Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

During their first year, students complete a core set of courses (see our curriculum) and rotate through three laboratories. In particular, the Introduction to Neuroscience course is designed to provide a solid foundation in the fundamental areas of neuroscience (neuroanatomy, cellular and molecular biology, development, sensory systems, and motor systems and cognition). In striving to keep students at the forefront of neuroscience research, students participate in weekly research seminars and journal clubs throughout their training. By the end of the first year, students should have found a home lab in which to carry out their dissertation research.

During their second year, students are required to take three upper-level courses, which will lead to a specialization in one of several possible areas (see our curriculum). The elective courses chosen must be approved by the student’s thesis adviser. These courses are again taken along with weekly seminars and journal clubs. At the end of the second year, students who passed all required courses with a final cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or better present a qualifying exam. The exam consists of a two-part proposal for the thesis project: a written document, which is in the same format of an actual predoctoral grant application, and an oral defense, which is an evaluation of the project with a thesis committee. The content of the proposal is a description of the planned experiments, including the methods to be used, the rationale for performing those experiments (e.g., hypotheses to be tested), any preliminary data, and the significance of the possible results.

Having passed the qualifying exam, students advance to candidacy and devote most of their time to research. This includes not only working in the lab, but also keeping up with the latest results in their field of specialization, preparing public presentations of their work (posters or seminars) and writing papers describing their results — this is the bread and butter of a research career.

Although the time to graduation varies across individuals and depends on the type of work done, the average in the biomedical sciences campus is 5 years.

Laboratory Rotations

Besides working on the core courses, first-year students take laboratory rotations lasting approximately 3 months each. These are meant to provide a meaningful, hands-on experience in research, and to help each student choose a laboratory and an adviser for his or her thesis work. Rotations are an excellent way to learn new scientific concepts, techniques and methods, to become familiarized with the daily business of a laboratory, and to interact with faculty, postdocs and other graduate students. Rotations typically involve short projects, but it is not uncommon for the work done to develop further and become part of a full-blown publication.

Course Offerings

For the first two years, students in the Neuroscience Program are required to take a series of courses that must be completed prior to submitting and defending a dissertation proposal. Once the proposal is successfully defended, students advance to candidacy and focus their effort on their thesis research. The first-year core courses provide a foundation in basic subjects, whereas the one second-year core course and other elective courses lead to specializations in distinct areas.
The Graduate School Bulletin includes further information about courses and degree requirements.