigorous training in physics together with an interdisciplinary approach to modern problems in biophysics. Graduate students in the Department benefit from an interactive and supportive intellectual community.

Sloan MBA with a Health Care Focus

STS- Science, Technology, and Society

MIT's doctoral program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS) is widely recognized as one of the best of its type in the world. Co-sponsored by STS, the Anthropology Program, and the History Faculty, it is a flagship program in the humanities at MIT.

WHOI Joint Program

Biological Oceanography is one of 5 disciplines offered through the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Sciences & Engineering. It is the study of life in the oceans – the distribution, abundance, and production of marine species along with the processes that govern species' spread and development. Students and scientists in many disciplines work together with a unified goal of understanding the interactions among organisms and between organisms & the environment, offering a unique opportunity for training & research in areas that combine different approaches to the study of biological oceanography.

Writing and Humanistic Studies

The MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing teaches the art and discipline of science writing for the general public, leading to a one-year master's degree. Students in the program come from a variety of backgrounds and undergraduate degrees, including the life sciences. The required curriculum includes two electives, to help accommodate the wide range of education and experience of our students. Students will often take science courses of particular interest, such as the life sciences, that will enrich his or her writing.