About the Immunology Graduate Program

Program Description


The purpose of the Immunology Program is to provide education leading to a Ph.D. in Immunology. This Program is under the responsibility of the Committee on Immunology at Harvard. The Committee includes over 130 faculty representing a broad area of research interests including transplantation, neuro-immunology, autoimmunity, stem cell biology, infection and immunity, human translational immunology, tumor immunology, immunobiology and mucosal immunity.


Click here to view the list of Immunology Faculty Members.


Our goal is to educate scientists in investigative and academic medicine, preparing them to contribute to immunological research with a full awareness of the potential impact of immunology. Our program combines an education in basic biology, a sophisticated training in immunology, and exposure to the immunological and non-immunological problems of disease.


The requirements for obtaining the Ph.D. degree are:


1) Course Work in Immunology plus electives, such as biochemistry, microbiology, genetics, cell biology, and/or tumor biology. Courses are typically completed within the first year. The students take courses mostly from the curriculum of Harvard Medical School or Harvard University. Click here to review Courses in Immunology.


2) Laboratory Rotations.  Each student must complete 3 laboratory rotations before selecting a dissertation lab. During rotations, the student learns different immunological methods and experimental approaches. The rotation through the laboratory also serves to orient the student in his/her choice of Dissertation project and Dissertation advisor. Click here to review Faculty Research Interests.


3) Teaching. During the second year of study, students receive course credit for serving as Teaching Assistants for an Immunology course in an unpaid position.


4) Preliminary Qualifying Exam (PQE). By the end of December of the second year, students must successfully complete a proposal-based preliminary qualifying exam (PQE). The goal of the PQE is to evaluate the student's potential and ability to think independently and creatively in laboratory experimentation. The written proposal will be presented to the exam committee in an oral presentation and defense format.


5) Research Project and a Dissertation Defense. The Dissertation Advisory Committee (DAC), along with the Dissertation Advisor, determines when sufficient laboratory work has been completed so that the student may begin to write the dissertation. For the defense, the candidate will give a public 1-hour seminar, prior to a private defense of the dissertation with the selected Examination Committee. Click here to view recent Dissertation topics.


The training facilities are extensive, including the facilities of various groups doing immunology research at Harvard University, Harvard Medical School and its hospitals. The major groups involved include: Departments of Microbiology and Immunobiology at Harvard Medical School, Departments of Medicine and Pathology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Israel Hospital and the Department of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Medical Center and the Harvard School of Public Health. Also available are the transplantation units and various biochemistry and molecular genetic laboratories. Each of these various units contain facilities for biochemical analysis, animal handling, gene cloning, etc.



The Ph.D. Program in Immunology at Harvard Medical School developed in 1974 when the Medical School decided to restructure its educational program in immunology. Immunology had acquired great strength in the various teaching hospitals and institutions affiliated with the Medical School, and there was a great need to create a structure that would integrate and coordinate the educational efforts. The Committee on Immunology was created with Dr. Albert Coons as its first chairman. In 1974, the Committee on Immunology was authorized by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of Harvard University to grant a Ph.D. degree in Immunology. The Committee then applied to the National Cancer Institute for a Training Grant which continues to support Immunology students today.


The strength of our Program is based on a multidisciplinary approach where students are exposed to all major areas in the expanding field of immunobiology. With the financial support of the National Institutes of Health, our Immunology Program has successfully developed with the creation of new courses and the organization of faculty efforts. The Immunology Program at Harvard Medical School became the model of an integrated educational program in a growing discipline that now spans several of the classical fields of medical biology (microbiology, genetics, pathology, clinical medicine, biochemistry, etc.). It is noteworthy that students are combining a strong training in immunobiology with an exposure to the basic aspects of biology.


The Graduate Program in Immunology now has a total of 60 students. Approximately 12 new students enter the program per year.


Over the past four decades, over 275 students have graduated from our program.


Address and Contact Information


Harvard Graduate Program in Immunology

Harvard Medical School

Jeffrey Modell Immunology Center, Room 100D

Boston, MA 02115


(617) 432-4057


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Student Body

2014-2015 Enrollment


Total Enrollment: 72

Average Size of Incoming Class: 10

Average Time to Degree:

Ph.D. Students: 5.89 years

M.D./Ph.D. Students: 4.28 years


Women: 38 (53%)

Men: 24 (47%)


Underrepresented Minority: 7 (10%)


Domestic: 51 (71%)

International: 21 (29%)


PhD: 65 (90%)

MD-PhD: 7 (10%)


© 2015 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College