Students Express Excitement About New Biology Concentrations

Like many undergraduate premeds at Harvard, both Matthew D. Henriques ’13 and Brian L. Butler ’12 are intrigued by research in cutting-edge biological fields.

And in their own way, both Henriques and Butler are themselves “guinea pigs,” having each chosen one of Harvard’s two newest science concentrations.

Butler is studying Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, a concentration officially implemented in the fall of 2009 which focuses heavily on the potential for stem cell research.

Henriques, meanwhile, is studying Biomedical Engineering, Harvard’s first subject-specific engineering concentration, which was announced last spring and introduced this past fall.

Though these two concentrations ostensibly share many qualities—both engage with timely and well-publicized scientific issues, and both have strong appeal for  premeds—they have produced extremely different results in their debuts.

HDRB has attracted 95 concentrators from the sophomore and junior classes, making it one of Harvard’s more popular biology majors.

Biomedical Engineering, by contrast, is a more intimate group this year. Despite initial faculty opinions that BME would be a “popular option,” the concentration attracted only thirteen sophomores, making it the smallest concentration offered by the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

According to some within SEAS, Biomedical Engineering may have drawn fewer students simply because it is similar to an existing track within the engineering sciences degree. HDRB, by contrast, offers a more distinct option for students to study a field previously unavailable to them.

As these two concentrations grow from infancy, administrators within both programs say that they hope to smooth out logistical issues—such as departmental advising—while offering students the opportunity to study cutting-edge fields within engineering and science.


Faculty involved in both HDRB and Biomedical Engineering say that they believe their concentrations offer unique opportunities to students.

HDRB provides a chance for students to actively engage with the widely publicized and controversial issue of stem cells.

Butler says he enjoys the hands-on approach of the concentration.

“I like actually witnessing a lab as opposed to reading a textbook,” he says.

Students also say they are drawn to a certain novelty that can only come from an issue that is as recent a scientific development as stem cells.