Curriculum for the PhD Program in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience includes:

  • Coursework
  • Original research leading to a doctoral dissertation, and
  • Comprehensive Examinations and a Final Oral Examination 

Formal Courses

In addition to the required common core courses that all graduate students are required to take (see link below), Graduate Program in Neuroscience students take two additional required courses, SGSS8080 Neuroscience I and NURO8082 Neuroscience II. Program students also take NURO9010 Neuroscience Seminar, NURO8310 Neuroscience Journal Club (Advanced Topics in Neuroscience). In the second year, the student also takes at least one 2-hour elective course that complements the research interests and career goals of the student. The electives are chosen by the student in consultation with the student's major advisor and thesis committee. A list of most commonly chosen electives in provided in the link below. Program students would also take NURO9210 Investigation of a Problem (variable credit hrs.). In order to register for the upper level research course, NURO9300, a student must be admitted to candidacy which includes having submitted an advisory committee form, coursework proposal, research proposal, and passed either exam 1 and 2 (for students who entered before Fall 2009), or passed the written and oral comprehensive exam (for students who entered Fall 2009 or later). The student then becomes eligible to take NURO9300 Research in Neuroscience  in which the student works closely with his/her faculty dissertation mentor on an in-depth study of a research question of interest to both student and mentor. This course culminates in the preparation of a PhD dissertation. A “Sample Curriculum” and full course descriptions for all courses are provided below.

Description of courses


Students will undertake three rotations in research labs during the first semester of the first year, where they will be involved in research projects. These are designed to teach techniques and serve to help students choose a research lab. During the second semester of their first year students will do two research rotations which will serve to help them select a mentor for their dissertation research, chosen after their second semester. Students are expected to receive research training during the rotations and in the lab of their mentor.

Students will prepare a written research proposal for their dissertation in consultation with their mentor and a thesis advisory committee that will approve the research proposal. The student is expected to do original research for their dissertation and publish their work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Consolidated Comprehensive Exam

In accordance with the College of Graduate Studies guidelines, Neuroscience program students that enrolled Fall 2009 or later will be required to pass a single Consolidated Comprehensive Exam. It is required that the Comprehensive Exam be administered no later than the end of the second year (sixth semester) of full-time (year-round) study. Failure to do so indicates unsatisfactory progress toward the degree and will result in a semester grade of “U” in NURO 9210 Investigation of a Problem course. An extension to the end of the seventh semester may be granted by the Dean, but only in rare and extenuating circumstances. If an extension is granted, an “I” grade will be entered for the sixth semester NURO 9210 grade. The “I” grade will convert to “U” if the examination is not attempted in the seventh semester.

The examination format for students in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience will consist of a combination of written and oral components as follows:  One one-half day written essay exam and One two-hour oral exam.

The purpose of the Comprehensive Examination is to demonstrate the student's understanding and comprehension of general and discipline-specific material and independent, critical thinking ability. The examination should cover the scope of the student's dissertation topic, but it must not be limited to the research proposal; it also must include aspects related to the broader discipline and general area of expertise as defined by the graduate program. The second (oral) portion of the examination must occur within 5 weeks of completion of the first (written) portion of the exam.

The Graduate Program Director is responsible for oversight of the program's Comprehensive Examinations. Each student's Advisory Committee will serve as his/her specific Examination Committee. However, a faculty member other than the student's Major Advisor must serve as Chair. An Examination Committee meeting must be called to review the format, timing, and grading format of the Comprehensive Exam. A representative appointed by the College of Graduate Studies Dean will attend the meeting to ensure that the Comprehensive Exam format and its administration adhere to the College of Graduate Studies policies and serve as a liaison to the Dean's office. The graduate student will be invited to the committee meeting and be informed, both orally and subsequently in writing of the format, timing and grading format of the Comprehensive Exam. Information regarding the format, timing and grading of the Comprehensive Exam should be forwarded by the student's major advisor to the Graduate Program Director for approval, and then to the Dean, College of Graduate Studies, for final approval.

The written exam will be constructed by the Examination Committee and will contain a combination of questions covering the major topic areas of the student's research as well as general knowledge in the field. The exam must be completed in the allotted 4 hour time period. Each member of the Examination Committee will submit a question for the exam, and the student must answer 4 of the 5 submitted questions. The grading model will follow the (+), 0, (-) scale: + for good to excellent responses, 0 for adequate/satisfactory responses, and � for inadequate/unsatisfactory answers, with a cumulative +1 required for passing.

The two hour oral exam must be administered within 5 weeks after passing the written exam component. The student must pass the written exam in order to be eligible to take the oral exam. The oral exam will be administered by the Examination Committee and its purpose is to demonstrate the student's understanding and comprehension of his/her research area and the broader discipline and general area of expertise, as well as the student's independent, critical thinking ability. The oral exam portion may also be used to clarify or follow up on any of the written exam questions or answers. The oral exam consists of a session of questioning by the Examination Committee that should not exceed the two hour limit of the exam. The grading model for the oral exam will follow the (+), 0, (-) scale: + for good to excellent responses, 0 for adequate/satisfactory responses, and � for inadequate/unsatisfactory answers, with a cumulative +1 required for passing. To obtain a passing grade on the oral exam, the student is expected to display a basic working knowledge of his/her 1st and 2nd year course work subject matter, key concepts relevant to his/her field/discipline, and demonstrate knowledge of the scientific literature, especially the literature relevant to the student's research area. The students should display basic independent critical thinking ability as evidenced by the ability to “use the knowledge” he/she has obtained to answer basic questions related to his field/discipline and aspects of his/her research proposal, to include background, rationale, and experimental design. The student is expected to demonstrate a solid, basic grasp and understanding of the course work, key concepts, and his/her research area and project.

The student must pass both the written and oral exam components to be considered as having passed the Qualifying Exam. If a student fails the Comprehensive Exam, he/she will be afforded one opportunity to retake the exam after additional study, typically within three months. A second failure of the Comprehensive Exam will be grounds for dismissal from the College of Graduate Studies.