Summer Course: Investigations of Human Disease: ME728
Summer: July 2 - July 26, 2024

The MD-PhD Program summer course, Investigations of Human Disease, directed by Dr. Cammie Lesser, is required of all entering MD-PhD students. It is a critical reading course taken concurrently with the first research rotation preceding the first year of the program. The course is focused on a particular area of research. The areas are chosen to represent a cross-section of science at Harvard and to reflect the expertise of a select group of HMS faculty chosen for their teaching excellence. Many of the faculty members hold M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, making them excellent role models for the entering students. In addition, the course content is carefully integrated with the subject areas of the major graduate programs represented among the current MD-PhD student body, including the four DMS graduate programs, Harvard Biophysics and MIT Biology.

The course spans approximately four weeks from July 2, 2024 to July 26, 2024, meeting Tues/Wed the first week and then Monday,Wednesday,and Friday thereafter from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. The intervening day or weekend gives students a chance to prepare for the discussions and to integrate their coursework with their laboratory rotation. The first hour and a half of each class consists of a discussion of one to two papers, assigned for critical reading, that are relevant to the previous course day's lecture. These discussions, which are led by two students each, are also attended by the faculty member who assigned the paper(s) and by Dr. Cammie Lesser, Course Director.

Following the class discussion, students are presented with a lecture that provides didactic content in the form of key principles and examples. While most faculty give lectures with slides, the lecture format also includes blackboard presentations, videos, and in one session pertinent to cancer genetics, hands-on examination of pathological tumor specimens. Students are encouraged to ask questions and make comments during the lectures. Before the end of each class, faculty members give a brief introduction to the paper(s) they have assigned for the next class discussion, including an explanation of any new methods. Thus, the students are well prepared to consider the assigned papers, in terms of both their knowledge ease and their appreciation of the paper's position in its field. The discussions consider issues such as experimental design and logic, controls, and interpretation of data, as well as the paper's conclusions. Some papers are deliberately chosen because they contain flaws.

Evaluations of each session are solicited from both students and faculty. Camaraderie among the entering class allows students to interact closely with outstanding faculty role models and each other. The course also hones the students' critical reading skills and provides a view into career possibilities for physician-scientists.