neurobiology-largeThe Graduate Program in Neurobiology

Curriculum | Courses | Students | Faculty | Staff



Each student takes a core curriculum of four courses (B required): Cellular Neurobiology, Systems Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience and Cellular and Molecular Biology of the Neuron, two-three laboratory rotations, and three elective courses. Electives are chosen with approval from an advisory committee from a wide array of high-level courses at the University and elsewhere. Courses are offered on the quarter system, with 10 weeks per quarter.

In addition, all students serve two terms as teaching assistants (see “Teaching Requirements”, below) and participate in two courses on scientific integrity and responsible conduct of research, one in their 1st year and a follow-up in their 4th or 5th year.

First Year: Lab Rotations and Coursework

A new requirement is a 1-week Quantitative Approaches to Biology boot camp, required of all biology graduate students. This boot camp is held at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and precedes the official start of classes. It’s a great way to get some important training in a beautiful setting, and to meet new students in the many PhD programs in the Biological Sciences Division.

Incoming Neuroscience graduate students are welcomed into all three Neuroscience programs at a joint Annual Retreat in mid-September, featuring faculty, post-doc and student speakers and posters. Basic information about the program (Orientation) is provided at the retreat.

A single advisory committee will assist all first-year students with their schedule of coursework and rotations. Students rotate through 2-3 laboratories, one per term, while they take course work. Students are expected to be associated with a laboratory at all times. At the end of the first year, a specific advisory committee will be constituted for each student. In subsequent years, as a student’s interests change, its composition may also change.

Second Year: Selecting a laboratory and faculty advisory committee; Qualifying exam

Students choose a laboratory in which to pursue their thesis research by the beginning of their second year.

Each student assembles a Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC), comprising the thesis sponsor and at least 3 other faculty; at least three of the 4 or more members must be in the Committee on Neurobiology. The FAC chair, who must be in the Committee on Neurobiology, runs the FAC meetings and communicates outcomes to the student and the Committee on Neurobiology through a confirmation e-mail. The procedural chair is selected by the committee members. At the first meeting, the FAC approves the student’s course work and then meets at least every 6 months until the student graduates.

Students must take their qualifying exams, which admit them into candidacy for the Ph.D., by the end of the first term of the third year (i.e., their ninth quarter). To qualify, the student writes a Research Plan in the form of a grant proposal, then defends it with an oral presentation to the faculty advisory committee. The research plan should be written in consultation with the student’s advisor. Students are encouraged to submit their proposals, after consulting with their advisors and faculty advisory committees, to funding agencies as part of their training in grantsmanship.

Third-Fifth years: Thesis research and defense

Candidates for a Ph.D. in Neurobiology must complete an original research thesis suitable for publication. In the fifth year, the student should prepare the written thesis over the course of several months, in consultation with the thesis advisor and thesis committee. The thesis must include a background section placing the research in broad perspective, a description of the original research, and a discussion of the significance of this research. The description of the research may consist of published papers on which the student is a major author, as well as publishable material in manuscript form. The University Dissertation Office can provide guidelines for the format. The thesis must be submitted to the Faculty Advisory Committee – also the thesis examiners – two weeks in advance of the defense. The thesis presentation is a public lecture, followed by a private oral examination by the committee.

Teaching Requirements

Students in the Biological Sciences Division are required to spend time in the classroom as a teaching assistant. One of these requirements may be satisfied by the teaching assistant training course offered each Autumn Quarter. Although these teaching assistantships are without the benefit of pay, students find the experience beneficial and rewarding. After satisfying this requirement, the student may work as a teaching assistant for pay, as long as there is an adequate arrangement made with the lab advisor. The Office of Graduate Affairs maintains information on BSD courses in need of a teaching assistant. Fellowship packages for students in the Committee on Neurobiology never include required teaching assistantships.

Thesis & Defense

Candidates for a Ph.D. in Neurobiology must complete an original thesis suitable for publication. The final report on the thesis is public, followed by a private oral examination by the advisory committee and other faculty members.

For more information regarding the graduate program in Neurobiology, please read the CON student handbook.

If you have any questions regarding admissions to this program, please email