The Neuroscience Graduate Program focuses on cellular and molecular as well as systems neurobiology. Topics of particular interest include synaptic physiology and synaptic plasticity; membrane biophysics, especially receptors and ion channels; neuronal organelle traffic, particularly the biogenesis and exo- and endocytosis of synaptic vesicles; neurogenetics of invertebrates and vertebrates; development of neural systems; and molecular and cellular basis of complex behavior.
Students wishing to join the Neuroscience Graduate Program must be enrolled in the Division of Basic Science and be in good standing academically. Usually, students seek enrollment in the Program toward the end of their first year of study following completion of the set of research rotations and selection of a mentor. Prospective students should note that the diverse research topics in the field make neurobiology an appropriate doctoral subject for those with undergraduate degrees in physics, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and psychology, as well as in biological disciplines.
Neurobiology is a field defined not by a specific intellectual approach or experimental technique, but by its subject matter: the cells of the nervous, sensory, and muscular systems. Because of the variety of methods that must be brought to bear in studies of these systems, the optimal training for a career in neurobiological research includes an in-depth exposure to the principles of biochemistry, biophysics, cell and molecular biology, developmental biology, genetics, immunology, pharmacology, and physiology, as well as behavioral neuroscience.
By providing a solid background in the above areas, the first-year Core Curriculum offers appropriate training for first-year students who elect to join the Neuroscience Graduate Program. The first-year course also provides 15 hours of course credit toward the minimum 24 hours required for graduation.
First-year students participate in a minimum of two laboratory rotations. Insofar as possible, students with an interest in neurobiology should seek rotations that expose them to a wide variety of technical approaches, including anatomy, behavior, biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and physiology. At the end of the first year of study, students choose a mentor for dissertation research.
Course requirements and descriptions are listed on the Course Descriptions page.
The Neuroscience Journal Club offers students an opportunity to keep abreast of recent research results, to sharpen critical acumen and to develop speaking skills. Every student in the Graduate Program is expected to attend a Journal Club and to participate actively. In addition, each student is required to make at least one Journal Club presentation per year.
Weekly neuroscience seminars hosted by the Departments of Psychiatry, Neurology, and Neuroscience are held to present current advances in all areas of modern neurobiology. One or two seminars are organized by the students of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. Furthermore, numerous scientific presentations of interest to neurobiologists occur each year in seminar series offered by the Departments of Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Pharmacology, and Physiology, among others. The University Lecture Series often deals with the nervous system and related topics.
Students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and other interested individuals meet on a biweekly basis to discuss current research carried out by students of the Neuroscience Graduate Program. The student presentations are made in a setting that fosters spontaneity and exchange of ideas.
Once a year, students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty members gather for an all-day meeting to present current work and exchange research ideas. This meeting is held off campus in a setting where participants have the opportunity to present their research in a manner similar to the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. All students in the Neuroscience Graduate Program are expected to attend, and advanced students are required to present their research in a formal setting.
The qualifying examination comprises a written and an oral component, each of which must be passed as part of the qualifications for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. Unless a prior extension is granted by the Steering Committee, each student must complete the qualifying examination by the end of September of his or her second year of graduate enrollment. Those students in the Medical Scientist Training Program who initially take two years of medical training may defer the qualifying examination per approval of the Program Chair.
The written component is a research proposal dealing with a group of related scientific problems in an area of study different from that in which the student expects to conduct his or her dissertation. The oral examination ordinarily is given in a single closed session lasting from one to two hours. The student is expected to answer questions relating to material in courses that he or she has taken, to the subject matter in the written proposal and to general information in the field of neurobiology.
A complete copy of the dissertation must be approved by the dissertation Committee before a public dissertation defense can be scheduled. The defense is composed of a public lecture describing the main observations of the research, followed by an oral examination by the dissertation Committee. Attendance during the oral examination is restricted to faculty members of the Graduate School, and participation is restricted to the examination Committee.