Division of Biology and Medicine
Biology Undergraduate Education

Health and Human Biology AB

Health & Human Biology AB (14 Courses)

Promoting health and well-being in the 21st century requires depth of expertise in the life sciences as well as breadth of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities. Brown's concentration in Health & Human Biology (HHB) is designed to offer students the chance to examine human health issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. HHB provides students with foundations in biology, chemistry, quantitative methods, genetics, structure & function and organismal biology while a choice of two advanced electives ensures depth of study in an area of interest.  Theme-based coursework outside of the biological sciences adds breadth of understanding in one of the following four areas:

Mind, Brain, Behavior encompasses the study of causes and consequences of brain and behavioral health wellness through the lens of myriad fields including contemplative studies, education, cognitive science and more.  Examples of specific interests relevant to this theme  include young adult development, traumatic brain injury, addiction, nervous system disorders, mental health, mindfulness, cognitive wellness, and more. Departments offering relevant coursework include but are not limited to CLPS, Education, Contemplative Studies, Public Health, and Sociology.  Many students who pursue capstones and research do so with faculty from within the Division of Biology and Medicine as well as The Carney Institute for Brain Science, but experiences with non-BioMed faculty are common, as well. 

Planetary Health is a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the human health impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth's natural systems. Students studying planetary health might focus on the health and wellness implications of climate change, global trade/travel and species invasions, land-use change,  the loss of biological diversity and ecosystem function. Because environmental factors that influence health and well-being are often intertwined with sociocultural factors, many students simultaneously explore the social dimensions of environmental health from sustainable and equitable development perspectives. Biology, Public Health, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES)  are examples of departments  whose faculty offer relevant coursework and support undergraduate research. 

Global Health is a collaborative and transnational approach to improving health and achieving health equity for all people worldwide. Global Health draws on many disciplines within the health sciences, sociology, anthropology, international relations, and economics. Students who pursue this theme might study prevention and control of global pandemics,  transnational differences in vaccine development and delivery, and the economic factors that impact the diagnosis, prevention, surveillance and treatment of communicable and non-communicable disease. The School of Public Health, BioMed, Brown's Global Health Initiative, and the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) are examples of the affiliations of faculty who support coursework and research relevant to this theme.

The Social Determinants of Health encompasses both qualitative and quantitative examination of social factors and their influence on health outcomes. These influences can be exerted at levels ranging from individual and family circumstances to societal factors such as economic policies, social norms, and political systems. The history of medicine, health communication, and alternative approaches to healing are examples of a few additional  areas of study applicable to this theme.

The flexibility of the HHB concentration allows students with diverse interests to achieve their academic goals at Brown and prepare for subsequent career choices. Nearly half of HHB graduates pursue advanced degrees in health-related fields. Approximately 20% go on to Master's and PhD programs in the life sciences. HHB students who identify as pre-med, or who intend to pursue graduate school, have the opportunity to further engage in STEM coursework and independent research in the senior year. Students aiming to pursue graduate school in the social sciences or humanities, or who intend to work in non-academic sectors, have the freedom to add more breadth to their thematic studies or pursue other interests such as a foreign language and sometimes a second concentration.

Concentration Requirements



MATH 0090

- AP/IB may substitute

- MATH 0050/0060, 0100 or 0170 may substitute

BIOL 0200

- AP/IB may substitute

CHEM 0330

- IB may substitute

Statistics or Methods Course

- e.g., BIOL 0495, BIOL 0946, APMA 0650, CLPS 0090, EDUC 1100, PHP 1510, SOC 1100; others with approval



Genetics (1)

- Satisfied via:

Option 1 - BIOL 0470
Option 2 -  BIOL 0480 plus ONE of the following: BIOL 0500, BIOL 0510, or BIOL 0280 

- When option 2 is chosen, BIOL 0480 simultaneously satisfies the Organismal/Population Biology requirement 

Structure/Function/ Development (1)

- Choose one: BIOL 0400, 0800, 1310, 1800, 1880, 1885; NEUR 0010

Organismal/Population Biology (1)

Required ONLY if using Genetics Option 1

- Choose one: BIOL 0380, 0390, 0410, 0415, 0420, 0480; 1470, 1555, 1880; NEUR 1940; ENVS 0490


Biology Electives  (2)

- 2 BIOL/NEUR Electives; At least one course advanced (> 1000)

- BIOL 1950/1960 may not be used here

- Note that courses used to fulfill other requirements cannot also be used as an elective credit

The opportunity to select courses that encompass the student’s specific interests within the scope of a chosen theme is the hallmark of the Health & Human Biology concentration.  Advising conversations begin with a student-generated list of potential theme courses. Courses from any Brown department can be proposed. From this starting point and with guidance, concentrators develop a cohesive grouping of four courses each of which addresses a key aspect of the student’s overarching interest within one of the four general themes; Mind, Brain, & Behavior, Planetary Health, Global Health, and The Social Determinants of Health.

Theme courses are approved as a group and cannot be considered for approval on an individual basis.  

HHB concentrators pursue a capstone experience in the final year. The purpose is to provide students with an opportunity to draw on the depth and breadth of knowledge gained in the concentration to complete a project or engage at a high level in an appropriate advanced seminar.

Senior Capstone must be completed in semesters 07, 08, or 09.  Students must submit a Capstone Declaration form in the semester in which they are fulfilling this requirement.  Upon completion, all capstone options require the formal submission of a final deliverable using the Capstone Submission form, which will be certified by your Senior Capstone Course Instructor or PI/Faculty Sponsor. Students who wish to see the questions in advance can view a blank form.

Capstone Option Descriptions

1. Independent research/study - Students may develop an independent research or independent study experience with a Brown faculty member. The project may take place over one or two semesters and should build on the student’s biological and/or thematic interests in the concentration. Students should register for BIOL 1950/1960 if working with a BioMed faculty member. Students pursuing independent coursework with a faculty member outside of Biology will register for the appropriate independent study course in that faculty member’s department. Students writing a senior thesis may use this to satisfy the capstone experience if the project is related to the concentration pursuits.

At the time of declaration, concentrators enter either BIOL 1950 or BIOL 1960 as a placeholder for this option in ASK.

2. Advanced Seminar - Seminars that fulfill the capstone requirement are senior/graduate level, capped to a size that facilitates advanced discussion (max 15 students) and include assignments that offer a clear opportunity to demonstrate critical and independent thinking in the concentration (i.e. final papers and projects). A list of pre-approved seminar courses can be found in the PDF document below. Not all of these courses are offered every year so students should consult COURSES@BROWN for the most up to date schedule. Seminars that are not included on this list but do meet the requirements listed above may be substituted with advisor approval.

At the time of declaration, concentrators enter the course code for the chosen seminar as a placeholder for this option in ASK.

3. Off campus experience coupled with independent study - Students may couple an off campus experience related to the concentration with a semester of independent study mentored by a Brown faculty member. For example a student may spend time volunteering at a human health related organization, working on off campus research (perhaps in the hospitals or at RI Department of Health), or pursuing a similar in depth experience. Such experiences should culminate in a formal faculty-mentored independent study (i.e. BIOL 1950/1960) where the work is fully developed and presented based on a set of goals agreed upon by the student and mentor. Capstones such as these present many possibilities. Students should work with a faculty sponsor and the concentration advisor to determine what best suits their personal learning goals.

At the time of declaration, concentrators enter either BIOL 1950 or BIOL 1960 as a placeholder for this option in ASK.

Related Files and Resources