1. PhD in Neuroscience
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Welcome to the PhD in Neuroscience program in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. As you start your graduate training, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Program and what is ahead.

First-Year Course Requirements

We have prepared a comprehensive core curriculum designed to expose students from a wide range of backgrounds to principles of brain structure and function, spanning molecules, synapses, cells, circuits, behavior and disease. This core comprises five courses:

  • Neuro Core 1: Systems Neuroscience
  • Neuro Core 2: Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Neuro Core 3: Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuro Core 4: Pathophysiology of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders
  • Neuro Core 5: Topics in Clinical Neuroscience (with direct patient contact)

Neuro Core 5 is designed to reinforce and complement Core 4, and includes direct contact with patients presenting the disease or disorder corresponding to the subject discussed simultaneously in Core 4. 

Each Core course has a separate course registration number.

Additional course requirements during the first year include:

  • Techniques and Approaches in Neuroscience
  • Responsible Conduct in Research
  • Rigor and Reproducibility
  • Selected Topics in Neuroscience (a works-in-progress/journal club series)
  • Translational Neuroscience Seminar series

Year 1 students must also fulfill a biostatistics requirement.

  • Modern Statistics for Modern Biology (taught in spring semester)

Second-Year Course Requirements

In Year 2, students are required to take:

  • Neural Data Science
  • Selected Topics in Neuroscience
    • Students should register for “Selected Topics in Neuroscience” in Years 1-4+. Attendance is required for Year 1 and 2 students. After completing the thesis proposal exam in Year 2, annual presentations are required thereafter.
  • Minimally two advanced elective courses
    • This is an opportunity to customize your training by selecting advanced courses from any training area that will be of value to you. Check the website and the Registrar for current lists of advanced courses in Neuroscience, Computational Biology, Genetics and Genomics, Pharmacology or other training areas that may be of interest.

A listing of first- and second-year courses and what you should be registering for.

The goal of a rotation is to find a thesis laboratory. Our students are required to complete rotations during their first year, and it is recommended that two rotations of about 6-8 weeks each are completed during this time. If at any time during the rotation, it is clear on either the part of the student or the Principal Investigator (PI) that the rotation is not working, the rotation can be ended after three weeks.

Students should plan their rotations carefully as these are the labs that you are potentially interested in for your thesis work. Conversely, the lab is experiencing you. Picking a thesis lab ultimately requires mutual agreement between you and the PI. The goals of your rotation include:

  • Understanding the scientific questions and approaches the lab focuses on—do these excite you?
  • Experiencing the lab “dynamic” between students, technicians, postdocs and the PI—do you feel supported?
  • Determining if you would successfully contribute to the lab science and environment—will you thrive in this lab?

You should be aware that before accepting you for a rotation, preceptors MUST have at least two years of funding to support you should the rotation prove to be a match. While you are expected to be in the lab and work hard during your rotation (~20 hours/week), you are NOT expected to produce a finished study. PIs must give you time to prepare for your course exams or presentations.

All incoming first-year students are assigned a Neuroscience faculty advisor and a ‘big sibling’ (a senior student). Your advisor, big sibling and George Huntley, PhD, Director of the Neuroscience PhD training area, are the people to whom you can turn if you have questions, problems, or need advice.

After your first year, as coursework is largely completed, a lab has been selected (usually by late spring of your first year), and thesis preparation has begun, a new committee, the Dissertation Advisory Committee, will be formed, generally consisting of three voting faculty members and your thesis advisor (a non-voting member). The voting members of your thesis advisory committee should not be direct collaborators or supervisors.

Students are required to meet with their Dissertation Advisory Committee every six months. The progress report of each advisory meeting comprises sections compiled by the student, the committee, and the mentor, and includes a detailed student Individual Development Plan (IDP). The IDP needs to be completed, signed, and returned to the Graduate School after each advisory meeting.

Thesis proposals must be assembled and defended no later than June 30th of a student’s 2nd year.

By this time, rotations are finished, core classes have been completed, and you have identified a mentor who has agreed to support you in the laboratory for your thesis project.

Your thesis proposal document should follow precisely the format of the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA (National Research Service Award), the NIH predoctoral fellowship. The format includes:

  • One-page for your specific aims
  • Maximum of six additional pages for your Research Design, which includes background and significance, preliminary data, research strategy, outcomes, interpretations and alternative strategies. All figures/tables must be included as part of the six-page limit.
  • Citations are not included in the six-page Research Design section.

You are not required to have extensive preliminary data, but you should be able to demonstrate that your ideas are well-grounded and the methods you propose are appropriate and feasible. You will present your research plan to your thesis proposal exam committee in a formal oral presentation format.

The Thesis Proposal Exam Committee consists of your Dissertation Advisory Committee, and, if desired, an additional faculty member. Your preceptor must be present for this exam, but as a non-voting member who must remain silent during the exam.

The dissertation advisory and thesis proposal committees are chosen jointly by you and your preceptor. The idea is to pick committee members that have particular expertise–either conceptual or methodological–who can help you accomplish your scientific goals. You are not required to have the program director serve on your dissertation committee, but the Chair of your committee should be a senior, experienced faculty member. At the time when you defend your thesis work, your Dissertation Advisory Committee–plus one additional member from outside Icahn Mount Sinai–will serve as the final Thesis Defense examining committee.

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