Harvard Summer Program in Paris, France

June 3, 2017 to July 29, 2017
Apply by: 
January 26, 2017

Explore and evolve the principles of sustainable development in Paris, a city known as an intellectual and economic powerhouse.

This project-based program combines fundamental principles from the life sciences with the social sciences and humanities to innovate new models for engaging citizens in addressing the sustainable development challenges of Paris. You study a combination of biology, economics, and urban studies, and work within an interdisciplinary team to explore and develop new models of sustainable living in the city.

Program Structure

In an increasingly inter-connected and technological world, we must develop models for sustainable development that take full advantage of technology while increasing the participation of residents in developing new opportunities for a better life. The seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) defined by the United Nations is an important framework for responding to these challenges.

In this program, you use the SDG framework to create new urban development models that enhance not just the physical infrastructure of a city, but also the intellectual and social capital of its residents. The participatory elements of these models seek to foster the collective intelligence of the population in a manner that is broadly inclusive and oriented towards innovative problem solving. The idea of collective contributions to an improved living environment shares many features with the evolution of populations, be they bacteria in a colony, cells in a tissue, or animals in an ecosystem. 

The coursework lays a foundation based on the history of Paris as an intellectual, socially innovative, and economic powerhouse, combined with an exploration of sustainable development as it applies to such issues as transportation, information technology, education, and urban planning. At each step along the way, you also learn fundamental principles in biology and evolution, while using them to transform the principles of sustainable development. Together with French university students, you work in interdisciplinary teams to develop and express these ideas in actionable project designs.


BIOS S-190 counts as one full-year course (8 credits) of degree credit. 

BIOS S-190 Study Abroad in Paris, France: Biology, Innovation, and Sustainable Development (33309)

Robert A. Lue
Alain Viel
8 credits
UN, GR Limited enrollment.

The course is an interdisciplinary exploration of how biological principles derived from how organisms thrive and evolve can be applied to the ever-growing challenges facing large cities in the twenty-first century. The city of Paris with its remarkable history and diversity (cultural, ethnic, and economic) provides an especially rich context for students to learn about and tackle these challenges. Students explore how living systems work at the cellular level and how natural selection and adaptation drives evolution at the level of individuals and populations, while exploring parallels with historical models of urban planning and sustainable development. Student teams use this theoretical foundation to develop specific project designs to improve the quality of life in Paris through effective engagement of its citizens.

The course content and subsequent project designs depend on deep immersion in the geography and culture of Paris. Student teams are composed of both Harvard Summer School and French university students. Through collaborations with the SciencesPo School of Public Affairs, the Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires and the Mayor’s office of the city of Paris, students explore multiple geographic, ethnic, and cultural areas of the city, and work with those local communities to understand their needs and develop responsive project designs. Thus, sustained community engagement and feedback are an essential component of the course.

Projects are as wildly creative and diverse as the imaginations of the student teams, running the gamut from new software that uses crowd-sourced information as the basis for urban design to novel ways to generate electricity in the city center to new community programs that leverage the creativity of school children. Each project also uses media such as video and animation to communicate the fundamental concepts of the design as well as its implementation. The project designs are open source and shared with the world through an online media blog thebiopolis.com. To this end, interactive classroom sessions are complemented by weekly feedback sessions and group work on video and other digital media needed to express the project designs.

The interdisciplinary and team-based nature of the coursework means that the program welcomes students from the natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, engineering, and computer science.

Prerequisites: None

Where You Live and Study

The city of Paris, with its remarkable history and diversity, provides an especially rich context for students to learn about sustainable development. Paris will become your classroom to explore contemporary challenges, examine and design possible solutions.


You are housed at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris, a vibrant and international student community located next to the beautiful Parc Montsouris in Paris.

How to Apply

The application deadline has passed.

Review How to Apply before submitting your application.

Application materials include: 

  1. A statement of interest in the program and in the course
    • Include information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not a prerequisite). Be sure to address your interest in Paris, biology, and its application to urban development.
  2. A 2-minute video (recorded on your cell phone) that responds to the following prompt

    • The United Nations has defined 17 sustainable development goals for the world. Select one goal, and discuss why this one in particular is important to you and how it connects with your personal experiences or passions.

    • Upload your 2-minute video (in .mpg; .m4v; .mov; or .wmv format) to the 2017 Paris introduction videos Dropbox folder.

  3. Transcripts

    • Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university
  4. A $50 nonrefundable application fee

Note: Interviews may be requested.

All application materials were due January 26, 2017. You will be notified of admission decisions by mid- to late-February.


The program fee includes tuition, accommodation, scheduled excursions and activities, and some meals.

See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options. 

Student budget

In addition to the program fee, you will need to budget for a number of personal expenses: 

  • International airfare ($1,300 to $1,600)
  • Local transportation ($150)
  • Some meals ($1,500)
  • Course materials ($65)
  • Personal expenditures, laundry, communications, and miscellaneous ($300)

Note: The amounts are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not listed here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including your personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. If you have specific questions about budgeting, please contact the program directly.

Additional Information