Life Sciences Cluster Releases Student Handbook for Undergraduate Research

With options at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health as well as undergraduate courses and extracurricular organizations, the opportunities for research available to students of the life sciences at Harvard make the first hurdle to involvement not “if” but “how” to begin. To address this obstacle facing concentrators, the Life Sciences cluster of nine concentrations released its first official Student Handbook for Undergraduates in Life Sciences Research this semester.

Co-authored by life sciences undergraduate research adviser Ann B. Georgi and assistant director of undergraduate studies in Molecular and Cellular Biology Thomas Torello, the handbook was written as a companion to a faculty guidebook for advising undergraduate research. The student guide answers questions about how to begin research, find funding, and identify relevant projects.

“The student handbook answers a lot of the questions students come to us with when they’re looking for research,” Georgi said.

The life sciences cluster, which includes biomedical engineering, chemistry, chemical and physical biology, human developmental and regenerative biology, human evolutionary biology, MCB, neurobiology, organismic and evolutionary biology, and social and cognitive neurosciences, has grown to include almost 1,000 undergraduate concentrators. Interest in research has mounted at a similar pace, bringing with it a deluge of questions about advising, funding, and laboratory opportunities.

“No matter what you end up doing in life, [research] is what science is all about,” said Robert A. Lue, director of life sciences education.


A panel of representatives from each of the concentrations, led by Georgi and Torello, identified the key themes amongst student concerns and compiled the handbook as a centralized “roadmap to the life sciences,” said Sujata K. Bhatia, assistant director of undergraduate studies for Biomedical Engineering.

“Research gets at one of our core learning objectives for all of the life sciences concentrations,” Bhatia said. “It is important for students to be able to solve open-ended problems and generate new knowledge like they do in labs.”

Bhatia added that centralizing research resources in this handbook is also a means of emphasizing the “cluster” and demonstrates the unity of all the life sciences. Most of the nine life sciences concentrations require at least a semester of research experience from their students, but the handbook also addresses ways non-science concentrators can join projects and labs.

“We feel very good that any student, even outside the Life Sciences, who wants to have a lab experience will have one,” Torello said.

The guide will be printed this week but can also be found online, where it will continue to be updated as new questions and concerns arise.

—Staff writer Jessica A. Barzilay can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jessicabarzilay.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 27, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ann B. Georgi is a life sciences research administrator. In fact, she is an undergraduate research adviser for life sciences.