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Program Requirements

2018-19 Handbook_FINAL.pdf

The following requirements must be met to obtain a PhD in Neurosciences:


Boot Camp

All incoming neuroscience graduate students participate in Boot Camp, which is designed to:

  • Familiarize you with the basic ideas and techniques of neuroscience
  • Acquaint you with senior graduate students (who serve as TAs)
  • Introduce you to faculty members and their research, giving you ideas for rotations
  • Help you get to know your classmates

This course, based on summer courses at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woodshole, MA, is a series of intensive lab exercises that runs for two week from morning until midnight. At lunchtime you give short talks about research you have done. The course is held in September just before fall quarter begins.



Research Rotations

Research rotations let you obtain hands-on research experience in three or more laboratories. Through the rotations you find a faculty member to sponsor your dissertation research. You must arrange your own rotations, but during Boot Camp you will be exposed to many faculty looking for students.

MSTP Students: You are expected to have completed at least two rotations before joining the program. At least two of the three rotations must be in labs associated with the Neurosciences Graduate Program.




Core Courses

For more information see the UC San Diego Course Catalog.

  • The NEU 200 series alternate between lectures from researchers in the field and discussion sections on research papers
    • NEU 200A: Cellular & Molecular Neuroscience
      Run by Drs. Bloodgood, Isaacson, and Lim
      Topics include cellular physiology, synaptic transmission, plasticity, and neural development
    • NEU 200B: Systems Neuroscience
      Run by Drs. Reynolds, Chalasani, and Azim
      Topics include visual, auditory, olfactory, somatosensory, and motor systems
    • NEU 200C: Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience
      Run by Dr. Mille
      Topics include methods in cognitive neuroscience, object recognition, attention, long-term and working memory, reinforcement learning and executive function.
  • NEU 257: Mammalian Neuroanatomy Lab
    Taught by Dr. Eric Halgren
    Provides a hands-on look at the central nervous system including the key structures, their connectivity, and the types of information they carry
  • NEU 280: Minor Proposition
  • Ethics Course: A variety of courses can be used to fulfill this requirement and focus on scientific integrity, ethics in academia, and scientific ethics



Students are required to take 12 units of electives to expand their knowledge in specific areas. The courses may be taken in almost any department including neurosciences, biology, cognitive science, psychology, medicine, mathematics, or engineering.

Examples of elective courses:

  • NEU 222 Molecular and Cellular Neuroendocrinology (Dr. Sasha Kauffman)
  • NEU 268 Molecular and Cellular Neurobiology (Dr. Pamela Mellon)
  • NEU 221 Advanced Topics in Neuroscience (recent offerings):
    • Inhibition: Synapses, Cells and Circuits (Dr. Ed Callaway)
    • Advanced Sensory Systems (Dr. Tanyana Sharpee)
    • Axonal Transport and Synaptic Trafficking (Dr. Subhojit Roy)
    • Intrinsic Senses: the Eeperience of self (Dr. Sascha du Lac)
    • Neuroscience at Boundaries of Neurology & Psychiatry (Drs. Swerdlow & Koo)
    • Peripheral Nerve and Schwann Cell Biology (Dr. Wendy Campana)
    • Ion Channels: Physiology and Structure  (Dr. Paul Slesinger)
    • Genetics and Epigenetics in Brain Development (Dr. Michael Rosenfeld)
    • Evidence for Plasticity in the Developing Human Brain (Dr. Doris Trauner)
    • Behavior & Molecular Mechanisms of Schizophrenia (Drs. Markou & Zhou)
    • Brain and Cognition in Autism (Drs. Townsend & Courchesne)
    • Advanced Neurophysiology (Dr. Jeff Isaacson)
  • Any of the computational neuroscience courses

Course offerings are always changing. See the UC San Diego Course Catalog for descriptions of these and other courses.


 Minor Proposition Course (NEU 280)

The course is designed to:

  • Evaluate your ability to propose and defend an original research project.
  • Evaluate your proficiency of general neuroscience knowledge as drawn from the core courses taken in the first two years of study.

The Minor Prop course requires you to select a research problem and propose an experimental approach for solving it. The selected problem should require experimental approaches from more than one discipline and should be outside the area of your anticipated dissertation research.

You will be eligible to receive a master’s degree upon passing the Minor Proposition Course.


Research Rounds

Research Rounds is a weekly seminar course where graduate students beyond their second year present their current research. Besides asking the presenter scientific questions about the research, constructive criticism is given on the presentation itself so that both audience and presenter can improve their presentation skills.




All students are required to be a teaching assistant (TA) for at least one quarter during their graduate career to develop their talents and gain experience as teachers. Opportunities to lecture and to assist in laboratory exercises and demonstrations are available through many departments, including Neurosciences, Biology, Cognitive Science and Psychology.



Advancement to Candidacy Examination

This exam is used to evaluate the quality of the dissertation work completed as well as the proposed additional experiments with your Doctoral Committee. It emphasizes the conceptual rationale of the dissertation proposal. Passing the qualifying exam advances the student to candidacy, effectively changing your status from doctoral student to doctoral candidate.



Defense of Dissertation

The final examination consists of two parts:

  • A public presentation of the dissertation work, followed by public discussion
  • An oral defense, in closed session, with your Doctoral Committee