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PH526x: Using Python For Research - Course Syllabus

Course Instructor

Jukka-Pekka "JP" Onnela

Course Description

This course bridges the gap between introductory and advanced courses in Python. While there are many excellent introductory Python courses available, most typically do not go deep enough for you to apply your Python skills to research projects. In this course, after first reviewing the basics of Python 3, we learn about tools commonly used in research settings.

Using a combination of a guided introduction and more independent in-depth exploration, you will get to practice your new Python skills with various case studies chosen for their scientific breadth and their coverage of different Python features.

What you'll learn

    • Python 3 programming basics (a review)
    • Python tools for research applications (e.g., NumPy and SciPy modules) 
    • How to apply Python research tools in practical settings


HarvardX pursues the science of learning. When you participate in this course, you will also participate in research about learning. Read our research statement to learn more.

Course Structure

Material will be released in two segments. Weeks 1 and 2 will be released on November 29, 2016 at 19:00 UTC and Weeks 3 and 4 will be released on December 6, 2016 at 19:00 UTC. You can progress through the material at your own pace. 


There are 2 different graded components of the course:

    1. Comprehension Check (CC) assessments. These occur after most videos, and are worth 40% of your grade. Your lowest CC score will be dropped.
    2. Homework (HW) assessments. The eight homeworks are worth 60% of your grade. Weeks 1 and 2 have one homework assignment each. Weeks 3 and 4 have three homework assignments each.

All other components of the course, such as the self-assessment pre-quiz and the discussion boards, are not for credit.


In order to receive a Verified Certificate, you must sign up for a Verified Certificate by June 28, 2017 and earn a passing grade of at least 70%. The Comprehension Check and Homework assessments total 100% credit. 


All releases occur at 19:00 UTC.

Welcome and Introduction (release November 29, 2016)

    • Introduction and Welcome
    • Pre-Quiz Self-Assessment
    • Important Pre-Course Survey

Week 1: Basics of Python 3 (release November 29, 2016)

    • Week 1 Overview
    • Part 1: Objects and Methods (Comprehension Check)
    • Part 2: Sequence Objects (Comprehension Check)
    • Part 3: Manipulating Objects (Comprehension Check)
    • Week 1 Homework (Homework)

Week 2: Python Libraries and Concepts Used in Research (release November 29, 2016)

    • Week 2 Overview
    • Part 1: Scope Rules and Classes (Comprehension Check)
    • Part 2: NumPy (Comprehension Check)
    • Part 3: Matplotlib and Pyplot (Comprehension Check)
    • Part 4: Randomness and Time (Comprehension Check)
    • Week 2 Homework (Homework)

Week 3: Case Studies Part 1 (release December 6, 2016)

    • Week 3 Overview
    • DNA Translation (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: DNA Translation (Homework)
    • Language Processing (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: Language Processing (Homework)
    • Introduction to Classification (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: Introduction to Classification (Homework)

Week 4: Case Studies Part 2 (release December 6, 2016)

    • Classifying Whiskies (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: Classifying Whiskies (Homework)
    • Bird Migration (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: Bird Migration (Homework)
    • Social Network Analysis (Comprehension Check)
    • Homework: Social Network Analysis (Homework)


What is the deadline to sign up for a Verified Certificate?

June 28, 2017 00:00 UTC

How do I earn a certificate?

To earn a certificate, you must sign up for a Verified Certificate by the June 28 deadline and earn a grade of at least 70%. When you achieve this score, an option will appear on the Progress page to request a certificate. For more information, click on this link. Caution: the grade that you see on your dashboard reflects your grade at that time you requested the certificate. If you complete more assignments to raise your grade, the grade on your Progress page changes, but the grade listed on your dashboard is not updated.

How do I upgrade to a verified certificate?

Go to your edX Dashboard (by clicking the edX icon at the top left of this page). Under this course, click the "Challenge Yourself!" link. The last day to sign up for a verified certificate is June 28, 2017.

How long does the course take?

That is up to you! It is 4 weeks of contentJust be aware that the course closes on June 30, 2017!

I am doing well on the assessments, but when I look under "Progress" I have a very low grade...why?

The grade is calculated based on all of the assessments you have completed and the assessments that you have not completed (edX says you have a "zero" on those assessments until you have attempted them). You will see your overall grade move up as you progress through the course.